Tag Archives: Journalism

Our Political System is Broken for the Same Reason Our Relationships End

wedding rings on american flag

(Image/Inspired Acorn)

NOTE: I wasn’t planning to post today, and certainly not about politics, but my response to a comment on yesterday’s post—which had a headline I think many people misunderstood for the EXACT SAME REASONS our political climate is such a mess—turned into a thousand words. So I figured, what the hell. Linds wrote in a comment that the nature of a politician’s job doesn’t allow for she or he to be trustworthy. My reply turned into the following.

My commitment to fairness runs deep.

I reject the notion that politicians can’t be trustworthy. But I accept my perceived reality that they typically are not.

Because of the system being what it is, it’s impossible for non-billionaires to win elections without lots of financial backing.

That forces people who need political funding to sometimes compromise their principles for “the greater good,” convincing themselves they can’t do any good from the sidelines, so compromising 5-10% of their values in order to achieve the 90% once they’re in office is worth it.

But then, after they win election, they have all these ideas about what to change in order to make things better for the people who supported them.

But with every potential change comes some type of negative consequence to politicians’ financial stakeholders, and a bunch of politicians fighting against change because it’s “good” for their re-election, and a bunch of politicians fighting against it because they play for the other team—and winning elections is more important than actually legislating!—and a bunch of politicians on the same team who won’t support change for various political and financial reasons.

Getting 51% of elected officials to agree on something that directly affects American lives, or affects them emotionally, or affects the financial systems in some way is an extremely tall order.

It’s funny. All humans basically want the same things: Safety, financial opportunity, good health, good education for themselves and children, and basic levels of infrastructure (roads, water, electric, law enforcement, emergency services, etc.)

The vast, vast, vast, vast, vast, vast majority of Things Humans Care About are agreed upon by most elected officials, regardless of political affiliation.

That those people will not sit down at a table together to work cooperatively to address the many things which AREN’T divisive, crushes my freaking soul.

When you build cooperative bridges, improving the 70-80% of things everyone collectively cares about, maybe everyone would stop being so shitty to one another about the divisive issues people like to scream about.

Maybe.

But in the end, the TRUTH should not be such a difficult thing to ascertain.

We have elected officials who lie because they have something to hide OR because they have something to lose.

We have media outlets who report false or incomplete information because they have a political agenda or because they’re ignorant of facts, or because they have a financial mandate to report dramatic things as quickly as possible without verifying facts.

And now we’re here.

Republican politicians are trusted by only a minority of registered Republicans, many of whom watch Fox News, read Breitbart, the National Review, NewsMax, the Daily Standard, etc.

Everyone who is not a Republican assumes the R-politician is lying, and that those media outlets are reporting misinformation to promote a conservative political agenda.

Democrat politicians are trusted only by a minority of registered Democrats, many of whom get their news from MSNBC, The Huffington Post, The Daily Beast, Daily Kos, Slate, etc.

Anyone who is not a Democrat assumes the D-politician is lying, and that the left-leaning publications are intentionally reporting misinformation OR ignoring truth in order to advance their political agenda as well.

A third group of people trust no one. They’re the most cynical of all. And I can’t think of a compelling reason why they SHOULD trust anyone.

We’re now to the point where no one can trust an elected official to be honest, nor can they trust their media outlets to be reporting rock-solid facts and truth.

Yet, we’re all confused about how TWO people with 60% disapproval ratings can end up as our two choices for president.

We turn our backs on the process most of the time, watching “Survivor” and “CSI” and “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.”

Then we all get super-interested once the national media starts covering it heavily, and we all talk about it on social media long after all the important work of CHOOSING our candidates actually takes place. So many people, not necessarily through any fault of their own, don’t really know what they’re talking about because there aren’t any places to gather reliable information.

Even the New York Times and Washington Post, which are long-time journalistic standard bearers, are no longer trustworthy to the those made uncomfortable by the Times and Post headlines.

Even IF the information is solid (many journalists are fantastic, even if big-money media is not) a person can’t realistically expect someone of an opposing political viewpoint to believe it’s coming from a place of truthful objectivity. Every major media outlet has now been labeled Right or Left.

And that means everyone spends all of their time in their preferred echo chambers, hearing and reading only the things they want to hear and read.

We need a critical mass of people to decide they want TRUTH more than they want COMFORT.

We need a critical mass of people willing to trade in CSI and the Kardashians for a lot of hard work spreading the word about people who would make amazing leaders—telling their stories effectively—and sharing them with the masses.

Republicans and Democrats (and everyone else) MUST be more committed to problem solving than they are to opposing one another and smearing people wearing different labels.

