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 V.16 No.45 | November 8 - 14, 2007 

Thin Line

Bernstein Says You're Dumb

Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein said in a recent speech "idiot culture" is at fault for the bungling state of politics in the U.S., and vapid celebrity gossip is lowering our collective IQ. That's right, Britney Spears is dragging your smarts through the dungheap.

All that is probably true, to some degree. But anyone making the argument that the populace is too stupid to "get" good journalism should probably keep a few things in mind. First, there's a whole generation of media consumers who don't trust the news as it's presented by the lofty New York Times or Washington Post. And with good reason. The Post, Bernstein’s old stomping grounds, ran 140 front-page stories making the case for war during the run-up to our occupation of Iraq, according to a Bill Moyers documentary "Buying the War." And I won't even start in on the Times coverage after Sept. 11, 2001.

Hypothesis One: Maybe we read celebrity gossip because when it's wrong, when it's biased, when it's ill-reported, it doesn't really matter. Celeb "news" is easy, it's stupid, and it's about all we trust mainstream media to report anymore.

Let's say everyone who reads this Thin Line decides to make a life change. No longer will we feed our brains the sugar and fat equivalent of "news." From now on it's meat, potatoes and fresh veggies. Open up, skull. Here comes the airplane, bzzzzzrrrrrrrr, and it's bringing important stories about war and politics and world events only.

OK. Over to Reuters for some "Turkey says Kurdish MPs Caught 'Red-Handed' in Iraq," to Forbes for some "Oil Down on Profit-Taking; Easing Tensions in Crude-Rich Northern Iraq," to the Times for "U.S. Official Calls Russian Radar Good, but Not Exact Enough for Tracking Plan," to the Post for "Oil's Recent Rise Not as Familiar as It Looks." Hmmm. Is there, like, a starter kit for this stuff?

"You can't separate the appetites and demands of the people themselves and what they are given," Bernstein said in his speech Thursday, Nov. 1, to the students of the Brunswick School in Connecticut. "The blame simply can't all be put at the feet of those who present news."

Hypothesis Two: Most media outlets don't present international, political and war news in comprehensive, easy-to-understand packages.

Listen, I'm not saying the media should toss a handful of glitter over every story so our glam-obsessed culture can muster up the will to just try a finicky mouthful of news. But at the very least, there's a gap in our communication and a breach of trust, and until the news can find its way across, no one in the industry is doing their job.


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