Your new news organization focuses on providing factual reporting. Do you worry that we might be living in a post-fact world? In other words, consumers read multiple information sources, many of them not true…
We definitely live in an era where we have a certain set of news consumers that are seeking affirmation rather than information. We want to provide information. We’re not afraid to challenges our readers or podcast listeners. I don’t believe we are yet in a post-fact world. There are certainly trends pointing in that direction that worry us. My thought when we first started creating this (The Dispatch) along with Jonah Goldberg and others was: What can we do? In a situation like this, what’s the most useful thing we can do? When I speak at events, the questions I get most often at the end of my prepared remarks are: “Who can I trust?” and “Where can I go to find stuff that doesn’t go through the filters of the mainstream media, which lost credibility with a lot of news consumers on both ends of the political spectrum.”
Why do you think that is?
For conservatives, the people on the center-right, the news media/the mainstream news media has been demonstrably left-leaning for decades. And conservatives wised up on that. I think one of the reasons that you’ve seen the rise in talk media, the rise of Fox News, is that the more you were able to identify the biases, the more likely you were to say: “If they’re trying to sell me on this, and I know this isn’t true, I’m not going to believe them in these 5 other areas.” And then people start looking for alternatives. And this fragmentation of the media that we’ve seen, accelerating over the past 15 years, has just added to that. You can pretty much get what you want. If you want to be told that what you believe is true, whether or not it’s actually based on reality or fact, you can find that. You can find that in way too many places right now. We want to do the opposite [at The Dispatch]. Find out what’s really true, talk to multiple people. Dig around. It used to be that it was redundant to say “fact-based” reporting. You used to just say “reporting” but it really isn’t that anymore. You’ve seen a drift more toward hot-take, opinion-slinging, looking to tell people what they already think. We think there’s a pretty sizable market for doing the old-school stuff. We don’t believe there are alternative facts, conservative facts, liberal facts. There are just facts.
Has the American electorate changed in the last 20 years? Or, is it fundamentally the same?
The technical, poli-sci answer is that it changes every election. It literally is a different group with some of the same core. That partially explains why you’ve seen the differences in outcomes from presidential-to-off-year elections. The electorate I think has changed in one primary way – the strong partisan affiliation. And it really isn’t necessarily ideological affiliations. Republicans identify with Republicans because they’re Republican. The Democrats identify with Democrats. And that becomes part of their identity. We’ve seen that taken on a much stronger influence in deciding elections. The place where we’ve not seen change in the electorate is their desire for change. If you look back starting in 2006, six of the last seven elections were change elections. 2012 was the exception. If you compare this moment of massive volatility in our politics to the relative stability of the 50 preceding years – in terms of the makeup of the House, makeup of the Senate and then the back and forth on the presidential level a bit – it’s truly an amazing moment in American politics. The change is the constant right now.
Is there a swing voter? Some argue it’s all about turnout on either side.
This will feel like a dodge, but it’s both. I don’t think you can say “there is no swing voter.” I’ve interviewed a bunch of them. This is why it’s so useful to get out of Washington and not just sit and imagine what voters think. It’s very helpful to talk to voters. It wouldn’t have been out of the question, for example in 2016, for someone to tell me they were undecided between Ben Carson, Donald Trump, and Bernie Sanders. You would just think: “How could that be possible? Those people occupy different universes!” But it is true. There is a swing voter. The turnout question is a huge question. If you look at the study of the Obama-Trump [elections] and if you look at the what happened there, turnout explains a lot of it. If Hillary Clinton had been more successful turning out voters in Milwaukee County, she would have won Wisconsin. And you can point to that across the upper Midwest. So it really is both.
We had [WSB exclusive speaker] Arthur Brooks come in recently, and he talked about the country being much more 10-80-10 with the 80 being in the middle and 10 on either extreme, versus the 50-50 split as we’re often told? What’s your take?
It’s definitely not 50-50. Arthur’s incredibly smart and if he says something like that, it’s because he’s spent months and months researching it. It feels high but I don’t disagree with his general analysis. We have a lot more in common than you think if you just watch cable television, or watch members of Congress interact with one another. Or if you spend any time on Twitter or Facebook. And it’s just a matter of finding the means to elevate those agreements, rather than obsessing about all our disagreements.
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