People seem more interested in winning arguments than actually accomplishing anything.

Coincidentally, that’s also why most divorce happens.

When Our Political Activism Amounts to Blocking Friends on Facebook and Only Digesting Media We Agree With For a Month Every Four Years Right Before Elections, This Will Never Change

But as in all things, I choose hope.

This shit isn’t working at all. Even if Donald Trump somehow proves to be an objectively good chief executive of the United States, there will be MILLIONS of people actively working against him, hoping he fails, spreading lies, denying whatever good might come from his decisions or initiatives, and more and more citizens will soak all that up and either grow more pissed off at the president, OR grow more pissed off at all the negativity and sabotage.

Which is EXACTLY what President Obama has dealt with for eight years.

And what President Bush dealt with before that.

And what President Clinton dealt with before that.

It’s not okay.

It’s NOT okay that this happens.

I’m in favor of spirited disagreement. I’m in favor of people with strong opinions explaining to others why they believe what they believe. But it’s as if no one knows how to do that without hating the person disagreeing with them. They take the Battle of Ideas and make it personal.

And more hate spreads.

But it’s not hard to see why this happens.

For my ENTIRE LIFE, I’ve been unable to listen to an elected official tell me something from behind a podium and trust implicitly that the information was true.

For my ENTIRE LIFE, I’ve been unable to turn on the nightly news or read a newspaper regarding something political and not assume the information was somehow politically slanted one way or another depending on the source.

Right leaners EAT UP Breitbart and Fox News and the Washington Times.

Left leaners EAT UP Daily Kos and MSNBC and the New York Daily News.

Everyone believes not Truth, but what they WANT to believe. They believe the stories that make them most comfortable. Always, always, always.

Very few of us, or the politicians we vote for, own their bullshit. Very few pursue truth even when it’s inconvenient. And very few are committed to helping people who have different wants and needs than “People Like Them.”

I don’t know how.

But if we could get people to raise their hands to accept responsibility for their laziness and pursuit of comfortable lies; and if we could get journalists to vigilantly pursue truth even when the truth works against the beliefs and candidates that make them comfortable; and if we could get enough people to understand that it’s possible to improve circumstances for EVERYONE—not just certain groups at the expense of others—then, just maybe, we have a chance.

When OUR WAY = GOOD and THEIR WAY = BAD, our relationships suffer greatly before eventually breaking. 

True in marriage.

True in all human relationships.

The root causes of our political horrors are the VERY SAME as those of our shitty marriages and broken families.

And the solutions are the same, too.

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The Worst Thing Wives Do

crime scene

(Image/iStock)

During our first year of marriage, my wife was so unhappy living in Florida that she wanted to move back to her parents’ house a thousand miles away and live with them instead of me, not knowing when or if I’d find a job back in our home state that would allow me to move there and be with her.

If anyone’s curious about when I started losing self-assuredness and questioning my self-worth, now you know.

Long before I was accidentally (but egregiously) a shitty husband, I was just a young guy trying to figure things out.

I didn’t know that’s what I was doing. The younger me spent a lot of time coasting through life, living for the next fun thing, and almost no time thinking about how my actions affected others, or what I could do to be a better person.

I was a young newspaper reporter, just a few years removed from college, living in a Florida beach town and writing business stories at a daily newspaper.

We got married when we were 25. In front of a few hundred people in a pretty Ohio church where people came from all over the country to support us. Family. High school friends. College friends.

It was a good day. A good day that represented everything we wanted our life to be after discovering that whatever good the sunny beach life brought us didn’t outweigh for us the negative consequences of missing the company, support and comfort of being around long-time friends and family.

As easy as it was for me to find a newspaper gig in the economically vibrant conditions Florida enjoyed in 2002, it was excruciatingly difficult to find newswriting jobs in the economically depressed conditions Ohio was experiencing a few years later.

Many people don’t understand the challenge, but I’ll explain it. Before financially viable online journalism existed, a newspaper reporter had the following choices: 1. Get a job with a city’s daily paper (of which there is usually just ONE). 2. Get a job with a business or alternative weekly newspaper. 3. Get a magazine job. 4. Abandon journalism.

I was just 25, and the macroeconomics of print journalism’s future hadn’t become obvious to me. I still believed I’d ultimately end up as a reporter for a large metro daily newspaper in one of the Ohio cities, or maybe even land an Ohio-based gig with The Wall Street Journal, the paper with which I was totally smitten.

