Ken Stern, former editor and CEO of NPR embedded himself for a year with “the other side,” and discovered some interesting things about himself and his industry.
“I found an America different from the one depicted in the press and imagined by presidents,” Stern wrote in a New York Post piece touting his upcoming book, “Republicans Like Me: How I Left the Liberal Bubble and Learned to Love the Right.”
Stern said he went all out: standing in pit row for a NASCAR race, hanging out at Tea Party meetings, sitting in on Steve Bannon’s radio show, pig hunting in Texas.
He found most reporters are liberal and that most people in real America deeply distrust the media. He also found that groupthink pervades press coverage and that many of the people he thought he knew on the right were not what he expected at all.
Liberals outnumber conservatives in the media by 5:1, Stern wrote, and this bubble creates a situation where the media horde coalesces around “which stories are important, which sources are legitimate and what the narrative of the day will be.”
When he attended the Urbana Conference, with 15,000 evangelical young people, Stern said he “certainly didn’t expect the intense discussion of racial equity and refugee issues – how to help them, not how to keep them out – but that is what I got.”
At Urbana, he met young people preparing to go off to a life of mission work, of “charity and compassion for others.”
Some would staff rural hospitals; others would build homes for the homeless. One even wanted to fly a powered parachute over miles of jungle in western Congo.
“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.’”
He was flabbergasted by gun enthusiasts and how far off the mark his impression of them had been.
“I linked up with a group of friends from Houston who belied the demographic stereotyping of the hunt; collectively we were the equivalent of a bad bar joke: a Hispanic ex-soldier, a young black family man, a Serbian immigrant and a Jew from D.C.,” he wrote. “None of my new hunting partners fit the lazy caricature of the angry NRA member. Rather, they saw guns as both a shared sport and as a necessary means to protect their families during uncertain times.”
The media mistreats the gun debate because it is “obsessed with the gun-control side and gives only scant, mostly negative, recognition to the gun-rights sides.”
At least 200 times per day, according to the Department of Justice, Americans use guns to defend themselves from criminals. Stern referenced a case in Houston, where a robber entered a store and pointed a pistol at the store clerk. The clerk walked out from behind the counter, raised his own gun, started firing and watched the robber stumble onto the street and be arrested.
The clerk never even takes the cigarette out of his mouth. When the shooting stops, he said, “Castle doctrine, baby,” referring to a law that allows a person to use force to defend a legally occupied place. An incredible story, he said, but one rarely seen in mainstream media.
“It’s not that media is suppressing stories intentionally,” Stern wrote. “It’s that these stories don’t reflect their interests and beliefs.”
Stern said he met people in Youngstown, Ohio, and Pikesville, Ky., who don’t trust what they hear or read in the news and see the media as “hopelessly disconnected from their lives, and it is now the media has opened the door to charges of bias.”
Two-thirds of voters think mainstream media runs fake news and its major institutions are seen as creating, not combating, our growing partisan divide.
“You can’t cover America from the Acela corridor,” he said. “The media need to get out and be part of the conversations that place in churches and community centers and town halls.”