S.E. Cupp

Communications and Civility in Our Democracy - Sept. 5, 2019

S.E. Cupp
September 05, 2019— Iowa State University, Ames
Print friendly

Hello. Thanks for having me.

This is a really cool thing that you guys are doing, this summit [Iowa State University's Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication's 2019 Summit: Communications and Civility in Our Democracy]. It's really important to have these kinds of discussions about media, communications, politics, all of that, and I'm really impressed with this turnout. Thank you.

You guys are really into politics here. [audience laughing] It's almost as if there's a big political event on Monday, February 3, 2020, in this state.

I saw a headline from two days ago in Vanity Fair. Joe Biden's team. "Please, don't freak out if we lose Iowa." What does it feel like to know that for one day a year, you hold the future of the Free World in your hands? [audience clapping] Yeah!

Then again, another headline from a week ago. "Joe Biden confuses Iowa and New Hampshire with Vermont." So, sorry. [audience laughing] You're not that memorable, I guess.

But you are really politically engaged and that's so, so important and I wish more young people but also citizens were as politically engaged as you guys seem to be here.

The Des Moines Register did an experiment at the Iowa State Fair in August, asking fairgoers how many Democratic contenders they could name in a minute. At this time there were 24 candidates and the average fairgoer could name 7.5 candidates. Seven and a half. I feel bad for whoever counted as just a half a candidate.

But that's really impressive, actually. There are people I work with, I think, that couldn't do that in under a minute. You guys are paying attention. And that investment shows. And it's good to see that politics reciprocates that and comes to invest in you.

May you live in interesting times, as the saying goes. Well, interesting is a word for it. I've been doing this a while now and calling these times "interesting" is a little like calling the New York City blackout of 2003 "interesting." It was chaotic, dark, disorienting and most of us just wanted to drink until it was over. And we did.

I don't say this as a partisan. I say this as like a sentient human being – politics is a weird, wild place right now. It's not all bad. It's not all good. It's just weird.

For example, as crazy and chaotic as things are right now, life is actually pretty good. Here in America, there's record low unemployment. Around the world, extreme poverty is lowest that it's ever been. Literacy rates around the world have never been higher.

We are freer than ever before. More than half of the world lives in democracies. Just two centuries ago, almost no one did.

The world is more educated and in better health than ever before. Global life expectancy has doubled in just the past century.

The internet has connected us to people across the globe. We're more engaged with our fellow humans than ever before.

We don't have to hunt our own food, unless we want to. We don't have to make our own clothes, unless we want to.

Life is good, right?

On the other hand, we've never been more stressed. Especially, I guess counter-intuitively, in high-income Western countries like ours. We've never felt more anxious.

According to a recent survey, when asked, all things considered, do you think the world is getting better or worse, in the United States, 6% said things were getting better. That's despite all that data and all those statistics about things getting better.

So why is that? Why are we so afraid and stressed and anxious about the world and life?

Some argue, it's social media's fault, that Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and Snapchat and dating apps, they're tearing us part, all while designed to make us closer, more connected.

I have to say those people make a good case. On more than one occasion, I have fantasized about quitting it all, disconnecting, because who wants to be yelled at and harassed and mocked and scorned for their political beliefs all day long? Unfortunately, I can't quit my dad. So I'll always have that in my life. But at least I wouldn't have to hear it from total strangers.

In all seriousness, I have never, ever understood the satisfaction someone gets from telling a complete stranger they've never met, "I hope you get raped in a dark alley." Or, "You deserve to die a horrible death." Or worse, about my family.

We have a sickness in this country. A moral rot. A sickness of hate that so many feel better by hurting others. And that's something we really have to look good and hard at.

I'm sure none of you have ever said anything that terrible to anyone on social media. But I'm also sure most of you have probably said something unkind on social media. I have. I have regretted it, but it's easy to do, especially when you're arguing about fundamental values that you feel so strong, so passionate about, when you're sure that the way you see the world is right and the way someone else sees the world is not just wrong but dangerous. It's easy to lash out, reach for ad hominem attacks instead of sticking to arguments. I think we could all do better, I'm sure.

But social media fights are not the only reason for our increased anxiety. Others place the blame squarely on the media for yelling only about our problems and stoking our fears, and there's some truth to that which I'll get to in a bit. Others think it's more existential than that.