But we have to walk before we can run, so while I had already begun forging relationships with editors at the big papers, it wasn’t realistic to think I could jump right from my first reporting job at a mid-sized daily to a major metro paper without a few years at another mid-sized paper first.

I stayed in touch with editors at all the viable papers, sending them front-page stories I was proud of, and keeping my name and resume in front of them.

Every so often, I’d be invited to fly up for a job interview.

That was exciting at first. My wife would light up with the possibilities. We’d tell our parents. We’d tell our friends back home. We’d poke around at real estate listings that were totally out of our price range and dream a little dream of a fairytale life where everything was perfect and beautiful.

Then, one by one, I’d fly back to Florida from each interview hopeful that this time it’s going to work!

I liked making her happy. I liked giving her things. I liked feeling as if she was proud of me.

But, of course, one by one, I’d get news that the newspaper was going to hire someone else. Someone who lives closer. Someone who better understands the banking industry. Someone with previous experience covering city hall. I either didn’t have enough experience, or I was going to be too expensive for the Ohio economy.

And one bit of bad news after another, she was crushed.

We were up here. High. Hopeful.

“Thank you for your interest in career opportunities with our company. We’re sorry, but at this time we’re moving forward with another candidate. You’re going to be an excellent reporter someday! Please stay in touch! We’ll be sure to keep your resume on file.”

Then we were down here. Low. Disappointed.

Close family members fighting scary health problems piled on the pressure. She felt helpless and far away.

Every failure to get a job offer represented me failing my new wife. I couldn’t give her the thing she wanted most: Home.

The High Crimes of Wives

I’ve written twice about what I’ve identified as the worst thing I’ve ever done to my wife. The second time, people got really upset with me about it.

It helped me (and hopefully all the male readers) understand just how big of an emotional trigger the subject of child birth and husband support actually is.

From the discussion came a question I’ve been kicking around since:

Taylor asked: “Question Matt: this abandoning wife in childbirth is evidently a very common husband sin of cosmic proportions; what is the wife equivalent? I’m guessing there is at least one really common wife sin of cataclysmic proportions that women just don’t get that is comparable to the shitty husband cop-out we’ve been discussing.”

I’m not comfortable speaking on behalf of men on this one. I’m not confident there is a critical mass of husbands who ever experience the unique circumstances which brought this on.

As always, I only know what happened to me.

Symbolically, What is Marriage?

Everyone has their own take.

Here’s what I thought it was: Two young people leaving the nests of life with their parents, and building a new nest with each other.

If you and your parents are the innermost ring in your life, when you marry, your spouse replaces them as the innermost ring. Then, your parents move out to the second ring in our little personal Who Do We Love Most? solar systems.

That’s what I was taught. That’s what I believed. And that’s how I felt inside.

One day, she looked me in the eye and said she wanted to move a thousand miles away to go live with her parents in Ohio and leave me alone in our Florida apartment.

I died a little inside.

In our first year of marriage, and at a time when we didn’t have the financial resources to buy airline tickets.

I didn’t have the gut-level emotional reaction I had during our separation and torturous march toward divorce, but—for me—that was very bad.

Very bad.

So bad, that—not unlike how I imagine my wife might have reacted had a crystal ball owner told her she was marrying a guy who would leave the hospital the night of her only child’s birth—if someone had told me the person I wanted to marry would choose her parents over me within the first year of marriage, I would not have married her.

Maybe we can chalk it up to young people not knowing how to express themselves honestly or ask the right questions.

So, what does that mean? What do you call that?

I’m not sure.

The person I had mentally, emotionally and spiritually replaced my parents with, didn’t do the same for me.

It made me feel as if geography and her parents were more important to her than her marriage. It made me feel something less than loved. It made me feel as if she didn’t trust that I could ever be enough for her.

Maybe those things are true. Maybe they’re not. I know better than to presume I know what other people are thinking.

I didn’t think I was committing a major crime when I left the hospital that night. I didn’t know that would be such a defining moment in our marriage. No matter what you think, I didn’t know.

I’m quite certain my perfectly decent and well-intentioned wife didn’t think she was causing significant emotional harm by wanting to be with her family, which because of health issues, was for more than just selfish reasons. I don’t think she knew that would impact me as it did.

We were just kids. Kids dreaming our dreams.

So, what’s the crime? Making him feel as if he’s not enough, and intentionally or otherwise, rubbing his nose in it.

She couldn’t trust me to be enough. And in the end, I suppose I proved her right.

And now we dream new dreams.

…..

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I Don’t Smoke Cigars

I loved the news business. And now I love something else.

I loved the news business. And now I love something else.

It’s the little moments that change your life forever.

The whispers.

