By Jeff Maisey
As part of the Lee & Bernard Jaffe Family Jewish Book Festival, Sally Kohn, a progressive former Fox and current CNN commentator, will speak on November 29 at the Simon JCC.
Kohn, who has a new book titled The Opposite of Hate: A Field Guide to Repairing Our Humanity, will focus discussion on how to talk civilly to people with whom we disagree. Kohn traveled around the world, speaking to audiences in the U.S., Africa and the Middle East who were remarkably able to leave hate behind. She will participate in a panel discussion with Rabbi Jeffrey Arnowitz, Congregation Beth El; Reverend Dr. Antipas Harris, Urban Renewal Center; and Doron Ezickson, Regional Director, Anti-Defamation League.
Following are excerpts from a phone conversation I shared with Kohn.
From your viewpoint, what is the solution to people exclusively consuming news and political viewpoints that reinforce their own beliefs?
Watching multiple sources with multiple voices. These days people have to seek it out. It requires saying I’m going to follow ten people who are politically different than me on social media. I’m going to find social networks that introduce me to ranges, voices and ideologies.
I’m going to get outside of my box. I’m going to travel to places and meet people and know people who are not just like me.
It really requires an effort.
I try to focus on all levels of a problem. When we look at, for instance, why we have hate, division, and hyper partisanship…certainly media institutions are playing a part in it. And, most people don’t get to have say or sway over those places. So what can everyone as an individual do?
What we can do is stop reinforcing the kinds of political leaders and media perspectives you don’t like. We can stop supporting candidates who get down in the mud and sling dirt at each other.
We the people have power we just need to use it.
When you represented the progressive viewpoint on Fox News as a guest, did you feel they were making an honest attempt to listen to you?
The way Fox functions — at least during the time of Roger Ailes — is they had two agendas going on. One was very much about an ideology and the other was entertainment. They wanted to get ratings.
They recognized they count just get ratings if they had liberals that rolled over. The tension, the drama, the arguments — that was where the ratings were to be had.
I was never told what to say. I was never told what to do. I got to be me and say what I had to say, and reach an audience otherwise people like me were not reaching.
When I was on Fox News they had more viewers than MSNBC or CNN combined. Now, CNN is doing much better. But at the time it was reality. In fact, Fox News had more democrats watching that MSNBC and CNN combined. That’s a really big market.
But, yes, I’m under no illusions I’m going to change the Sean Hannity’s of the world, but everyone who watches Sean Hannity isn’t Sean Hannity.
What are the big ideas you want people to get from your new book, a guide to repairing humanity?
Fundamentality, I want people to understand that hate is not inevitable. From that so much can flow.
We have to understand the way the world is right now is not the way it has to be. People will say, “Oh, we’re tribal by nature.” That’s half the story. We have the capacity to hate, to fear the other. That doesn’t mean who we hate is inevitable. It’s not.
It’s part of our programming; our history; the way we were raised. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
If it’s not inevitable that means it can be changed or prevented.