Senator Ben Sasse, a very thoughtful Republican from neighboring Nebraska, diagnoses the problem we have right now as extreme loneliness. I'm going to quote from a review of a book that he wrote just recently. It's called "Them: Why We Hate Each Other and How to Heal." The book review was done by conservative columnist George Will and it's a long paragraph.

It starts, "Time was, Sasse notes, that Americans stocked their imaginations with the same things. In the 1950s, frequently 70% of television sets in use tuned in to 'I Love Lucy.' Today, when 93% of Americans have access to more than 500 channels, the most-watched cable news program, Hannity, has about 1% of the US population. In the last quarter of the 20th century, the average number of times Americans entertained at home declined almost 50%. Americans are hyper-connected but disconnected with fewer non-virtual friends than at any point in decades, with the median American checking a smartphone every four to three minutes and with nearly 40% of those 18 to 29, online almost every waking minute. We are addicted to distraction and parched for genuine community."

Will goes on to say, "Work, which Sasse calls 'arguably the most fundamental anchor of human dignity and identity' is at the beginning of a staggering level of cultural disruption, swifter and more radical than even America's transformation from a rural and agricultural to an urban and industrial nation."

Really powerful, interesting, chewy stuff and I think that's all true. But where Ben and I disagree is, I think politics has played a significant role in this as well. It's played a particularly odious role in setting our anxieties ablaze and sending our trust in institutions down the toilet and rocketing our anger and resentment to level record heights.

A lot of that has to do with civility, the thing we're here to talk about tonight, but it also has to do with a failure of politics. To give us something to believe in. To give us something that we know to be true.

People like to say we've never been as divided as we are now. That's not true. 1860, pretty divisive time. 1968, pretty divisive time. But the past few decades, if you really look at them, have been incredibly disorienting and it's harder and harder to know who to believe and what to trust, especially in politics.

I want to show you what I mean. I'm going to read you some quotes from key figures in politics over the past few decades and I want to see if you can guess who said them. You know what? Let's just see if you can guess if it was a Democrat or a Republican who said it.

Here was a lawmaker making the case for impeachment. "You don't even have to be convicted of a crime to lose your job in this constitutional republic if this body determines your conduct as a public official is clearly out of bounds in your role. Impeachment is not about punishment, impeachment is about cleansing the office. Impeachment is about restoring honor and integrity to the office."

Democrat or Republican?

MAN IN AUDIENCE: Republican.

CUPP: It was Lindsey Graham about Bill Clinton in 1999. Today, Lindsey Graham is one of the current president's staunchest defenders.

Here's another lawmaker making the case against impeachment. "The world economy is in crisis and cries out for American leadership, without which worldwide turmoil is a grave possibility. This investigation has run its course and it is time to move on." That was Chuck Schumer, also about Bill Clinton.

Sticking with the Clinton era, here's one relating to his behavior. To remind, for those of you who were too young to have the particular good fortune to be around for the Clinton scandals, he was accused of multiple counts of sexual harassment and rape and eventually admitted to having an affair with his White House intern. Of the allegations by Kathleen Willey and Paula Jones, again allegations, sexual assault.

One writer said, "Even if the allegations are true, the president is not guilty of sexual harassment. He's accused of having made a gross, dumb reckless pass at a supporter during a low point in her life. She pushed him away, she said, and it never happened again. In other words, President Clinton took no for an answer." Democrat or Republic?

Well, imagine anyone saying that today in the Me Too era. "If the allegations are true". Hitting on female members of your staff isn't sexual harassment, but merely "passes." It only happened once, so let's call it a wash.

Then imagine that the person who said it then in 1998 was Gloria Steinem, feminist icon, champion of women. She didn't just say it, she wrote it in a column in the New York Times. Defending Clinton while slut-shaming, age-shaming and victim-blaming his accusers. That did not age well, needless to say.

Moving on, here's another, different topic. Quote is, "Government spending is growing at an alarming rate and the federal budget deficit has reached record levels. Future generations will drown in debt forced onto them by the inactions of Congresses and administrations far before their time. The time to remedy these failures is now."

That was a letter signed by 23 Republican senators to President Obama in 2011. In March of this year, the Trump administration passed a record $4.7 trillion spending budget that will push the deficit past a trillion dollars. No Republican letters.

Here's a good one. "We are often critical of the way Trump treats the press and for good reason. He calls us fake news. He bashes CNN, MSNBC, increasingly Fox for not running their coverage through his press shop, apparently."

