How B. Jay Cooper, by trying to clarify a fact on Twitter, realised the extent of polarization in the United States in the current political climate.
First published in December 2019.
The other day I did something I rarely do. I commented on a Twitter tweet posted by a friend/acquaintance. I did it intentionally for one reason. I was, I thought, adding a clarifying fact to his post.
This friend/acquaintance I’ve known for about 30 years. He’s not a friend I’d spent any time with. He is more a professional friend. He, though, has nearly 400,000 followers on Twitter (I have 447 but that’s not the point). And his name isn’t important either because my learned lessons had little to do with him personally.
His tweet pointed out that CNN was not covering the Justice Department’s inspector general hearing live. I realized that CNN was teasing the hearing, but it wasn’t on air at that moment. What CNN did was make the news judgement that the opening statements by members – typically focused solely on partisan points of view – weren’t newsworthy so they didn’t carry them. They did, though, cover the hearing live when it moved on to the testimony.
So, I responded to him that fact. He responded within seconds pointing out that CNN did air the opening statements of the Democratic chairs on the impeachment hearings live but wasn’t carrying the Senate’s Republican chairman. He instructed me, “Don’t defend their double standard.” I said something like, true but I could have lived happily not hearing those Democratic opening statements too. (I’m not exactly sure why he felt the need to instruct me what to do, but that’s not the key point either).
The news judgement was, apparently, that the impeachment hearings and the inspector general hearing on a report are not equal. Thus the opening statements had different import in each case.
Then the “likes” and comments came rolling through from my friend/acquaintance’s nearly 400,000 followers both “liking” his responses to me and, sometimes, adding their own. They said I was missing the point (though I’m not sure I really am. CNN made a news judgement like every other mainstream media outlet – print or broadcast – does all the time. I saw that as a correct judgement, they saw it as evidence of CNN’s bias against President Trump.) But that’s not the point either.
I don’t comment often on other people’s tweets but I do use Twitter as one platform for distributing this column.
Even though my name on my Twitter account is “B. Jay Cooper” one responder said “perfect initials.” Obviously meaning the “BJ” and the various things (though he clearly had one in mind) that BJ can stand for. Frankly, I hadn’t heard such a brilliant comeback referring to my initials since I was in the fourth grade. (“Brava!” as Sirius Radio DJ Seth Rudetsky would say).
There were, literally, hundreds of “likes” or responses, some agreeing with my comments but the vast majority taking the other side and the other side in this case clearly wasn’t just my friend/acquaintance but President Trump’s.
My first thought when I saw the number of responses (and they kept coming in the next morning and still are as I write this) was “do you have lives?” My second more reasonable thought was – the polarization of this country is even worse than I imagined.
Imagine, more than a hundred (I didn’t count them but Twitter apparently stops when it says “so and so and 98 others” responded). The vitriol. The, in some cases, immaturity. All because I pointed out what I (a former reporter) and other former reporters I talked to about it said – CNN made the correct news judgement.
As Steve Martin used to say: “Well, ex-cuuuuuuse me!”
Folks, no leader is going to come around and fix us. We have to fix ourselves. You needn’t agree with me all the time nor I with you. But the vehemence of the responses needs to be dialed way back. We are no longer even coming close to arguing facts. We simply are have a knee-jerk, partisan reaction. That is no way to run a democratic country.
And I’m not talking just my experience on Twitter. I’m talking the bigger, more important picture. I watched a few minutes of the House Judiciary Committee hearing on the impeachment articles a bit ago. The Republicans were talking only about the Bidens (who have nothing to do with the topic at hand) and the Democrats were falling into the knee-jerk trap of defending Biden. I didn’t hear the name Trump or the country Ukraine at all for the 15 minutes or so I watched.
You may not agree that Trump should be impeached. That’s a legitimate opinion. But can’t this hearing, can’t this decision on Trump be made based on facts and not “facts” about Joe or Hunter Biden, but facts about what President Trump did or didn’t do? That’s the issue.
Imagine if President Trump had put up an honest defense to these allegations from the beginning. If he is innocent such a defense would be the right thing to do.
Now I have my view. It is affected, though, by the fact that Trump has stonewalled the investigation from the beginning. If he’s innocent, he should put his case forward, not hide behind tweets and pointing fingers at others.
As to my new friends/acquaintances on Twitter. I was only trying to put some facts into the discussion.
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