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My Fellow Citizens,

There's an all-star crew behind today's note. A late-night comedian, a journalism professor, and a former anchor of CBS's Face the Nation all hit the airwaves with a common theme. An informed citizenry requires more than a simple re-telling of the day's events. 

As it turns out, it's up to us to make that case, but we have some excellent company. 

Trevor Noah launched his own podcast in April, and named it "On Second Thought." In promoting it, he explains that his "day job" keeps him well-immersed in the news. No one knows what happened today better than him! The podcast gives him space to go back to something—to think on a question longer, to sort through complexities, to contemplate the contradictions. 

His mission sounds like our mission too; Noah says he uses the show to "turn catchphrases and soundbites into real conversation."

He calls it conversation. We would call it deliberation and know that it's the point of it all.

Getting the news has never been easier. We all get breaking news notifications and watch the real-time news ticker scroll across the television. To follow Noah's lead, we have to ask ourselves how we engage that news after it has scrolled past.

You don't need your own podcast. You do need more than the day's headlines. It might also be true that today's are especially anemic.

John Dickerson also knows the work of keeping up with the day's events. Having hosted Face the Nation, he will soon appear as a correspondent on 60-Minutes. On this week's Slate Political Gabfest, Dickerson quickly added a piece of media criticism to the discussion of Mueller's testimony. His colleague David Plotz talked through a long list of details that would have painted a damaging scandal in any other era. He takes a breath and asks, "why has this had so little impact?"

The problem with the news today, Dickerson said….

I wanted to pause there so you had time to fill the blank for yourself. If you have an answer, reply to this email and tell me what came to mind. 

The problem with the news today, Dickerson said is that they "cover things in the present moment rather than things in their larger context." Journalists across the country have struggled to find their footing when it comes to covering a president who uses his public comments and rallies to repeat lies and falsehoods. This re-telling of the day's timeline without context offers an easy fix. 

The President said it. We reported it. He said it again, and we reported it again. The danger comes through this repetition, especially without context or the slightest mention of the contradictions it creates. 

Some journalists see their role as one that's essential to a well-functioning democracy. If they fail to meet the needs of an informed citizenry, they have failed this role. Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at NYU, has thought relentlessly about this democratic responsibility. He uses his Twitter account to call out good practices and bad practices across the media landscape. He hopes we'll all get better at it by watching his lead. 

Last weekend, he shared a long thread of suggestions for newsrooms  who want to reflect on how they have covered President Trump. Of particular note is the 15th post in the series. It sounds a lot like another plea for context:

"If you don't want to take the bait, but you feel you cannot ignore — and by ignoring accept — his behavior, then a distinction worth making is between coverage in which Trump is the protagonist, and coverage where his actions are reported, but he is not the main character."

Informed citizens need news sources that provide context and time for stories to develop. We want to engage the news and decide what responsibility we have to what happens next.

What then do you do to engage the news? Do you actively support the journalism that best supports your work as an informed citizen? Rosen also hopes we will learn to demand more of the news we support.

The present moment has questions for all of us. When we ask questions about what an informed citizenry requires and whether or not we're providing it, we're not just talking about the news. 

We're engaging ourselves in the work of making democracy stronger.

Let's start a conversation,

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Questions of Civic Proportions
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"News is what someone wants suppressed. Everything else is advertising."

—Katherine Graham, American publisher

Could the tally of political points scored give way to an assessment of our policies and their purposes?

Two moments from the first democratic debates earned the free media of endless replays on across all the news channels. Kamala Harris confronted Joe Biden, and Julián Castro challenged Beto O’Rourke. But did you see what happened next? The journalists who dug into the context of these exchanges didn’t get the same kind of attention.

Nikole Hannah-Jones wrote an NYT op-ed, “It was never about busing: Court-ordered desegregation worked. But racism made it hard to accept.” Vox also dug deep for the whole history of school busing and Biden’s position over time. That article includes a picture of Kamala Harris at the time too, wearing a very serious face and pigtails. There’s much to learn about ourselves in a national conversation about what kept us from calling this policy a success. 

Thanks to Castro’s performance, Austin's NPR station, KUT, published a full explainer on Section 1325, Title 8 of the U.S. Code, “What You Need to Know about the Immigration Law that Criminalizes Unauthorized Border Crossings.” Soon every democratic candidate had to decide where they stood on this specific section of the U.S. Code. The History Channel has now laid out the law’s entire history, originating in 1929 with the support of a white supremacist from South Carolina. 

Of course, journalists and scholars pick up the task of putting these moments in context on all the other days of our national lives too. We sometimes have to work harder to find them. Garrett Epps, a constitutional law professor recently took up the political maneuvering of reinstating the federal death penalty. Read in The Atlantic: “Barr Won’t Get His Macabre Holiday Celebration.” The federal government hasn’t executed anyone for the last sixteen years. 

