About 10 months ago, I had an informal meeting at a hotel lounge with a high level member of President Donald Trump’s economic team. He began by briefing me on the administration’s strategies to tackle rising prescription drug prices and then paused after a few moments to ask me: “Hey, besides you, what editorial columnists are regularly writing about policy and what works and doesn’t work?”
His question hung out in the air for a while as the two of us just sat there thinking about the answer. After what seemed like a silence that lasted an hour, we both simultaneously blurted out: “No one!”
To be fair, lots of people are writing about economic and political policies. You can find their work in trade journals and academic papers, or hear them speak at the occasional professional convention. But you’ll be out of luck if you’re searching the newspapers, TV, radio, or top internet news sites looking for analyses of existing policies or pieces about what specific strategy would help make America better.
The exchange didn’t send me into some kind of emotional victory lap. Instead I experienced an immediate and enduring fear that perhaps no matter how many times I’ve had analytical and policy-heavy columns published, they weren’t enough.
That fear spiked a bit this week when I saw the incredible hypocrisy of too many of my colleagues as they responded to the death of President George H.W. Bush. These same editorial columnists who attacked the late President Bush and all conservatives with a fury, who rarely if ever offered anything optimistic or constructive to their readers, were now lecturing us about how President Donald Trump and Republicans had betrayed the bipartisanship and decency of George H.W. Bush.
One of them, Dana Millbank from the Washington Post, insisted in a column on Thursday that the state funeral for President Bush was a rebuke to President Trump. Meanwhile a quick look at Millbank’s columns over the years shows a steady stream of anger, hyperbole, and fear-mongering that stretches well before the Trump presidency. His body of work stands as clear proof that to be as divisive and destructive as people like Millbank are, they also have to be plagued by a profound lack of self-awareness.
So I rushed over to my own laptop and decided to review my own body of work since 2014. Yes, it was a relief to see that the number of columns proposing, analyzing, and promoting good policy or positive political strategy stood at better than 50 percent. I’ve even offered many of those kinds of pieces to the Five Towns Jewish Times, on everything from fixing Affirmative Action to improving mass transit.
But I’ve also called out my colleagues in the news media and even myself at times for acting like the enemies of the people President Trump and his supporters often call us.
I know I can do better. And if I can do better, just think how much better the main broadcasters and publishers of news in America can do. And if they can do better, this is, once again, a call to readers and viewers like you to give less of your time to partisan jabbing masquerading as reporting and more of it to journalism that provides actual analysis and ideas.
If we really want to honor President George H.W. Bush’s memory and bring the country back to a more civil and productive discourse, the onus is on us first, before the politicians and the professional ringmasters in the media.
The onus is also on us when we engage with others online. When we get into Facebook or Twitter debates, do we debate honestly? Do we present cogent arguments, or just change the subject to something we’d rather address? Do we provide real examples of what works or what doesn’t? Do we even bother to consider that maybe the debate isn’t worth having at all?
The challenge to the established media is twofold. First, it must cut back on its divisive “clickbait” nonsense. Then, it needs to find a way to make substantive policy analysis and arguments more interesting and comprehensive. To paraphrase a famous lesson from Albert Einstein, you don’t really understand an issue or an idea if you can’t explain it in simple terms. That’s the nice way of saying the news media is filled with people who don’t know much more about given topics. That’s why hiring expert beat reporters and writers with degrees in medicine, economics, law, and urban planning, as opposed to people who look nice and read TelePrompTer well, would be a nice start.
Until then, let’s all do a little better at seeking out actual news and information that feeds our minds and souls, not our outrage.
Jake Novak has been a TV news producer and editorial columnist for more than 25 years, with expertise in political, economic, religious, and cultural issues. He has produced shows atCNBC, CNN, FOX, and several local stations across the country. Novak is a graduate of theYeshivah of Flatbush, has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Columbia University, and a master’s degree from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. Follow him on Twitter@jakejakeny and read his columns on 5TJT.com.