In his essay “Blogging and Political Information: Truth or Truthiness?” (Public Choice, January 2008) Duke political scientist Michael Munger explores the difference between truth (concepts and ideas rooted in a factual basis) and truthiness (“the quality of stating concepts or facts one wishes or believes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true”). Munger asserts that political blogs traffic more in truthiness than in truth; that is, they report according to the narrative that their audience wants to believe rather than what may be fully factual.
The result is a massive ideological and conceptual rift between participants in a given political debate, one that makes reaching a consensus on issues a difficult — but not impossible — task. To help bridge this ideological chasm, Munger suggests that we should “recognize each other as members of different language communities and then become translators”; that is, we must accept alternate viewpoints as legitimate in order to properly address them.
In keeping with this spirit, I decided to review the conservative blog RedState. It was my hope that by reading RedState (which I would otherwise never have visited), I could gain some insight into the conservative way of thinking about political issues in our country. Like its counterparts on the left (Huffington Post, Daily Kos, etc.), RedState focuses less on fact-based reporting and more on providing commentary about events as they happen, in accordance with a preconceived ideological narrative.
To be completely frank, I almost immediately regretted my decision to review RedState: the inflammatory and hyperbolic headlines were enough to set my blood boiling. The overall aim of the site is to sneer at liberals and progressives, and in my self-constructed bubble, I tend to believe that on any given issue, I’m on the side of the angels. Moreover, the sites I typically read validate that assumption; having it challenged was a difficult — but necessary — experience.
I wanted to find inaccuracies in RedState’s reporting; I assume that would allow me to conclude that RedState was not a credible site, thereby rendering their position on political issues incorrect and irrelevant. To be sure, some facts were presented through a lens I thought was unfair or failed to tell the whole story, but there were no outright lies in their reporting. (And believe me, I did a lot of fact-checking on the posts I read.)
For example, RedState posted an article claiming that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos had been assaulted while attempting to enter a school in the D.C. area. Although most liberal outlets reported that a man was indeed arrested for assault on a police officer, they were curiously silent on the claim that DeVos herself might have been assaulted; in fact, the D.C. Police Department did confirm that they were investigating a reported assault on DeVos and that the investigation was ongoing. Of course, it’s possible that a member of DeVos’ team reported an assault that didn’t happen just so the police would have to confirm an investigation, but it doesn’t do left-leaning blogs any favors when they ignore that part of the story; it gives conservative blogs an opportunity to point at their omission and crow that “liberals aren’t telling you the whole story!”
The comments section on RedState is about what you’d expect from a conservative political blog. Although the authors of the articles don’t appear to engage in the comments, there is a fair amount of discussion taking place without their input. I did find it interesting that there were no left-leaning individuals defending their side of the debate; on left-leaning sites, there are usually a handful of conservatives engaging in the discussion, but that seemed not to be the case at RedState. The reason for this may depend on where you sit on the political spectrum: if you’re a liberal, you might think it’s because conservatives lack the capacity for nuanced political debate; therefore, there’s no value in attempting to change their minds. But if you’re a conservative, you might attribute it to “liberal snowflakes” that lack the emotional maturity to consider opposing viewpoints. It’s all a matter of perspective.
I also found an author named Caleb Howe whose views seemed the most reasonable of the bunch, in all likelihood because although our views differ quite dramatically, his were the most closely aligned with mine. I focused on more of his articles than on those of anybody else- it was likely a way to lessen the shock of experiencing viewpoints that are diametrically opposed to my own. Perhaps it is not surprising that I constructed a new bubble within RedState; nonetheless, I found it interesting that I did this so quickly.
Overall, though I don’t agree with the chest thumping, “Real American” tone of RedState, I have to admit that it is a valuable tool for seeing how the other side thinks. And though I may not visit there as often as I will my preferred sites, it’s good to know that I can use RedState to supplement the news I choose to receive in order to gain a clearer understanding of the whole picture.
Ryan Ross is a freelance writer and a Master’s student in the Creative Publishing and Critical Journalism program at The New School for Social Research.