Is it ever worth the trouble reading journalism whose politics you fundamentally disagree with?
About ten years ago, a friend of mine who works in public life made an announcement at lunch: “I’ve been reading newspapers and magazines since I was a kid. I’m very well informed. From now on, I’m not going to read anything I’m not going to agree with. At this stage, I’m entitled.” I smiled at this, and was tempted to go his way. I still am. But I know there must be fibre in our diets. We cannot just consume political or journalistic ice cream.
Being a conservative, I should seek out “progressive” opinion. But I have had a tough time of it. I have long tried to find a go-to lefty, someone who will give me the best arguments of the other side. But I keep running into simple invective and sneering.
For a while, I made it a point to read a columnist who is known here in America for “smart liberalism”. But so offensive did I find him, I had to give him up. Then I settled on someone else — who proved similarly offensive. It’s not that I found these writers faulty or foolish in argument, obviously. That would have been fine. It’s that they wouldn’t take the other side, namely me, seriously. They made cartoons of us and then sneered. About one of them, I wrote, “He is a caricaturist, and I’m looking for a columnist.”
In early years, I read nearly everything under the sun, as young people should. But when is it all right to narrow down? I can tell you when I stopped reading the New Yorker. I can tell you almost like an alcoholic who remembers the date of his last drink. It was in late 2002, when the magazine published a review of a movie called 8 Mile. This starred the rapper Eminem and it took place in his hometown, Detroit (in whose orbit I myself grew up). Some conservatives objected to 8 Mile for its vulgarity and depravity — the usual. But the New Yorker‘s reviewer wrote, “People who are convinced that Eminem is destroying America might want to consider the delicacy of the white-black friendships in 8 Mile. (Perhaps the spectre of such friendships is what right-wingers actually hate most.)”
I thought, “Is that what they think of us? Do these New Yorker types know us so little? Have they ever met any of us? If they won’t bother with us, why should I bother with them?” It wasn’t one article that repelled me; it was a pervasive attitude.
Conservatives who concentrate on the conservative press do not necessarily live lives of peace and harmony. You can spend 90 per cent of your time stewing about the failings of other conservatives. The Telegraph‘s blog is a great balm to me, and it is part of my daily diet. But this blog can also make my blood boil: this fellow hates Israel, this other one is stupid about America, this other one is stupid about religion.
In my view, it is more important that lefties seek out Right opinion than that righties seek out Left opinion. In America, “liberalism” is in the very air. It’s in our movies, our music, our schools — it’s our soundtrack. But it’s still possible for a conservative to do something like ghettoise himself, in the journalism he reads.
I have long been told by a British conservative friend — no Guardianista — that the Guardian, love it or hate it, is “the only serious newspaper in Britain”. I have long thought I should read it, or glance at it online. But a Mark Steyn column or an issue of Standpoint always gets in the way…