I was at home writing this column while half-listening to the local evening news on TV in the background. I had to change my topic because of the sheer stupidity of what was masquerading as newsworthy information.
Channel 13, the very intelligent news director of which is a friend of mine, ran a piece inside its 9 p.m. news explaining the critically important information about what was going to happen on the next episode of The O.C. The vapid anchors followed up that irrelevancy with a blatant promo for the ineffably insipid American Idol—as if which second-rate singer got more Internet votes from the tasteless masses of America mattered to anything other than Rupert Murdoch’s stock price.
I then switched the channel while doing my nightly stretching exercises to another local station and was subjected to a two-minute story on KUTV about a duck that nested in a tree, instead of on the ground. Michelle King and Mark Koelbel read copy about the fowl from their Teleprompters and babbled commentary with the same mindless blend of faux enthusiasm and mock seriousness they are usually told by their consultants to reserve for stories about a car crash, a terrorist attack in Iraq or the breaking of the world record for speed-eating of chili dogs. Even worse than the inanities of local TV news are the blatant lies propagated daily by the screaming heads such as Hannity, O’Reilly or Coulter on biased cable channels such as Fox News.
And it’s not just TV stations—with their bizarre news mix of happy and bloody irrelevancies—that contribute to the dumbing down of the American public. Much of the ink in both the D-News and the Tribune is wasted on drivel. Driving to work last week, I heard Bill Allred on Radio From Hell read a story from the D-News reporting that Utah ranked now fourth in the nation for skin cancer and that, therefore, we should always slather on sunscreen any time we went outdoors for a nanosecond. Gina, Kerry and Bill pointed out the story didn’t even bother to answer the only question that wasn’t obvious to the suntan-adverse masses: Which states were ranked 1, 2 and 3?
However bad these news sources are, at least if someone is paying partial attention, they might accidentally absorb meaningful information from few quality reporters. Unfortunately, a surprisingly large number of American citizens, eligible voters one and all, don’t get any news at all from any source. They believe they can learn the facts about what is happening in their local area, their country or the world by osmosis from the ether. That explains why we have such terrible government at almost all levels.
Only informed citizens, people who have paid attention to the issues by understanding the facts and the consequences of the options, can make rational choices about policy and elections. Everyone I know who actually reads and thinks about the issues we face occupies mostly the same practical and central ground whether they call themselves Democrats, Republicans or independents.
Our news sources, by playing to the extremes and pandering to stupidity, contribute to the decline of the United States. They don’t care, of course, because they are making money hand-over-fist playing to the lowest common denominator, who care about tree-nesting ducks.