During a meal with a thoughtful storyteller and friend, the discussion focused on the framing of several recent stories in the news. That was followed by a blog post from another friend and colleague who was pushing back on the conventional wisdom that everyone hated this past year. His year was actually pretty wonderful, and he wasn’t going to let others frame that experience for him.
I’ve turned both conversations over in my mind, thinking about the state of the country and how that story is often defined by leading national media outlets and large social media platforms with an agenda that is not necessarily healthy or truthful. Two specific political examples come to mind, and both have lessons to be learned by those in positions of leadership.
Focus on the crucial story of the moment
Media outlets continue to spend time and staff resources covering a story that — instead of automatically foreshadowing electoral disaster for the Democrats next year — followed the historical trend over the last four decades. We had an off-year election in November when the voters in Virginia and New Jersey went to the polls to elect governors for a four-year term. What happened on November 2nd is that Democrats actually outperformed the normal expectations based upon the historical pattern. But instead of that story, we were told that with “surprise losses” the “Democrats were in disarray.” * Very few outlets then or now lead with the fact that the winner in Virginia — Republican Glenn Youngkin — used a scare tactic based on a lie.
Republicans are successfully galvanizing their base with a disinformation campaign alleging that the widespread adoption of “critical race theory” has led to K-12 students being taught that white people are oppressors and Black people are victims.
But here’s what you need to know about critical race theory: It’s not what they say it is, it’s not being taught at your child’s school, and anyone who suggests otherwise is either misinformed or is lying to you.
Anecdotal conversations with voters (often rural and white) lead in the framing that is so often used by the media. It might be interesting to talk with Black voters to see if they feel that our public schools over-compensate for people of color when teaching about racial history. I haven’t seen too many of those stories.
In any event, the critical political story of our time is that one of our political parties backed an unsuccessful coup d’etat in 2020 and is working hard at all levels now to wrest power in 2022 and 2024 from legitimately elected officials. I don’t expect the national media to back one political party over another. I do expect national media to be pro-democracy. That’s where the resources need to be focused. Those in position of leadership need to understand the crucial story and not be swayed by the narrative-of-the-moment.
Good news gets lost if we don’t make the effort to spotlight it
The famous line about local news — “If it bleeds, it leads” — is another way of saying that bad news sells. Good news — even about an amazing economic recovery — gets lost for a variety of reasons.
Year-end accounts of the U.S. economy are very strong indeed. According to Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal—which are certainly not giddy media outlets—U.S. economic output has jumped more than 7% in the last three months of 2021. Overall growth for 2021 should be about 6%, and economists predict growth of around 4% in 2022—the highest numbers the U.S. has seen in decades….
The U.S. is “outperforming the world by the biggest margin in the 21st century,” wrote Matthew A. Winkler in Bloomberg, “and with good reason: America’s economy improved more in Joe Biden’s first 12 months than any president during the past 50 years….”
- The jobless rate under Biden has dropped from 6.2% at the beginning of his term to 4.2%.
- The Biden administration has created 4.1 million new jobs in one year, more than were created in the 12 years of the Trump and George W. Bush administrations combined.
- Wages are growing at about 4% a year.
- The American Rescue Plan, passed by Democrats in March without a single Republican vote, cut child poverty in half by putting $66 billion into 36 million households.
- More than 4.6 million Americans who were not previously insured have gotten healthcare coverage through the Affordable Care Act, bringing the total covered to a record 13.6 million.
- When Biden took office, about 46% of schools were open; currently the rate is 99%.
- In November, Congress passed a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that will repair bridges and roads and get broadband to places that still don’t have it.
- Support for consumers has bolstered U.S. companies, which are showing profit margins higher than they have been since 1950, at 15%.
- Companies have reduced their debt, which has translated to a strong stock market.
The American economy is the strongest it’s been in decades, with the U.S. leading the world in economic growth…so why on earth do 54% of Americans disapprove of Biden’s handling of the economy (according to a CNN/SSRS poll released yesterday)?
Maybe it is the fact that 57% of those responding to the poll say that the economic news they’ve heard lately has been mostly bad. Only 19% say they are hearing mostly good news about the economy. And we have an energized political opposition that is working to spread misinformation about the state of the economy and the state of the country.
We all have stories about this past year. I agree with my blogger friend that 2021 was better than is often reported. We can all — simple bloggers and national reporters — do a better job at telling our perspectives and getting to the truth if we focus more on the critical stories for our time, find the good news that is taking place, and spend less effort on repeating bad news and misinformation that flies in the face of the facts.
More to come…
*As I wrote earlier on the blog, over the past 40 years, here is what has happened in those two states in the first year of a new president’s term:
- 2021 – Joe Biden (D) is in his first year as president. Virginia elects a Republican governor. New Jersey reelects its Democratic governor in a close race, the first time a Democrat has been reelected in NJ in 44 years.
- 2017 – Donald Trump (R) is in his first year as president. Both Virginia and New Jersey elect Democratic governors.
- 2009 – Barack Obama (D) is in his first year as president. Both Virginia and New Jersey elect Republican governors.
- 2001 – George W. Bush (R) is in his first year as president. Both Virginia and New Jersey elect Democratic governors.
- 1993 – Bill Clinton (D) is in his first year as president. Both Virginia and New Jersey elect Republican governors.
- 1989 – George H.W. Bush (R) is in his first year as president. Both Virginia and New Jersey elect Democratic governors.
- 1981 – Ronald Reagan (R) is in his first year as president. Virginia elects a Democratic governor. New Jersey elects a Republican governor by a margin of less than 2,000 votes.