Tuesday, April 17, 2007

What People Don't Know is Frightening

Yesterday, I linked to a new study that showed Fox News Viewers less informed than Daily Show and Colbert Report watchers.

Some of the internals of this study though leads me to step outside of my self delusion and realize how ill informed Americans are on a wide variety of topics that deeply affect them.

Told that Shia was one group of Muslims struggling in Iraq, only 32% of the total sample could name "Sunni" as the other key group.

The percentage of those who knew their state's governor dropped to 2 in 3. Almost half know that Rep. Nancy Pelosi is Speaker of the House and 2 in 3 know that Condi Rice is secretary of state. But just 29% can identify Scooter Libby, 21% know Robert Gates and 15% can name Sen. Harry Reid.

Since a previous poll in 1989, Americans' knowledge of national affairs has slipped a little. For example, only 69% know that Dick Cheney is vice president, while 74% could identify Dan Quayle in that post in 1989.

32% can name Sunni as the other major religion in Iraq. How are we supposed to have a rational debate in this country about the war, the middle east, terrorism from such a place of ignorance. This helps to explain how Bush was able to confuse people for so long about who was involved in 9/11. If 68% of the populace knows not just that basic nuance, how can they understand that Saddam Hussein was a brutal secular tyrant who supressed both radical Shia and Sunni elements. How will they understand that Osama is Sunni, and Iran is Shia and comprehend the undercurrents of policy in the middle east?

The political leaders other than Dick Cheney discourage me a little less. That number upsets me alot. Dick Cheney is not exactly a wallflower. People should at least know him as the Vice President who shot somebody (other than Aaron Burr), but that knowledge is for the nerd set.

How can an adult have lived in this country for the past 7 years without knowing who Dick Cheney is and his position without being willfully ignorant? To tie it back to the original post yesterday, most people aren't being confused by Fox News because they aren't watching. On a great day, one of their hosts will get two million viewers, and this makes them number one. That also means than 299 million people aren't watching their coverage. Less than 2% of the people are typically watching the cable news shows combined. Eyeballs for the networks are larger, but they are still dwindling every year. Most people are simply tuning out.

As a democrat, this is what I think caused the success of the Republicans up until the last election. Since very few people do watch the news, the Republicans have felt free to lie about Saddam and 9/11, loot the treasury, convince people that they are going to pay a death tax even when legislation to raise it to ten million dollars is produced.

A week ago, Newt Gingrich had a dishonest article where he claimed the democrats were planning on raising your "average" taxes. A serious news consumer might know that by averaging their income with Bill Gates they were wealthy, and Gingrich was blowing smoke. But most people don't. He has statistics the Fox viewer will declare, to his less informed friend, who passes this info on to somebody else.

By the time people vote, they are thinking that Saddam and Iran were in cahoots and your taxes are going to be raised $3,000 if you are a family of four making $40,000. That is just how the people who are benefitting from the gamed system like it.

All of those studies that showed Americans thought Saddam was behind 9/11 because of the sneaky words of Bush and that guy whose name I can't place who is the VP should have been a clarion call to the media that they were failing miserably in their job of informing the populace.

Perhaps this poll should be a wake up call to them. I suggest that we poll on top issues often, and the media do their job which is to inform with some basic civics lessons. Instead of horse racing the 2008 election this far out, how about teaching 79% of the people who the Secretary of Defense is, or 85% who is the Senate majority leader. Anna Nicole Smith's seance can wait.