Could requiring context make it easier to imagine how we will explain ourselves to the next generation?

A story about Columbine survivors coming to terms with the lockdown drills at their children’s school should provoke a lot of conversation. Strategies range from resigning themselves to these things as necessary to triggering all the PTSD they carry from their experience years ago. From The Atlantic’s “The Children of the Children of Columbine:”
“Healing after trauma can be a long—sometimes lifelong—and nonlinear process. While some see grief and stress dissipate gradually and become manageable, others have those feelings abate and then intensify, abate and then intensify, again and again, over time. And raising kids while you recover from trauma yourself can be unspeakably hard.” 

These events often trigger a discussion of whether or not we do enough to protect our schools. We might now ask if we do enough to support the survivors of these events. 

This question can also help us empower the people who come after us. This April, Chicago elected Lori Lightfoot to be that city’s first black female mayor. The Washington Post combined this story with that of Lelia Foley-Davis. A woman at the end of her career, she had been the country’s first black female mayor, elected in 1973. Her story hits themes of representation, the courage to stand up, and the difficulty of navigating a system that’s hostile to you. 

About her own experience, Foley-Davis shares, “Some accepted you and saw what I could do, and then there were others who wanted to remind you you were just a welfare mother… But that didn’t stop me.”

Asked about Chicago’s new mayor, she offered, “It’s a challenge for anyone in politics, but it’s a challenge twice for black women.” Lightfoot might not need a reminder about that, but the Post's article serves to remind us all of just how new these “firsts” still are.

This habit of mind, recognizing the relationships that span generations, might also help us see how all of this nation's history has landed on one of the "most sacred sites in all of Hawaii's cosmology.
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This Week in the Learning Studio

🗳️ Democratic Primary Debates—Round 2

If you can't help but watch every stop along the way to Election Day 2020, we understand. Look for an open thread on Monday where you can share all the best analyses of what to expect and what matters. That same post can be a place to check in with other election watchers on the night of the debate too.

🤓 Principles for Future Presidents

If you follow Politicolor on social media, you may have seen a few of the principles Corey Brettschneider uses to organize his book, The Oath and the Office: A Guide to the Constitution for Future Presidents. Look for a post on Wednesday that puts rounds up all the principles for your review and consideration. Also look for our short video introducing the book and consider joining us for an online discussion on August 8th. For anyone interested in executive power, this is a conversation worth sharing. 

🥳 Celebrate your summer discoveries

Did your summer include discovering a new author that helped you see a new perspective on a problem? Or a different perspective on a question of our shared political purposes? Look for a post next weekend where you can share those resources and help others discover them too. 
Take me to the Learning Studio

Good Work: Mapping Virginia's Slave Dwellings

At Encyclopedia Virginia, Executive Director Peter Hedlund describes this project as part of their mission to present the history of Virginia “in its totality.” By mapping slave dwellings to Google Street View, we will all have the opportunity to see that complete history. 

This seven-minute video from Google Earth describes the project and how it came to be. More importantly, it shows how saving our history impacts how we understand ourselves, our country, and our shared future. 

The video focuses on a slave quarter at Ampthill Plantation in Cartersville. Previous owners believed a structure there had been a post-Civil War “weaver’s cottage.” Justin Reid, Director of African American Programs at Virginia Humanities, and historian Hanna Scruggs stand outside the building with a camera and shake their heads at that suggestion. When Jobie Hill, founder of Saving Slave Houses, visited the property, she quickly identified the dwelling as a pre-Civil War structure, a slave quarter rather than a weaver's cottage.

In the middle of the video, the camera focuses on Justin Reid alone. He shares his family’s story. His great-great-grandfather had been enslaved at Ampthill, so part of the story reclaimed there belongs to his family.Standing on the plantation’s grounds, Reid shares his feeling that the project will work to “reinsert the enslaved community into these histories.” He tells us that these communities of enslaved people, "built these sites, kept these sites afloat," and "made these sites possible." 
With the team gathered back at the office, they flip through the pages of an old textbook first published in 1964 and talk about the myths of slave life. Hedlund asks how old those students are today. The team calculates that the people “raised on this textbook” are somewhere near the age of seventy today. They have ample representation among the state’s current lawmakers and most reliable voters. 

Hanna Scruggs has the follow-up question. The historian reminds us why context matters:

"We can’t let it continue to be unspoken. It also erases history… You’re not getting the full story, so you actually don’t understand where the country is coming from. If you don’t understand where the country is coming from, how can you have any sense of where we’re going?” 

With context, we have a sense of where we're going.

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