Yesterday I wrote about a group of researchers for the moderate Democratic group Third Way who traveled to Middle America looking for signs of unity and found mostly partisanship. Today I want to highlight another effort by someone on the left to cross partisan lines in an effort to learn something. Former NPR CEO Ken Stern spent a year living like a conservative, going hunting, going to church, attending NASCAR races. His purpose was to write a book about the other America but also, he says, to see if maybe he could learn something. From the New York Post:
For an entire year, I embedded myself with the other side, standing in pit row at a NASCAR race, hanging out at Tea Party meetings and sitting in on Steve Bannon’s radio show. I found an America far different from the one depicted in the press and imagined by presidents (“cling to guns or religion”) and presidential candidates (“basket of deplorables”) alike…
At Urbana, I met dozens of people who were dedicating their lives to the mission, spreading the good news of Jesus, of course, but doing so through a life of charity and compassion for others: staffing remote hospitals, building homes for the homeless and, in one case, flying a “powered parachute” over miles of uninhabited jungle in the western Congo to bring a little bit of entertainment, education and relief to some of the remotest villages you could imagine. It was all inspiring — and a little foolhardy, if you ask me about the safety of a powered parachute — but it left me with a very different impression of a community that was previously known to me only through Jerry Falwell and the movie “Footloose.”
There’s definitely a ‘gorillas in the mist’ aspect to this but often that phrase is a reference to the tone of something as much as the process. In this case, the tone isn’t ‘look at these curious savages’ it seems to be more humble than that, i.e. ‘I’ve really misunderstood some good people.’ It’s not clear whether Stern is a convert on any particular issue but he does seem to have come a long way on at least one key issues dividing left and right, gun control:
Over the course of this past year, I have tried to consume media as they do and understand it as a partisan player. It is not so hard to do. Take guns. Gun control and gun rights is one of our most divisive issues, and there are legitimate points on both sides. But media is obsessed with the gun-control side and gives only scant, mostly negative, recognition to the gun-rights sides.
Take, for instance, the issue of legitimate defensive gun use (DGU), which is often dismissed by the media as myth. But DGUs happen all the time — 200 times a day, according to the Department of Justice, or 5,000 times a day, according to an overly exuberant Florida State University study. But whichever study you choose to believe, DGUs happen frequently and give credence to my hunting friends who see their guns as the last line of defense for themselves and their families.
Again, I doubt Stern is joining the NRA and starting a gun collection, but he certainly seems to have moved to a position from where he can at least see both sides of the debate as opposed to what usually passes for fairness at NPR.
When it comes to the issue of media bias Stern tells Tucker Carlson he still believes people who work at NPR try to be fair and give both sides, but he now knows that living inside the Democratic-media bubble means many reporters “don’t tell the stories of half the country.” Is it still bias if you’re only partly aware how biased you are? I think it is. If Stern’s effort shows anything it’s that it is possible to encounter the world outside the bubble, it just takes some effort. Here’s the full Tucker Carlson interview from last night’s show: