The hubby and I always like to have a show to watch together in the evenings after the kids go to bed. Currently, it’s The Americans. (We’re late; we know.) It’s a great show, set in the 80s, about a couple of Soviet spies living disguised as ordinary Americans. You know it’s a great show, because it has made me care about these two murderous commies who stand against everything I believe in.
Anyway, back in season three, there was a scene with FBI Agent Stan Beeman that has stuck with me. When I first saw it, I gasped, rewound it, and watched it again, because it was so spot-on. Another FBI agent asks Stan about his previous assignment, during which he lived undercover with a dangerous group of white supremacists, posing as one of them.
“What did it take to fool them?” the agent wants to know.
“Tell them what they want to hear, over and over and over again,” Stan tells him.
“People love hearing how right they are.”
If anyone—person, pastor, news outlet, website—always tells you what you want to hear, you can bet it’s not the truth. They’re fooling you.
The truth isn’t partisan. It doesn’t bend and shape itself to our ideological preferences, or our pet notions about a politician or political party. The truth is often hard to hear. It’s uncomfortable. If it makes you feel all warm and cozy, or completely righteous, chances are it’s not the truth. Or not the whole truth. Not always, but often.
A dear friend recently urged me to listen to Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity, which was funny because at that same time, I was thinking about urging her to stop listening to them. We had never spoken about the topic before; she’d never told me that she was a regular Fox viewer—but I knew. She might be surprised to learn that I do keep tabs on Ingraham, Limbaugh, Hannity, Carlson, et al. I just have a very different interpretation of their version of the news, and of their motives. She told me they really care about America. I believe what they really care about is the millions and millions of dollars they earn by telling people like my friend what they want to hear, over and over. They care about getting friendly retweets from their most important, most faithful viewer: the President. They care about keeping him and his fans happy and watching. And it’s working.
Fox knows its demographic. Fox knows what its audience wants to hear. So it tells them what they want to hear. Over and over and over. People love hearing how right they are.
You don’t have to take my word for it. Juliet Huddy was a Fox News host who worked for them for nearly twenty years. She calls Fox News an “agenda-driven network” that is hiding “damning evidence” against the President. She calls Sean Hannity, “the king of lying by omission.” She says “…they’ve done a good job of convincing us, the rest of the world, and their viewers, that the media is lying, that critics of Donald Trump are liars and are the enemy of the state.”
This is all blindingly obvious to anyone who doesn’t primarily get their news from Fox. I say this as someone who used to watch Fox News. I watched them until I realized they were going to support Donald Trump no matter what he did or said. They are not truth-tellers. They are a cheerleading squad. They are virtually state-run propaganda. With the occasional exceptions of Chris Wallace and Neil Cavuto, they are Trump’s personal Pravda.
It’s impossible to have a logical debate with someone who dismisses any facts that don’t fit their narrative. This happens on a regular basis now. I saw someone on Facebook who, when confronted with evidence of Trump’s immorality, the infamous audio of him bragging about “grab[bing] them by the p****,” and trying to sleep with a married woman (“I moved on her like a b***”), this person said she believed the audio was faked. This is such an outlandish conspiracy theory, with no evidence, no basis in fact, that any reasonable adult ought to be too embarrassed to float it on a public forum like Facebook. But she wasn’t. Which I suppose shouldn’t actually be surprising, since the man she’s defending is the king of conspiracy theorists. After all, the impeachment mess he’s in is partially due to his belief in a debunked conspiracy theory about Ukraine, and he first made waves in politics by pushing the debunked conspiracy theory about President Obama not being born in the US.
But facts matter. Truth matters. Even when—especially when—it conflicts with what we have previously believed. I had to write this blog, because this issue right here is the source of so much of our division and confusion. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had versions of this conversation with myself in my head:
“Now he’s praising the vicious socialist dictator who tortured an American to death during his presidency. How can they still support him?!”
“Jaclyn, it’s because they get all their news from Fox, and Fox says it’s great to make nice with vicious socialist dictators as long as Trump is the one doing it.”
“If Obama had done this, they’d be apoplectic. They’d be rioting in the streets. How can they still support him?”
“Jaclyn, Laura Ingraham is telling them it’s good that he did this.”
“Now the budget deficit is a trillion dollars. ONE TRILLION DOLLARS. How can they still support him?!”
“Jaclyn, they get their headlines from Breitbart.”
“He illegally withheld Congressionally approved aid to a foreign government that’s under attack from Russia to pressure them to hurt the campaign of his political rival. He violated his oath and betrayed his office. It’s so simple and obvious. Nothing could be clearer. How can they still support him?!”
“Jaclyn, it’s because Sean Hannity is telling them it’s all lies.”
“Good lord, look at this tweet. He’s insane. This is humiliating. How in God’s name—literally—can Christians still support him?!“
“Jaclyn. Fox News.”
As long as half the country lives in an alternate reality where the only facts allowed are ones that show Trump in a flattering light, and all others are memory-holed or invented whole cloth, no wonder we can’t agree on what’s true.
Yes, mainstream media is biased toward the left. But my friends, they’ve got nothing on Fox News. It does no good, and is in fact hypocritical, to complain about biased news sources, and then only watch the one news source that is more biased than any of them.
We all love hearing how right we are. I’m no exception. (Feel free to leave a comment telling me how very, very right I am, anytime.) But you know what? Please also tell me when I’m wrong. Tell me if there’s something I’m missing. Because more than I want to be right, I want to know the truth. I want to change my opinions, my beliefs, so that they align with the truth. Not the other way around. Even when it’s hard. Even when it’s uncomfortable.
If they’re always telling you what you want to hear, if you love them because they always tell you how right you are, they are lying to you.