Lisa Ling’s Radical Empathy

Lisa Ling’s Radical Empathy

NEW YORK – In a 2018 episode of This is Life, Lisa Ling’s CNN docu-series that dives head-first into some of America’s most conventional lives, Ling sat down with Emiko Yoshikami, a therapist specializing in surrogate partner therapy, or therapy that helps people address and heal from past sexual experiences that left lingering trauma in addition to related issues like poor body image, and discomfort with sexuality, body, or disability. In a particularly raw, uncharacteristically revelatory moment for a journalist, Ling confessed the resentment she felt toward her own body post-pregnancy, which led to an inability to be intimate with her partner unless incomplete darkness. 

It was downright painful to watch. Even more so when, upon prompting from Yoshikami, Ling stripped down – on camera – to face her body in a full-length mirror in broad daylight and asked to name even one part she liked about herself. After several seconds, she wept and mumbled something kind about her hair. 

Journalists don’t often show vulnerability. But for Ling, it’s practically a stylistic device. She tears up on camera so often, she makes Anderson Cooper look positively stoic. side from this particular case, though, it’s almost always for – and with – her subjects. 

While media critics or  her emotional underpinnings work against her, I think they are an asset, a rare reminder that even journalists are human, and objectivity need not be synonymous with insensitivity. 

Recently, Ling explored the widespread effects that benzodiazepines, or benzos, such as Xanax and Klonopin, have had on various people throughout the country. -. Lingher own connection to benzos. Her father had been prescribed Klonopin and suffered from extreme withdrawal. She briefly recalled her own experiences coping as his caretaker.

Before This Is Life, Ling, at 18, as one of the youngest reporters and anchors in Channel One News’ history. As a war correspondent, she covered Iraq and  Afghanistan. After a 3-year stint on The View, she returned to serious reporting, yet she always allowed herself to become emotionally invested in her stories. In her 9/11 coverage, she called to mind America’s tendency to interfere in other countries and forced viewers to wonder about the motivations behind the attack despite facing criticism from both the right and the left. 

Our America, ran for five seasons and much of the investigative storytelling was akin to her coverage on This Is Life. Wherever she has worked, Ling has dispensed with the shield of objectivity. She is a die-hard feminist who openly supports the Democratic Party. While she leans away from more obvious displays of “girl power” in her stories, her choice of subject is often revelatory enough. In a recent episode of This Is Life, which covered porn – more specifically, porn addiction – Ling spent significant time with a working adult film actress who travels to universities to discuss the danger of unrealistic portrayals of sex and the need for constant confirmations of consent among partners. 

Ling’s work challenges viewers to match her empathy and to recall their own experiences. If a journalist is willing to sacrifice objectivity, a good reason to do it is in favor of humanity.