My Flight with an FBI Agent

Sunday brought a lot of adventures for the group. A few of us started the day by running to see some DC sites that we had thus far missed. Mark almost missed the train to Baltimore. We got to the Baltimore airport just in the nick of time to scurry through security, catch our breath for a few minutes, and then board the plane to Salt Lake.

The jet had plenty of open seats for us to really spread out and get comfortable. I ended up sitting next to a DC native, probably in his thirties, and talking about two subjects strangers aren’t supposed to talk about: politics (guns, education, taxes) and religion.

My new friend turned out to be a republican, Catholic, FBI agent with a background in politics, economics, and engineering. In short, we came from very different backgrounds: him from years of private conservative Catholic school and a deep appreciation for science and math; me from years of public school, a somewhat liberal household, and an appreciation for the humanities.

At the beginning of what would be a four-hour conversation, we agreed on very little. By the end of the flight, though, we had reached compromise on many of the subjects we had discussed. This not-so-little conversation reminded me of a few things:

Diversity is Important

Though my FBI friend Craig may disagree with me on this one (even at the end of our flight), our conversation demonstrated to me the extreme importance of diversity. I’m not (necessarily) talking about racial diversity or gender diversity. I’m talking about diversity of backgrounds. Having a conversation with someone who comes from a completely different walk of life than I do brought up some ideas that I had never really considered. It was healthy for me to stretch my brain in this way, and to be reminded that we, as individuals, cannot always think of everything.

Diversity is not only important for personal enrichment, but also for the function of many agencies. For example, diversity in government allows for multiple perspectives to be heard and, in theory, considered for policy.

Looking back, many of the representatives with whom we met on this trip expressed the importance of having a diversity within the office. Brian Keenan from Ketchum, for example, talked about the need for his department to work with other departments and people outside of the organization in order to provide the best job for the client. Doing that, he said, allows Ketchum to not only gather a variety of ideas for each client, but also to ensure that a particular project is going to reach a diverse audience.

The Bloomberg representative who gave us a tour (unfortunately I didn’t catch his name) also expressed the importance of diversity in the workplace. He pointed to a particular piece of art in the Bloomberg building that represents the variety of people who work there to illustrate how important diversity is to the company. He said that those who work at Bloomberg come from a plethora of educational backgrounds, and this allows for the company to reach multiple audiences and also have a variety of strengths since not everyone has the same expertise.

Communication is Life

Had Craig the FBI agent and I never sat down and communicated, neither of us would have walked away from flight 1189 with some new insights, new perspectives on our world. Quite honestly, this is why I love studying communications–seeing how just communicating can lead people to new understandings, new passions, and greater appreciation for others.

This is why news agencies are important: They communicate the world to the world. Like I said in an earlier post, without news, we would know far less about events that occur overseas, not to mention we would probably know far less about events that occur in our own backyards. How would I know that Israel is boycotting the UN Human Rights Council without the news? I wouldn’t. How would I know that the Boy Scouts of America is considering giving up its ban on gay members without the news? I wouldn’t.

ProPublica is one site we visited that stressed the power of communication.

“When it’s something that’s so obviously wrong, that could be fixed,” Communications VP Mike Webb said, “that’s what we look for … We just keep reporting on these things.”

Webb explained that in the current news environment, in which very few agencies are doing investigative reporting, communicating to the public matters of dire importance becomes even more necessary. People have to know, and communication is the answer.

Honesty is the Best Policy

Mr. FBI and I started our conversation with frank admissions of our biases. He knew I am liberal, I knew he is conservative. We spoke honestly about our religious, familial and educational backgrounds. This helped us not only to understand the perspective from which we each spoke, but also to–for lack of a better phrase–take each other’s arguments with a grain of salt.

We encountered the importance of this grain of salt while talking about the environment. FBI man’s “facts” on overpopulation, over-consumption, global warming differed greatly from the “facts” I  had previously learned on the subject. Neither of us was ignorant. I had taken a college course on environmental science a few years ago. He had used his scientific background to study the subject extensively. Yet we still brought to the conversation opposing knowledge.

Honesty in bias, then, would also seem to be an important piece of the media. I talked about this a bit in an earlier blog post, so I won’t delve too deeply into this argument. In short, the same thing that occurred with my “facts” and FBI man’s “facts” on the environment happens in the news every day. Understanding the biases from which agencies report their news would help the consumer take the news with a grain of salt, creating a less ignorant populous.

FAIR expressed a commitment to honesty that reflects this value, with program director Janine Jackson telling the group that FAIR has a liberal bias at the beginning of our meeting.

“We’re not trying to develop a pure source of news,” Jackson said. “That is not possible. There is no substitute for being an independently informed person.”

There really is no substitute for being independently informed, but more honesty in the media industry would be a great start to informing the masses.

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  1. #1 by chrissyroach on January 30, 2013 - 4:21 am

    I’m glad you had a nice, long discussion with a stranger on the airplane about such issues that you don’t agree with. Those are the best because you’re learning from another person that you will never have to encounter again 😉

    But in all seriousness, I’m glad to see that you were able to translate so much of your conversation into what we learned while on our trip.

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