But, see if you can guess who said this. "We're going to treat that network the way we would treat an opponent, as they are undertaking a war against the President and the White House. We don't need to pretend that this is the way that legitimate news organizations behave." Anybody? It was Anita Dunn, Obama's communications director saying the White House was going to treat a news network, in this case Fox News, as the enemy.

It's worth pointing out that that administration also targeted reporters, sicced the Justice Department on them, prosecuted whistle blowers under the Espionage Act. That administration does not have a great record when it comes to dealing with the press.

And yet last year at a college speech, Obama said the following. "It shouldn't be Democratic or Republican to say that we don't threaten the freedom of the press because they say things or publish stories we don't like. I complained plenty about Fox News, but you never heard me threaten to shut them down or call them enemies of the people."

Well, I was at Fox at the time. And his administration did try to ban Fox News from press pool interviews. His communications director did call Fox News the enemy. Not to mention his administration did kick three reporters off his plane in 2008, reporters at newspapers that endorsed John McCain.

I don't bring this up for the purposes of what aboutism, although what aboutism can be useful at times. I bring this up and all the other examples as a way of pointing out that if you've been a citizen of this country over the past 30 years, paying some attention to politics, who would blame you for thinking these guys will say anything.

Most people aren't paying as close attention as we in the political news media do. You guys probably pay more attention than most people, too. But people are plenty smart. And who could blame them for noticing this rampant hypocrisy on both sides of the aisle, both on policy issues and moral issues.

The double standards abound. What was a problem a year ago isn't a problem anymore, so long as your party's in power. It's an outrage when your guy does it but not when my guy does it. I'm sure you guys can think of dozens of examples of this.

Now, I don't know. Maybe they're counting on the American populace, the voters, the TV viewers, to be idiots, that they won't notice this stuff, that it won't foster resentment and distrust, that it won't make people deeply skeptical and say, well what's so great about civility? What is being nice get anyone? I don't think people are idiots. I get exactly why people distrust politics.

So let's talk about the media's role in all of this. Let me preface this by saying, our job is really hard, harder than most people think. Not just because the actual job is hard, but because it's also often dangerous. We have war reporters all over the world. We send reporters to hurricanes; natural disasters; fires; impoverished, diseased places. They are putting their lives at risk every day.

But even working in the safe and friendly confines of an office building can be treacherous for journalists, as we know. Some were killed not long ago while working in their newspaper office in Baltimore. My office was sent pipe bombs last year, I'm sure you remember. We get death threats, we get hate mail, no matter who's in the White House.

I'm no exception to this. I get it all. I once got a box of bloody chicken parts sent to my office with no note as to why. Don't try this, the FBI monitors it all and they are not amused by any of this. They take it real seriously.

The President, the current one, has tweeted that I should be fired, that I'm dumb. The president of the United States has tweeted that my boss should fire me. If you don't think that reads resentment and hatred coming my way, you're kidding yourself. Of course, it does.

I'm not alone. This is like just the awful, unfortunate, terrible part of a job that I love.

And I hope many of you consider, students, entering this field despite how tough it can be. It is unlike anything else to be on the front lines as a witness to the first draft of history.

But no one should have to wonder if the next pipe bomb or death threat is right around the corner just to exercise free speech or hold their government accountable.

I say all this to stand up for my colleagues around the world, of course, but also the media collectively needs to get better at doing our job.

On the one hand, we're a business, too. Television networks, newspapers, radio stations, websites – we respond to demand. And if y 'all didn't want the partisanship and the tribalism, believe me, we'd try to look a lot more like C-SPAN. But you're not watching C-SPAN. You're watching Hannity and Rachel and Don Lemon.

On the other hand, we need to hold ourselves to higher standards and take more seriously the responsibility of informing the public. That means admitting when we get something wrong. Drawing clear lines between reporting and opinion. Being honest about our biases. We all have them, let's be clear about what they are.

We also need to find time to make time to report on more foreign policy and foreign affairs stories. It's a vicious cycle. We don't do it because it doesn't rate. It doesn't rate because we don't do it and condition audiences to expect it. But I try to fight for those opportunities where I can because these stories of genocide and war relief and hunger and famine and conflict, they're important. They're important, they matter to us because we are so connected.

