Terry Woster: Democratic Discourse Is About Learning, Not Winning

Terry Woster finds a social media acquaintance reposting Trumpy hyperbole challenging readers to name one thing Hillary Clinton has done. As a Sanders Democrat, I won’t exert myself too hard on that question (SCHIP, Gaza cease fire, Pediatric Research Equity Act, 9/11 aid…). But when other Democrats exerted themselves in response to this easy challenge, Woster saw the original poster ignore those answers and blindly taunt back, “Still waiting.”

Woster worries that such willful density represents a decline of democratic discourse:

…Back in journalism school I learned to call that “a free exchange of ideas in the marketplace of truth.”

Sometimes in that free exchange of ideas, someone’s presentation of facts can change someone else’s mind. That used to be acceptable. Even political leaders once were allowed to change their minds, if presented with facts that supported the change. That’s a luxury not allowed in many quarters these days.

When facts are whatever a person wishes them to be, real conversation is impossible. We talk to prevail, not to learn. We talk to divide, not to unite, to win and to make someone else lose.

These days, when I wake up worried in the night, sometimes it’s about the future of our democracy [Terry Woster, “Failure of Democracy… a Nightmare,” Mitchell Daily Republic, 2016.06.22].

Learn and unite, or divide and defeat—how are you using your social media and your mouth?

20 Responses to Terry Woster: Democratic Discourse Is About Learning, Not Winning

  1. Steve Sibson

    “Learn and unite, or divide and defeat—how are you using your social media and your mouth?”

    Cory, why not answer your won question? It is obvious that this web site is perpetuating the Democratic vs Republican feud. My attempts to show how the Democrats are just as much to blame as the Republicans from problems that you correctly bring forward for us to discuss, is not well received. I do appreciate the times where we exchange good points, but those who hurl hate such as “right-wing nuts” are not adding much value to the discussion.

  2. I think the bigger question is who controls the questions & the reporting. partisan controversy sells newspapers & is self-perpetuating, especially in the midst of a 24 hr news cycle. The discourse has taken on a new tone, but the average voter doesn’t always consider where they get their news from & it’s validity/slant.

  3. Ben, the average voter may have to up her game. Slanted journalism actually returns to the roots of American journalism, which around the time of the Revolution was openly partisan. We never should take any one newspaper’s or TV station’s or blog’s reporting as impeccable, unquestionable truth. Solid education and critical thinking become all the more important for all citizens.

  4. A perfect example of what your saying Ben happened last night. While the Democrats were holding a historic sit-in Fox news was the only media outlet that wasn’t covering it.
    Whether you agree or not with the Democrats, you have to agree that this even should have been shown by Fox News

  5. James cadwell

    Sadly, it is much easier to apply this philosophy to some other group than that of which we follow or belong to. Communities and or powers within those communities use the same system to hold down other groups or communities that differ from their beliefs, values, culture and skin color. When we open our eyes we need to make sure we are not blinded by our own vision of what is just.

  6. Roger Cornelius

    Dakota Free Press – South Dakota’s True Liberal Media, I read that every time I log on to DFP. Why anyone would come here and expect anything non- partisan is ridiculous. It says it in headline, liberal
    Dakota War College is the ultra-conservative rival to DFP, to some degree. Pat doesn’t have the quality that Cory has and sibbyonline has become a dinosaur.
    republicans and conservatives that come to DFP are usually welcomed, even when they behave as lunatics.
    If conservatives want commenters to rollover and accept their opinions, they should find a compatible blog

  7. And there’s the thing, Roger: my comment section is open to liberals and conservatives alike, and I want us to talk to each other, to present documentable facts and logical arguments to each other, and see what common understanding we can find. I make clear my opinions and intentions, but I open my door to folks with differing opinions and intentions, much more so than my conservative blogospheric counterpart.

    We can fulfill Woster’s imperative here. We can engage in true democratic dialogue. We can respect differences and seek a common, working understanding of our society.

    And on issues where we can’t find common ground, well, heck, then we just need to show up and vote in greater numbers than the others guys. :-)

  8. Donald Pay

    When I used to testify in Pierre on a bill, I’d bring along a binder or folder of research or studies on the issues involved in the subject of the bill. In case a Legislator questioned what I would say, I wanted them to have the benefit of my evidence.

    I assumed that I would be called on to prove some of my statements of fact, but I rarely had to refer to my stacks of evidence. Then I started making sure Legislators had some of the factual information in advance of the hearing, so they could “bone up” and ask intelligent questions. Again, no interest in asking questions of me, but the some legislators would take that information to opponents and try to discredit it, and never ask be to respond.

    I remember once a legislator asked me whether I intended to read all the information in my binder. I said, “No, but you should.” “Harrumph,” was the response. I guess he would rather I say, “No, pass this bill based on your depth of ignorance.”

    All this was back when Terry Woster was covering the legislature. Terry did a good job of presenting both sides to his readers, but I never got the feeling that legislators wanted to hear both sides.

