BROOKE GLADSTONE: This is On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I’m Bob Garfield. So it’s now a little over eight months since Election Day. We have come a long way together, [LAUGHS] haven’t we? Well, you should have been in the office “the day after.” The mood was fraught and our Executive Producer Katya Rogers saw an opportunity to offer listeners some ultra-OTM transparency at a moment when Brooke and I were at our most doubting. Here's how Katya introduced our weekly podcast extra on November 9th, 2016.
[NOVEMBER 9TH, 2016 OTM CLIP]:
KATYA ROGERS: Hi, everyone, this is Katya, executive producer of OTM. So, as you can imagine, lots of feelings being felt here in the office Wednesday morning, feelings we didn't quite know what to do with. I thought, if I were an OTM listener, what would I want to hear? I would want to hear Bob and Brooke talking through how they are feeling today and how they envision the direction of the show during the Trump presidency. So we went into the studio to hash that out, and here it is.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So anyway, what happened last night made me think about what we've been doing the last couple of years, especially the last year, and what we ought to consider doing in the future. I don't think our role is to be Cassandra-in-chief or even consoler-in-chief. I think that our main role is to make what seems to have been invisible to us and everyone we know, visible. We have to do an even better job of reporting and pull back, not entirely, of course, but to some degree from commentary. I'm not saying we extirpated. It's part of our brand. We've always been transparent, and I want to continue that. I think we need to be more fair, and that means we have to talk to people that we have discounted.
KATYA ROGERS: Do you think that we were unfair?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: With regard to the election, I think that we fell into the trap of everyone else. The focus was never on his supporters, until the very end.
BOB GARFIELD: It’s clear to me that while we imagined ourselves speaking truth to power, and I suppose we did, we were also very much stuck within the echo chamber. And, to the extent that our message was getting out beyond the non-Trump supporting community, it was probably dismissed as simply liberal boilerplate. I don't necessarily regret doing that because I think we repeatedly had to make a judgment whether the historic threat to our democracy and to our values was reason enough to veer away from kind of in-depth reporting on what made the electorate what it is. And that may be true.
But, actually, I think the bigger story that the press missed, overall, has been the quintessential slow-boiling frog situation, and that is that there's been a 30-some-year campaign of big lies, of demagogues in politics and in conservative media telling this ever-growing, more frustrated, more marginalized audience a number of things that are, you know, objectively untrue. I think that happened and kind of softened the target for an opportunist demagogue like Donald Trump. Fifty percent of the electorate believes that we are under siege from all sides and our economy and our society is being destroyed when, objectively speaking, [LAUGHS] none of that’s true. But it doesn't matter because the people who voted for Trump believe the collapse is underway. So I think that where the media failed was by letting the frog boil slowly to the point that the public, in a gigantic way, was misinformed.
So what does that tell us about how to approach fairness? Are you being fair or unfair to your audience by reflexively throwing bones at ideas that you don't think have merit?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What you describe is in no way how I describe fairness. The way that I intend it is simply to put more voices on the air, not to give them a free ride, not to shy away from disputing every assertion they might make that the facts disagree with, simply to make them present.
KATYA ROGERS: And make us better informed.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: About who they are.
KATYA ROGERS: Yeah.
BOB GARFIELD: But I don't think these explanations are mutually exclusive.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well, I do, ‘cause if we focus on the 30-year lie, we’re having an argument about stuff that happened during the Nixon administration and not stuff that we've ignored. You’ve brought it up a lot this year. It has undergirded many of our discussions. But I think that it will drag us into [LAUGHS] a very established narrative, when we really have to find out what's going on now.
BOB GARFIELD: Can we go mega transparent, Brooke?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Yeah?
BOB GARFIELD: Let’s go mega transparent.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Sure, go ahead.
BOB GARFIELD: For the 16-year history of this show, we have had conversations in our editorial meetings that the audience [LAUGHS] is not privy to about stories in which we’re fighting for truth, justice and the American way and we’re trying to decide how to report them or whether to report them, and there is a term of art –
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And we haven't used it in years.
BOB GARFIELD: Yeah, yeah, the term is, is it too Democracy Now? Democracy Now is a longstanding radio show that its history is in public radio, not NPR but public radio, and it is now broadcast on TV. It is a explicitly liberal progressive bastion. And the, the question that I think that we face is do we continue to go more in the direction that it takes, amp up the skepticism and outrage, or pull back and be, say, more dispassionate observers of the media scene and the political scene? I'm not sure if we can do both of those things.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So this is where you feel we have gone during the, the Trump campaign, is that what you're saying?
BOB GARFIELD: Yes, and thanks in large part to, you know, my insistence that we cover Trump, not as a politician but as a historic threat, a potential menace to democracy. So yeah, I mean, I’ve been pounding that message as, as often as I can, and that crosses the line between journalism that we expect into a kind of activism. I don’t think I ever mentioned Hillary Clinton's name during the whole course [LAUGHS] of the campaign but I and, by extension, the show became an activist player in anti-Trumpism. So now what do we do? Now what do we do?
