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A Call for Respect and Civility in the Media December 6, 2016 by Richard Nelson

In the time of year when elections come to an end and average citizens suddenly grow tired of the bickering and vulgarization of discourse, a new idea comes along that undermines partisan provocateurs bent on belittling and maligning their opposition. The idea is that civilization flourishes when public discourse is accompanied by respect and charity—both sorely lacking in the post-election aftermath.

Social media is partly to blame for the civility-deficit in the public arena. It's so easy to lob verbal bombs on Facebook and duck behind your Macbook. Earlier this year, a Pew Research Center survey confirmed this when they found that a majority of social media users are "annoy[ed] and aggravat[ed] at the tone and content of the political interactions they witness on these platforms." A third of social media participants are worn out by the sheer volume of political content and "more than half describe their online interactions with those they disagree with politically as stressful and frustrating."

But social media isn't the only culprit. It's too many activists and academia unwilling to accept the results of an election and a general unwillingness to try to understand what precipitated it in the first place. It's also a loss of confidence in the mass media whose failed narrative and predictions led to such disappointment. According to a Gallup poll in September,  only 14 percent of Republicans "express trust and confidence in the mass media." Only 30 percent of Independents and 51 percent of Democrats do.

Even though media angles for marketshare and wages a war over credibility  there should be common ground for agreement across the political spectrum. Can we agree that measured political discussion and the exchange of ideas are good and healthy a democratic republic? How about agreeing that when  discussion turns to accusation and debate begins to demean and assassinate character, a line has been crossed? If you're still with me, can we agree that intolerance and bigotry toward another's deeply held moral values is antithetical to civility?

Consider what happened to Chip and Joanna Gaines of Fixer Upper fame who attend a church whose pastor believes in a Judeo-Christian sexual ethic. [Insert emoticon of gasping here]. The supposed crime of the popular couple with a top show on HGTV is guilt by association (and apparently that they haven't had any same-sex couples on their show).  So critics at Buzzed and Huffpo are marginalizing them based on their pastors views. This is a non story about a celebrity couple's non views.

It was fueled by the suspicion of a Buzzfeed "reporter" who failed to get the Gaines to reveal their views on same-sex relationships. So he did what any respectable journalist would do and dug up old sermons delivered by their pastor and reported his views. Fake news is indeed alive and well.

This cultural McCarthyism got one popular tv show cancelled on HGTV in 2014. The Property Brothers—Jason and David Benham weren't as discrete about their views on sexual ethics and it cost them a television program. When such bigotry becomes public, citizens of goodwill have a duty to do something about it. And any respectable press ought to condemn the maligning of personal beliefs based on an individual's understanding of truth.

There's another reason the press should be careful to get this right. A McCarthyism of the Left that marginalizes and punishes perceived outliers who don't subscribe to their sexual ethics is just as dangerous as the McCarthyism of the right that targeted suspected communists in the 1950's. Both ruined lives and careers. Both lost credibility.

A healthy media pursues a story with balance, seeks truth and respects personal boundaries. They ought to realize it is not the public's right to know the intimate politics or religious beliefs of celebrities. Neglecting these truths frays the political fabric of a free people—a freedom the media plays an important role in maintaining. After all, the media should know that freedom of conscience and association afforded to their subjects is protected by the same constitutional provision that allows them to report. If the established media wants to salvage their respect, they must be willing to respect others.

 



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