By Holland Cooke
BLOCK ISLAND, RI — Yes, your consultant was a young high school English teacher…until the hypnotic VU meter lured him away to broadcasting. Although no longer empowered to assign reading, I highly recommend a book I’ve sent to clients: Them: Why We Hate Each Other – And How To Heal by U.S. Senator Ben Sasse R-NE (St. Martin’s Press, 2018).
If Sasse didn’t describe himself as the second-most conservative member of the Senate, you might not guess which political party he’s in. And he acknowledges that his refreshing curiosity makes him an outlier: “Liberals and conservatives no longer believe the same things, we don’t understand how our opponents believe what they believe, and we soothe our lonely souls with the balm of contempt.”
Yes, blame the media.
“The leading programs are orchestrated by executives and personalities who understand well that there’s real money to be made in helping people keep their fears and hatreds aligned.” The senator observes that “the storyline is simple: Liberals are evil, you’re a victim, and you should be furious.”
It’s all about clicks and Quarter Hours of listening and viewing, and technique is not subtle: “Hannity tells a lot of angry, isolated people what they want to hear. And he has the delivery down to an art form.”
The author’s media savvy is impressive; and his deliberate, thoughtful account of how-we-got-here demonstrates an objectivity missing from the daily digital drumbeat.
Both sides do it.
“The great divide in American life is between Fox and MSNBC – the rhetorical homes of the political right and left. Often they aren’t even reporting the same stories. When they do, the coverage is so different it’s hard to believe that they are describing the same set of facts.”
It’s just human nature, Sasse reckons: “Emotion trumps data.” It’s what research nerds call confirmation bias: “People filter-out most information that conflicts with their presuppositions or desired conclusions.”
And technology has thrown gas on the flames. The author echoes an irony I’ve heard from experts I’ve interviewed on my TV show: social media has made us less-social.
“Our crisis isn’t really about politics. It’s that we’re so lonely we can’t see straight – and it bubbles out as anger.”
Commuting between the Washington swamp and his heartland home, the Senator sees, and listens intently to, “a country of increasingly disconnected people sitting around watching news that riles them up.”
When you read this book, and I hope you will, expect to feel like you too are back-and-forth between two places; because, as Sasse puts it, “where there is demand, supply will emerge. And it turns out that ‘contempt’ is big business.”
Are we saving the world? Or saving the radio station?
In a previous Monday Memo, I predicted that “America will survive. Meantime Rush Limbaugh affiliates can prosper.” And I recommended a strategy which, in elevator speech fashion, is “Carpe Trump: PANDER.”
Not just pertinent to the noisy political climate, and how shamelessly media can exploit it, Senator Sasse’s book offers a wider-angle shot about life which you will find uplifting. And that’s MY book report.
Holland Cooke was certified to teach in the public schools the very last year the Commonwealth of Massachusetts certified teachers for life. Instead, he ended up as a media consultant working at the intersection of broadcasting and the Internet. He is the author of “Holland Cooke: Greatest Hits” from Talkers Books; which would have several of his own dear, departed English teachers diving for the red pen. Click the ad banner in the right-hand column on this page. And he hosts “The Big Picture” TV show Friday nights at 7ET on RT America. Read HC’s Monday Memo each week at Talkers.com, and follow him at HollandCooke.com and on Twitter @HollandCooke