But most of all, I think it's really simple. We have to care less about being liked. I don't care that the president of the United States doesn't like me. Good, that I'm doing my job. That's my job. When we start caring about how we're perceived by people in power, whether that's Hollywood or the White House, we're doing it wrong. We're doing this wrong. It might mean fewer cocktail parties and you know celebrity friends. But I think that's a small price to pay for our integrity.

When it feels like the media is in bed with the powerful, when we act like we're unaccountable, when we say things that are undeniably hypocritical, when we distort facts, when we prop up a president, that also corrupts our trust in each other. It adds to incivility. It makes us feel hopeless and we turn on each other.

One of the most insipid contributors to incivility today is tribalism, us versus them.

Now let me say part of this is biological. We need to feel like we belong to something. We need to commune with people who believe what we do. I actually wrote my master's dissertation on this, studying what makes us believe, and I looked at two discrete populations – the religious faithful and sports fans. True believers in both cases.

And this is not meant to diminish the importance of faith or religion, but there's a lot of common experience in faith and sports, if you think about it. In most cases, you're born a Catholic or a Muslim or a Hindu. It's less a choice than an inheritance. In most cases geography or maybe your parents decide your sports allegiance. You don't choose to be a Bama football fan or a Chicago Cubs fan because you've analyzed the data and determined them to be statistically the best. You're a fan because of where you live or where you went to school or your parents or maybe a girlfriend or a boyfriend. It's something you kind of inherit and yet, boy do we believe.

Both sports and religion require faith. There's little empirical evidence that your God is real or your team will win, but you believe. Both sports and religion require pilgrimage and worship. You go to the stadium. You go to the church. You go to the important places to show your respect. That means something; they are sacred spaces. They both involve ritual – ceremony, repeated practices. Rituals reassure us that we are being good practitioners of our faith. They feel good. Believe me. I'm a Mets fan. We do all kinds of crazy things to ensure we win. They never work.

Of course, there are existential questions that sports can't answer and religion for many does, namely why are we here, what happens when we die. Sports hasn't figured that part out yet.

But the need to commune with people like us, it's ingrained in our DNA. We need it like we need water. So tribalism is an extension of commune. We'll never get rid of our desire to be among our ideological own, to feel safe, to feel reaffirmed by those around us, to identify our heroes, name our enemies. But to the extent we have taken it today, there's nothing communal about this experience.

And many of our political leaders only encourage this extreme tribalism to their own benefit. When they accuse members of another party of having blood on their hands for some tragedy or a policy or a piece of legislation, when they accuse half the country of being racist or backwards or unsophisticated for not believing what they believe, when they encourage their supporters to beat up journalists or each other, when they call people enemies – that trickles down, that enters the American blood stream.

So it's no surprise that we have a growing hate problem in this country. Extremism is on the rise. White supremacy, anti-Semitism – it is out in public. I don't know. From my generation, these things were supposedly on the wane and where they existed at all, it was underground. You weren't proud of that, you hid that. And politicians were ashamed to have white supremacist supporters.

Now, these things are out in public, on parade, on display. There's no shame. Antifa, straight pride parades, Proud Boys – this is all born out of tribalism, us versus them, fear of the other, anger at our neighbors, resentment of the rich, the poor, the privileged, the immigrant. Sometimes it isn't even as ugly as a hate crime, but tribalism is tribalism and it's all dangerous.

Consider a very recent example from earlier this week. Will and Grace, also known as Eric McCormack and Debra Messing, earlier this week tweeted about a Trump fundraiser that was going to be held in Beverly Hills. McCormick tweeted, "Hey, @THR, Kindly report on everyone attending this event, so the rest of us can be clear about who we don’t wanna work with. Thx."

I mean I did not live, think I'd live to see the day when Hollywood wanted to bring back blacklists. But here were are. Think about it, this is a demand to name names, to name political enemies so that we can see them, know them and then shun them professionally and personally, in 2019, from two Democrats.

I say it's unfathomable and yet, it's almost too easy to believe. Because politics is no longer serving its original intended function to help us, you know, govern. It exists now just to divide us into tribes, red and blue, Fox and MSNBC, rural/urban, citizen/immigrant, tribes that orient our lives and how we see the world. These tribes tell us who to like, who to hate, who our friends are, who our enemies are.

