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The Problem of Media Stupidity

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Eric AltermanThere is a specter haunting America today. It is the specter of stupidity. A few months ago, I wrote a column I called “The Problem of Republican Idiots.” Believe me, this problem has not gone away. Rick Perry, the Republican Party’s presidential front-runner right now, believes the phenomenon of man-made global warming to be a conspiracy by “a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data.”

No less alarming is that this stupidity is apparently contagious. The men and women who inhabit the upper reaches of the US media (and pull down the multimillion-dollar salaries) appear to believe that to do their jobs properly, they must make themselves behave like idiots in order to be “fair” to the Republicans and their idiotic ideas.

I have in mind two examples, both involving, as it happens, David Gregory, host of NBC’s Meet the Press. Neither one is exactly new, but I picked them because not only is Gregory host of television’s highest-rated Sunday morning news show, by far, but his program is also considered to be the most influential and important of all TV news programs. As the alleged gold standard of television interviewing and discussion, it sets the tone for much of the rest of the week’s reporting. Also, I just can’t get these two examples out of my head, they are so damn stupid. See if you agree.

I. On August 13, discussing the Ames, Iowa, straw poll, Gregory made this observation on MSNBC’s The Daily Rundown: “You know, Perry talked about potentially seceding from the union. You think that’s extreme. Well, people on the other side think introducing healthcare reform for the whole country is akin to European socialism.” To be honest, in the space allotted to me I’m not sure I can do justice to the multiple forms of stupidity this comment manages to combine. But let me try.

To begin with, we have the stupidity of lavishing so much attention on the wholly meaningless Ames straw poll in the first place. Leave that aside. Gregory was trying to create a sense of moral and intellectual equivalence between Rick Perry’s 2009 suggestion that Texas might secede from the United States—an action that set off the Civil War when South Carolina did it in 1860—and Obama’s proposal and Congress’s passage of a healthcare reform bill modeled on the one put in place by Mitt Romney when he was the Republican governor of Massachusetts.

Given that Obama dropped the bill’s public option, the legislation relies entirely on private healthcare providers and does not create any significant new government bureaucracies to help implement it. When all is said and done, the program is a modest—and in many ways disappointing—version of a vision that has been part of American debate since Teddy Roosevelt proposed it in 1912 and Harry Truman made it a central part of the Democratic Party platform since 1948.

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