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A Roundtable of Dunces

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Have you ever wondered how, with the increasing democratization of opinion outlets, we seem to only increase our collective idiocy? Face it, despite a cable channel or blog for nearly every conceivable point of view, political discourse in our country is about as sophisticated as a debate on Nietzsche conducted between a gopher and a mongoose.

Our appetite for entertainment has turned political discourse into little more than one more throw down between Hulk Hogan and the Iron Sheik. Want to see intelligent people discussing current events rationally? You silly fool! Wouldn’t it be more fun to watch Whoopi Goldberg and Sherry Shepard ponder whether the earth is flat or round?

Admittedly, I’m the first person to admit that it’s more entertaining to watch Alec Baldwin and Tom Cruise debate child rearing than it is to watch a similar topic addressed by experts on Meet the Press, but somewhere along the way it’s gotten so out of control that one wonders if our celebrity obsession can ever be curbed. Is there a place for social commentary on our airwaves for someone who isn’t described by VH1 as a comedian/actress?

Another phenomenon I’ve noticed is the make a fool look like a fool show. Members of this subclass would include Penn and Teller’s Bullshit, and the king of the "film a moron" movement, Michael Moore. Essentially, what goes on in these types of political dialogues is that you take an issue, find the stupidest person who disagrees with you, expose their dunce status, and declare a victory for your point of view. Why have a stirring debate on abortion when you can find someone who thinks you should be able to end a child’s life anytime before the age of 6 instead? Come clean. You just watched Michael Moore’s Roger and Me. Are you appalled at GM’s corporate insensitivity or are you laughing at the crazy woman with the rabbits for sale as pets or food?

It doesn’t matter whether you are watching a show originating from a liberal or conservative slant. If the show indeed has a slant, they are debating an entertaining moron.

Say you are running a blog. You write well, and you have a point of view. Does anyone notice? Probably not, if you’re sane and rational. Let’s say 1000 bloggers discuss Paul Haggis’ new movie, In the Valley of Elah. The 950 bloggers that discuss it with sensitivity and intelligence will basically cancel each other out and find themselves enraged as Debbie Schlussel who called the movie “high quality Bin Laden cinema” is being interviewed on FOX and MSNBC. Who could blame a prospective blogger for typing out their most absurd, idiotic thoughts? How else does one get noticed? There are probably a lot of sane right wing pundits out there and yet, it’s Ann Coulter on TV time and again.

Face it, in the year 2007, sane informed discourse doesn’t sell.

That’s why tonight on Hardball, you’ll be watching a debate on the legalization of drugs between a man who feels that toddlers should be allowed to experiment with heroin and a woman who thinks that penicillin is the work of the devil. Hopefully, its entertainment value will be worth the lost IQ points and the karmic deadening of our souls.

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About Brad Laidman

  • fun read…


    any Thoughts on how to reverse the coarsening course of socio-political discourse?

    it ain’t just Entertainment that’s done it, it’s the advertisers paying for the entertainment in order to maximize eyeballs on the meatbeasts gazing at the talking Gecko

    the demarcation line was Morton Downey Jr. on TV, imo

    your mileage may vary…


  • Dr Dreadful

    ‘Tis a pity you don’t have the BBC over here.

    But, for rational, sensible and balanced political discussion, I recommend PBS, and particularly Newshour.

    Admittedly it’s less gladiatorial than Bill O’Veilly savaging his latest human dog toy, but it does flex the old brain cells if you give it a chance.

  • well Doc..i was in the UK January before last, on a business trip

    i enjoyed the BBC news, and i’m a horrible newsjunky at home, Hardball, Tucker and some nights Countdown all in a row after work

    Newshour and McLaughlin are must views for any serious fiend here in the States, imo

    one of my biggest problems is that there’s precious little Depth to it all, just about the time the premise is set, they skip along all ADD like to another topic to fit as much into their time as possible…much more preferable would be less OJ/Britney/Paris/etc and more time on less topics to dig deeper into the guts of an Issue/Information

    the Tao of D’oh


  • Sadly, this is the world of “infotainment.” Most TV news analysis is either focused upon the goings on of idiots like OJ or Paris or Brad, or its the “in your face” crap handed out by the likes of O’Reilly or Chris Matthews. Matthews is maddening in that he won’t let his guests actually answer any of his questions. He constantly butts in. This is supposed to be agressive reporting. It’s crap.

    Another total waste are the confabs between a bunch of talking heads who wind up all yammering at once, louder and louder until a cacaphony breaks out. Useless.

    There are 2 interviewers I do follow and really appreciate. First: Charlie Rose. His guests run the gamut from pundits, professors and scientists, to heads of state, congresspersons and cabinet members, to actors, directors, artists, writers, etc. His interviews are always informed and in depth. My nephew worked one summer as in intern on Rose’s show. He told me that Rose is very eccentric and odd, but is, nevertheless a highly respected newsperson.

    Pretty much ditto for Terry Gross host of NPR’s “Fresh Air.” She does it all with sincerity and intelligence. Her work is not generally so topical as Rose’s, but both take time to do in depth interviews, and both let their guests talk. If the guests don’t have something to say, that’s their fault. But usually, they do.

    Neither of them are in the mainstream of news gab, but that is probably just as well. Things have changed so drastically and generally for the worse at least since Walter retired. Hell, I can remember when the Today show actually featured news. Now that’s going back. By comparison the show as it is now produced makes J. Fred Muggs look like a hard nosed news junkie. Now the networks just make monkeys out of us all.


