Wish #1: That media institutions will demand more internal integrity than they did last year.
There’s a reason that FAKE NEWS!!! resonates with so many people. Even with a microscope on it, the MSM gets a lot of stories wrong either by running with something before it’s proven or taking something out of context. Here are just three links to get you started down this depressing rabbit hole:
- “Not fake news, just plain wrong: Top media corrections of 2017”
- “The U.S. Media Suffered Its Most Humiliating Debacle In Ages And Now Refuses All Transparency Over What Happened.”
- ‘Rasmussen poll: Americans Give Fox News the Fake News Trophy.”
President Trump is not immune to this, of course, and neither are some of his ambassadors, but I’m pointing fingers here at journalists and newsmakers, which is where I think it’s reasonable to expect to get reliable information. I’m at a place now where I fact check everything (though there are some sources I trust more than others.) The more eye-opening the story, the more I double-check. That’s frustrating.
In defense of journalists and the media, I get it: the news cycle is brutal. Someone is going to break a story, and that someone gets more clicks on their websites, which means advertising dollars, which means they stay in business. The need for tech savvy reporters also skews the journalist pool younger, which means less experience, which makes it easier to get sucked into stories of which older journalists might be reasonably wary.
So I’m not wishing for perfection in 2018. Maybe just more reserve, more caution; an appropriate and honest uncertainty embedded in the story if the story is speculative; a relentless follow-up that examines all sides; a ready correction or apology if something goes wrong. I know plenty of individual journalists already pursue this, and the SPJ Code of Ethics is great, but there seems to be a lot of room for institutional improvement.
Let’s also not forget the way in which a societal mountain can be made out of a political molehill with this particular President and his family. Who cares what the White House Christmas decorations looks like? If the Obamas had done the same decoration, the current critics would love it. 2018 would be a great year if I never read another story about how President Trump drinks water oddly, or watched his daughters get vilified for posting the kinds of pics on Instagram that so many of their peers post (“How dare they be beautiful and rich!”), or saw blaring headlines about how Melania's slight frown indicates how she hates her husband.
The Left is doing now what the Right did during Obama’s presidency. There was nothing good Obama could have done for media on the Right. Case in point: his last Christmas in office, he and his family released a long video that included talk about Jesus and Merry Christmas, and the Right is still convinced that Trump brought Christmas back to a White House that dared not speak Jesus’ name. The constant criticism of everything was exhausting, and I say that as someone who didn’t particularly care for President Obama or his presidency.
It's exhausting again. Let some stuff go.
Wish #2: That the President will exercise more public statesmanship than he did last year.
This is not about his qualifications, character, or policy. This is not about who he is behind closed doors. This is about public statesmanship, which is a lot easier to address. I have two very simple suggestions: stop using Twitter, and stick to a prepared script or list of talking points when speaking publicly (the response to his recent New York Times interview is an excellent case in point).
Right now, I read so many news stories about President Trump that involve his presentation rather than his policies. This presentation includes demeaning nicknames, thin-skinned personal responses to any criticism, fake news claims for any media that disagree with him, mystery words, the promotion of conspiracy theory, and insulting people, countries and organizations. Here’s a list of Twitter insults that were complied by the New York Times since Trump became president - which does not include the list from during his candidacy (and if your first thought was, “FAKE NEWS!” rather than to check and see what they said, you are on my wish list. Keep reading...)
My wish for 2018 is that President Trump stay on script and allow others to edit his thoughts for him on social media. I think he would accomplish at least four key things.
First, he could change his public persona (and raise his poll numbers, I suspect) by curbing his social media use. This would also change a lot of the international community’s opinion, because they wouldn’t feel the need to publicly respond to something insulting or embarrassing that he has tweeted about them to the entire world. The President could immediately stop the cycle he has started if he gave up Twitter or at least submitted his posts to people around him who helped him say what he wants to say substantively while editing out the provocation, brashness, and pettiness.
Second, he would begin to project discipline and graciousness. It wouldn’t matter if he was or wasn’t behind the scenes; it’s politics, and perception become reality for the average person. When carefully crafted statements emerge from cabinet meetings, there is more force, more somber credibility, more sense that governmental policy is being crafted methodically and thoughtfully.