Now, the opposite extreme of that tribalism, equally as bad counter-reaction, is the demand for safe spaces. Places where somehow we think we can save each other from being offended. This teaches people – in some cases, college students – that speech is something to fear. That it's something to sanitize, to weaponize. It suggests that we can't actually argue or disagree politely on our own but that we need a kind of demilitarized zone in which to safely interact.

That is tragic. And it's beneath us, we're better than that. We can figure this out. It pretends that there's somewhere in life that mirrors these safe spaces where you'll be able to avoid being offended. It pretends we can control any of this.

I don't want you to be afraid of the world, of interacting with people, speaking your mind, of meeting people who aren't like you, of being offended. Life is offensive, accept it. I'm offended at least 20 times a day, 21 if I happen to go into a Starbucks. It's a given. But somehow despite my being offended, life goes on, the world doesn't stop turning because I'm offended.

There is an outrage industrial complex that blows someone up on social media for something they said, gets them fired, ostracized from their communities. It's become a blood sport. It's dangerous. So we need to stop pretending we can avoid being offended and stop being offended on behalf of other people.

Elections seem to bring out the worst of our tribalism and our fear of being offended.

Joe Biden has already faced backlash from the left for saying that he personally likes Mike Pence and Dick Cheney. Obviously, he doesn't support their politics or the policies or their party. That's obvious. But to call either of them a nice person was treasonous. For Joe Biden, somehow it was a signal that he was insufficiently committed or loyal or tribal.

I don't know how we get back to an era in which someone like Biden could have been forgiven these transgressions. Politics is cyclical. Maybe the pendulum will swing back towards civility after this.

But Republicans who miss civility in politics, well, they're not surviving this. The Jeff Blakes, the Justin Amashes, they're washing out and the rest of the Republicans seem perfectly fine with all of this.

And Democrats say they want civility and I want to believe them, but then they'll call half the country that didn't vote for them deplorable or racists or dimwits.

It's funny because most voters are not on these extremes. As tribally as we act, most of us are somewhere in the middle on abortion, climate change, immigration, guns, name your hot button issue. But the middle, this is the secret to politics, the dirty secret, the middle is not profitable. The middle is not exploitable.

One of the best examples of this and I give this often, is immigration. For decades, both parties have had a majority at one point or another and still did nothing to pass meaningful immigration reform. Whatever that means to you, whether it's a wall or amnesty. Even figuring out stuff like E-Verify or what to do with asylum seekers. Not sorted out.

Why? It's too profitable to keep our immigration system broken. Republicans need the fear of open borders to fundraise and win elections. Democrats need the fear of xenophobic white guys to fundraise and win elections.

Here's proof. You know what most illegal immigrants prioritize? Legal status. Want to come out of the shadows. It's not a pathway to citizenship, which coincidentally is the thing we are constantly arguing about. That's not the thing they even want. A lot of 'em want to work here, and maybe one day go back to their own home countries. But what do we insist is the sticking point in this argument always – citizenship. Why?

Most voters want strong borders, an immigration system that deports criminals but doesn't rip children out of their parents arms. They want to make illegal immigration harder and legal immigration easier. That's most people. You wouldn't know it listening to Democrats or Republicans.

Guns is another one. I'm a Second Amendment supporter and a gun owner, but I recently quit the NRA because they no longer represent my values as a gun owner. Nor do they represent a majority of gun owners who believe if you want a gun, you gotta pass a background check. That's a majority of gun owners. When the NRA isn't listening to its own members, it's only representing a very thin slice, a minority viewpoint and that's only for the sake of politics.

There is no issue about which we care more and talk to each other less civilly than guns. I know, I've been in it for 20 years. I've given the speeches. I've written the columns condemning more laws for criminals who won't follow them. And all the arguments I made have been true, but they didn't really get us to problem solving.

In some cases, the gun may not be the whole problem but may very well be part of the problem. We should acknowledge this. We shouldn't be afraid to. Handgun violence in Chicago, for example – many contributing factors but certainly easy access to handguns is one of them.

Mass shootings – mental illness, without a doubt, the most significant common contributing factor across every incident. But it's also unarguably too easy for too many sick people to get their hands on a killing machine. We should admit that and want to solve a problem if we can.

Instead we do politics on the problem. The president waffling on background checks because of the NRA. Some in the left publishing the names and addresses of law-abiding gun owners. Gun owners parading their assault weapons through Walmart because they can to prove a point. These are not solutions. These are not conversation starters, they're conversation enders.

