Amanda Wakes Up: Challenging Your Own Political Biases

shaking handsFrom time to time, I make recommendations about books on this blog which I think speak to some aspect of being a grown up .

Today’s pick is Alisyn Camerota’s Amanda Wakes Up, a fictional account of a journalist who gets a big career break when she’s promoted to be an anchor on television news, only to discover that her dream job isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

It’s a fun and funny whirlwind account of what it’s really like to work in TV news – leg bronzer and all – written by a consummate insider. (Camerota is a co-host of CNN’s New Day and previously worked at Fox News for many years. She is also – for the record – a friend of mine and while that is definitely why I bought the book, it is definitely not why I’m reviewing it.)

So why talk about this book on a blog about adulthood? Because in addition to treating the themes of news-as-entertainment, sexism in the workplace and office romance, the book also hits on a powerful challenge that we all face as we grow older: how to question our own political biases.

In the story, the title character Amanda is at times obliged by her bosses at the mythical FAIR news – whose motto: “True and Equal” may ring true (and equal?) – to go easy on some of her guests, instead of adopting a harder-hitting tone. She feels that this is beneath her dignity as a journalist and also threatens to make her look like a mouthpiece for a maverick political outsider who is taking voters by storm with his bold, if not always accurate, relationship to the truth during an election season. (Imagine!)

At other times, however, her job also forces her to talk to people on the other side of the political divide and to take their concerns seriously. She comes to appreciate that while she may appear to have nothing in common with gun rights supporters  in New Hampshire, for example, she really likes them as people and in talking to them, is able to appreciate them as more than just a cliché. Meanwhile, others around her – including her boyfriend – carry on living in their bubbles, as most of us do, because they aren’t forced to ever step outside of them.

The book reminded me of a period in my own life when I was working as a journalist for an online political magazine and both of my editors were openly pro-life, as were several of my colleagues. I think it was the first time that I’d been around that many pro-lifers in my adult life. I wrote the occasional piece about abortion and abortion rights for this outlet, and I always felt that I got a lot more push back on those stories than on other things that I wrote.

Initially, this frustrated me. How can they question that? I would think to myself, assuming that my take on the facts was not only correct, but manifest. But it wasn’t, to them anyway. And in giving those pieces a lot more scrutiny, my editors forced me to acknowledge how my own political biases were coloring my writing about those issues. Ultimately, I came to be really grateful that they’d put me through my paces because it enabled me to see things that I assumed were obvious (and were, to me) but which weren’t necessarily so for many others. And that, in turn, made me a better journalist.

While a plea to engage seriously with “the other” politically may sound like fairly well-trodden ground, it’s amazing how rarely it happens these days. Atul Gawande wrote a powerful piece in The New Yorker recently in which he recounts his conversations with regular Joes and Janes from his Ohio hometown about healthcare. He realizes how – despite appearing to be miles apart politically – all of these people are really fairly close to one another when it comes to their fundamental views about healthcare. And so, presumably, are the rest of us, if we could ever just sit down and have that conversation.

None of which is to say that you need to move to the political center in order to be a grown up. But particularly in today’s hyper-polarized political arena, it wouldn’t hurt to dip in and out of there now and again, if for no other reason than to check your own assumptions.

Image: Shaking Hands by Geralt via Pixabay

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