I rode in my mom’s car to and from school every day through junior high and high school, and we always listened to the radio. On the way to school in the morning, we would listen to the liberal news from Chicago. On the way home, we would listen to the conservative talk show hosts.
One time I asked my mom why she listened to people she didn’t agree with. She replied, “It’s important to know what the other side is thinking.”
While watching Trevor Noah, liberal host of “The Daily Show”, interview Tomi Lahren, conservative host of TheBlaze’s “Tomi,” my first instinct was to apply my mom’s lesson. The Washington Post called the interview an attempt “to do something about the liberal media echo chamber”. By “echo chamber”, they mean how people tend to only listen to media that agrees with the views that they already have—how it would be if my mom and I had listened to the same news sources before and after school, instead of switching things up. Lots of people only watch shows from one side of the political spectrum; for instance, they watch Fox News or CNN, and not both. Someone who only watches “The Daily Show” is getting one side of the political spectrum, one way of looking at the world. But in this episode, Trevor Noah brought in Tomi Lahren, someone whose worldview is diametrically opposed to Noah’s and his audience’s.
During the show, Noah challenged several of the arguments that Lahren has made on her show – that Black Lives Matter is a movement of “rioters,” that “mainstream media” cannot be trusted, and that Colin Kaepernick’s protest of the national anthem is “inappropriate.” Noah had counterarguments for each of her points, at one point calling her out for outright racism (Lahren: “I don’t see color.” Noah: “If you don’t see color, what do you do at stoplights? There's nothing wrong with seeing color. It's how you treat color that's more important.”). Neither Noah nor Lahren backed down or changed their mind about anything, but overall it felt like a civil conversation. It was certainly a change of pace from the usual scene of Noah making jokes at conservative news clips, unable to talk back to him.
But afterwards I saw some people on Facebook saying that all that Noah had done was give Lahren a wider platform for her hateful rhetoric.
A couple years ago, an artist erected a statue of a KKK member in the center of campus, without any warning or university permission. Black students responded with reasonable fear, and the university told the artist to remove the statue. The artist protested that his first amendment rights were being suppressed, claiming that he wanted to start a conversation about racism. But while conversations about social issues are important, there is a difference between starting a conversation and simply perpetuating hateful imagery or rhetoric.
Was having Lahren on “The Daily Show” perpetuating hateful rhetoric or having a conversation? Would it have been better for Noah to simply have shown clips from Lahren’s show, made some jokes about the ways she was wrong – which he has done – and left it at that?
If Noah had brought Lahren on his show and simply let her talk, then I would agree that he had only expanded her platform. But instead, Noah used conversation to challenge the hateful rhetoric of a human being. In doing so, he let us know what "the other side" is thinking without supporting it.
Having Lahren there in person meant getting more than a soundbite edited to its craziest part. It meant getting a real human being, someone who could talk back, like the people we have to interact with every day. The questions I heard most after the election was, “How do I talk about political issues with conservative family members?” If we never see the liberal people we look up to interacting with non-liberal real human beings, how can we know how to talk to them?
Here’s another benefit to having non-liberal real human beings on liberal shows: sometimes people who disagree with us actually have a point on something. During the interview, Lahren said something that I’d never heard or thought of before. She said that Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s campaign manager, is the first woman to run a successful presidential campaign. No matter what we think of the man she helped put into office, this specific thing is a milestone for women. With that point, Lahren made me realize that I had let my views on one issue (Conway’s support of Trump and his deplorable policies) get in the way of my views on another issue (women’s political power).
It is possible to both dislike what Conway has done and use her as proof that women can do anything. I wouldn’t have realized that if Trevor Noah hadn’t reached across the aisle and made me listen, for just under half an hour, to someone from "the other side" and learn what she was thinking.