Huffpost Wants to Meet Middle America. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Huffpost announced last week that it will send a team of journalists on a tour of middle America to “hear concerns from across the nation.” They’re calling it their “Listen to America Tour.” I’ll give them points for trying.

The tour, which will stop in 22 states over a period of seven weeks, is intended to discover “what we share as Americans, rather than what divides us.” The route largely avoids the coasts though it does veer into North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Georgia. Heavily represented are southern, midwestern, and Rocky Mountain states.

Wow. Just wow.

Conservatives like to complain that the media are too elitist and too focused on a few coastal metropolises. And while there’s some truth to that, we should at least show some support for a news outlet that has resolved to do better. If Huffpost wants to turn over a new leaf I will certainly give them enough latitude to try. We all should.

Editor-in-chief Lydia Polgreen strongly hinted that the purpose of the project is to meet and engage with Trump voters in order to learn what makes them tick. “For journalists, listening is more important than ever,” she wrote. “Why? First, trust in the news media is at an all-time low. We want to address that head-on, and build trust in the work we do, by visiting communities that are largely ignored by national media. We’ll listen to what’s most important to them, and help tell those stories to the vast HuffPost audience. Second, political divisions between us seem starker than ever. But at HuffPost, we believe there’s still so much that unites us as citizens.”

Clearly, the “Listen to America Tour” never would have happened if Hillary Clinton had been elected last November. This is Huffpost’s attempt at striking a conciliatory tone with a lot of people who feel alienated by the mainstream media. It’s as if they’re saying, “We hear you, flyover country.”

And that’s a good thing…right?

Sure it is. Yet I can’t imagine this particular leopard changing its spots. We’re talking about a media organization that, in the heat of a presidential campaign, added an editor’s note to the end of all of its Trump-related stories reading: “Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.”

That was 2016. In 2017, Huffpost’s editor-in-chief wants her reporters to meet Trump’s base and to listen to their concerns. Why anyone would care about the opinions of a basket of deplorables is beyond me but perhaps Polgreen is sincere. After all, she has only been editor-in-chief since the grande dame Arianna Huffington stepped down in December. She’s even said that she wants to win over the Trump crowd. Could it be true?

I have my doubts. I can’t see Huffpost finding the pulse of non-coastal America because it has done such a poor job of it in the past. It’s not as if Huffpost and other big media outlets don’t write stories about flyover country. Sometimes they do, though it’s usually to ridicule, to wrinkle their noses at red state backwardness, or to stare with gaping mouths at things that strike them as weird.

Case in point—last month, Huffpo’s “Queer Voices” section featured a 12-year old Mormon girl from Utah who “came out” as a lesbian to her church. Her microphone was cut and she was quickly whisked off the stage, thank goodness. I don’t see the newsworthiness here unless the story was about how thoroughly the homosexual agenda has corrupted our youth. But of course that was not their angle. This is Huffpost after all, and its editor-in-chief Lydia Polgreen is a lesbian with closely cropped hair who wears ties and button-down shirts. Judging by Huffpost’s content, I’d say that she’s basically a homosexual activist masquerading as a journalist, much like CNN’s Don Lemon or the Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart. Every 12-year old Mormon girl Polgreen’s movement can turn against her faith is a victory. So the story became one about Mormon intolerance, which is both dumb and plainly bigoted against members of the LDS church, some of whom are my friends. The church did nothing wrong. They likely took her aside and tried to teach her right from wrong which is exactly what churches are supposed to do. It was a boring dog-bites-man story that Huffpost tried to make into a scandal.

There will be more of these stories. I predict with a high degree of certainty that Huffpost’s planned bus tour will swoop into towns across America and seek out people to give voice to the narratives that the reporters themselves have already written in their minds. That’s not “listening.” In fact, it’s kind of the opposite of listening. It’s lecturing. Oh sure, they’ll find locals to speak for them. A little downhome twang gives a story a lot of authenticity.

What will they cover in Mississippi? If it isn’t Mississippians’ latent racism it will likely be the fact that there’s only one abortion clinic in the entire state. This is something liberals love to complain about, usually while pretending that they want abortion to be “safe, legal, and rare.” But not too rare!

I think we can expect a number of what I call “It’s hard being X in Y” stories—that is, stories about members of allegedly marginalized groups who have suffered the misfortune of finding themselves in places that don’t fully accept them. The aforementioned story about the corrupted Mormon girl is an exemplar of “It’s hard being X in Y.” These stories are ubiquitous in the media, so common in fact that they’ve become formulaic—it’s hard being “gay” in the Utah, it’s hard being an atheist in the Bible Belt, it’s hard being a broadminded liberal in a narrowminded small town, etc. I keep waiting for stories about evangelical Christians facing prejudice in Boston or Trump supporters being physically attacked in California but mainstream reporters never seem interested in those. These “It’s hard being X in Y” stories serve as recurring reminders of who ranks where on the victim hierarchy. Some groups—Christians, white people, conservatives—don’t rank anywhere. They aren’t allowed to.

One clue that these stories are already in the works is the fact that a stop is planned in Detroit specifically because of its large Arab-American population. Uh oh. I can see where this is headed. If the subject of the story has already been selected, I’ll bet that the angle has been too. So what are they going to write about? If it isn’t a story about how kebabs and hijabs have enriched boring old Michigan it will certainly be another “It’s hard being X in Y” story. This time it will be a story about the daily struggle of being a Muslim in the American heartland complete with unverified and unverifiable anecdotes about Muslims getting dirty looks and being called terrorists.

Which is absurd. Evidence suggests that in communities with high Muslim populations—Dearborn, Michigan, for example, or Hamtramck—it’s a lot harder being Christian. The cops will violate Christians’ civil rights in order to appease Muslims because everyone knows that Muslims are quick to use violence. The police will even stand by while Muslims throw rocks and other objects at Christians. Perhaps Huffpost could do a story on that? I’m not holding my breath.

Truth be told, I don’t really want Huffpost telling stories from middle America; not if they’re going to filter them through their own biases. If they’re just going to blow into town long enough to shame a local church for its teaching on homosexuality, to support and defend lawbreaking illegal aliens, or to poke fun at people who don’t believe in Darwinian evolution, I would prefer that they just stay home. And no, it doesn’t matter if they throw in a few stories about out-of-work coal miners to give the appearance of balance.

If Huffpost wants its tour to be a success I would suggest ditching any agenda they might have before hitting the road. This will require them to forgo pre-fab stories and just let the news come to them. It’s not that hard; it’s what used to be called “journalism” in a bygone era.

I hope I’m wrong about this tour. I really want to be wrong because it will mean that the acrimonious political divide will be narrowed just a little bit. We need that right now.

The bus rolls this September 12th, starting in St. Louis. Time will tell if I’m correct.

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