Brief conversation highlights need for misinformation research

While at a community event in rural Kansas recently, I ran into an individual I was acquainted with. I’ll call him “Phoenix.”

We were standing in line waiting to get our food, and we struck up a conversation. It was the normal flavor of idle chitchat: “How are you? What are you up to? How’s your family?”

Phoenix said he was farming full-time now, upgrading his hobby to his career. I congratulated him, and then he asked me what I do. I told him I taught journalism.

“Oh. You don’t teach them that liberal bullshit do you?” he asked as we picked up our meals.

I looked at him for a moment, trying to decide how to respond. It certainly wasn’t worth arguing about the merits of the comment, and I didn’t want to prolong a conversation I knew wouldn’t be productive. So I quickly came up with a generic response.

“I teach them to do it the right way,” I said while spreading butter on a piece of Wonder Bread.

That seemed to be satisfactory.

“Good deal,” he said with a smile.

We then went our separate ways to go eat with our respective parties, but the interaction stuck with me. It highlighted how there is a pervasive mistrust of media in rural parts of the country, and there is such division and polarization that people automatically assign political views to their perceptions of the media.

Of course, this wasn’t the first time I’ve had that type of conversation with people, and it certainly won’t be the last. However, it seems to prove the need for the research I’m conducting.