Last night Jon Stewart appeared on The O’Reilly factor to discuss the issue of rap artist Common’s appearance at a White House poetry reading. While I believe the controversy is essentially much-a-do about nothing, I am more excited to see people of different perspectives sitting down and having a more rational discussion without resorting to yelling across cable channels at each other.
O’Reilly and Stewart have met in the past and Jon Stewart has had guests on his show that he does not agree with as well. Admitting that networks have political leanings is a reality we should embrace. News today is much like the days when big cities had more than one newspaper, each with different points of view. There is nothing wrong with this.
The problem is when American’s lock themselves into only one channel (or viewpoint) or when people assume that one side has the gospel truth and the other side is impossible of getting anything right.
I like Jon Stewart and Bill O’Reilly. I also think Fareed Zakaria on CNN is one of the smartest and well spoken guys on the air right now. I don’t care for “The Ed Show” on MSNBC or Glenn Beck because I think they both seem just a bit too ready to believe and pass along anything that makes the other camp look bad.
I don’t completely trust Sean Hannity or Chris Mathews, but I will watch them both to get their points of view, with the complete understanding that they look at the same issue from opposite ends of the spectrum.
In the end it really comes down to ratings and money. No channel wants to share an audience. They and their sponsors prefer loyal viewers that they can easily demograph (funny how I don’t see G. Gordon Liddy selling gold on MSNBC yet he’s all over FoxNews, huh). But this is only good for them, not us. Being a loyal follower of FoxNews or MSNBC can be addictive. We like to think of ourselves as being right, so these channels will tell us that what we believe is the truth. That makes us feel good an, of course, we like to feel good.
To be an informed citizen however, means to allow your beliefs to be challenged. This is not a pleasant experience for anyone, yet personal comfort is rarely associated with personal growth. We must understand that in the natural order of things, we will all make mistakes. Everyone can and will get something wrong. Obama, Bush, Gingrich, Pelosi, Jon Stewart, Sean Hannity, you and I will continue to make bad calls. And we will all do so because we thought it was the right call at the time. The only thing worse than being wrong is continuing to believe that you are right. Without differing opinions, how can we really be sure that our thoughts are valid?
We need more honest and frank discussions. We need to actively expose ourselves to different opinions. We need to listen to each other and ask ourselves the question “Why does he or she think that?” without reflexively assigning malice to the person we disagree with. It’s a complex world and both sides have legitimate points. Government is too big. And it is necessary. Life is not fair. And, yet, we do have a moral obligation to help the less fortunate. There are no easy answers.
At the end of the day we need to be able to step away for a bit to let the contradictory ideas filter into our brains so that we can distill our thoughts logically, as opposed to engaging in loud “debates” in which our only goal is to prove to the world (and ourselves) how right we are and how wrong they are. We should always be asking ourselves, “How could I be wrong on this?”.
Socrates had it right when he said “The unexamined life is not worth living”. We need to allow ourselves to be examined by others as well as ourselves. Stewart and O’Reilly are on the right track, I think.