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Op Eds

What is Offensive Can No Longer Be Ignored

By Anna M. Kuritzkes

The election of Donald Trump has revealed a clear disconnect between the vox populi in the Rust Belt and their representation in the mainstream media. Throughout the presidential election, most respected news organizations such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the election forecast website FiveThirtyEight, failed to capture the anti-Clinton sentiment in the Rust Belt and other working class areas. Writing in retrospect, these news organizations claim they underestimated the power of “whitelash”—the working class white response to eight years with a black President.

As a Clinton supporter who relied on these news outlets throughout the election, I, like many others in the Harvard community, was shocked on that fateful November night. It seemed impossible that Donald Trump, who had been considered a lost cause, was racking up electoral vote after electoral vote. How could the news sources we trusted have gotten everything so wrong?

The answer is that the media did not pick up on the beliefs of the working class whites who voted Trump into office. However, the news sources that did accurately reflect these undercurrents in American society, such as Fox News, Breitbart News, and Glenn Beck’s news network theBlaze, are often denigrated by the liberal elite as offensive and therefore irrelevant. Trump’s appointment of Stephen K. Bannon, the former executive chairman of Breitbart, as White House Chief Strategist means we must recognize that, in Trump’s America, what is offensive can no longer be ignored.

The polarization of news has made it such that the information we read confirms our own political biases. Daily, I get my news from The New York Times and The Washington Post. When I am procrastinating on social media, I find myself surrounded by liberal clickbait articles from news sources like Mic or Buzzfeed. And in my day-to-day discourse with peers at Harvard, I’m hard-pressed to find myself in a discussion without universally socially liberal opinions. When I do find peers with alternate viewpoints, disagreement often means labelling these viewpoints as racist, sexist, homophobic, or transphobic. Sometimes these labels are accurate, but they do nothing to change opinions.

Listening to offensive statements or alternate viewpoints does not mean we are elevating or agreeing with them. In fact, only by listening to them can we begin to formulate a strategy for confronting them. Throughout the election, the Clinton campaign failed to produce a message that resonated with millions of Americans, while these alternate viewpoints prevailed. If the Democratic establishment had understood the pervasiveness of Trump’s message, it could have formulated a better strategy for combatting it than simply denouncing Trump as racist. Moving forward, Democrats in Congress will have no choice but to accept the pervasiveness of alternate views and respond to them with compromise.

Earlier this month, I watched a clip from The Daily Show in which the show’s host, Trevor Noah, interviewed conservative pundit Tomi Lahren, host of the popular nightly show "Tomi", which airs on theBlaze. In her interview with Noah, Lahren made a number of outlandish statements, including one comparing the Black Lives Matter movement to the KKK. Noah was heavily criticized for giving Lahren a broader platform, but doing so was the only way to expose her followers’ shockingly widespread beliefs to his audience.

Noah did what The New York Times failed to do during the 2016 election. Lahren’s answers disturbed me, but they also gave me insight into the beliefs of an entire segment of the country I have never encountered before because they are ignored by the mainstream and primarily liberal media. This one-sided coverage is dangerous because it exacerbates the political polarization in our country, moving our government away from productive compromise and towards outsider candidates like Donald Trump.

I therefore want to challenge liberals in the Harvard community to risk discomfort by reading “conservative” or even so-called “alt-right” media outlets and listening to their conservative peers. We cannot counter a conservative message if we do not allow ourselves to hear it.

Anna M. Kuritzkes ’20, a Crimson Editorial writer, lives in Thayer Hall.

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Op Eds