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Barack Obama Says Fox News Viewers ‘Perceive Different Reality Than If Your Read NYT’

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Former President Barack Obama said in a new interview with The 19TH that Fox News viewers ‘perceive a different reality than if you read The New York Times,’ before saying Joe Biden was the man to fix the political divide in the country.

19TH: As a candidate, President Biden framed the election as “a battle for the soul of America” and is seeking to unite a deeply divided country. Are you more or less optimistic about whether that can happen, and why?

Obama: Look, there’s no doubt that the country is deeply divided right now — more divided than when I first ran for president in 2008. America has been fractured by a combination of political, cultural, ideological and geographical divisions that seem to be deeper than just differences in policy.  I think a lot of that has to do with changes in how people get information. I’ve spoken about this before, but if you watch Fox News, you perceive a different reality than if you read The New York Times. And those differences have been amplified by social media, which allows people to live in bubbles with other people who think like them.

Until we can agree on a common set of facts, until we can distinguish between what’s true and what’s false, then the marketplace of ideas won’t work. Our democracy won’t work. So, as citizens, we need to push our institutions in the direction of addressing these challenges. 

But if anyone can help bridge our divides, it’s Joe Biden. He’s spent his life bringing people together. And as president, he’s been focused on beating back the pandemic and rebuilding our economy — ideas that Americans from both parties can support.

The 19th: Did you or enough Americans realize during your 2012 reelection campaign the rising threat of voter suppression, or what would be the effect of the Shelby decision [which struck down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, a provision that required states with a history of voter disenfranchisement to submit changes to their voting laws for pre-clearance by the Department of Justice] in 2013?

Obama: As soon as Shelby was decided, we knew what was coming. That’s because we understood how important the Voting Rights Act was in terms of protecting access to the ballot box, especially the preclearance provisions that the Supreme Court had gutted. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in her dissent, “Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”

In the years since, Justice Ginsburg has been proven correct. But the question now is what are we going to do about it? As I said at John Lewis’s funeral, we need to not only revitalize the Voting Rights Act, but to make it even better — by making sure every American is automatically registered to vote; by adding polling places, expanding early voting and ending partisan gerrymandering; by guaranteeing that every American citizen has equal representation in our government, including the American citizens who live in Washington, D.C., and in Puerto Rico, and the formerly incarcerated. And that’s only the beginning.

There are bills Congress could pass which would begin to restore our democracy. It’s time to pass those bills so President Biden can sign them into law.

The 19th: You put two women on the Supreme Court during your time in office and you wrote about the value of one’s lived experience as an asset to their leadership. What can you say now about your decision to nominate Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, and how their tenure on the court has reflected the empathetic approach you were looking for in the role?

Obama: When I met Justice Sotomayor, I saw someone who really embodied the American experience: She is a woman of color, raised by a single mom, and a person who experienced a lot of uncertainty in her life, but found a way to rise up through it all. 

She’s also an outstanding legal mind — deeply thorough and fair. And all those things she’s experienced that make her who she is, they also make up what America is — and I believe the Court is better off with Justice Sotomayor on it. 

I feel the same way about Justice Kagan. She’s the granddaughter of immigrants, the daughter of a schoolteacher, she grew up understanding the importance of service. And she’s always carried that with her — whether she was clerking for Thurgood Marshall or serving as dean of Harvard Law School. 

I’m proud to have nominated both of them and to have played a small role in the larger change their legacies will create.