Third, he would make the possibility of working with people climb exponentially. If he takes his differences out of the public eye and hashes things out behind closed doors, I suspect a lot more would get done in terms of policy, and he would certainly benefit in terms of reputation – which means the US benefits as well on the world scene.
Fourth, he would promote a discussion that would be able to center around the substance of his policies rather than a discussion of his public persona. If he wants to put America First, a great way to do that would be to elevate the level of discourse in the United States – and it starts with him.
Wish #3: That the Left and Right will commit to the hard work of finding and protecting truth more than they did last year.
If I hear one more claim that news source X is Lamestream News, or full of liars, or part of the swamp that needs to be drained, or is written by rabid idiots, I might just go live in a cabin in the woods. If you want to live in an egocasting bubble and be spoon fed only what you want to hear, that’s fine. But if you want to actually engage with the world in a meaningful way, you are going to have to read and listen widely, even if you don’t like the source, and learn how to get over your biases and do your own research.
That’s not a natural human tendency in any of us (see ‘confirmation bias’). Because I am just as prone to fall into that trap as the next person, I try to read from all kinds of sources (online news compilers like Flipboard help, as does a diverse group of Facebook friends). When I see friends post something from a site I don’t know or that I distrust, I google the website or the facts of the story. I find out if the source is trustworthy and/or the story has any merit. Then I click on the links in the story. I don’t know how many times this past year I googled the main words in a suspicious story someone posted. It takes three minutes to determine if I should take the story seriously.
I still get stuff wrong, of course, because I’m human. That’s one reason I love/hate the diverse group of people who interact with me on social media. You bet I get corrected, and I hate being wrong, but I hope I can continually improve in my desire to value truth, even if it means confronting my own bias, lack of critical thinking, and absorption of misinformation.
Wish #4: That people learn how to be both bold and civil in equal measure more than they did last year.
First tip: ask questions of people with whom you disagree:
- “What’s your source for that?”
- “What did you mean when you said…..?”
- “What has led you to that conclusion?”
- “What would you say to this counter argument: …..”
- “What’s the best thing you read from the Left/Right that has disagreed with you?”
- “Are you sure that your source got that right? I’ve heard a very different view (posts a link).”
- “Here’s a few links to show you what’s been informing my opinion. What do you think?”
Second tip: extend an offer of engagement. Something as simple as, “Thoughts?” lets people know you want the conversation to continue. If you don’t want the conversation to continue, you probably should have made your point and bowed out already. If you can’t do that, you aren’t ready for online interaction.
Third tip: Walk away from online discussion before you make an idiot out of yourself. Get over yourself, your opinion, and your desire to get the last word in and not run the risk of looking bad. For most of us, the world is not hanging on our next response. You’d be shocked how many people DON’T read what you post. If you are wrong, own it. If you are out of your depth, acknowledge it, then go study. If you are just getting bored or frustrated, don't be afraid to shake the dust off your feet and move on to something else.
Fourth tip: Decide if you want to win a friend or a fight online. It’s possible to win battles and lose far more important wars. Believe it or not, you can speak truth graciously. Boldness is not the same as obnoxiousness. You can be blunt without being mean. Sure, you can bully and insult and sarcastically nail someone to their Facebook wall. But to what end? What is your goal? To win a fight or a friend? To attack policies or people? To wrestle with people or ideas? To change hearts and minds or shame them? We should never shy away from truth, but we should do everything in our power to make sure our words are like apples of gold in settings of silver.
Fifth tip, and this is specifically for us Christians: Our 'fight' is not with flesh and blood, right? If it gets personal – if you are fighting with a person who pisses you off and it’s ON now – you need to back out of the discussion and recalibrate your Christian priorities. What was Paul always saying in his letters? “Grace and truth… Let each one of you esteem others as better than themselves…as much as is possible, live at peace with everyone…love one another (see 1 Corinthians 13).”
If we don’t commit to this above all else, shame on us – and the reputation we incur will be projected onto the church, which will be projected onto Christ. If that doesn’t sober us I don’t know what will.
Wish #5: That I ‘walk what I talk’ better than I did last year.
I’m tired of hoping for this every year, but that’s just the reality. I am not the man I should be – and could be – in so many ways. I’m glad God (and so many people around me) haven’t bailed on me.
May I have the grace and strength to be a better man this year than I was last year.