KATYA ROGERS: Remember during the Bush administration we had to find a framing device. We were unnerved. We didn’t know what was going to happen. But that was politics. Like, well, that’s not our beat. And so, then we came up with “enabling condition,” which was –
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Enabling condition, free speech and privacy, all those things that enable the freedom of information and that enable journalism that were not, strictly speaking, media.
KATYA ROGERS: Yeah, so we came up with a media frame. And then when Obama won in ’08, we were like, mm, what’s our new frame, what’s our discussion, what’s it gonna be? Really, quickly turned to transparency, surveillance. What is our frame, what’s it gonna be? I feel like we’re, “We don’t know.”
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well, I suspect that our media role, our function will have to do with narratives and framings, constantly identifying and anatomizing those narratives of our colleagues in the mainstream media and also those outside of it.
KATYA ROGERS: One thing, I think, is going to be interesting is that we rely on historical context, right, to diffuse panic. Where is our historical precedent that makes us feel better?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well –
KATYA ROGERS: I don’t know, I, I don’t know.
BOB GARFIELD: Don’t complain to me about “Godwin's law” anymore.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Why?
KATYA ROGERS: No, that’s not –
BROOKE GLADSTONE: We don’t have Hitler!
BOB GARFIELD: But what happens if President Donald Trump does half the things he's promised to do?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: If you're going to bring out the - you know, the rhetorical heavy artillery, you do it in response to actual real things, not to his own rhetorical flourishes. We don’t hate Hitler because he made ugly speeches.
BOB GARFIELD: The political process is looking exactly like Weimar Germany, which was a nation that made a historically bad decision, a catastrophic decision based on exactly the same kind of fears and hatreds that have propelled Donald Trump into office. Now, whether that demagoguery turns into something deeply dark, I don't know but, you know, I refuse to be put off the idea that the political forces aren't a direct parallel to what got Hitler elected before he did a – you know, a single ugly act.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And you have made that observation, I think, probably half a dozen times on the show, but we are past the phase of the election.
KATYA ROGERS: I think that people will be listening to this discussion, our listeners, and they’ll want - they'll say, Bob and Brooke, tell me how to feel, what should I do today?
BOB GARFIELD: [PAUSE] Well, speaking personally, I – I’m afraid and, and I'm ashamed and I’m angry. And as to what to do next, I don't know but, you know, I, I think Brooke and I, even though we’ve had this marriage encounter session, we fundamentally agree that On the Media’s role is to keep our finger on the pulse of the nation and the media's coverage of the events as dispassionately as we can, without, without surrendering our commitment to truth and sanity and the Constitution and all that goes with it.
And, you know, the question is, do we, do we try to approach our jobs as, as leaders of a movement for truth and justice or do we just try to [LAUGHS] do our jobs as journalists covering journalism and let the rest sort itself out? I, I’m not sure we can do exactly both at the same time.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: I guess I would say I think we can do exactly both at the same time. Just shining a light gives people the information to pursue their goals.
And I guess, if I were talking to the listeners, Kat, what I would say is simply [SIGHS], you know, you have a couple of choices. You can sit back and give way to panic and embrace all the, the terrible analogies or we can simply keep our eyes open day by day and stay engaged. I mean, if you hate the outcome of this election, there is another one in two years that could change the Congress. This is about the American experiment and whether it fails. I mean, Krugman called America “a failed state,” and that doesn't have to be! That doesn’t have to be. The country is evenly divided. That means half of the nation agrees with you. So get everybody off their asses.
BOB GARFIELD: Yeah, you know, I hope that it’s some sort of clarion call but I – you know, what I most hope is that we are not all passengers on the ship of fools.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What the [BEEP] does that mean?
KATYA ROGERS: I don’t know what that means, either. [LAUGHING] What does that mean?
BOB GARFIELD: What’s it – what does it mean?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Why would you want to end on the line of, we’re all going to hell?
BOB GARFIELD: Perhaps I misunderstood, but if you wanted to know what I'm thinking and feeling and what we should do –
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Right –
KATYA ROGERS: Well, that’s how he’s feeling –
BOB GARFIELD: - I have just told you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: All right.
BOB GARFIELD: Now, you can think it’s ridiculous and hyperbolic but you thought my warnings about Trump were ridiculous and hyperbolic.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: I did not.
KATYA ROGERS: Yeah, we didn’t.
BOB GARFIELD: At some point –
BROOKE GLADSTONE: We didn’t, you are –
BOB GARFIELD: - we have to reckon with what just happened last night.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well, don’t mischaracterize me and what was in my mind. If I had felt that way, they wouldn't have been on the program.
BOB GARFIELD: Well, I rest my case. It’s “ship of fools.”
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Okay.
KATYA ROGERS: And that wraps up the morning after. [LAUGHS]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Okay.
KATYA ROGERS? All right.
BOB GARFIELD: Okay, flash forward to this past Thursday. Kat makes us listen to [LAUGHS] that again and then turns on the mics.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Okay, so that was – a little more than eight months ago. We were roiling in doubt. This show is devoted to doubt, the value of doubt. And we decided to listen to this again, Bob, because you'd had an epiphany this week. You found yourself in doubt.
BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] Yeah, well not quite an epiphany because I think epiphanies are sudden and this has been a gradual realization, based on, of all things, my own media behavior, my own media diet. And, if you'll permit me to try to distill –
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Sure.
BOB GARFIELD: - our two positions that we just listened to, yours was to take the long view, not to be hysterical, not to be excessively self-righteous and to provide our audience as much news reporting and context as we can. And I had a slightly different view.
My view was, oh my God, we’re doomed! [LAUGHING] We have to tell them how we’re doomed! Yeah, something along those lines. And why? Because, as I said, I was angry, frightened and ashamed. I thought, and still do think, that we are in a catastrophic historical political moment and my impulse was - not just to identify the problem but to somehow be part of the solution, right? So that, that was where I was coming from that day.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And then you were about to tell us about your media consumption?
BOB GARFIELD: Yeah, and yeah, so here’s what happened. Let, let me tell you how my media diet works. So I get up in the morning and I read The New York Times but I also look at Google News, which feeds me the stuff that I've most heavily read before, right? It knows your preferences and that gives you more and more of that. Well, during the campaign I was a heavy reader of The Nation, of The Atlantic, of Huffington Post, of The Daily Beast, of all sorts of other sources that were kind of coming at the Trump campaign from my perspective, which is, [LAUGHS] what the hell is going on?
For the last eight months, I've been seeing these things come up on my Google newsfeed and seeing a provocative headline about some latest Trump administration outrage and then not reading the story -
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mm.
BOB GARFIELD: - and then looking at, you know, another one from The Atlantic, which is one of the finest publications this country has to offer, and I - haven't read that story, either. And, you know, down the list and like, why? Well, here’s why, because I knew what they were gonna to say. I'm not saying that they would have been unilluminating but I’ve thought that I was facing a foregone conclusion [LAUGHS] and what I read might have, you know, given me some sort of –
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Validation?
BOB GARFIELD: - validation. It may have fed my, my rage and, and sense of righteousness but I wasn't gonna learn anything new. But just eight months ago, I'm advocating for us to kind of stay the course, to –
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Stay the course, no! You were advocating for us to veer off the course onto the front of the movement, which we hadn't been before.
BOB GARFIELD: Well, during the campaign, yeah.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: During the campaign, we were not, you know, screaming, resist, resist, resist. There wasn't yet anything to resist!
BOB GARFIELD: Well, and if –
BROOKE GLADSTONE: I guess we per –
BOB GARFIELD: Yeah.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: - we perceive how we did that differently.
BOB GARFIELD: Well, because we both do a lot of stuff on this show, but your work is very much, I would say, characterized by taking the long view and tons of historical perspective and - mine is very much characterized by, oh my God, oh my God! So my panic and your levelheadedness, together, created a certain vibe, which I think hasn't changed gigantically since the – since the elections.
But now, now while my convictions have changed not one whit, while my fear and my anger and my shame are as strong as they were in that, that very fraught conversation, I - think that I should dial it back because I don't want our audience, at some point, to, to, to lose interest in our reporting and our commentary because it's just a foregone conclusion for them, too. How horrible would be for my, for my self-righteousness to die at its own hands?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS]
BOB GARFIELD: Your clear-eyed vision or my impulse to say, the sky is falling, what should we do? [LAUGHS] Which way should we go?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: It sounds like you've turned a corner.
BOB GARFIELD: I've turned a corner, ‘cause I realized the, the potential toll of being self-righteous.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: It sounds like you don’t want to read someone like you.
BOB GARFIELD: That’s exactly it. Do I want to listen to me? Uh, increasingly, no.
[MUSIC UP & UNDER]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] You know, probably my favorite tweet of yours in this period is when somebody tweeted, oh, Brooke and Bob, uh, please don't die, we need you, or something, and you responded – do you remember?
BOB GARFIELD: A wrong addressee, please forward to Ruth Bader Ginsburg? [LAUGHS]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] Yes.
BOB GARFIELD: Yeah, yeah, I would say that was a good one.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well, Bob Garfield, thank you very much.
BOB GARFIELD: Brooke Gladstone, thank you very much.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS]
[MUSIC/MUSIC UP & UNDER]
BOB GARFIELD: That’s it for this week’s show. On the Media is produced by Alana Casanova-Burgess, Jesse Brenneman, Micah Loewinger and Leah Feder. We had more help from Jon Hanrahan and Jane Vaughan. And our show was edited – by Brooke. Our technical director is Jennifer Munson. Our engineers this week were Sam Bair and Terence Bernardo.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Katya Rogers is our executive producer. Jim Schachter is WNYC’s vice president for news. Bassist composer Ben Allison wrote our theme. On the Media is a production of WNYC Studios. I’m Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I’m Bob Garfield.
MICHAEL DUNN AS KARL GLOCKEN/CHORUS: My name is Karl Glocken, and this is a ship of fools. I’m a fool, and you’ll meet more fools as we go along, this tub is packed with them: emancipated ladies, ball players, lovers, dog lovers, ladies of joy, tolerant Jews, dwarfs, all kinds. And who knows, if you look closely enough, you may even find yourself on board.