Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Madison) speaks at a House Oversight & Government Reform Committee hearing on Sept. 19, 2013.
Once in awhile, I go on Mitch Henck's call-in radio show on WIBA. Mitch invites me on occasionally to be the token bleeding heart on his Friday end-of-the-week roundtable.
I don't know why I do this -- I'm always outnumbered. There's Mitch, who is kind of a blue collar libertarian, and there's his callers, who are the same but somewhat lacking in his sense of humor and fair play. Then he balances that out by having on another pundit who is a conservative. When I'm done with the hour. I need to take a couple of aspirin and lay down for awhile.
Still, this is good for me the way a long mostly uphill run on a hot day is good for a person. You feel horrible while doing it, but are happy that you did so later on.
For one thing, I like Mitch. He's the kind of conservative I wish there were more of. He's pretty much consistent in his libertarian views (less government in both the boardroom and bedroom). He also doesn't take himself too seriously.
And for another thing, it's good for me to step out of the bubble once in awhile. Truth is I live in a world where the points of view are just shades of left. Sure, Dianne and I have some Republicans in our families, but when we get together we make it a point to talk about the weather and also golf.
But when I go on Mitch's show, I get exposed to a political world I know little about -- and he also likes to talk about golf. One of the fundamentally tragic things about American politics today is the narrow parsing of our media. It used to be that your choice of national news outlets came down to Walter Cronkite or Huntley-Brinkley. Now, you can choose from a list of designer news outlets, each catering to and reinforcing the point of view you started with.
That's unfortunate enough, but my hour on Mitch's show last Friday also reminded me how this media environment can produce "events" that are huge for one group and don't even exist for another.
Just before a commercial break, a woman named Pam demanded angrily (there's a lot of anger on conservative talk radio) that I try to defend Congressman Mark Pocan for "walking out on the Benghazi hearing." I had no idea what she was talking about, so during the commercials I googled the topic. What I found was a steady stream of right-wing websites and bloggers blasting several Democrats, including Pocan, for leaving a hearing about the killings of several Americans at the embassy in Benghazi in 2012. There wasn’t any reliable mainstream media reporting on it that I could find during the break, so I pleaded ignorance and Mitch moved the conversation on to other issues.
I later checked with Pocan's office, and it turns out that the story is a non-story, which is probably why none of the mainstream media reported on it. After five hours of a hearing designed to keep the Benghazi story in the press as a way of attacking former Secretary of State and presumed 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hilary Clinton, the committee took a break. Several congressmen, including both Democrats and Republicans, took that opportunity to leave that hearing and get on to other obligations that they had that day.
As it turned out, there were some members of victims' families set to testify in the second part of the hearing, but no one walked out on them or intended them any disrespect. If the committee chairperson, Republican Darrell Issa of California, had wanted to he could have simply moved the families up to the first part of the hearing. In fact, it appears that Rep. Issa set up Democrats for the attack.
What happened is that right-wing outlets and bloggers distorted an innocent moment to try to embarrass some Democratic congressmen, essentially using the victims' families as pawns in a political game of gotcha.
What's interesting about this matter is that it was a big issue on conservative talk radio while I didn’t even know it happened -- and I consider myself a fairly well-informed guy. It demonstrates how we can live in the same country but on different planets depending on what media outlets we choose. We live in an increasingly polarized and compartmentalized country in which our views are only amplified in the echo chamber of our choosing.
So it's good for us to get out of our comfort zone once in awhile. Not all of us get the rare honor of having the bejesus kicked out of us on right-wing talk radio, but taking the time to carefully listen to other points of view is an exercise worth making. It would be even better if we didn't have to find our way through the smoke screen created by manufactured events designed to enrage us.