When I last touched on the issue of the intentional dumbing down of the American Public, I took aim at the Republican Party during 2008's Presidential election. It seemed the new "culture war" or wedge issue in the election was intelligence, with cries of Folksy Appeal, Joe Six-pack, Too Professorial, Celebrity, Evil Elitist, and Arugula-Eating Liberals coming from the GOP as a rallying cry for the "common man." The war on intellectualism was on and the Republicans had launched another surge strategy.
But they didn't do it in a vacuum. The devolving level of discourse in this country can be traced to the continual dumbing of the news from our "mainstream" media sources.
What used to be a proud tradition of finding the facts, truth, and coming to an independent conclusion to inform the public has become a fractured, tabloid regurgitation of party spin and talking points. There is no fact-finding, only moderating two screaming heads from "both sides" of issues that really don't get to the bottom of the topic at hand. Often times it only serves to further obscure, rather than educate, the general public that is watching.
It used to be that journalist and media associations fought for access to information. Now it seems like the main goal is simply access to the politicians themselves. Private parties thrown by politicians for the DC media blur the lines between aggressive truth-finding and a friendly relationship that gets you softball interviews. John McCain's barbecues are legendary in the press and well attended. Embedded press pools play basketball with the President instead of seeking out information that the American public needs.
This lazy new journalism bleeds into the 24 hour news stations, where they throw on two people from opposing sides of an issue and give them face time, no matter how ridiculous the talking points spewing forth. Talking about repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"? Put on a discharged gay soldier versus the head of the Family Research council who has never served, knows nothing about the military, and who's argument is "gay is gross." Want to talk about how midterm election are going to shake out? Put on a democratic strategist and a republican strategist and listen to the "illuminating" discussion begin. That's what passes for quality journalism.
And this isn't just about the segregating of news in a new information age. Yes, Fox is watched by conservatives, MSNBC is watched by progressives, and CNN is watched by people's cats who are left home alone so they don't get lonely. People have always tended to find news sources that play to their beliefs, whether it be on TV, blogs, or newspapers. This is about the general state of news, which has become a corporate, entertainment-based, sensational scream-fest.
The media has even taken to simply pulling information off Facebook and twitter, then calling it reporting. Most reports on Sarah Palin begin with:
Sarah Palin responded by Facebook today, saying...
The problem is that this lets Palin have an unchallenged voice. There is never a chance for a follow-up question or pushing on an issue to see if she even begins to have a basic understanding of what she is talking about. She has gamed the entertainment media system and comes out as the new leader of conservatism without ever having to answer questions.
In the same vein, the media has given up any semblance of balanced reporting and simply create a meme and stick with it. From the rise of the Tea Party to the wiping out of incumbents in recent elections to the "controversy" around gay rights, the media wants the story of conflict and strife, abandoning what the facts actually show. The more they can weave a story that is easy to sell to the public, the more they can dumb down the facts and thereby dumb down America, the better for them, their ratings, and their pocketbooks.
Just look at Glenn Beck.
Of course there are exceptions, but they are few and far between. And this certainly isn't a liberal or conservative issue alone. It is a decisive move to play to the lowest, basest part of our society: fear, ignorance, and conflict.
Intellectualism, curiosity, facts, deconstructing challenging issues, and educating are not bad words. The media has a duty, one they have sacrificed on the alter of cheap entertainment and corporate profits. They have declared war on intellectualism... and they are winning.