Sunday, June 24, 2007

Dunce Cap Nation

That is the title of a Newsweek story on American ignorance of basic facts and what should be common civic knowledge about a wide variety of issues. I blog often about this issue.

Even today, more than four years into the war in Iraq, as many as four in ten Americans (41 percent) still believe Saddam Hussein’s regime was directly involved in financing, planning or carrying out the terrorist attacks on 9/11, even though no evidence has surfaced to support a connection. A majority of Americans were similarly unable to pick Saudi Arabia in a multiple-choice question about the country where most of the 9/11 hijackers were born. Just 43 percent got it right—and a full 20 percent thought most came from Iraq.

I know the media has fallen down on the job, but that only takes it so far. Much of this is willful ignorance. A study I am fond of, since we cater so much to the religious right in this country, shows that 60% of Americans can't name half of the ten commandments. You really have to choose to ignore them not to bat five out of ten.

Still, seven in ten (70 percent) are aware that the United States has not discovered any hidden weapons of mass destruction in Iraq since the war began. And perhaps because most (85 percent) are aware that Osama bin Laden remains at large.

Even Fox News hasn't lied about catching Osama. Those 15% who think we caught him just don't give a crap about the outer world.
Roughly half (53 percent) are aware that Judaism is an older religion than both Christianity and Islam (41 percent aren’t sure). And a quarter of the population mistakenly identify either Iran (26 percent) or India (24 percent) as the country with the largest Muslim population. Only 23 percent could correctly identify Indonesia. Close to two-thirds (61 percent) are aware that the Roman Empire predates the Ottoman, British and American empires.

The media is a for profit business. Gone are the days of publishers who hoped to break even, and their ownership was due to a passion for civic affairs. Today, a media group might own a baseball team, a nuclear weapons research lab, or sell a wide variety of unrelated items. It is not their job to make us care. It's their job to get people to watch and hopefully inform us in the process.

If we refuse to know basic facts even when they are available freely to us, how can we expect the media to report on complex issues such as the attorney firing scandal. We need a foundation. Also in this survey was the fact that 59% could name Nancy Pelosi as the speaker of the house. Depressing was that 41% could not. This was a multiple choice question. It wasn't like the name being in the back of your mind. Even fed her name, Two in five of American people just haven't bothered to know who is leading the house of the people. Is that the fault of the media really? The evening news carried multiple stories negative and positive when she took office. They have even done unfair attacks on her such as the fancy plane she was using to go to California. President Bush acknowledged her historic elevation at the State of the Union address. What exactly is the media supposed to do in a climate like this? Cater to those who care, or the majority who doesn't. It's a business remember.

Those of us who are engaged in politics need to become advocates and teachers. It's easy to bring up Lohan, and Anna Nicole Smith, and the latest pregnant woman story with friends, family, and co-workers. What's tough is explaining to them the nuances of foreign and domestic affairs aware that their knowledge is extremely limited.

Teaching algebra to a seven year old actually is possible with hard work, but it's more enjoyable to discuss cartoons with them. Until we as a society grow up and work at our democracy, we are getting the media coverage that we deserve.

Play time needs to be over now.