I stayed in a hotel over the weekend and did what I always do in hotels in the US – flip between Fox News [Republican] and MSNBC [Democratic].
Both channels were discussing recent changes in immigration policy, and this is roughly what they were saying:
Fox news anchor: I just don’t understand – democrats wanted Trump to take back his policy of separating children from their parents at the border, and now he has, they’re STILL mad.
Fox then moved on to a brief headline: Economy is growing under Trump administration.
MSNBC anchor: Trump will never admit that he caved after hearing the ProPublica audio of screaming kids and reversed the policy. But Republicans will not return the 2000 kids they have already taken under this policy.
MSNBC then showed clips of screaming kids with arms outstretched and blurred faces.
Same day, same news.
Except that it’s not news, America. None of this bullshit is news.
And yet many, many Americans watch cable news shows for hours a day – if 15 minutes of each makes me mad, imagine how riled up most Americans are every day.
I like to think of myself as a lone wolf, processing information with a clear and logical mind, the master of my own opinions, and I bet most of you do too.
But I see changes in myself when I’m living in the left-leaning Bega Valley in Australia, or here in conservative, economically challenged Montana.
My environment affects how I see the world, at least a little. I’m grateful to have had the experience of living amongst the Americans who voted for Trump, and having some inkling of why. The rest of the world still seems confused.
Here, I can see it’s hard for people to care about refugees – our lives are so uncertain, they seem to say, we don’t have time for this shit. Generations of poverty and hard physical labour have not added up yet for my fellow rural Montanans, and there is so much perceived shame in accepting disability payments, government healthcare or food stamps, which many families rely on.
These are the white, working-class people who voted for Trump – the folks who want their dignity back, a shot at the American dream of 1950 that so many are now competing for.
At home in Australia, people have the time and headspace to fight other people’s battles – to care about refugees and non-violent communication and quality of life. At home, people’s basic needs are always met, and basic needs overflow into a strong pleasure culture.
Just as who we’re surrounded by changes our worldview, what we’re absorbing by way of news is creating our worldview, whether we like it or not.
If you don’t feel like you know where to go for facts anymore, you’re not alone. It could take hours to fact check one person’s daily media consumption.
And it seems the US’ model for news is spreading – when I searched BBC news and two Australian news channels, ABC and SBS, I couldn’t find any news about US immigration like I remember from my childhood: good old put-you-to-sleep factual news.
International news covering the issue tended to be critical of Trump, and emotive, with soft music and lingering images of children crying.
I’m decidedly affected by images of children being taken from their parents – like any parent, my mind immediately jumps to my kids, in a strange country with a strange language, separated from us.
I think we should argue and analyze and debate and protest and take action to stop asylum seeking or immigrant kids being separated from their parents ever again, and then go further in guaranteeing human rights for immigrants.
There but for the grace of God, go I.
But I don’t think we should rely on our news programs to do this arguing and analysing for us – because they are so, so biased, especially in the US, where news channels are actually blatantly affiliated with political parties.
Do the arguing and analyzing yourself, preferably around a table with a mixed group of people and a good attitude.
Because it’s not news if it comes with a political message.
We all like having our beliefs validated – so if you want to watch MSNBC or Fox News, acknowledge what it is you’re doing and tell your friends “I’m off to indulge in a little light propaganda.”
What are your favourite news sources? I’d love to hear. Thanks for reading!
*** the image I used above is of Lee Lin Chin, a fabulous Australian news anchor ***