Last week, Coloradans played a unique role in the ongoing fiasco that is the Republican House Speaker votes.
On the one hand, we claimed fame to the quickly rising talent of Rep. Joe Neguse, who gave a powerful nomination for his colleague Rep. Hakeem Jeffries. In his speech, he highlighted the historic firsts that were already taking place amid the Republican kerfuffle, and received immense excitement and applause.
On the other hand, there was Rep. Lauren Boebert, an oversized wart on Colorado’s otherwise beautiful landscape. I probably don’t need to tell you her role in her own party losing 11 majority votes in a row; because unlike Neguse, her delusional power trip has been discussed ad nauseum, despite that Boebert barely won reelection in a strong Republican district and has no comparative standing or power.
I’ve long been bothered by who we give attention to in public discourse and why. On the whole, I’d argue that how we go about the process is riddled with systemic bias, unhealthy and outdated for a 24-7 digital world. So, I’ve decided to set a few new ground rules for the pieces and posts that I pen, with the small hope that others just might be inspired to follow.
First, although I don’t have exclusive control over my column titles, I will do my best to suggest that my titles will, at minimum, equally feature the names of those who are doing good to those who are not. For example, I’ve suggested this column’s title include not only Boebert’s name, but Neguse’s as well, in alphabetical order, to ensure readers can equally learn their names.
This might not seem like much of a change, but I assure you it is. Name recognition contributes immensely to success, especially in politics. Yet a simple Google news or social media search for Boebert versus Neguse yields a vastly different number of hits, with Boebert easily garnering more articles than Neguse. This is not because she deserves it, but because she has been unduly amplified for being a spectacle.
Pandering to such narcissism is a circular problem. The more antics narcissists perform, the more they are discussed. The more they are discussed, the more antics they perform, and so it continues. Meanwhile, representatives such as Neguse who have actual power and talent receive a mere fraction of our attention, simply because they have the integrity to take their role seriously and to not make fools of themselves.
I refuse to keep feeding this beast; it’s like saying I support the school detention list to be published on the front page while Honor Roll students are relegated to a footnote on page 12 after the obituaries. And while some have been lauded for addressing today’s chaos by amplifying trolls or stunts with humorous responses, I see this as merely amplifying oneself on the back of contributing to the problem.
After a great deal of thought, including considerations of how digital algorithms shape the information available, I believe that collectively we have a responsibility to resist the urge to amplify the names and actions of those in the circus.
This does not mean giving sideshows a free pass, but rather contextualizing bad actors in a way and with a ratio of discussion that equally or more amplifies those who are actually doing the work. For example, I believe that media outlets should be able to demonstrate statistics that prove they have discussed the Neguses of the world as much or more than the Boeberts.
Critically, it’s not only up to those in the media to better this ratio, although I do believe we have a disproportionate responsibility to help lead the way. But blaming the media is all too easy when content is consumed and produced by readers as well, and, statistically, readers are far more likely to engage with what they perceive to be exciting over informational. Today, that seems to mean an enjoyment for quippy rage over substance.
Don’t believe the average person plays a role? Take a quick look on social media and how often people discuss, like or share posts that mention Boebert over Neguse. Count how many times people talked about Boebert versus her challenger Adam Frisch leading up to the last election, or how often they discussed her poisonous pork sliders over her paltry take on the omnibus bill.
Rest assured, most of us have failed this test.
The second rule I will impose on myself will be to discuss topics in a way that more fairly covers the positive angles. I believe that with a more mindful approach, it’s possible to both point out problems and offer criticism while still highlighting those who are working to fix it.
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The third rule I will self impose is to better track my own statistics of how often I mention certain politicians and in what context to ensure I’m on the right track with my new rules. People lie. Metrics don’t.
I cannot control how others approach information and discussion, but I can control how I approach it. I believe these small actions will help improve my ability to better shape public conversation and ultimately enhance democracy. Do you?
Trish Zornio is a scientist, lecturer and writer who has worked at some of the nation’s top universities and hospitals. She’s an avid rock climber and was a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate in Colorado.
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