The That almost happened! moments.

The close calls.

This was my big chance.

In the newspaper business, you rise through the ranks. A couple years here. A couple years there. And maybe a decade or so in, if you’re talented enough and willing to relocate and work hard, you can find yourself at a “destination paper.”

That means something different to everyone.

But to me, it meant a job at a Top 25-circulation newspaper.

Even from the sunny Florida beaches I called home during those first few years after graduating college, I had my eyes set on Cleveland’s The Plain Dealer. The largest paper in my home state. The one that covered my favorite sports teams. And a Top 25-circulation paper.

When I let myself dream, I imagined being an Ohio-based reporter for The Wall Street Journal.

But there I was. Standing in the newsroom of one of the dozen largest daily papers in the country: the Detroit Free Press.

I was 26. I had absolutely no business being there and everyone knew it.

But still. I was there.

And they were considering hiring me for one of the most-coveted and most-important reporting jobs at the newspaper.

Falling Into Things

Some of my friends always knew what they wanted to do with their lives. Law school. Family business ambitions. Performing arts.

I never knew.

Still don’t.

I studied business when I first got to college because my plan was to eventually take over my dad’s small company. There was a lot of financial security in that plan. And I didn’t grow up seeing my father often, so this plan made sense to me.

But sometime during my 19th year of life, I started putting words to paper. I’d go park myself somewhere on campus. On some steps. Or a bench. Or a hillside.

And I’d just watch all the life happening around me. I knew I was in a special place. And I was aware that decisions I made then would alter the course of my life forever.

Halfway through my second year, I walked into the college newspaper office and asked if I could write something—anything.

They gave me an assignment. And then another one. And then another one.

And it was that easy. Getting my work published.

I was smitten.

Within six months, I was hired on as the news editor of our twice-weekly published paper. A year later, I was the paper’s editor in chief.

I was going to be a newspaperman.

Ink in my blood.

And it all happened by accident.

The Motor City

I was in awe, standing in the Free Press building. The home of the great Mitch Albom.

Wow. Eight Pulitzer Prizes, I thought. The paper has since won a ninth.

The first thing on the agenda upon arrival in the Free Press newsroom for my job interview was lunch with the business editor.

That’s where he explained to me why I was there.

“You write for page one. And I like that. I want my writers always writing for page one,” he said.

What he meant was he wants his reporters always writing their stories with the mindset that the managing editor could make the call in the daily news budget meetings to put those stories on the front page.

And he told me something else. The job was either mine or one other guy’s.

Either me—the 26-year-old they could mold into whatever kind of business writer they wanted. Or an older, veteran journalist who worked for Reuters and had been covering Detroit’s auto industry for three decades.

If the job was to be awarded based on merit, I had no chance.

The Free Press had a four-person team covering the automotive industry. And I was down to the final two vying for the fourth spot.

An opportunity to learn day in and day out from a group of amazing reporters. Two men and one woman. Writers with law degrees and in PhD programs.

Writing stories that would be read all over the globe. By my heroes at The Wall Street Journal. And by the people I hoped to one day work for at The Plain Dealer.

A Close Call

In the end, the Free Press went with the long-time Detroit journalist. He was the better choice if salaries weren’t a factor (I would have been a lot cheaper).

And a year later, I ended up in Ohio where I wanted to be.

Less than five years later, I was laid off from my reporting job—my newspaper career ending unceremoniously and embarrassingly.

And now I work in internet marketing. It’s a good job. I write there, too.

But really? I write here. And this is the writing I really want to be doing.

Exploring the things in this life that really matter.

I don’t want to track down union officials and auto parts manufacturers to ask them questions they’re unlikely to answer honestly anyway.

I want to talk to you about real life. About what really motivates us. About what’s really important on the inside of us. About why we’re really here.

Who knows what would have happened had I gotten that job in Detroit? Maybe I’d still be a journalist. Maybe I’d be a good one.

Maybe I’d still be married. Maybe not. Probably not.

I can never know what opportunities would have existed for me on that path.

Just as I can’t know what opportunities lie ahead.

But I love the blank slate in a lot of ways. While a little scary, I also see it as an unwritten book waiting to be written—both metaphorically and literally.

I don’t know what tomorrow will bring.

What next week, next month, next year will bring.

But I know that I’m here.

That you’re here.

And that we can be whatever we want to be.

We only need to be brave enough to choose it.

Your dreams of yesterday are likely not your dreams of today.

And there’s no way to know what we’ll dream up tomorrow.

The storybook journalism career?

Close, but no cigar.

And that’s okay.

Because I don’t smoke cigars.

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