It will not become a fortnightly event for me to ride like the Seventh Cavalry to the assistance of News Corporation or its leader, and it is only a coincidence that I take up on what is apparently an effort at satire at the expense of Fox News. It was widely reported on December 9 that a study revealed that Fox News viewers had an IQ 20 points below that of habitual viewers of the offerings of other news networks. While the word “satire” in minuscule type appears on the Internet piece, what follows is plausibly written in the portentous, pseudoscientific prose of breathless discovery affected by most physical and social scientists as they reveal their usually trivial and sometimes mistaken findings.
This spoof is fairly well done, with the study attributed to “The Intelligence Institute, a conservative non-profit group,” which supposedly toiled for four years, assembling data from 5,000 people and determining the surge in pulse and other vital signs when people encountered “complex or shocking images.” (“The image that caused the most stress was a poorly edited picture of President Obama standing next to a ‘ghostly’ image of a child holding a tarantula.”) It’s a reasonable attempt at amusing political comment and particularly welcome after such a dismal electoral season of misplaced righteousness, unfathomable cynicism, and unrelieved philistinism, which has now trailed into this demeaning posturing and synchronized, bipartisan humbug about the Fiscal Cliff. Since the cliff is itself cantilevered over a much larger cliff, as was discussed here last week, it would almost be a merciful thing if we dealt with the country’s innumeracy-induced vertigo in one mighty leap.
Of course, it is nonsense that the tabloid-news addicts on the right are any less intelligent than those on the left. I challenge to a duel with non-lethal weapons anyone who claims that Bill O’Reilly is more mindless, predictable, or acoustically irritating than Paul Begala, to name only two. I accept that Rachel Maddow is comparatively entertaining, as Gail Collins was until her shtick became just too predictable: Mitt Romney’s hair and dog, and preemptive apologia for anything President Obama might do. She was like the Washington Post endorsing the Democratic nominee against President Nixon in 1971, 18 months before the election (and before such considerable events as the visit to China, the completion of SALT I, and the complete withdrawal of ground-combat forces from Vietnam), when George McGovern wasn’t even a gleam in Ben Bradlee’s eye. But other peppy and attractive women make cable news even better than Rachel Maddow does: Laura Ingraham, courteous, informed, and not extreme, though unabashedly conservative and Roman Catholic; and Ann Coulter, a great showman and personality, not all of whose expressed opinions she intends to be engraved on marble tablets around the Lincoln Memorial. Those two are terrific, but they don’t claim to do anything except examine the news in novel ways and inspirit their philosophical kinfolk and entertain the rest.
We must not romanticize the era when the pundits, such as Walter Lippmann and the Alsops, exercised mighty influence, much less the era when Walter Cronkite, in battle fatigues and an army helmet, walked through the dining room of the Majestic Hotel in Saigon after the Tet Offensive in 1968 (a great American and South Vietnamese victory) and declared the war to be hopeless. Walter Lippmann downplayed the pogroms of the Third Reich, urged the immediate departure of all American forces from Europe at the end of the World War II, and called Winston Churchill’s speech at Fulton, Mo., in 1946, in which Churchill coined the phrase “Iron Curtain,” a “disaster.” Those men all had their moments, and they didn’t shout, and when Walter Cronkite read the news, it was with a country-doctor manner. (He was also one of the last people in the world to have a reassuring moustache, like Marshal Pétain’s. Since then, moustaches have been either sinister or rakish.) But they didn’t know a fraction of what they claimed and were frequently quite wrong. Lippmann, who had been friendly with “Frank” Roosevelt, as he had called him, for 15 years, wrote in 1932 that he was an amiable man who had no aptitude to be president.