Without succumbing to the temptation of Google Search, who is the fourth-ranking Republican in the U.S. Senate? How about the sixth-ranking Democrat? Many of us are well aware who Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) are and we’ve probably heard all the ad hominin jokes about “Turtle Head” and “Crying Chuck” as well. On cable television, Sean Hannity will remind you how horrible liberals truly are; in print media, Dan Gainor will validate what we already know that the Left is disrespectful and encourages violence. Change the channel to the left and you can hear Chris Matthews call Donald Trump ‘Hitlerian’ while you read Roger Cohen describe our President as a “raging buffoon.”
But there is another way. There is a path through political vitriol and blinding media selectivity. There is a difference between political difference and political partisanship, between media bias and media blindness.
First and for the record, the fourth-ranking Republican in the U.S. Senate is Richard Shelby (R-AL). You may not even recognize him. He’s a little different than Chuck Grassley who, after Orrin Hatch leaves office in January 2019, will become the senior Republican senator. In November 2017, Grassley said about allegations against Alabama Judge Roy Moore that it was too bad that the Clinton-Lewinski scandal “didn’t turn out to be a big deal.” Oh, and, in December 2017, Grassley lamented people who spend their money on “on booze or women or movies.” Conversely, Shelby unequivocally stated that the State of Alabama could do better than Moore and steadfastly refused to endorse his fellow Republican to serve alongside him in the U.S. Senate.
Across the aisle, Jack Reed (D-RI) is the sixth-ranked Democrat in the U.S. Senate. Reed is a bit more low-key and reserved in his comments than his presidentially aspiring colleagues Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Kamala Harris (CA-D), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Not coincidentally, the Republican-controlled Judiciary Committee invited Reed to be the only non-member to ask questions during the Comey hearing on June 8, 2017.
And civility still exists in journalism too. Look at Fox News’ Jon Roberts and Shepherd Smith. Take the time to listen to Friday Round Table on NPR between liberal E.J. Dionne and conservative David Brooks; the duo almost trip over themselves in an attempt to be understanding and respectful to each other. Yes, we can choose to read Jonah Goldberg of the National Review and Peggy Noonan of the Wall Street Journal, instead of Steve Bannon and Milo Yiannopolous (formerly) of Breitbart.
But, unfortunately, it seems Americans are attracted to the increasingly erratic and mocking attitudes of the liberals like Keith Olbermann and conservatives like Carlson Tucker. We seem to be unable to distinguish television personalities like Michael Smerconish and Lou Dobbs, from journalists like Don Lemon and Chris Wallace.
But congeniality does not score television ratings or political contributions as easily as condescension and condemnation. If only conservatives paid as much attention to media liberals like Eugene Robinson and John Harwood instead of obsessing about David Palumbo-Liu Yvonne Felarca. And perhaps the liberal media ought to have less Paul Begala, and more Paul Krugman? More Andrea Mitchells who are genuine reporters and fair commentators at the same time.
Perhaps Fox should spend less time booking Gregg Jarrett and Sebastian Gorka, and more time booking Ari Fleischer and Britt Hume? More Judge Andrew Napolitano and less Laura Ingraham? Sadly, the conservative base is more interested in the attempted resurrection of Bill O’Reilly than the attempted redemption of Glenn Beck.
Too few of us pay attention to the people and media sources that we supposedly follow. For example, Chris Wallace and Bret Baier are journalists, whereas the aforementioned Hannity and Dobbs are host/commentators like Rachel Maddow and Anderson Cooper. And among elite host/commentators, not all are equal: Rachel Maddow had a Rhodes Scholarship and has a doctorate in politics from the University of Oxford, while Anderson Cooper has a B.A. in Political Science. Sean Hannity has no college degree.
There is also a difference between traditional hosting (David Muir, Jeff Glor, and Lester Holt) and journalistic reporting (Jon Roberts, Jim Acosta, Major Garrett, Jonathan Karl, Kristen Welker, Kelly O’Donnell, Peter Alexander, etc.). Similarly, but more subtly, I think there is a difference between commentary and analysis. Perhaps is as superficial as commentary is on television and analysis is written? Adding to the confusion, commentators and analysts may come from political, academic, or journalistic backgrounds as well.
In terms of the medium of media, there is a significant difference between written journalism and television (though maybe Fareed Zakaria successfully bridges that gap). Of course, almost everyone who follows politics knows the names Hannity, Maddow, and Cooper, but we need to read Jonah Goldberg, Ezra Klein, and Hendrik Hertzberg to be true political junkies.
Yes, CNN’s Chris Cuomo is well known, but I would suggest CNN’s Chris Cillizza is far more important to follow. Instead of being distracted by gimmicks and soundbites by Chris Cuomo, Steve Docy, and Sean Hannity, we should be asking questions like what is the education level and corporate sponsorship of these television personalities? Is the program intended to entertain and distract, or educate? It is important to wonder what questions the television personalities are not asking as much as it is interesting to ponder what questions are being asked.
Similarly, what politicians do not say, can be as revealing as what is said. We can listen to McConnell and Schumer spin; we can listen to Sherrod Brown (OH-D) and Rand Paul (R-KY) entertain. We can even watch Tom Cotton (AR-R) makeup facts and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) avoid jail.
Regardless of what the sensationalizing media may suggest, the world is not divided between the armies of George Soros and the Koch Brothers, nor the manipulative powers of a liberal media conspiracy and the most watched cable news network, Fox News. And not all politicians of each political party are equal either.
No, Richard Shelby and Jack Reed are not perfect, but I would rest easier with more Shelby and Reed, Jon Roberts and Fareed Zakaria, as well as more Chris Cillizza and Jonah Greenberg. Perhaps, if we don’t recognize the name of a Senator or journalist right away… perhaps it is because, regardless of political party or media bias, that those U.S. Senators and media representatives are doing their job, not promoting themselves. Yes, Op-Eds and newspaper commentaries ought to make a focused argument, but it is not necessary to publish Op-Eds that generalize an entire party into a homogenous entity or make ad hominin attacks on parties or politicians. When politicians, cable news, and print media criticize partisanship, self-reflection not recrimination might narrow the gap that increasingly divides America.