  9. Good for you, Cory. Promote learning and open-mindedness. I can get behind that.

  10. Neo-Con support is what Clinton is getting from right wing sources as right wing as they come. Democrats should ask why is that? She has at least 42 million bucks to Trump’s pocket change. Why? I think we all know the answer. http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/06/23/exclusive-prominent-gop-neoconservative-to-fundraise-for-hillary-clinton/

  11. happy camper

    Just a couple days ago Jerry described Cory’s blog as impartial when I was daydreaming about what Cory would do if he was elected, so clearly people do forget what they are reading, but more importantly as Donald Pay suggests people too easily only seek the information that gives them comfort. True Liberal Media. Truly liberal, not true, as Roger has pointed out recently, many things that are said and described as true are opinion (his example again Jerry).

    Perspective. Something is clearly being lost when we mix journalism without the deep commitment to impartiality. We end up with Huffpost, Guardian, Daily Caller… I’ve said five thousand times I like Cory’s blog, but regardless I think these have all become detrimental to uniting people by common facts when immediately mixed with spin. Then we just pick our truths and call impartial what pleases us.

  12. mike from iowa

    I’m here to defend the innocent from rapacious wingnuts. Never-ever give them an inch.

  13. Always remember happy, that I am just a feller with a perspective on life that differs from yours. I see progress while you see something else. I have vision in how this blogs works, while you where bi-focals that tend to blur. As can be said, we just don’t see eye to eye.

  14. That would be “wear” dang it..”where” is my brain today?

  15. barry freed

    Happy and Jerry,

    Cory may get elected as maybe enough voters will be comforted by the truthiness of his positions, but most of us can and have done, the research to know that gang bangers are not “children”. We know disarming civilians does not disarm gang bangers who are printing assault weapons with 3D printers as we speak. Oops, better ban 3D printers from law abiding citizens now.

    I helped elect Ms. Noem. I did not vote for her, but neither did I vote for Stephanie. They appeared as two opportunistic peas in a pod, so I chose “none of the above”.

    Now I know Ms. Noem better and I don’t see her as someone interested in improving America for all of us. The D’s might have garnered a vote from me for whomever they put up for office in the coming election, (depending) but with the gun debate lies they tell without the slightest embarrassment, false solutions to gun violence; phony, fund raising sit-ins, and their wholesale attack on the Constitution; no way.

    Since I can’t vote for Bernie, who actually won in South Dakota, I expect Cory’s first Bill will be to put a paper trail on our Ballot Machines so our votes will actually mean something.

  16. mike from iowa

    Good thing the NRA hasn’t ever lied about guns, ain’t it Barry? Good thing the NRA doesn’t intimidate pols to force them to vote to deregulate guns, ain’t it Barry?

    Good old right wing rednecks don’t care how many innocents have to die because their misinterpretation of the 2nd Amendment has been swallowed by rill ‘murrican patriots., ain’t it Barry.

  17. mike from iowa

    As for voting for Bernie, there ain’t a thing in the world stopping you or anyone else from writing Bernie’s name on your ballot and voting for him.

  18. Barry, I can’t guarantee order of bills, but I will gladly discuss language for creating a reliable paper trail for every vote.

  19. Hap, I maintain that we aren’t “losing” anything because journalism never was deeply committed to impartiality, at least not to the extent we might think. Journalism wasn’t impartial to start with: in colonial America and the early United States, journalism was all about advocating for one side or the other. Professed objectivity was a relatively recent movement (mid-1800s?) toward an unattainable goal. Every editorial decision reflects some partial position toward a candidate, a party, a political philosophy, or even an overarching worldview that decides what’s worth reporting and what’s not.

    It is important that we not make stuff up to support our agendae. It is important that journalists adopt an unwavering commitment to truth. But as a blogger, I say that that commitment to truth include an upfront declaration of principles and partiality. I contend that I build more trust if I eschew any pretense that I am completely objective and have no vested interest in the outcome of elections or other social affairs. I contend that can give you more informative and interesting writing if I tell you up front who I am, what I’m about, and why I’m writing.

    I’m a Sanders/Kucinich Democrat. I’m a liberal. I’m a secular humanist. I’m a South Dakotan. I’m a teacher. I’m a candidate for public office.

    I don’t like Hillary Clinton, but I think electing Donald Trump would be national suicide.

    Knowing those things about me, you can follow me down my writing path and be more alert to places where my biases may blind me. I need not pretend to be the final authority, because I can count on you, with your fuller knowledge of me, to fill in my gaps and correct my errors. That’s why blogging improves on purportedly objective Cronkite journalism. The participation of many voices allows us to build a richer picture of our moment, complete with competing beliefs and agendae. It’s more demanding, because the readers have to think more and speak more… but isn’t that a part of the democratic discourse that Terry Woster wants us to have?

  20. Great discussion, but I think Cory Heidelberger’s policy of being a proud public Democrat is fine. Too few journalists reveal where they are coming from. All of us, including myself, are biased in some way, we just have to say so and proceed forward with the best arguments we have.

    In my college lectures, I always say that what we need most in our society is independent minded, old-fashioned print journalists, but students tell me that nobody will pay them anything and if they are to make any money in journalism they have to veer to the right and aim to Fox News TV, or veer to the left and aim at being on some liberal station. The famous big money earners are far left and far right, but we need a centrist, moderate approach in journalism.

    Thank you, Cory Heidelberger, for stimulating this discussion.