Charles Blow had a very interesting column in the NY Times the other day about the corrosive effect of pundits in our culture.
He cited Glenn Beck’s surprising recognition of his divisive behavior during his tenure at Fox News.
I remember it as an awful lot of fun, and that I made an awful lot of mistakes, and I wish I could go back and be more uniting in my language. Because I think I played a role unfortunately in helping tear the country apart. And it’s not who we are. I didn’t realize how really fragile the people were. I thought we were kind of a little more in it together. And now I look back and I realize if we could have talked about the uniting principles a little more, instead of just the problems, I think I would look back on it a little more fondly. But that’s only my role.
There are many dynamics in play that create pressures for commentators in print and on cable “news” channels to be overly provocative, generating anger and inflaming hysteria.
Referring to talking heads across the liberal-to-conservative spectrum, Blow writes:
Many media personalities are far from noble. As in any field, there are those consumed by ambition and possessed of dubious ethical bearings.
And in an arena where influence is measured by ratings, views and followers, the pressure to increase those metrics can get the better even of men and women with weather vane convictions.
Part of the job of opinion makers is to be provocative. One could express it this way: illuminate, elucidate and agitate.
But chasing provocation is a dangerous thing. It often leads you further out on a limb than is wise or safe.
Beck is just one of a number whose fundamental job is to attract viewers so that networks can make money from advertisers. Truth is not their concern. What matters is attracting and retaining viewers.
Sadly, what achieves this goal is agitating, generating paranoia, stirring up viewers’ emotions through outright slander, half-truths, and the persistent suggestion that “they’re out to rip us off, rob us of our rights, and take our stuff.”
The effect of this on the wider culture – from both the right and the left – is the creation and generation of division and animosity. The rhetoric of cultural warfare shapes imaginations so that everything is interpreted in light of political combat.
It’s no secret that many American Christians have been affected by the culture wars and the hysterical rhetoric of popular media (on both the left and right). Their imaginations are shaped with a readiness to fight, debate, and argue rather than to listen, share, laugh, and sit down with others and scheme to do good.
Paul’s antidote to heal the culture war imagination:
From now on, brothers and sisters, if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable, focus your thoughts on these things: all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely, and all that is worthy of praise. Practice these things: whatever you learned, received, heard, or saw in us. The God of peace will be with you (Phil. 4:8-9, CEB).