THURSDAY, JANUARY 6, 2022
A healthy exchange with Ted Koppel: Just last week, the Washington Post's Emily Yahr recalled the CBS broadcast.
As we noted yesterday, the background on the broadcast was this:
Back in June, Ted Koppel had gone to Mount Airy, North Carolina to see what the public was thinking. Once there, he posed several good questions to a group of (mainly) tourists.
He asked them about the 2020 presidential election, and about the January 6 riot at the Capitol. When he posed those questions, for better or worse, they said such things as these:
KOPPEL: I know you came here to have a good time and not to talk politics. But let me just ask you, as a matter of curiosity: How many of you think we had a fair election?
FIRST MAN: No way!
SECOND MAN: No, no it wasn't.
FIRST MAN: I don't think it was at all.
KOPPEL: Was it a fair election?
THIRD MAN: By no means. I think there was a lot of voter fraud. It's never been proven. There's been people that's voted that's been dead fifteen years. I think it's more the mail-in ballot stuff. You don't know how much of those that were duplicated, triplicated. The whole bit.
FOURTH MAN: Look how many dead people voted for Biden.
At least as broadcast, that's the way the discussion began. And then, the discussion continued:
KOPPEL: One question, it's a serious question and I know you all will take it seriously: Tell me what you think happened on January 6 at Congress.
FIRST MAN: They showed truckloads of people that they were bringing in for this. It was all staged. And that's how that started. They even showed pictures of it on the news, about these vehicles coming in with all these BLM people.
FIRST WOMAN: I think it was staged. We've been to a lot of the Trump rallies, and I don't understand why they're focusing so much on that one issue when there's so many cities that are being burned down every day by protesters.
Shortly thereafter, two other women offered their views. We were intrigued by the things they said, and we found these exchanges refreshing:
SECOND WOMAN: We don't even watch news on TV anymore. We don't feel like we're being told the truth. And we find our truth in other ways. And I won't say what those other ways are, but I feel like we're not being told the truth, because we're trying to be swayed in a direction that we know is not the right direction.
KOPPEL: I won't be offended. I've been a journalist all my life. When President Trump talked about the press being "the enemy of the people"—
SECOND WOMAN: They are! And I love President Trump. And I love that man. I do.
THIRD WOMAN: I just hope when this airs, it won't show Southerners as a bunch of dumb idiots like so many parts of the country do, you know? We have a lot of love in our hearts. We love our country. We love our fellow man.
Yesterday, we offered a fuller transcript of this discussion. Why would we find this discussion "refreshing?" Before noting the shortcomings of this discussion, we'll answer that very good question:
We find that discussion refreshing because it is so rare.
Our modern news media are organized in such a way as to keep such exchanges from happening. You'll rarely or never see members of one of our two major tribes interviewed by a major figure who plainly belongs to the other.
Our "cable news" is built upon segregation—the total segregation of blue from red. You'll never see a group of Trump supporters expressing their views so freely to a major mainstream or liberal journalist. Nor will you see a group of Democratic voters interviewed on Fox.
Koppel's interview segment lasted less than four minutes. We'd like to see many more such discussions, conducted at much greater length, though we know there's little chance that any such thing will occur.
Above, you've seen some of the basic views stated by the tourists. Concerning this unusual session, we'll note the following points:
The tourists seemed fully sincere: As we noted yesterday, Koppel's respondents seemed to be completely sincere as they stated their views. They seemed to think they were stating established facts about the 2020 election and about the Capitol riot. It didn't seem to have entered their heads that their claims were even in dispute.
Koppel presented no objections: As he conducted the interview session, Koppel posed several basic questions, then listened to the tourists' responses. At no point did he question or challenge anything anyone said.
The tourists were never asked to support their claims—and, by any normal standard, their claims were quite dramatic. In one basic way, this approach was striking, because most of the things the tourists said seemed to be massively wrong.
Many of the tourists' statements seemed to be massively wrong: In fact, most of the things the tourists said—though not all!—seemed to be massively wrong. This was already true back in June, when this exchange occurred.
Everything is always possible, of course. That said, we know of no evidence that any significant number of dead people voted for Candidate Biden. We know of no evidence that the riot at the Capitol was staged—that truckloads of people, from BLM or from anywhere else, were somehow brought in for that purpose.
These claims were almost certainly wrong, yet Koppel posed no objections. This produced a fascinating session, but one which lacked give and take.
Sources of true/false belief: "We don't even watch news on TV anymore," the second woman said. "We don't feel like we're being told the truth."
In fact, people are "being swayed" in certain ways when they watch mainstream news. But the tourists seemed to be deep in the grips of certain mistaken beliefs, and Koppel never asked them to state, consider or evaluate the source of their prevailing views.
To our eye and ear, these people really did seem to believe that the election was stolen. Some of them seemed to believe that the Capitol riot was staged.
They'd heard these claims made by people they trust. And for better or worse, as a general matter, they don't trust people like Koppel.
That said, the tourists were courteous throughout, and it seemed their beliefs were sincere. We think it's healthy when people feel free to state their beliefs in the open air, and Koppel, to his credit, seemed to create that healthy circumstance on that trolley that day.
Our nation can't endure half slave and half free, Abraham Lincoln once said. In the modern day, it's hard to see how a functioning nation can survive half blue and half red.
Powerful operations are going to continue to exist—powerful operations designed to create mistaken beliefs of the kind Koppel encountered that day, and perhaps certain others.
How should mistaken beliefs be approached? As advocates for charity and for good health, we'll move to that question tomorrow.
Tomorrow: "We don't feel like we're being told the truth"