Charlie Sykes, Knight commissioner, on why truth matters

Self-described conservative contrarian says, “There are so many intelligent ideas out there, and they come from unexpected places.”

In the video below, Charlie Sykes, who serves on the Knight Commission on Trust, Media and Democracy, explains why he decided to step outside his filter bubble and start listening:

“It’s easier to believe things that confirm our bias and it’s easier to believe things that support our tribe….Both the left and the right need to connect as people, rather than as political entities.” (See full transcript below the video.)

What are some concrete steps we can take to step outside our own filter bubbles? Leave a comment at the end of the story, or tweet what you’re thinking at #knightcomm. We’ll collect what you say tell members of the Knight Commission on Truth, Media and Democracy.

You know something that you’ll never hear on one of these cable talking-head shows?

One of the guests going, “Hmm, I don’t know.”

You don’t get on those shows by saying that!…

For the last 25 years I was part of a conservative talk-radio infrastructure that I think helped turn Wisconsin from blue to red.

We were the voice of the conservative movement.

Criticisms of mainstream media bias have been a staple of the conservative movement and talk radio from the beginning.

“We have to have a revival of the concept ‘truth matters’. There’s so much information out there, there are so many intelligent ideas out there, and they come from unexpected places.”

You had a huge segment of the electorate that didn’t feel that they were being talked to or taken seriously and so they gravitated to the alternatives.

And in a lot of ways it was radical, it was refreshing, and it was very disruptive.

At some point, we had become so successful in our criticism of the media that we had succeeded in delegitimizing all sources of the media. That we had destroyed their credibility. And as a result, we had also destroyed a lot of our audience’s immunity to fake news, false news, and hoaxes.

And then along comes Donald Trump. Throughout the Trump campaign, where he would say things that were obviously, patently untrue, and yet when I would try to push back on the claims with the audience, it was not registering.

If I said, “Well here’s what The New York Times reports, here’s what The Washington Post reports.”

Well, those are liberal rags, we don’t listen to them.

It was outside the bubble they just would not accept it.

There were a couple of moments where I went ‘Whoa, okay, we’re a new world here, this is not just a problem for the conservative movement, it’s not just a problem for the media, this is a problem for democracy.’

I had spent the previous nine months being critical of Donald Trump. When I said I wasn’t gonna support him, I meant I wasn’t gonna support him in the general election.

But I had people who listened to me for 20 years who would write to me, “We’re never listening to you again, we’re gonna turn you off, we’re gonna tell all our friends to turn you off, you are a traitor, you are Benedict Arnold.”

And again, these are my friends. I will tell you that there was not a single part of me that ever thought that I would be hosting an NPR show.

So I supposed I ought to introduce myself. I am a stranger in a strange land. I am a conservative contrarian. I’ve been in this conservative bubble and for a long time I was proud to be in this conservative bubble, but once you break out of it and you realize you know what, there are other people with other ideas and other perspectives, stop simply rejecting them because of the source.

It’s easier to believe things that confirm our bias and it’s easier to believe things that support our tribe. People are busy, but we also live in an age where it’s easy to access all of this information; really it’s on your phone.

The problem is how do you pick which ones they are?

And that’s why this may be the age for the Honest Brokers, the people who can establish credibility across lines.

Both the left and the right need to connect as people, rather than as political entities.

We have to have a revival of the concept ‘truth matters’. There’s so much information out there, there are so many intelligent ideas out there, and they come from unexpected places.

I think that you’ll find it incredibly invigorating to break out of an alternative reality bubble.