I was listening to a television show awhile back, and someone asked Barbara Walters her opinion on a political issue. Walters declined to answer, because it was important for her (and the newscasters of her generation) to remain neutral and unbiased. This was important not only when reporting the news, but ALL THE TIME. As newscasters, there was a commitment to report the facts, and leave the interpretation to others.
Unbiased Reporting is a Thing of the Past
Fast forward to 2018. Pretty much all the news we watch is a mix of facts and interpretation. We all know that Fox News has a conservative bent and MSNBC has a liberal bent. There’s no longer unbiased reporting of the facts, or even an attempt to do so. Everything we watch or listen to is filtered through whatever lens the news program puts on a story.
We Can’t Agree on the Facts
This is a problem, because people can’t agree on the basic facts. I was having a discussion about children being separated from their parents at the border, and my discussion partner said that most of the children coming across the border weren’t actually part of the families they came with—they were being trafficked. I didn’t think this was true, but their news source said it was. My news source said it wasn’t. We were listening to different sets of facts, so it was hard to have a productive discussion.
Separating Facts from Story
When I’m working with couples who are struggling to communicate and resolve conflict, one of my big recommendations is to separate facts from story. Facts are something that all parties should be able to agree upon. Facts are what a video camera would capture. (I used to say facts are what a newscaster would report, but that example doesn’t work anymore!) If we can agree on the facts, we can then explore our differences in interpretation. Often our stories are based on the facts, but they also involve our own perspective, which is based on our own background and experiences. Once couples acknowledge that their interpretations may or may not be true, they can start to listen to each other and better understand where the other person is coming from.
But if couples can’t agree on the facts, the discussion doesn’t go anywhere. If the husband says he got home at 6pm and the wife says he got home at 7pm, how can we move forward and try to understand why the wife is angry with the husband for being “late”? We can’t. It’s a non-starter. We have to (1) separate facts from story, (2) agree on the facts, and (3) explore our stories and interpretations. Each step is critical.
Trading in Barbara Walters for FOX News
I think we lost something when we traded in Barbara Walters for Fox News. No longer are newscasters even attempting to present unbiased facts. Facts and stories are completely mixed, but newscasters are presenting this mixture as facts. Because of this, different people are receiving different sets of facts, which leads to intractable arguments. To move forward and have productive dialogues, we need to follow the same pattern as successful couples: (1) separate facts from story, (2) agree on the facts, and (3) explore our stories and interpretations.