Case in point, recent Twitter fight, like this week, between a Republican and a Democratic lawmaker. Maybe you saw it. Republican Dan Crenshaw – veteran, gun rights advocate – complains on Twitter that expanded background checks mean he won't get to loan his friend a gun for self-defense or for hunting or shooting. Democrat Alexandria Ocasio Cortez fires back, calling his friends likely violent criminals and spousal abusers who shouldn't have a gun. He fires back that she doesn't understand life outside of New York City.

Well, that sure solved this problem. What changed after this fight? Zero, nothing.

And this is the kicker, no one's even bothered to point out, that the important part of this, the two things he's worried about – being able to loan a gun to a friend for self-defense and being able to load a gun to a friend for shooting or hunting – these are protected in the bill he's talking about. The expanded background checks legislation that is before Congress right now exempts those things so that he can loan a gun to a friend who wants to hunt and shoot and he can loan a gun to a friend for self-defense.

Why are we having this argument? It's totally unnecessary. Their argument is moot. And yet it feels too good to fight. It is more profitable politically to fight than to talk in facts. Extreme positions do not let facts get in the way.

But if you're interested in seeing how the candidates campaign, including Trump – and I know you are – listen for this, listen for extreme solutions to ages-old problems. Extreme solutions like abolishing ICE to solve a broken immigration system. Extreme solutions like ending all air travel to solve climate change. Extreme solutions like tariffs on American farmers to solve, I don't know what. They'll call these extreme solutions bold.

But when you remind yourselves that most voters are in the middle and not on the extremes ask yourself, who are these extreme solutions meant for? Not a majority of voters. And not a legislative future in which both chambers of Congress and two political parties and a president will have to eventually agree on them. They're meant to appeal to the extremism of our tribes.

But what would happen if we demanded civility and moderation from our elected officials? What would happen if we started punishing the loudest, most extreme voices in the room instead of rewarding them? What would happen if we turn the blowhards off and talked to each other like humans about human events?

What would happen if we formed a third party? A third party that was actually representative of where most voters are at. Not a watered-down version of the left and the right, but a party that took a moderate, common-sense approach to all issues because it knows from history that the best way to create change is to do it incrementally, slowly and with a majority behind it. Not at the barrel of a gun or because the government imposes it.

I don't know if that's possible, plausible, naive, foolish. But the alternative is more of this. More of a government that represents only the loudest few, not the silent many. More important conversations that are corrupted by politics. Conversations that get us nowhere. Tribalism that may feel like communing, but that's really just ripping our communities apart.

My generation probably isn't going to solve this. It will be up to you guys, the students, to demand better of us, to do better yourselves.

Before we take questions. I want to leave you with a story. A couple of weeks ago, I was wrestling on the floor with my four-year-old and he got tired and eventually kind of collapsed into a hug, while I was on the ground. And I looked into his eyes and I said, "Jack, do you know who my favorite person in the world is?" And he goes, "Me." I said, "Yeah, that's right." And he goes, "Mommy, do you know who my favorite person in the world is?" Tearing up, I said, "Who?" And he goes, "Ryan, from the playground." [audience laughing]

I was really offended. Outraged even. But I learn a lot from my kid. We have different priorities, he and I. [laughs]

All of us we see the world differently, very differently. Instead of fetishizing that, so that we hate each other, let's relish that because it's what makes us great.

Thank you, and I'd love to take some of your questions. (audience clapping)

UNIVERSITY REPRESENTATIVE: We have microphones here, if you'd like to come up and ask Miss Cupp a question.

CYNTHIA: Hello, my name is Cynthia and I am a journalism major and a political science minor. And my question to you – with your profession, you've mentioned a lot about threats and a lot of unfortunate things going on with your profession. At the end of the day, what do you remind yourself about the profession that keeps you going and keeps you going strong?

CUPP: Yeah, um. Look, I'm, you know. I'm not a hero doing what I do. I love what I do. I get a lot of gratification out of it. But I don't know, for me, it feels like the most important thing. Holding people accountable. That's what journalism does. It's a hugely important function in any Democratic society and whatever role we play in it, I'm obviously on the opinion side. That doesn't mean I don't do reporting, I do. But whatever role we play in it, I think, keeping a strong press, alive, vibrant, active with lots of new people coming into it. Lots of people telling stories especially in small towns. I just think it's vital. It's absolutely vital. And so, you know, I don't have the luxury of not doing this. I would feel like a quitter. I'll always be doing this in some form and you know, there are people who do a much better job at this than I do. You know, the heroes are the small town reporters. And we're losing far too many of them, but that's who keeps your sanitation department honest. That's who keeps your school board honest. You know, that's really where the importance of journalism comes into full relief.

