Waymon Hudson

The War on Intellectualism Pt. 2: Mainstream Media Madness

Filed By Waymon Hudson | July 15, 2010 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Media, Politics, Politics
Tags: CNN, Democrats, Don't Ask Don't Tell, Facebook, fact checking, Fox News, Glenn Beck, Intellectualism, journalism, Mainstream media, media, MSNBC, political discourse, politics, Republicans, Sarah Palin

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.

tv-talking-heads.jpgBut 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.

6a00b8ea067508dece00d4143f7366685e-500pi.jpgThis 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.

tumblr_kpw0ybnjLR1qzbemso1_500.jpgIn 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.

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VĂ©ronique | July 15, 2010 11:29 PM

Could you possibly get this reprinted in every news outlet in the country? I wish! Everyone who can read should read this.

I'm desperately hoping that one part of this series will include practical ideas for how to build a counter-trend... renew a respect for serious thought, not just among our slice of demography but throughout the culture.

I've been thinking about the same thing, Jade! And any suggestions and ideas are more than welcome here in the comments section!

Lazy journalism is a fact. Fox is all-tea-party, MSNBC is land of the liberal, and CNN is just plain shitty at covering stuff now. We used to watch CNN to try and get some sort of balanced coverage, but now they've pushed further right to try and stop bleeding viewers. We're on MSNBC and just try to recognize the overwhelming bias.

Now I watch BBC, Duetsche Welle, and the french news for objective reporting. There is none in the US.

This is just another manifestation of corporate greed in our culture. Instead of being willing to lose or break even, news organizations have decided to pursue the biggest profits they can get. That means expanding their viewership to the greatest level which means dumbing everything down so they can appeal to the lowest common denominator. Fox News isn't the highest rated news network for nothing. The model works!

I'm not sure any viable solution can be found that would not tear at the First Amendment. Anything short of legislation for a severe set of content criteria for FCC licensing would fail, in my opinion and that would lose on Constitutional grounds. My guess is that publicizing this issue and it's deleterious effects on our country and culture wherever and whenever we can, and then promoting more even handed news gathering (the rare examples on major news and those efforts provided by NPR and PBS) is the only way to limit the damage. I doubt very much it will ever be turned around completely.

The best we can do is to ensure that our COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES teach the subject well and instill a sense of duty and obligation to not only tell both sides of a story, but to show the merits and value to both sides and come to a logical conclusion and A VALIDATED VIEWPOINT based on fact, not opinion.


You are correct about the dumbing down of the public and the mainstream media's complicity in it. Between merely regugitating whatever is handed to them, never checking the accuracy of what they are told, and never challenging the credentials of the Christianist faux experts, it drives me crazy.

...I turn on CNN when I leave the house so that my cat won't get lonely. No joke. I think I died a little inside.

I can rarely pay attention to it anymore because it's hard to pick out a story's facts amongst all of the talking heads' chatter. Why should I care what these people think? I want to know what happened and form my own opinion.
I try to watch MSNBC, but every time I turn it on, they're talking about the stock market and only the stock market, in which I am not particularly interested. I get my news online and try to find as many sources as I can. As far as I can tell, there really aren't any balanced news channels on TV (on my basic cable, anyway).

Regarding the decline of intellectualism, it depresses me. It's hip to be illiterate, and anyone with a graduate degree is considered an elitist snob. And it may have been years ago, but I'm still bitter about being insulted in elementary school for being "too smart." How is intelligence by itself ever a negative attribute?

Paul in Canada | September 19, 2010 8:17 AM

Demand more from your media~ start letter / email campaigns to the editors/chiefs asking them to raise their standards of journalism.