Part 1—No dimwit need not apply: At one time, it couldn’t have happened.
Or so the theory goes.
At one point, the theory says, we had competent gatekeepers. They kept our discourse on track.
They kept The Crazy out of the discourse—The Crazy and The Big Dumb.
They restricted the things we the people could hear—the ideas we were allowed to ponder. It was hard to hear crazy shit at that time, thanks to the work of our gatekeepers. It was highly unlikely that you would get scripted by people who were well-intentioned but basically dumb.
Did such a golden age ever exist? There’s no easy way to answer that question. But when you hear this theory advanced, you’ll typically hear two gatekeepers named:
Walter Cronkite and David Brinkley.
There were lots of newspaper back in that day; some of them left a great deal to be desired. But there were only two, or possibly three, TV networks doing news. And TV had perhaps become the major medium guiding the American discourse.
Cronkite and Brinkley were different people, but neither man was crazy or dumb. They restricted the things we the people could hear. They sifted out the crazy and the dumb.
It couldn’t have happened, the theory says, when they were sifting the things we got to hear. Americans couldn’t have heard last week’s radio interview with the heinous Keith Ablow.
We’ll grant you this—Dr. Keith Ablow isn’t a giant figure in the American discourse. He isn’t Rush Limbaugh or Bill O’Reilly. He isn’t as significant as Rachel Maddow or Chris Hayes.
That said, Ablow is a regular contributor on the Fox News Channel. Last week, he was interviewed on John Gibson’s Fox News Radio program.
Gibson once hosted the 5 P.M. program on the Fox News Channel. Last Tuesday, he spent twelve minutes letting Ablow discuss Ebola in much the way Luke Brinker described at the new Salon:
BRINKER (10/15/14): Psychiatrist Keith Ablow, a member of Fox News’ Medical A Team, embarked on an unhinged racial rant against President Obama this week, charging that Obama wants Ebola to spread in the U.S. because his “affinities, his affiliations are with” Africa, “not us.”If you click here, you can listen to Gibson’s twelve-minute discussion with Ablow. As his source, Brinker cited this earlier report by Eric Hananoki of Media Matters.
Speaking with Fox News Radio host John Gibson yesterday, Ablow discussed his conspiracy theory at length. Attempting to channel Obama’s inner thoughts, Ablow imagined that the president opposes sealing America’s borders to travelers from Ebola-stricken countries because Obama believes, “if only unconsciously,” that the U.S. has inflicted a “plague of colonialism” on the world and that travel restrictions would therefore be unfair.
“You miserable people have destroyed so much in the world in terms of good things, and now you’re going to build a wall?,” Ablow pictured Obama saying. “Really? To insulate yourself from things that are devastating other nations when your gains are ill-gotten? And the very fact that you can build a wall—you’re using wealth that you never should have had to build it. This is just another manifestation of you didn’t build that, business.”
Ablow’s armchair psychiatry grew particularly disturbing when he speculated that Obama hasn’t implemented a travel ban for west African countries because the president’s “affinities, his affiliations are with them. Not us. That’s what people seem unwilling to accept. He’s their leader...we don’t have a president.”
At one time, the theory goes, that interview couldn’t have happened on major radio stations. There were gatekeepers in the media who didn’t allow such lunacy on major broadcast outlets.
Is Keith Ablow really that crazy? Or does he just play a crazy doctor on TV?
We can’t answer that question, though it’s fairly clear that Gibson knew that Ablow’s presentation was nuts. That said, there was a time when such ludicrous presentations would not have been allowed on major media outlets.
Those days ceased to exist a long time ago. Today, we live in an age of The Crazy and The Dumb—in an age with the gatekeepers gone.
All around the countryside, you can see and hear the effects of having our gatekeepers gone. You can certainly hear the effects of their absence if you listen to Ablow’s twelve-minute discussion with Gibson.
Here’s the problem:
Many people who listened that day couldn’t tell that Ablow’s presentation was basically crazy. They may have thought the heinous Ablow was basically making sense.
In an earlier age, those people wouldn’t have been misled that way. Ablow’s lunacy wouldn’t have been allowed on a major radio outlet.
When we listened to that tape, we heard the effects of having our gatekeepers gone. But then, we see and hear the absence of competent gatekeepers all across our broken American discourse.
It’s easy for liberals to sense their absence when we hear the lunacy broadcast by Fox. It may be harder for us to sense the gatekeepers’ absence when we watch MSNBC, or when we read the work at the new Salon, or when we read the New York Times.
That said, competent gatekeepers are generally gone from all those sites. All too often, they’ve been replaced by men in suits—by corporate producers eager to sell us The Crazy and The Dumb.
This morning, Salon was selling The Dumb in this, its featured report. (Some commenters could tell how dumb it was.) Chuck Todd and Willie Geist were selling The Dumb on yesterday’s Meet the Press.
MSNBC was selling The Dumb on several of last Friday night’s shows. And all around the emerging liberal world, highly passionate, young liberal writers keep selling versions of The Dumb—well-intentioned but clueless theoretics which are destined to make laughing-stocks out of the liberal world.
We have an important secret to tell you—we the people aren’t always tremendously sharp. This is very much part of The Way We Are—and, with our gatekeepers gone, no one can protect us from our credulous reactions to waves of dumb ideas.
Ablow was selling The Crazy last week. The Crazy is a big industry now. Unfortunately, so is The Dumb.
Tomorrow: We’re sorry, but this was just dumb
Coming later today: Links to all previous posts in our current award-winning series, The Way We Are