The Great Yankee Disenlightenment

May 18, 2015

enlightenment 02“What journalists choose and how journalists frame inescapably arises out of what journalists believe.”

That observation, made by journalist Michael Kelly, should not be news given human nature and that journalists are human. To be purely unbiased is not an easy state to achieve or maintain. It may be impossible. But this doesn’t stop us from claiming to be so.

In the mid 1990s a TV network was launched specifically intended to be biased while adopting the ironic motto “fair and balanced”.  The Fox network followed naturally from Ronald Reagan’s drive for deregulation. Reagan’s FCC abolished the “fairness doctrine” which up to then had required broadcasters to present political arguments from both sides of the spectrum which led, almost immediately, to the scourge of Rush Limbaugh and, soon after, to the birth of Fox News.

As writer Bruce Bartlett says in his paper, How Fox News Changed American Media and Political Dynamics, “The ideology at Fox was strictly a top-down affair. Roger [Ailes] was a conservative. All of his deputies were conservatives. Most of the hosts were conservatives, or at least were good at pretending to be while on television, if they knew what was good for them….The VPs, as near as I could tell, were all staunch conservatives, too. Whether by coincidence or design, Roger had effectively surrounded himself with fellow travelers.”

As a result of Fox’s conservative 24/7 barrage of intentionally biased reporting the network’s viewership quickly rose as the go-to network preferred by conservative-leaning Americans. There’s no surprise there.

A 2014 poll (publicpolicypoling.com) shows that Fox’s popularity among Republicans has increased especially among seniors. No news there either —Republicans and seniors do not tend to be liberals.

What is news-worthy is that Fox has now become the go-to place for info of those with a serious ax to grind who find at Fox a very effective grinding wheel. As media critic Michael Wolff puts it, “Fox is not really about politics … Rather, it’s about having a chip on your shoulder; it’s about us versus them, insiders versus outsiders, phonies versus non-phonies, and, in a clever piece of post modernism, established media against insurgent media.”

But Fox has by now shifted far to the right of even its moderately biased early years and has adopted a no-holds-barred policy of running all news through a far-right filter and is scripting its broadcasts to elevate right-leaning misinformation to the status of (almost religious) doctrine. It distorts not only political events and policies, but those of science also. If a fact does not fit the Fox agenda it is water-boarded until it says what Fox demands it to say. With the popularity of Fox this has led to a precipitous dumbing-down of America and, consequently, to public discourse. In fact the Union of Concerned Scientists (USC) has found that Fox is the least accurate of the three most watched news networks —CNN and MSNBC being the other two.  The USC says that “72 percent of its 2013 climate science-related segments contained misleading statements. Fox News covered climate science 50 times in 2013. Of these segments, 28 percent were entirely accurate, while 72 percent included misleading portrayals of the science.”

Regardless of your political views this is bad news for our children and grandchildren. Having a congress that’s ignorant or politically disposed to ignore reality and science is bad, but to have a huge chunk of the American populace as happily uninformed as Fox seems determined to make them is something else.

Ignorance among the population is a great advantage to governments and corporations. Misleading and manipulating an ignorant population is so much easier than to do so with an informed one, and the most powerful in each of those spheres know this. Fascist propagandist Joseph Goebbels made this very clear: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

Goebbels may just as well have been laying down the business plan of Fox news when he said that because Fox has been a great contributor to the disenlightenment of the American people.  Americans seem to have become less embarrassed by ignorance and unconcerned about its consequences. In fact it was once considered not good in the U.S. not to know. To be willfully ignorant of the realty of climate change, the dangerous effects of fracking, the toxic outcomes of continued use of fossil fuels, etc. But today to be stupid about these things in public without losing face seems not to be a problem for many because being ignorant is extolled by the Sarah Palins, Michelle Bachmanns and Ted Cruzes of the country for whom superstition and ignorance seems to be a badge of honor.

We must be very wary of the bottom line beliefs of the most influential among us and what they’re selling because, though superstition and ignorance go way back, they’re still with us and exploding in virulence:

“In the beginning was Ignorance, which, after seven days of metastization, took no rest, not even a nap, and saw that it was good; or, if not ‘good’, at least very effective.”  —Fascist Bible 1:1

by Jim Culleny
5/17/15

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