CYNTHIA: Thank you. [audience clapping]

LAUREN: Hi there. My name is Lauren and I work in local media here for the CBS affiliate. So I was just thinking from my perspective, you talked about holding people accountable and I'm thinking you know, how do I hold myself accountable? We all have personalities and opinions and Twitter can embellish those, right? And we want to be ourselves and express ourselves. But at the same time, you know, you have that expectation, right, that your to be unbiased and you're this entity that exists that doesn't have opinions and we all know that's not true. So, how do you go about working with that, not allowing that to sneak into your coverage and you might be trying to work your hardest to not let that happen but it very well can.

CUPP: Yeah, so like I said, I'm on the opinion side. I'm allowed to express my opinion. I'm hired to express my opinion, which makes it easier and at the same time, I find that being as honest about my opinion as early as possible sets the stage for a productive conversation. So, you know where I'm coming from and sometimes where I'm coming from politically is the opposite of how I feel about an issue. So, I like to be real clear about that. For reporters, yeah, it's really hard to divorce your opinion from your reporting. It's vitally important that you do, but I also am of the mindset that you're not a robot, you're not a machine. You know, we could analyze data. We don't need you for that. We need you because you're a human and you bring with you a context, an experience, a background. And so, I think it's impossible to keep your you-ness, out of your coverage. It's just something to be aware of. Are you telling this story? Are you giving this fact? Are you sharing this information because it's important to you? Or because you think it's important to readers or viewers? And that's what you have to keep in mind. Who are you doing this for? Is it for them or you? There are times in which in your career in which doing something for you will be okay. If you God forbid, know someone who's going through an illness, I would hope you would do a story about what it's like to go through that illness or the cost of healthcare or something like that. There's room for you in reporting and I think it only makes our coverage better as long as we're responsible and honest about it.

LAUREN: Thank you.

CUPP: You're welcome.

IAN: Hi.

CUPP: Hi there.

IAN: My name is Ian. I'm a senior speech communication major. I was wondering. I've seen a lot of kind of posts on social media and things like that, that are starting to condone violence against like Nazism and racism and things like that.

CUPP: Yeah.

IAN: Which I can't condone Nazism and racism but I also can't really condone violence.

CUPP: Yeah.

IAN: So my question really is, how do we go about the reproach of these things? Especially when we're already going to be met with a lot of hostility before we even begin talking.

CUPP: Yeah, this is something that keeps me up at night and it keeps me up at night because people who are combating this, say it keeps them up at night. I've had a lot of experts on my program to talk about the rise of hate and extremism, experts from the law enforcement side, experts who were reformed extremists who now work with white supremacist communities, groups. And this keeps them up at night because the violent rhetoric, you know isn't just rhetoric. Words matter. It really does trickle into the bloodstream. The expert I had on, his name is Christian Picciolini, you should look him up. He has a program that reforms other white supremacists. He also has a new book out. He will tell you, the language he hears sometimes from the President, other politicians and other various groups, is exactly what would have engaged him when he was vulnerable, most vulnerable to this. He would have loved to hear that. It would have inspired him and it would have motivated him and people like him. So words really matter. And I wish I could say well, you know, as long as our leaders are saying and doing the right things, they're not. You know, we all have self agency in this and we're all you know able to decide how far we're willing to go. But this is what I mean about the tribalism. Tribalism begets this kind of rage where you justify anything because it's in service of your cause. And not everything is justifiable. Violence is not justifiable in any case but politics is a cover now for every emotion, every action, every desire and urge, it's a cover. Well, he's X, so he's evil and I'm going to get him. Or she's Y. And politics shouldn't be a shield like that. It should not be our whole identity. And that's again the dangers, the logical conclusions of tribalism and we need to break that fever. We need to break the fever so that we aren't using politics for something it was never meant to be, not in this great American Democratic experiment, anyway. Yeah.

JEAN: Hi, I'm Jean. My question is because of the concentration of ownership in media, public relations and advertising, along with the powerful people running social media, we expect to see a certain type of good or bad national discourse and isn't that concentration an important contributing factor?

