This col­umn will not make you happy

The Standard Journal - - LOCAL - DAVID CAR­ROLL

Itry to steer clear of pol­i­tics, be­cause frankly, you get enough of that ev­ery­where else. Many colum­nists make it quite clear. They’re on this side or the other. That’s why I’m warn­ing you at the out­set. If you’re look­ing for some­one to af­firm your views, or con­demn those you op­pose, this col­umn will not make you happy.

I was at a fam­ily gath­er­ing re­cently, and try as I might to keep the fo­cus on new ba­bies, foot­ball and food, I was un­suc­cess­ful. Ev­ery­body wanted to talk pol­i­tics. “How long is this shut­down gonna last?” “What do you think about that wall?” And of course, “Why don’t y’all news peo­ple stop pick­ing on our pres­i­dent?”

Be­cause I re­port the news on TV each day, I’m not al­lowed to have po­lit­i­cal opin­ions. Well, not pub­licly any­way. I vote in ev­ery elec­tion, but news re­porters must keep their opin­ions to them­selves.

I know what you’re think­ing, and if you haven’t al­ready slammed this pa­per down, ei­ther from anger or laugh­ter, let me ex­plain. I’m old school. I can ver­ify this be­cause my se­nior pic­ture in the hall­way of my old school has faded be­yond recog­ni­tion.

I grew up dur­ing a time when ma­jor news out­lets made sure you knew the dif­fer­ence be­tween news and opin­ion. Like my se­nior pic­ture, those lines are al­most in­vis­i­ble now. Who’s de­liv­er­ing the news im­par­tially, and who’s try­ing to shape your opin­ion? That lady on TV seems ar­tic­u­late and well dressed. Is she giv­ing me in­for­ma­tion that’s down the mid­dle? Or is she pitch­ing to the far left, or the far right? If she is stak­ing out a po­si­tion, is she mak­ing that clear?

The an­swer is com­pli­cated. Some­times it is ob­vi­ous, but other times, it is opin­ion hid­den un­der the guise of news. One of the ma­jor net­works, which I used to trust like a mem­ber of the fam­ily, had me fooled in 2016. They re­ported a po­lit­i­cal cam­paign story in a very slanted man­ner, and it was not la­beled as opin­ion or com­men­tary. I still don’t trust them.

In re­cent years, the news me­dia has taken its lumps. In some well pub­li­cized cases, those lumps are much de­served. In the fran­tic 24/7 race to be first, many news out­lets have rushed to judg­ment with lit­tle re­gard for facts or de­tails. On the lo­cal level, it would be like this pa­per run­ning a front page story about some­thing the edi­tor heard his neigh­bor’s cousin re­peat out­side the hard­ware store. Of course, a good edi­tor would never do that. He or she would re­quire a sec­ond source. And no, that doesn’t in­clude some­one else re­peat­ing the ru­mor on Face­book.

That is why there is no ex­cuse for some of the mis­takes we are see­ing at a much higher level. By re­gur­gi­tat­ing sto­ries from non-cred­i­ble sources, and mak­ing split-sec­ond as­sump­tions based on a snip­pet of video, many na­tional news me­dia out­lets have been wip­ing egg off their col­lec­tive faces. All the soap in the world will not re­move the goo, not any­time soon.

Good jour­nal­ists try to re­port both sides of the story, and to be hon­est and ac­cu­rate. When re­veal­ing the short­com­ings of those in power, this does not usu­ally go over well in the school su­per­in­ten­dent’s of­fice, the sher­iff’s depart­ment, City Hall, the gov­er­nor’s man­sion or the White House. A good jour­nal­ist loses some friends along the way, but that comes with the ter­ri­tory.

You, the reader have some re­spon­si­bil­ity as well. If you are merely watch­ing a news chan­nel or read­ing a pub­li­ca­tion to val­i­date your own opin­ion, you will not learn, and you will not grow. In to­day’s di­vided United States of Amer­ica, one side is not to­tally good, and the other side is not to­tally evil. The an­swer lies some­where in be­tween, and it is up to you and me to put aside par­ti­san­ship, seek the truth, and find ways to work to­gether.

Amid all the re­cent vit­riol and tox­i­c­ity on Face­book, a friend posted the wis­est com­men­tary I have read about this is­sue. He wrote, “We have be­come a cul­ture more in­ter­ested in feel­ing some­thing strongly than un­der­stand­ing any­thing more fully.”

I grew up in a na­tion di­vided over Viet­nam and racial equal­ity. Even­tu­ally, some of those wounds healed, and it seemed like most of us were on the same page. Sure, we had a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion ev­ery four years, but if it didn’t go our way, we wouldn’t ob­sess over it.

I’m not here to take sides, and I make no apolo­gies for that. I could have taken the easy route and writ­ten a col­umn that would make at least half the read­ers happy. I will leave that to oth­ers. I would rather stay here in the mid­dle and lis­ten to both sides. I just might learn some­thing.

David Car­roll, a Chat­tanooga news an­chor, is the au­thor of “Vol­un­teer Bama Dawg,” a col­lec­tion of

his best col­umns. You may con­tact him at 900 White­hall Road, Chat­tanooga, Ten­nessee, 37405 or

[email protected]


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