Dennis Skley / CC BY-ND 2.0

In a valuable example of human interest journalism, NPR host Robert Siegel spoke with a diverse group of Americans assembled from three generations — 25-, 45- and 65-year-olds — about how their experience of national events shaped their political views.

Among them are a 25-year-old who joined the military during the economic recession, a 45-year-old who became a U.S. citizen under President Reagan’s immigration reform, and a 65-year-old who was one of the first black female firefighters in New York City.

The media’s influence on politics emerged as a consistent theme across the groups. This included “the reporting of Walter Cronkite, coverage of the Bill Clinton impeachment and O.J. Simpson trials, which often blurred the line between tabloid sensationalism and news, [and] the emergence of the 24-hour news cycle,” NPR reported.

“For Siegel,” NPR continued, “the conversations with these 26 voters reveal that America seems to go through rapid cycles of extreme cynicism and idealism. Overall, he says, optimism trumped disillusionment among these voters — though that optimism isn’t as strong as in the past, or as wedded to it.”

“Among the most disillusioned voters Siegel spoke with are 25-year-olds,” the report continued. “From the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal, the attacks of Sept. 11, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and an economic crash when they were very young, 25-year-olds have increasingly felt marooned by their leaders.”

“Unlike older generations, these young voters can’t really recall a period in their lifetime when things were good in the U.S.”

That’s true of Timothy Ng, a son of Chinese immigrants who once saw the United States as a place of safety and integrity. But the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent U.S. invasion of Iraq punctured that illusion.

“I trusted the authorities,” Ng told Siegel. “At the time I was very young and I trusted that the president knew more than I knew. … After that, it’s the great betrayal. I kept watching it, like OK, when are these weapons going to come up? When is the resolution going to happen? When are the people going to greet us as liberators?”

Among the 45-year-olds, “Lorena Perez came to the U.S. from Mexico at age 3 without documentation before becoming a citizen under President Ronald Reagan’s 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act,” NPR said. “In Perez’s California household, Reagan was revered as a ‘star-like figure,’ she says. ‘He was Ronald Reagan; we owe a lot to him,’ my parents would say.’ ”

“Though reverence for Reagan was far from universal at the time, the country swelled with patriotism,” the report went on. “As people of this age reached adulthood, the Cold War was ending and the Berlin Wall came down.”

“But the idea that America held a special place and privilege in the world dwindled. Moreover, the emergence of a nonstop news cycle — carrying coverage of the Gulf War in 1991, the O.J. Simpson trials and the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal — bred more cynicism about the political process.”

For the 65-year-olds, the country they “were born into doesn’t look anything like the world of today. It was a stable world of structure and conformity, which, for many, resembled the sitcoms that appeared on television,” NPR offered.

“It was the Ozzie and Harriet era,” said Val Mobley of Orlando, Fla., referring to a popular TV show featuring a married couple and their sons. “You know, Mom stayed home. Dad worked. Her job was to raise the kids, take us to school, pick us up from school. … And it was nice and safe.”

“Sitcoms about the white nuclear family provided an illusion that all aspects of life were secure and stable,” said NPR, “an illusion that would crack and split into protests across the country during the 1960s.”

“These 65-year-olds were quickly jarred out of the reverie of the world they were born into. They had to reassess their identities in a time when much of their sense of self and security was undermined by their surroundings.”

Hear some of the Americans interviewed speak here.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

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