Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Cost of Ignorance

Timothy Egan had a piece in yesterday's New York Times that addresses the epidemic of ignorance among Americans today. He cites the large number of republicans--and people in general--who believe Obama's a Muslim. He mentions how many think that Obama was responsible for the bank bailout. From climate change to Michelle's trip to Spain, he says, we are being fed misinformation; lies are promulgated.

While "it would be nice to dismiss the stupid things Americans believe as harmless, the price of large, messy democracy," Egan asserts that ignorance has a price:
False belief in weapons of mass-destruction led the United States to a trillion-dollar war. And trust in rising home value as a truism as reliable as a sunrise was a major contributor to the catastrophic collapse of the economy. At its worst extreme, a culture of misinformation can produce something like Iran, which is led by a Holocaust denier.
It's enough to make me want to pull out my hair. How do you combat this? CNN, MSNBC, Fox News -- their primary responsibility is to their shareholders; not to us, not to the government, not to the truth. Their aim is to make money, not to make us smarter.

Maybe it's just another ugly August news cycle. Last year it was the town hall debacles. This year, the Mosques. And maybe, come September, the debate will be elevated.

(Actually, I'm pretty sure it won't be; I'll just have to find a better way to deal with my frustrations than pulling out my hair!)


george rede said...

I share your frustrations. Problem is, I don't know where to direct my anger -- at the so-called leaders of the Republican Party, who are the sources of most of the misinformation, or at the American sheeple themselves, who can't be bothered to think for themselves and who continue to elect blowhards and incompetents who have no business holding office.

I'm more forgiving of the MSM than you are but I see those sins falling more in the area of cheesy programming (lurid crime stories on all the newsmagazines) than in outright shortcomings (the WMD fiasco notwithstanding).
To their credit, syndicated columnists like Leonard Pitts, Gail Collins, E.J. Dionne and Tim Rutten are calling people out -- most recently, Ruth Marcus taking apart John Boehner.

It hardly seems to help, though. Guess I'll join you on the sidelines pulling out my hair.

Aki Mori said...

I'm increasingly less inclined to blame Republicans or the media. I think at some point adults have to take responsibility for their own actions and beliefs.

Even looking narrowly, I think the Democrats are more at fault than Republicans. The Republicans are merely playing to their constituents. The Democrats had a historic margin in both houses of Congress, and they've blown it. In the arena of ideas, they've completely ceded the messaging to Republicans. Republicans aren't obligated to help the Democrats--really, are any of us surprised that they are obstructing? We (Democrats) had everything served up to us on a platter, including following up the most unpopular president in recent memory, and we're going to lose it in two years. It's unexcusable.

August said...

I think there's plenty of blame to go around. And Aki, I think you're right in placing a lot of it squarely on the shoulders of Democrats who seem too cowardly to take any kind of stand (except for corporate interests; they'll stand tall and strong for those--see Senator Dodd's fight against Elizabeth Warren's appointment). And you're right in that Republicans aren't obligated to help the Democrats. But surely they understand that by withdrawing from the conversation, by refusing on principle to engage in the democratic process besides complete obstructionism, they're further damaging the country.

And maybe I'm a naive cheerleader (ok, not "maybe";) but I feel like, in the face of these entrenched, moneyed interests; racism that is overt and no longer coded; and an impatient and frustrated public, President Obama is doing a great job. Yes, the messaging is bad -- he's been the point person for speeches, his own cheerleader, and there hasn't been a coordinated effort to communicate what he's done. Other Democrats undermine his efforts (case in point, Sen. Reid on the Mosque).

But this makes me happy:

George, thank goodness for intelligent, realistic writers. I love Gail Collins - did you know she's from Cincinnati? I save her articles for a shelver at my library who graduated from the same school as her and wants to be a journalist. As frustrated as I get with the msm, the responsibility lies with us, the consumers of news, the "sheeple." Their platform comes from us.