The rise of social media, partisan cable news stations, and, yes, political blogs and websites have had an unfortunate effect of making it easier to insulate oneself from views with which you disagree. Today, you can create a nearly impenetrable political bubble that reflects back approval and assurance that you're on the right side of history, and ensures you seldom see or hear dissent.
I worked in newspaper newsrooms for the first 15 years of my career. For that entire time, I was part of the smallest minority in each of those newsrooms; I was politically conservative. And yet, I got along with my co-workers. We would have arguments from time to time, but it never affected our professional relationship, the work we were doing, or even friendships.
Sometime in the early 2010s, I got an email from a guy, Bob, I'd worked with as I was starting my journalism career at The Lompoc Record saying that he would be in the area where I lived and asking if I wanted to meet up for lunch or dinner. I replied to him that I'd love to and for him to just give me a day and time and we'd make it work.
He was a retired high school teacher who worked part-time covering local sports. When we worked there together from 1994-96, he was a reasonably politically conservative guy. But 15 years, the Bush 43 presidency and the Iraq war had changed his politics. He was no longer a Republican, but was probably politically center-left.
A short time later, a follow-up email arrived, but it didn't suggest a day and time for our get-together. Instead he'd informed me that he'd read my blog, he didn't agree with my political views, and he'd have to cancel.
I replied that I was very sorry to hear that, I considered him a friend, we didn't need to debate politics and that it was unfortunate that he no longer wanted to get together.
In the end, he reconsidered, we met and had a good time catching up. A few years later we met up again for lunch, and neither of us insisted on discussing politics. It can be done.
Once upon a time, I would've written that I read a lot of newspapers. That's no longer true. Nowadays, I read a lot of news websites—some run by companies that still print newspapers. Today, we call this activity where people read a lot of news "consuming media." I'm a media consumer and my sources are diverse.
When it comes to the edges of national politics, those things that are more than just what Congress or the President did today, I find a lot of interesting things through people I follow on Twitter. I follow a lot of so-called blue-checks on Twitter along with some of my former colleagues with whom I worked at various newspapers.
Today, I follow one less, because I responded to this post:
My opinions don’t mean a hill of beans in this crazy world, but people should wear masks if they’re in crowds.
I covered a packed cancer conference last weekend — lots of oncologists — and maybe 8% were wearing masks. These people treat vulnerable cancer patients
Bizarre & sad. https://t.co/4kO56Iib12
— Randy Dotinga, Freelance Writer (@rdotinga) September 20, 2022
Randy and I worked together at the North County Times in northern San Diego County (Escondido, Calif., to be exact). I probably disagree with him politically on 95% of things, but I liked seeing what he was writing and it's nice to keep in touch with people from the "good ol' days." It's not like I can drop by the North County Times newsroom next time I'm in the area and say "hi" to a handful of my former colleagues who still work there—the paper no longer exists.
But I saw this tweet last night from Randy and it just struck me as really tone deaf.
The continued insistence on masking in public seems quite odd to me. N95 or better quality masks are the only ones proven to have some efficacy in preventing the transmission of COVID-19, but when I do see people wearing masks nowadays, they're much more likely to be the cloth or disposable ones that are too porous to prevent the virus from passing through them.
We also have vaccines that drastically reduce the likelihood of developing a serious illness from COVID-19 and treatments that have proven quite successful in treating acute COVID-19 cases. Continuing to wear a mask in Sept. 2022 is less about preventing the spread of disease than it is an exercise in virtue-signaling.
I responded to Randy's tweet with this:
I hate to say this to you, but maybe medical doctors understand the risks and cost/benefit analysis better than a ...journalist.
— Matthew Hoy (@hoystory) September 20, 2022
Randy's original tweet suggested a level of expertise and knowledge that a journalist just doesn't have. Journalists of Randy's (and my) age were inculcated with this idea that we were entering this noble profession where we would speak truth to power and lay low the corrupt in our society.
Then we get our first job in journalism and find ourselves covering the board meetings of the local water district.
But we still see ourselves as doing something noble—after all, we'd better be doing something noble if our paychecks are this small.
I really had a hard time believing that journalist with Randy's experience would put himself out there as being better at calculating all the pros and cons of attending some conference maskless than oncologists who had extensive medical training and experience. I wouldn't be surprised by a journalist straight out of the Columbia Journalism School saying something like this, but usually this sort of egotism and arrogance diminishes with practical, real-world experience.
I waited a little bit, checking to see if he responded, but saw nothing until I sat down this morning and checked the Twitter website only to be greeted by the "You're unable to view this Tweet because this account owner limits who can view their Tweets."
He'd blocked me. Of course, a Private or Incognito window is a sure way around such a block, and I discovered that he had responded, presumably shortly before (or more likely after) he blocked me.
You love to say this to me! I do not see significant costs to wearing a mask in a crowd, especially if you’re just sitting in a ballroom watching a lecture and not interacting.
— Randy Dotinga, Freelance Writer (@rdotinga) September 20, 2022
Randy may be right about this. But if you're going to remove your mask out in the hallway when you're talking to colleagues one-on-one or in small groups in close proximity, then really what's the point of wearing it in a large ballroom?
You'd think that a business as public and, at times, as controversial as modern journalism, that people would have thicker skins. You'd think that journalists, who proudly put their name at the top of each story they write, would need to develop this skill as basic self-protection.
My tweet was the most mild of rebukes, and you'd think that at worst it might prompt a little self-inspection.
Instead, it's yet another example of wrapping yourself in an ideological bubble.
It's not something that's good for journalism, or our body politic.