New York Times reporter Jake Lucas performed public relations for the paper’s social media outreach, celebrating a recently established Times Facebook group in Tuesday’s edition. The Reader Center group has a modest membership (less than 600) but is newsworthy apparently because its connected to The Times, and poorly disguised left-wing tilt to its membership.
The familiar smug tone assumes “civility” is exclusively wielded by sophisticated and progressive Times readers and tilts so far left that a Latina woman who found Barack Obama’s position on “undocumented immigrants to be draconian” was actually the more centrist position compared to the focus of the story, an academic obsessed with transgender and immigration policy:
In the run-up to the 2016 election, Russian trolls wielding ads and memes used Facebook as a tool to darken lines of division. More recently, one corner of Facebook has emerged in pursuit of the opposite: civil conversation, even among those who disagree. It has become part of Bethany Grace Howe’s morning routine, right alongside her yogurt and cup of tea.
Howe actually sounds like a typical Times reader:
It has come to mean enough that she is now working to organize a real life meet-up of group members near her in Oregon, where she is a doctoral student of mass media studies examining questions of transgender identity and depictions in media.
In mid-March, she jumped into a discussion about a Democrat, Conor Lamb, winning a special House election in a Pennsylvania district that Donald J. Trump had won easily in 2016. The conversation had turned to the idea of being willing to compromise on certain values to support a candidate with broad appeal from a party that aligns generally with your beliefs.
Ms. Howe grappled with that idea but eventually grew frustrated, explaining that while she understood the necessity of compromise in politics, to her, something like protections for transgender people felt non-negotiable. How could she compromise on her civil rights?
But then a Latina member of the group chimed in, explaining how she twice voted for Barack Obama even though she found his position on undocumented immigrants to be draconian. Ms. Howe called it an “epiphany moment” that helped her understand the limitations of any one person’s viewpoint, including her own.
She is still angry about structural injustices, but she is not angry at the people she has a beer with to discuss them.
(For some of that civil and surely ideologically balanced discussion, one can apply here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/nytreadercenter)
Sickly sweet note: One of the group’s “Rules of engagement,” after asking members to “Keep your disagreements respectful and criticism constructive,” was “If anyone falls in love through this group, you have to tell us! We might have an in with [the Vows section of the Times].” Ugh.