Donald K. Jarvis

Don Jarvis

President Washington would probably agree with Utah’s Governor-elect Spencer Cox, who said a few months ago that cable news is not the best source of political news. At least President Washington would urge us to listen to both sides of major issues if we do watch cable news.

Washington said “ … it is well known, that when one side only of a story is heard, and often repeated, the human mind becomes impressed with it, insensibly.”

We should think of politics as an ongoing court case in which it is crucial to hear both the prosecution and the defense.

No one would like a judicial system where only one side is presented, and it is equally important to find news sources that give us both sides of major issues.

From 1949 to 1987 the Federal Communications Commission enforced a rule for all broadcasters called the “Fairness Doctrine.” This required opportunities for an opposing view of any given news article or broadcast.

This sounds like a good rule, and Canada still has something like it, but in this digital age, with news sources proliferating like rabbits, and questionable sources on social media vying for attention, the Fairness Doctrine seems impractical if not impossible to reinstate in the USA.

That means that we each need to observe our own personal Fairness Doctrine to ensure that the courtroom of our minds does not neglect either the prosecution or the defense on any given issue.

It is rare that all the truth is given by one side of a given issue.

Consider our current two-party system. Republicans tend to value individual responsibility, financial freedom, less government regulation, lower taxes, the unborn, a strong military and police, and traditional family values, among other things.

Democrats tend to value cooperation, opportunity for everyone, enough funding for health care and education, regulations to protect the environment, women’s and minority rights, and help for low-income people, among other things.

Most of us hold some Republican values as well as some Democratic ones.

Unfortunately, cable news outlets are often one-sided. Fox Cable News tends to focus on Republican, conservative news stories. MSNBC tends to present Democratic, liberal ones.

Much of what Fox and MSNBC publicize is true, but they each tend to present just one side of their stories.

Due to my work, I often visited Soviet Russia before it collapsed. Once a true-believer Communist tried to convince me that he only needed to read Pravda, the Communist Party newspaper, because Pravda means truth in Russian, and so he thought that whatever was printed in it was true.

I had read enough of that one-sided newspaper to know that much (not all) of what was printed in Pravda was indeed true, but it only presented the Soviet Communist Party’s view of things and left out a lot of other important facts that I knew about.

Pravda printed plenty of information about Soviet wheat harvests and U.S. racial problems. But it failed to cover corruption in Soviet industry or improvement in U.S. voting rights.

My true-believer acquaintance didn’t seem to understand the importance of hearing all sides of an issue, as is usually available in countries with a free press.

Ironically, when I returned to post-Soviet Russia for religious work, Pravda offered to run news articles favorable to my church for a fee.

Most people want to hear what ABC radio broadcaster Paul Harvey used to call “The rest of the story.”

A recent poll by Pew Charitable Trust found that most Americans don’t trust news on social media, are skeptical about cable news, but trust local newspapers the most.

One reason for this is that most local news organizations have long traditions of presenting both sides of controversial issues, often giving “the rest of the story.” Our local newspapers like the Daily Herald, Deseret News, and Salt Lake Tribune are now available as relatively inexpensive online subscriptions. Actually, only online editions of the last two will be available in 2021, except for once-a-week print offerings.

Abraham Lincoln, as well as George Washington, was good at listening to all sides of important questions. That played an important role in both of them becoming great leaders.

Lincoln reminded us that we have to listen to both sides, because often they both have value. He said, “There are few things wholly evil or wholly good. Almost everything, especially of government policy, is an inseparable compound of the two, so that our best judgment of the preponderance between them is continually demanded.”

The problem of misinformation and disinformation is far too complex to cover here, but help is available via Snopes.com and DisinformationIndex.org plus the Smarter Every Day YouTube channel.

Don Jarvis is a retired BYU professor of Russian, a former mission president in Russia, and a community volunteer in Provo.