CUPP: Yeah. Definitely. I don't mean this to be snarky. And I say this before. You guys play a role in this. You know, news consumption, being a news consumer, is not something that, like, is forced upon you. You choose what you watch. You choose what you read. And like I said, this is a business. If you want us to behave differently, demand better! Change the channel. Cancel the subscription. Believe me, we'll respond 'cause it's all we respond to, is ratings. And same with advertisers, as you mentioned there. It's all interconnected. And the social media. It all feeds itself. Demand different, demand better. You know, there's nothing stopping you from wanting a different kind of news experience. The advent of Fox News was because you demanded different. You wanted someone to fill a gap in the marketplace. Fox is what came in, responded to that need. It was popular. You ecumenically, maybe not you but you ecumenically, loved it. You still love it. Highest-rated cable network. So there's only so much, you know, that we can do to respond when you're basically telling us what you want. Now that quote from Ben Sasse about you know, the highest-rated show is Hannity and it gets 1% of the market share, that's important. That's important to know. It's significant enough to move markets. It's significant enough to move advertisers and social media. It's significant. But there are opportunities here that are already being taken advantage of for other kinds of news experiences. They're being created every day. Quibi is a good example. There's new ways to consume the news coming out every day. It's a very scary time for us in cable news 'cause we know we're about to be replaced. But it's also a very exciting time because hopefully this gets even more democratized, more customized. A better experience with less corporate influence. That's all possible, but sitting back and waiting for us to change isn't going to get it done.

Maybe one more, or are we done? Do we have to go, okay.

SCOTT RAECKER : Hi, I'm Scott Raecker from the Ray Center at Drake University. I want to thank you for coming to Iowa.

CUPP: Sure.

RAECKER: And Iowa State University. This is a very important summit and we're really focusing as we move in to tomorrow about solutions and best practices.

CUPP: Yes.

RAECKER: We really appreciate you sharing the insights. I love the story about Jack. I want to thank you for giving a night away from your son.

CUPP: Thanks.

RAECKER: But could you maybe share with us from your perspective and your experience, what are a best practice or two or an experience you've had where you have seen civility rise above the incivility. Within the media itself. Not the politics. But with you and your colleagues in the media. Where have you seen the civility, best practices you can share with us to build out tomorrow.

CUPP: Sure, just a couple. First of all, you should be encouraged, I see it every day. Whether it's a colleague at another network sort of giving a colleague of mine kudos publicly and vice versa. But there are also sort of practices that we develop. Unfortunately, I am often in a position where breaking news of a mass shooting comes up during my show far too common. And I have a rule for myself. I don't talk about politics, the day of or after a mass shooting at all. Not at all. We can talk about what happened. I think that's important. And of course there's a time to talk about politics, but I give a day and the day of and the day after. That's for me, for my soul to make me feel okay. And to not gloss over a tragedy and the humanness of it, to go right to politics. And I'm not saying that people who talk about politics in the minute are bad. It's just something that feels better for me. You know, we like to help each other out. I like to offer myself to my colleagues, my colleagues offer themselves to me. We share notes about what we want to do and you know, it's a business that on one hand is very proprietary because it's very competitive. But on the other I don't know, I've met so many great people who want to collaborate. And this business has never felt more collaborative. Doing panels together and supporting each other's work. Doing work together. We're coming together to build new projects. That's really great. And it's been one of the benefits of an administration, two now back to back, that have been fairly hostile to the press. We have sort of hunkered down together. I remember when Obama tried to kick Fox out of an interview and the other four pool networks said, if they're not in we're not in. That was remarkable. And it just happens in the Trump administration too, with a CNN reporter. The other pool reporter said no, no, no. We're a pool, we're together. That kind of unity is so, so important. Reporters sticking up for reporters. I mean, I don't mean to treat us like we're an aggrieved, you know, population but reporters sticking up for good reporting and other reporters is really important because we need to have a united front at a time where we're being called the enemy, the enemy of the people. That's a powerful message coming from a president. That has an impact. I feel it. We see it. So stuff like that. It's really, it's everywhere. It's not a very, it's not a very tribal place inside the media now. It feels very much, unified around a common goal, which is nice, you're welcome.

Guys, thank you so much. This was really,

Speech from https://iastate.hosted.panopto.com/Panopto/Pages/Viewer.aspx?id=ba295830-9622-4121-982f-aabe00ffa38b.