My morning consists of Hoboken to Jersey City to Manhattan to Hoboken, so I decide to “unplug” for this PATH train journey. Phone stays in tote bag, meaning no Twitter, Instagram or Facebook. No music. Just me and my thoughts, paying attention, blocking out the negativity.
So what are the odds I’d catch the live version?
An elderly woman with a cane gets on the PATH at Grove. Before she crosses the threshold a young woman has offered her seat.
“Look, no one else bothered to offer,” the woman says loudly.
We all know the type. This is followed by the requisite commentary on how no one has manners anymore. The young woman, bless her heart, politely engages her in conversation and by the next stop she is sitting next to her. I’m across the aisle and down some and I can hear every word. About five minutes in, I hear this:
“And now if a woman has a baby and decides she doesn’t want it, she can kill it after she gives birth. I’m so mad and sick about this,” the woman says.
I am now longing for music in my ears because I cannot believe anybody is that stupid. My eyes dart around to see if anyone else is listening to this, but I sit there silent while this young woman tries to diffuse her with, “I hadn’t heard that.”
“Oh, yes, yes,” the woman says.
Heavy sigh. I want to throttle her.
Unplug, Nan. What a great idea.
This slice of my life could have ended there, but it has been swirling through my mind all day. And you know why? Because we know where, in all likelihood, the elderly woman got this misguided notion. It’s been in the news this week thanks to a scathing piece by Jane Mayer in The New Yorker — “The Making of the Fox News White House.”
The overriding question with me today as I walked past the Empire State Building, as I ascended the subway steps, as I picked out lemons at my little grocery market, was this: What is the equivalent version of this on the other end of the political spectrum? If this is on the roughest end of what Fox News has viewers believing, what is the comparable awful story coming out of MSNBC? What untruths are their viewers espousing?
I’m really asking. Feel free to educate me.
For the record, I don’t buy that characterization of those two networks anymore despite what Rick Santorum said on CNN’s AC360 this week. Maybe a decade ago or even five years ago I would have nodded if you said one was the news through a conservative lens and one was the news through a liberal one. But now that simplification is not fair to MSNBC.
I don’t recall President Obama waking up, watching Morning Joe, and reacting to what pundits said about him. To my knowledge, Obama didn’t end his evening by talking to Lawrence O’Donnell or Rachel Maddow before his head hit the pillow and he didn’t invite Chris Matthews up on stage at a rally. Obama didn’t hire a top MSNBC executive known for covering up years of sexual abuse and harassment in the top levels of the network as his White House communications guy. And as far as I know, MSNBC didn’t kill a story about Obama and porn stars right before either of his presidential elections.
So, no, Senator Santorum, they’re not both “in the bag” for the respective parties. We’ve reached a whole new level here. In The New Yorker story, Mayer writes this about the creation of Fox News:
“Blair Levin, at that time the chief of staff at the F.C.C. and now a fellow at the Brookings Institution, says, ‘Fox’s great insight wasn’t necessarily that there was a great desire for a conservative point of view … The genius was seeing that there’s an attraction to fear-based, anger-based politics that has to do with class and race.’”
This brings me back to the elderly woman on the train. It’s not enough to report on the controversy over a woman’s right to choose whether she wants to bring a pregnancy to term, right wing media has to take it to a horrifying place where infants are killed at birth. We can’t simply have a dire immigration problem; it has to be that those here illegally are coming to rape you or kill you in your sleep. It can’t be that they take a stance that Robert Mueller’s investigation is misguided, it has to be a hoax, witch hunt, “deep state” conspiracy in cahoots with our intelligence agencies. That’s not reporting. It’s not even responsible expression of opinion. It’s fear mongering to keep viewers coming back.
So when the Democratic National Committee announced this week in the wake of Mayer’s piece that it wouldn’t be doing a debate on Fox News in the upcoming election, we began hearing from Democrats and Republicans alike that, wait, there are some respectable journalists there – Chris Wallace, Bret Baier, etc. Yes, there are. And some of them are pushing back on what their employer has become because they know it affects their credibility.
Think back to that debate where Megyn Kelly dared to ask a presidential candidate a real question. Mayer writes about it like this:
“You’ve called women you don’t like ‘fat pigs,’ ‘dogs,’ ‘slobs,’ and ‘disgusting animals,’ ” [Kelly] said. Trump interrupted her with a snide quip: ‘Only Rosie O’Donnell!’ The hall burst into laughter and applause.
“Kelly kept pressing Trump: ‘You once told a contestant on ‘Celebrity Apprentice’ it would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees. Does that sound to you like the temperament of a man we should elect President?’ But he’d already won over Republican viewers. (Fox received a flood of e-mails, almost all of them anti-Kelly.)”
And now she may be sitting on a pile of money, but she isn’t sitting in an anchor chair anymore.
Hard to believe my decision to forego Twitter or listening to Tapestry on my commute brought me here, but maybe the writing gods wanted me to work up a bit of anger generated from something that happened in real life as opposed to on a screen.
Unplugged. Ear to the ground. Anger funneled into craft.