Maybe There’s a Simpler Explanation for the Failings of the Traditional News Media

TEH STUPID. From Bob Somerby:

The second trait is the corps’ sheer stupidity–an artifact of palace culture. Did she cry on purpose? they’re asking today. Well, no, she didn’t, we confidently state. If you think she did, you may not understand why acting schools exist. Or why they can be ineffective.
But our press corps is deeply, Antoinette-level dumb. They love what’s silly–and despise what is “hard.” Hence the striking account of Social Security offered by ABC News during Saturday’s Dem debate. Like that phone call to C-SPAN in yesterday’s HOWLER (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/7/08), we thought this moment deserved recording. Charles Gibson and Betsy Stark were at fault:

GIBSON (1/5/08): I’m going to move on to domestic policy–how much the government is spending, how much you would spend with the programs you’ve proposed and the promises you’ve made. And some of that is entitlements. For a little background, ABC’s Betsy Stark.
STARK (videotape): Every hour this new year another 400 baby boomers will turn 60, swelling the ranks of those soon eligible to collect Social Security and Medicare. The forecasts are foreboding. By 2017, the Social Security surplus runs dry and the system begins taking in less tax revenue than it pays out in benefits.
For Medicare, the problems are even more severe. By 2013, the program’s hospital insurance fund is expected to fall into the red and the insurance premiums seniors pay for doctors’ visits and prescription drugs are projected to keep rising.
Many young Americans simply assume there will be nothing left for them to guarantee the security of their old age. Charlie?

There’s no perfect way to explain the status of Social Security in just a few sentences. But that presentation is awful–and it comes from the very top of our nation’s mainstream press corps.
Stark’s presentation is highly selective. After calling the situation “foreboding,” she says that “the Social Security surplus runs dry” by 2017. That statement can be defended as technically accurate, but many viewers won’t really know what it means. And uh-oh! Stark fails to mention the system’s giant trust fund, which (under standard projections) enables the system to pay full promised benefits until some time past the year 2040. She fails to note that many experts think those projections are unduly gloomy–that without any changes at all, the system may be able to pay full promised benefits for some number of years after that.
Stark’s presentation is highly selective. And it favors a “conservative” line.
Much, much worse was Stark’s irresponsible–and utterly stupid–statement as she finished (see above). Guess what? “Young Americans” believe many things which aren’t accurate–but journalists don’t normally recite such beliefs as if they were well-founded. Again, what Stark says here is technically accurate; according to a great deal of reporting, many young Americans do believe “there will be nothing left for them to guarantee the security of their old age”–that they will “never see” Social Security. But in a rational world, journalists would explain why that belief is so cock-eyed. By contrast, Stark simply recites this famous cant, as it if made perfect sense.
Yesterday, we linked to Paul Krugman’s column about “conservative” spin-and-deception machines. And we introduced you to a C-SPAN caller who had been bamboozled by one of the confections these dissemblers have offered us down through the years. But these same dissemblers have spent many years deceiving young people about Social Security. More college students believe UFOs exist than think they’ll ever get Social Security, they’ve endlessly bruited. On Saturday night, Stark recited this scripted deception, in the latest groaning display of her group’s vast incompetence.
These people are deeply, deeply inane. They’re not very smart; they don’t care very much; they tend to mouth even the dumbest points. They love what is silly–and hate what is “hard.” Gibson is paid multiple millions per year–and this is his pitiful issue.
And by the way, they can’t even get their inanities right. In her inane report about Obama’s clothes, the Washington Post’s inane Robin Givhan inanely told us that Obama “generally shuns bold red ties,” refusing to “wear patriotism on his sleeve” (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/14/07). But uh-oh! As we told you at the time, Obama had appeared at the previous night’s Democratic debate–turned out in a red cravat! And as Stark’s report aired at Saturday’s debate, Obama stood in a bold red tie again. They’re inane–and they’re constantly wrong.
You can’t get dumber than these palace-dwellers. This fact won’t occur to many voters. As Dems and liberals start a new era, it’s time that bold patriots said this.

This explanation is more parsimonious than others. Or maybe stupidity should just be the null hypothesis.
Related point: It’s interesting that Gibson needs to refer to Social Security as an “entitlement”, when he could have referred to it just as “Social Security.” Particularly since Medicare wasn’t under discussion. Technically, it is an entitlement, but so are fire departments when you get right down to it (at one time, fire departments were private corporations).
Related post: Glenn Greenwald writes:

Are Gloria Borger and Chris Matthews and Howard Fineman and Wolf Blitzer suddenly going to abandon their desire to impose shallow, melodramatic narratives on our elections and spend their time, instead, analyzing the candidates’ responses to Charlie Savage’s questionnaire on presidential power, or the dominant, corrosive role lobbyists and large corporations play in our political culture, or the widening rich-poor gap, or the strain and stain on our country from our imperial policies? The question is so absurd, so laughable, that to ask it is to answer it. None of them could remotely do that even if they wanted to, even if they were allowed to, and they don’t and aren’t.

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5 Responses to Maybe There’s a Simpler Explanation for the Failings of the Traditional News Media

  1. Against stupidity the very gods,
    Themselves contend in vain

  2. The gaggle of talking heads has always struck me as a lot of intellectual featherweights. But more to the point, I think they maintain their positions primarily because of that. The media barons who own and control the broadcast spectrum obviously want people who echo talking points in favor of their class interest, so the talking heads make useful idiots in accomplishing that task.

  3. Joshua says:

    The media barons who own and control the broadcast spectrum obviously want people who echo talking points in favor of their class interest, so the talking heads make useful idiots in accomplishing that task.

    I think the explanation is even more banal than that. My own theory, simply put, is that these people survive because no one ever gets punished for spouting conventional wisdom. No matter how wrong you are, if you’re just pulling the CW from the ether nobody can blame you, personally for being wrong. Whereas actually intelligent people who do their own, you know, journalism, have to own their conclusions and therefore pay the price when the conclusions are either wrong or even just mildly unpleasant.
    So there’s a strong selective pressure within the media against intelligent people who take risks in standing on the strength of their research versus vapid blowhards who will gladly tell you what “everybody knows”.

  4. miriam says:

    The talking heads are obviously people who seem profound and wise to people who don’t know much and are not very bright. I don’t think class has anything to do with it.

  5. Technolog says:

    Hello Mike, thanks for great piece of info 😉
    Best regards from Poland.

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