Congress recently made history by overriding a presidential veto for the first time under Barack Obama. Soon after, they expressed doubt about their own bill, worrying about unintended consequences. You probably know that JASTA, the bill in question, was designed to allow American families of 9/11 victims to sue the Saudi Arabian government over their potential involvement in the attack, revoking “sovereign immunity.” You probably know that the unintended consequences refer to potential victims of US operations abroad suing our government in their courts.
What the media doesn’t mention specifically is our history of questionable and outright criminal actions on foreign soil during military conflicts, including rape, murder, torture, and indiscriminate drone strikes. These are all potential lawsuits with the passage of JASTA. The media could force a tough, critical conversation on the root of the conflict, and instead they’ve spun the story into a partisan feud between Obama and a hostile Congress.
This post isn’t just about JASTA, though. It’s about how we consume and interpret information.
Our media tends to boil complex issues down to simple talking points, often provided by the powerful groups on which they are reporting, and any in-depth analysis and accountability is saved for years later, once the possibility of deep and meaningful change has already passed.
Take the civil rights movement of the 1960s, for example: We’re all sure they were heroes today, but in their time, protesters were treated with the same disrespect as today’s Black Lives Matter movement, as seen in these political cartoons. (Source: http://agoodcartoon.tumblr.com/post/150463485250/mlk-and-civil-rights-protests-in-cartoons-then)
If the media is only passing along the contents of press releases instead of investigating, exposing, and following up on major stories, who is responsible for the additional critical thinking required to find the real guts of each story? Who can we depend on to take a story of police brutality and drill down all the way to racial redlining and uneven funding for schools? To take a story about a pipeline protest and expose the lobbying contributions of the energy company?
The answer, of course, is that we have to do it ourselves. We have to read every story critically.
What I want to ask you to do today is to pick a few major news stories — both national and local — and dig deep into your critical thinking skills, and try to unpack what nuance is missing from the coverage. I want you to demand more than just the simplified, sanitized version of current events. Channel your inner child and ask “why?” And keep asking until you’ve found the root of the problem.
You may find that the root of the problem feels very distant from the original headline, but that’s the point. The problems that exist in our society today have roots in our institutions, and it’s much easier to give everyone a “side” to cheer for (and a “side” to oppose) than it is to change our institutions.
I’d love to hear your interpretations about this week’s big stories. E-mail your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org, and if we get enough quality submissions, I’ll share them along with my own thoughts in a future blog post.