BIDLACK | We have become a nation of biased listeners

Author: Hal Bidlack - April 20, 2018 - Updated: April 20, 2018

Hal Bidlack
Hal Bidlack

I’ve written before on bias in the media, and how polarized our country has become. Readers may recall that I compared the current political unpleasantness to our nation in roughly 1850, when disagreement also meant disloyalty and likely enemy status. I also wrote on what I called bold hypocrisy, wherein some national leaders, our current President in particular, tell falsehoods at a record pace, denying demonstrably true “facts” (remember when they said there was no meeting in Trump Tower? Then there was a meeting, but it was about Russian adoption? And then it was about…oh shut up!) And if you are a Trump supporter, admit it – when you read that last bit, you thought to yourself, “oh yeah? Well, the liberal-mainstream-dishonest media is the one telling the lies.” Right?

It appears we are unlikely to agree on where the “false” stuff is coming from, because of our own political biases. So, how about we agree to disagree on which leaders lie the most, and rather talk about how we, the American public, listen. More specifically, let’s talk about biased listening, and how we all-too-often hear what we want to hear, regardless of what is being said.

Some time ago, my wife showed me an interesting quote – “are you listening to me, or are you just waiting for me to get done talking, so you can talk?” I think this is an important question, and one that I know we need to ask ourselves more often. Walter Winchell, the famous newsman and columnist of the 1930s and 40s is credited with saying “the job of a free press is to inform, not that it will do so perfectly from any one source or at any one time.” Whether Winchell said those words or not, they are profoundly true. While we hope our news sources will be truthful and unbiased, we have a responsibility as the consumers of the news to follow Winchell’s admonition: We should get our news from multiple sources, across different days, weeks, and months. I know that is hard for many.

Our media have undergone a profound change since the days of Winchell and his predecessors. Growing up in the 1960s, we watched Walter Cronkite every night. Uncle Walter would never lie to us, nor would he spin. He was the most trusted man in America. In 2013, the good folks at Readers Digest sponsored a poll to ask whom Americans most admire now. The winner? Tom Hanks.The actor. The actor whose job it is to pretend to be people he is not, telling stories that may or may not be true. The second most trusted? Sandra Bullock, another actor. Indeed, you must scroll past Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep, Maya Angelou, and others, including Alex Trebek, before you get to the first journalist, Robin Roberts, sitting at number 12. You don’t find the first politician-ish person until you reach then-First Lady Michelle Obama at number 19, a few spots north of the first president on the list, Jimmy Carter at 24th. A brief huzzah for our Colorado readers – Peyton Manning clocks in at the 27thmost trusted American, nine slots higher than Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

So whose fault is this? Who is responsible for dividing into camps, each with their own claims of fact and alternate fact? Who do we blame for creating these divisions that seem to be rending our national fabric?

Cough… um…well, us.

We have become a nation of biased listeners. We’ve gone from a nation that values multiple newspapers in a town (remember the Rocky Mountain News?) to one that has become at least accepting, if not accommodating, to things like the Sinclair Broadcast Group requiring dozens of local news anchors to read a prepared text denouncing what Sinclair has decided is fake news, except Sinclair appears to define fake news as that news appearing on rival stations. I suspect this a trend not likely to end soon. We listen selectively and tend to remember those portions of the “news” that reinforce what we want, or need, to believe.

We all listen selectively. I’m guessing that there are parts of this essay you may find compelling, while other parts are, in your view, utter nonsense. That is as it should be. But I would ask, when reading this column and far more importantly, your daily news, to please consider that there are other opinions. Don’t run away from disagreement, embrace it. And try to remember that disagreement is not un-American. Indeed, it’s as American as apple pie.

Hal Bidlack

Hal Bidlack

Hal Bidlack is a retired professor of political science and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who taught more than 17 years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.