  • Baronius

    Doc, Newshour is as bad as any smackdown-type debate show. I remember that they used to have analysis, but it seems like a long time ago. I believe that PBS also airs Washington Week, which features some of the laziest reporting I’ve ever seen. You can get more detail from a Newsweek cover than from that show.

    Oh, and Newshour has Mark Shields. There isn’t a political story in America that Shields isn’t two months behind on.

  • Baronius

    Hey, Baritone, you must not sleep either. (I’m reflecting an East Coast bias, I know.) I second the praise of Charlie Rose.

  • STM

    I work for Rupert Murdoch, does that count??

  • Dr Dreadful

    Baronius, are you watching the same Newshour I am?

    Stan, we need to check with a certain Mr Alghieri. He should be able to tell us exactly which circle you’re in… 😉

  • bliffle

    Charlie Rose is excellent. Terry Gross is tiresome and too assertively lowbrow. And she’s a real lightweight: doesn’t know anything. Michael Krasny is vastly superior, first in his repertoire of friends, and also his reading and study background. Here’s hoping he gets national distribution soon, in the meantime his 2 hour daily program “Forum” is available on the net.

    BBC, France24 and Deutsche Welle TV are readily available here on free OTA Digital TV, but I suppose that wherever you live is, uh, deprived.

    Washington Week and Gwen Ifill are bland and poorly prepared. There was a much better weekend show on PBS, can’t remember the title, hosted by Eric McGinty, a slender dark fellow who was very sharp and gave the program excellent leadership. Tavis Smiley is just too dumb.

    I seldom watch the network programs since the ads have gotten increasingly irritating, but sometimes I record chris wallace’ sunday morning program because he is often very good.

  • It’s very chicken and egg isn’t it. I can recall the debate in the UK – politicians were told they were boring and people didn’t want to watch and hear what they did and said because it was boring and complicated. Now the media slams politicians for becoming media savvy – telling them they are shallow, soundbite politicians, you only have to watch a live speech to see the bites written in, becoming a meaningless string of pleasing catchphrases. The press here will rise up in arms, leading the cud chewing sacred cow “Freedom of the Press” into battle at any suggestion of controls on their excesses in other areas – invasion of celebrity privacy, lies, paparazzi (sic, I think) stalking – yet despite their constant moralising at the failure of others they themselves are THE classic example of rights without responsibility – a responsibility to provide decent coverage of our national political life.
    You are right to like the BBC Gonzo, but they are under constant attack to justify their funding (every television owner pays a levy which funds our national broadcaster), and, in a rush to stay ‘relevant’ and ‘popular’ allow themselves to be led by an agenda set by the commercial media in both style and content.
    However, I’d urge anyone to have a listen on t’interweb to BBC Radio 4, a magnificent oasis of intelligence, education and some of the best comedy in the world. (On which I think I shall write soon).
    I really think a major political party in Britain is going to have to be brave enough to completely bypass the mainstream media (as some eco and anti capitalism movements try to) and go to the people – so much is hamstrung by an Orwellian list of things which are believed to be unsayable: in essence, that which the proprietors and editors of our major newspapers (and increasingly television news) consider unthinkable.

  • Maurice

    I got rid of my TV in 1997 and have been less annoyed ever since.

  • I obviously disagree with bliffle regarding Terry Gross. I don’t get the “low brow” comment at all. She is always knowledgeable regarding her guests and the relevant subjects at hand. As I noted, her guests and topics are not so “hot” compared to others, but in that I find the charm. She finds stories often from less high profile artists, entertainers, writers, pols, etc. I suggest that she “knows” a great deal more than the bliffman may think.

    Chris Wallace, huh? I can’t get myself to tune into FOX. My fingers refuse to hit those buttons on the remote.


  • Baronius,

    Sleep? Whats you talkin bout?


  • Maurice

    Most of the time I find NPR annoying. Especially the coverage of “Racial Issues”! JFC!!

    I do like Terry Gross. Her low key style of interview is perfect. She clearly does her homework and allows her guest lots of room. Always entertaining.

  • Clavos

    “Stan, we need to check with a certain Mr Alghieri. He should be able to tell us exactly which circle you’re in… ;-)”

    Doc, I would bet that working for Murdoch can be good.

    You may not agree with his politics, but there’s no denying he’s this era’s most successful newspaperman, which probably means that among other things, he treats his people well.

    Any smart manager knows that the people for whom you’re responsible can make you look good or bad, and if you treat them well, they’ll work well.

  • moonraven

    I suppose that Dan Rather’s take on it–based on his 70 million dollar lawsuit against Viacom–is that the quality is so low because of government and corporate control and interference.

    Dan’s no dummy. He’s probably right on target with some of his assumptions.

    But nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the US viewer….

  • peter

    It’s curious that since the so-called democratization of the media, namely the internet, the broadcasters have evolved from accepting Infotainment-as-News to fully embracing it. For instance, ABC’s trite attempts at concluding their nightly news with a Hallmarkesque piece that’s either completely inane or artificially bouyant. How easy it is to forget how many hundreds of civilians were either killed, maimed or forced into being refugees during the “War on Terror” that day when you see Little Johnny from a broken neighborhood get accepted into Harvard, or Mary the do-good neighbor who bakes cookies for all the teachers at school every Friday.

    One thing’s for sure, no matter how you feel about this vast explosion of opinion and citizen-inspired journalism, average citizens in America can no longer trust the media the way they once did.