MONDAY, APRIL 1, 2013
Part 1—The Washington Post couldn’t tell: In recent decades, America’s journalistic “gatekeepers” haven’t served us the people real well.
The examples are depressing—and endless. As a group, they have obsessed about all manner of trivia while bungling various matters of substance.
A horrible fact, one that’s quite hard to spot, lurks in the bushes as these bungles occur:
Despite the things Aristotle once said, we the people just aren’t especially sharp. Absent the service of strong gatekeepers, we the people will end up believing all manner of nonsense and cant.
This explains how a man like Ben Carson continues to say the darnedest things, right here in this very city. It may explain why Joan Walsh said she had spotted the latest racist outrage last week.
Did our gatekeepers ever serve us well? We can’t answer that question. But over the past three decades, media empires have been created for the sole purpose of peddling crazy ideas and ludicrous tribal cant.
Every dumb-ass in the world can get his or her own radio program. If he or she isn’t dumb enough, he or she won’t be able to keep it.
And uh-oh! At our biggest, most famous news organizations, the journalists aren’t especially serious or especially bright. (This often includes the media stars who serve as our top “liberal” pundits.) They the careerists have much to gain from serving us rubes the tribal gruel we very much like to gobble down.
When they serve us our tribal gruel, we the people quite often can’t tell. And they the careerists won’t tell us.
This brings us to this morning’s basic problem. Left on his own, Ben Carson couldn’t see how dumb it was to lump same-sex marriage in with NAMBLA and bestiality. And uh-oh:
Left on their own, some editors at the Washington Post couldn’t tell how dumb this op-ed column was.
The column appeared on the op-ed page of yesterday’s hard-copy Post. It appeared right next to George Will’s lyrical paean to baseball’s opening day. It appeared directly beneath this column, in which an Asian-American engineer argues that, “in the 21st century, the most successful countries and economies will be those that can move beyond the old prejudices concerning nationality.”
The column in question is very dumb—but editors at the Washington Post couldn’t discern that obvious fact. In comments, it produced a deluge of race-based denunciations of blacks—exactly the kind of angry reaction anyone could have foreseen.
The piece was written by Charlotte Childress and Harriett Childress, twin sisters who say they have “collectively...taught college for forty years” in the fields of “pharmacy, engineering, math, physics, chemistry.” Unfortunately, their column didn’t concern any issue in those fields—and it was very dumb.
It’s intriguing to note the ways in which their column was dumb; tomorrow, we’ll start to unpack its various species of dumb. But a second fact is more intriguing. That's the fact that editors at the Washington Post couldn’t see that the column was dumb.
They couldn’t see how weak it was on its basic facts. They couldn’t see how dumb its basic line of “reasoning” was.
They couldn’t see that it would lead to thousands of angry race-based comments. Often, these comments came from angry readers who could see that the column in question was dumb.
Just as Ben Carson couldn’t see that it was dumb to talk about bestiality, some editor at the Washington Post couldn’t see how dumb this submission was. And not only that: Just as Carson couldn’t foresee how people would respond to his most recent comment, Post editors didn’t seem to know that the column would generate a tsunami of angry, race-based remarks—that it would gin up the kinds of racial anger many people have worked for decades to help the nation move past.
It’s very hard to grasp the fact that our major elites are really quite dumb. For thousands of years, we in the west have been telling ourselves that we are “the rational animal.”
Sorry! Absent the service of skilled gatekeepers, we the people simply aren’t especially rational. And here’s the really bad news:
Increasingly over the past thirty years, our struggling nation has largely worked without the service of the gatekeepers we will inevitably need.
Were the gatekeepers ever good? We don’t know how to answer that question. But today, at papers like the Post, it’s a sad case of gatekeepers down.
Yesterday’s column was very dumb. The Washington Post couldn’t tell.
Tomorrow: Their basic facts and their logic