Wednesday, February 24, 2010


I’m in the middle of reading the new book “Game Change”, by distinguished political writers Mark Halperin and John Heilemann. It’s a unique look deep into the last presidential election, loaded with great inside information from the candidates’ closest staff members and friends. I read very few books about politics, but I’m glad I bought this one.

For me, the 2008 election will always elicit the memory of a warm October afternoon in Minnesota, at a John McCain rally, when a grandmotherly woman who had the mike said to McCain about Obama “he’s an Arab”….and the Senator took the mike from the woman and said “no, he’s not. He’s a decent man”. In the background, you can hear people yelling “liar!” and “terrorist!”, referring to Barack Obama. The video is still up on YouTube.

For some people, Barack Obama is and always will be an Arab, not an American; he was not born in the U.S. and therefore is not the legitimate President; he’s a terrorist who hates capitalism or a socialist or an anarchist or an anti-Christ or the devil incarnate.

Founding fathers like Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin said time and again that a well-informed citizenry is the foundation of a democratic society, and the first protection under the Bill of Rights is free speech and a free press. But facts apparently aren’t what they used to be.

I read a paragraph the other day written by Leonard Pitts Jr. of the Miami Herald. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 2004 for commentary. It says “To listen to talk radio, to watch TV pundits, to read a newspaper’s online message board, is to realize that increasingly, we are a people estranged from critical thinking, divorced from logic, alienated from even objective truth. We admit no ideas that do not confirm us, hear no voices that do not echo us, sift out all the information that does not validate what we wish to believe.”

This guy really knows how to write.

That senior citizen in Minnesota was not convinced by her candidate, John McCain, that Obama is not an “Arab”. Nobody will change her mind. To me, she’s typical of so many people who have a set of beliefs, and no facts, no logic, no appeal will change their mind. I still, to this day, get junk e-mails from acquaintances, with some new piece of “proof” that Barack Obama is not a citizen of the United States. For God’s sake, people – let go!

It doesn’t take a logician to figure out that objective reality doesn’t change because you refuse to accept it. But apparently the concept is beyond the thinking power of an awful lot of American citizens.

Print journalism sure picked a bad time in our country’s history to go belly-up. If ever there were a time when we needed MORE truth uncovered, MORE facts revealed, it’s now.


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  2. My my Tim,...tell it like it is! I'm proud of you!! I'm SSOO glad I retired because solid journalism has been hi-jacked by the likes of Roger Ailes and made into a ratings grabbing sensational pile of sh--!! When so many people BUY what Rsuh Limbaugh says as GOSPEL,...we're in deep do-do.
    Enuf of my rant! Think of you often and pray life is being good to you. Jerry Burke

  3. Reposting
    The misguided disciples at the McCain rally you mention are as much victims as they are sheep.

    President Obama was born in Hawaii, but that means nothing to the “birthers” who ignore the tangible, physical fact of his birth certificate and insist he was really born in Africa. Hey! Hawaii was not even a state at the time.

    Well, neither was the Panama Canal Zone, where Sen. John McCain was born – another palpable fact the birther loonies choose to ignore.

    The muck-raking radical-right media, with its assorted liars and blowhards and fringe religiosos has been around a long time (Look up Billy Sunday and his 1920s contemporary, Father Charles Coughlin – the father of hate radio.)

    Mass media makes it relatively easy to incite anger in one social stripe or another, however bogus the grievances may be, and to unscrupulously tap into it. Not only is this channeled anger an effective path to political power, the profits are enormous.

    With the power an aphrodisiac and the money easy, the greed-is-good media puppeteers behave like so many bot fly larvae, burrowing into the brains of their bamboozled victims, whose lives are poisoned and diminished and controlled by the continuous doses of manufactured rage.

    Father Coughlin had a radio show. Today’s hatemongers, themselves numerous, have many radio stations, a TV network and a complex, insidious Internet presence. True believers in their line can readily find what passes, in their minds, for “proof” simply by spinning the dial or surfing the Web. It all seems so real; they will never believe they are being conned.

    We are seeing the rise of the hive mind, a sort of conformity or groupthink, swarm behavior enabled by the explosively fast ubiquity of the Internet. And you thought Star Trek’s “Borg collective” was just some science fiction story and not a serious look at a real-life social problem that was already evident in the mid 1990s.

    In his intelligent and important book, “You are not a Gadget,” Jaron Lanier – the father of virtual reality and one of the small band that gave us the Internet in its present form – explains how the hive mind came to power, and how it persists. He says, ruefully, it wasn’t supposed to turn out like this, and acknowledges that fixing it won’t be easy.

    Along the way, Lanier explains what happened to traditional news media and why. I commend the book to your attention.

  4. A few years ago I was having a conversation with a Canadian who reflecting on the differences between higher education between our two great nations. He had this to say; "In the US, universities teach students to conform. In Canada, universities teach students to think for themselves."
    For what it's worth...

  5. Excellent post, Tim. I agree that Leonard Pitts is a great writer, one of the top 4 or 5 columnists writing today. I see no reason why the great investigative reporting of print journalism cannot be transferred to the web. Whether it's on a printed page or a screen, good writing and reporting is, well, good. It's when the news organization, network, or reporter sells out for ratings, newspaper sales,or page views at the expense of everything else that the problems occur. And yes, that's happening way too much.