Covering addiction treatment abuse and penguins facing climate change, among other important topics, Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly was a great news program. Megyn and her show received criticism, the ratings were disappointing, and NBC cancelled the show, so some have called it a flop. It wasn’t a flop—it was a flicker of illumination of the kind this dark world sorely needs.

First, beware: you really don’t want to say that Megyn’s show couldn’t have been very good, seeing as the ratings were low and it got cancelled. Just think of the fact that Mozart died in poverty feeling like a failure. Also think of how popular MacDonald’s so-called food is. The true worth of something is not to be found out by popular vote. The notion that something that sells must therefore be good, must therefore satisfy the human heart, is a piece of stupidity on which many of the toxic features of capitalism and democracy are built.

The finest features of Megyn’s work seem to me both genuinely conservative and feminine. The June 25 episode offered three illuminating reports: one on corruption in the addiction rehab industry; the second on the plight of penguins; and one on J. D. Vance, author of the justly-acclaimed memoir Hillbilly Elegy. I discussed the third story in previous posts, so here I want to look at the other two together

Heather Lynch listens to the penguins

Both the addiction rehab story and the penguin one avoid hot-button ideological issues. Harry Smith begins the penguin report by saying:

Climate change: you can argue about its causes all you want, but there are few places on the planet that have felt the effects of earth’s warming more than here—the Antarctic peninsula, where the average winter temperature has risen nine degrees. What does that mean? The penguins will tell us.

Similarly, I would introduce the drug rehab story by saying, “There’s a lot of debate about the Affordable Care Act, but wherever the funding might be coming from, it’s clear that something is rotten in the state of Florida.”  Notice that these reports both focus on observation: looking closely and empathizing with people (or penguins) in the environment where they are facing grave challenges.

In stark contrast to this observation-empathy approach, partisan disputes about “top-ten” topics tend to be ideological boxing matches in the sense that they are aggressive power struggles and there are only two possible outcomes: win or lose. Are you for or against? Whose side are you on? Are you one of the good people (like us) or one of the bad people (like them)?

To my mind, this approach is stereotypically masculine: men tend to argue, wrestle, and fight for victory over abstractions such as “big government,” “de-regulation” or “immigration.” In contrast, it’s stereotypically feminine to seek connection with people in context, to observe, listen, and empathize. Only by understanding what’s going on can we hope to intervene in a truly helpful way. As John Lennon sang: “Remember to let her into your heart, and then you can start to make it better.”

I’m using masculine and feminine here as symbols for two different attitudes. By calling one of these attitudes “feminine,” I do not want to suggest that men cannot adopt it. In the penguin story, Harry Smith asks the man sitting next to him: “When do you cry?” Ron Naveen is a citizen scientist who founded Oceanites and has spent in bits and pieces eight years of his life observing penguins. He responds, “I cry when I think about my grandkids and all the problems they’re going to be facing.”

This is a face-to-face listening and empathizing conversation. I think of this type of interaction as symbolically feminine. Certainly men can do it too. But they usually don’t—at least not on television. Night after night, the popular news shows offer a platform for talking heads like barking dogs. These testosterone-driven shows are the real flops, and no amount of Viagra will change that.

Instead of wasting our time with the latest Trump tweets, let’s pay attention to what’s going on. What’s going on in Florida is that enterprising people can get virtually unlimited government funding through the Affordable Care Act to open “sober homes” for people seeking addiction treatment. They lure patients by offering them a free plane ticket, free food and cigarettes…and access to drugs. They collect a urine sample and send it to labs that compete for it like it was gold…which it is in a way, because they get big money for testing it. To get a reliable supply of urine, the lab sends a kickback to the referring facility. So the sober home owner is essentially selling urine. And it’s better for the sober home if the urine comes back positive for drug use, because then they can continue to get money for treating their addicts, their victims. They send ‘em to an inpatient clinic for detox, and then welcome ‘em back home with open arms.

One lab scored $10,000 for one patient on one date of service. To victimize one young woman, criminal healthcare facilities collected one million dollars over a period of 15 months. Her parents sent her to Florida from Chicago with high hopes. Their daughter died of an overdose and came home in a body bag. The facility responsible for her care, and for her death, never even telephoned the parents.

Reporting these observations does not constitute an argument in favour of the Repeal and Replace “Obama care” camp. It means that lawmakers with the best of intentions set up a funding program that was designed to protect and care for people seeking addiction treatment, but in reality the program exposes those vulnerable people to harm, abuse, and victimization. What went wrong?

First, vulnerable people ought to stick close to home. Of course, some families are more trouble than they’re worth. But if you have a family that’s worth the trouble, your family ties may be the only thing protecting you from abuse and exploitation. To increase the chances of getting good treatment and avoiding abuse, people caring for a vulnerable family member or friend ought to monitor the care they receive as closely as possible.

If you have an elderly loved one in a nursing home, you ought to visit as often as possible. Get to know the caregivers and watch like a hawk for signs of neglect or abuse. Help to dress or undress your loved one, and make sure you see all their surfaces. Educate yourself. What medications is your loved one receiving and why? what are the benefits supposed to be? and what are the potential side effects?

For sure, something can be done, and is now finally being done, to regulate the addiction treatment industry. But no amount of government regulation can ensure quality care and prevent abuse. There is no substitute for direct personal care given by people with practical wisdom who are sincerely seeking what is best for this particular person.

Similarly, there is no substitute for news programs that closely monitor how things are affecting people, and how people are affecting things. Harry Smith asks Ron Naveen: “Do you ever feel that the penguins are trying to tell us something, but no one’s listening?” Harry is a lovely, reflective, listening kind of man who thrives in this sort of environment. I suppose Megyn must’ve noticed that. Megyn notices and listens. We should too.