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Dumbing Down the Electorate?

Huffington Post published a really great rant about (what else?) Donald Trump. The author is a lawyer who deals with health care issues, and he starts off by ripping the assurances that Trump has offered to prove he is healthy:

I first read Trump’s physician’s report of December 15, 2015, you know, the one by scraggly and longhaired Harold Bornstein, the duly licensed gastroenterologist. The letter lists the doctor’s credentials that are out of date. It was also one of the poorest, less than one-page letters filled with unheard of adjectives to describe the physical condition of a patient, misspellings and non-specific findings that only a careless physician, or a quack, would write that I have ever seen.

Then it gets better:

Trump then takes his medical condition to new heights by showboating it on the Dr. Oz TV show, as if following a well-scripted writing. Recall, Oz asks him about why he won’t show his medical records. Then, as if on cue, Trump looks to the audience and asks whether he should; they respond, and…drum roll please…he takes from his suit pocket a document that he then gives to Oz to look at. Hollywood at its best, huh? Trump no doubt believes that the American voter he wants are those that went gaga over his Apprentice reality shows, so they obviously will become “verclempt” about his revealing more of his health via Dr. Mehmet Oz. Trump is a showman, a carny, well, a con, thinking maybe his voters consider him the messiah that will provide them manna from heaven once he is in office. Not.

But he keeps going. You should go read it yourself, but I’ll at least give you his last line:

As an independent like myself, I would think others similarly positioned would consider vomiting a much preferable experience than hearing the words, President Trump.

There is one thing I want to disagree with in his otherwise wonderful rant. His title is “Trump Will Win By Dumbing Down The Electorate — Is Vomiting Preferable?”. Other than his apparent thing about vomiting, he is implicitly asserting that the electorate is being dumbed down.

I disagree. The electorate has been dumb for a long time. The main problem isn’t that they are dumb, but that most people really don’t care that much. They certainly don’t care enough to actually pay much attention to the election. And who can blame them when elections seem to go on forever.

No, I think the thing that has been dumbed down is the media. The media used to take on the job of paying attention for the American people. But no more. Now that TV news is judged by how profitable it can be, there is no need to provide its former responsibility of actually providing news. Why spend time and money doing in-depth investigative journalism when you can just repeat tweets?

If we had a real fourth estate in this country, they would have laughed Donald Trump out of the race a very long time ago. Instead, all they can do is talk about him, because the more they talk about him the more attention they get and the more money they make.

It is almost a form of bribery. The media is rewarded for saying the things that get the most attention — the truth be damned. So when the Republican noise machine cranks out the latest scandal, they follow it. The latest example is Trump still pretending to be a birther. In an interview, he refused to admit that Obama was born in the US. And of course it is all over the news.

When will the media fall out of love with Trump? When he stops making money for them. The media should be ashamed of themselves.

Chris Britt
© Chris Britt

Steve Benson
© Steve Benson

UPDATE: Matt Taibbi just wrote an article disagreeing strongly with my arguments in this post. His point seems to be that the media is dumbing down because that’s exactly what we (the news consuming public) want:

One of the main reasons the news media has been dumbed down over the years is because audiences have consistently rejected smart, responsible journalism in favor of clickbait stupidities like “Five Things You Didn’t Know About John McCain’s Penis” and “Woman Strips Naked in Front of Police Officers. You Won’t Believe What Happened Next.” The Bachelor and Toddlers and Tiaras crush Frontline. And people wonder why Donald Trump gets a lot of coverage?

Taibbi, (as always) make a good case, but I still disagree. He is implicitly arguing that money and eyeballs is what determines what is news. Is being this crass a requirement? I remember when journalists felt they had a mission that wasn’t just getting the most eyeballs.

He is also ignoring the fact that the media itself has a profound influence on what people want to hear and consume, especially in this age of the echo chamber. Something seems more interesting if everyone is talking about it.



  1. David Freeman wrote:

    It may be “almost a form of bribery’ but it is definitely a conflict of interest.
    As for newsy opinion shows that proliferate, they suffer most from extortion and cowardice. There is an implicit threat that congress critters won’t come back if challenged with facts. There is the ‘threat’ of being called biased if they don’t pretend simple lies are as valid as complex truths. What I don’t understand is why are these shows only afraid of offending Republicans?

    Friday, September 16, 2016 at 6:07 am | Permalink
  2. Wildwood wrote:

    David, for one thing, the long held canard that the media is full of lefties is not only very wrong, but it seems make those in the news feel the need to prove they are not anywhere near central in their views. Then there is the fact that most heads of big companies are of the conservative bent. Add to that the fact that the “right” is notably noisier and more easily riled than the “left”. Those on the right will get madder, more vitriolic, and more numerous in their perceived feelings of there being left leaning bias. It seems to me that liberals can get riled up but tend to do so less often and with less vitriol, and are seldom packing. Intimidation can be subtle or not so subtle. I wonder how many death threats people in the news get? And is it in direct correlation to perceived bias of the on air personality? If I find that works, I might have go buy myself a gun and see who I can make see the error of their ways. Since Missouri just passed the most ridiculous gun law that I have ever seen, (Yea! My state wins stupid once again), I can just waltz into any one of the half dozen recently opened gun stores within 5 miles from my house and walk out with whatever gun I want. No need for training, no need for much of anything except money. Oops, kind of off topic here. Again!

    Friday, September 16, 2016 at 7:49 am | Permalink
  3. Ralph wrote:

    Two axioms my polysci professor in college often liked to quote were, “the masses are asses” and “people get the government they deserve”. I’m not sure where those originally come from or whether I wholly agree but there’s a kernel of truth there, I believe, and part of the problem is the sorry state of our primary and secondary public school system. Does the average high school curriculum include civics anymore, for example? Or critical thinking and Logic 101? It would seem not to this casual observer.

    Sure, the media has become, yes, deplorably complicit in this dumbing down too, playing to our fears, insecurities and prejudices, and laughing all the way to the bank. But it’s nothing new. Remember “Network”, the 1979 movie about the media that gave us “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not gonna take this anymore!”?

    Well, we seem to be plenty mad these days but it seems to be directed more towards each other than the real culprits at large.

    In any event, there is one thing we know Trump believes in wholeheartedly, because it’s stated clearly within the book he so proudly holds high as his business strategy and ethics: “You tell people a lie 3 times, they will believe anything. You tell people what they want to hear, play to their fantasies, and then you close the deal.” – Donald Trump, in The Art Of The Deal

    Friday, September 16, 2016 at 8:30 am | Permalink
  4. ebdoug wrote:

    Remember the “Art of the Deal” is fiction made up by the author. Trump refused to give any input to the book.

    There again, “Rise and Fall of the Third Reich’ gives a good input to the gullible masses.

    Friday, September 16, 2016 at 11:30 am | Permalink
  5. Redjon wrote:

    Dr. Oz? Because, after all, Dr. Oz is an absolutely credible and honest character who would never be so crass, for instance, as to promote a product on his television show, effective or not, for the sake of the money he will earn by promoting him… er, it.

    Friday, September 16, 2016 at 1:29 pm | Permalink
  6. Anonymous wrote:

    EB – of course, it’s well known that the book was ghost written by Tony Schwartz, who was featured in a recent New Yorker piece, which recounts his relationship with Trump during the course of the project. It’s an interesting read and reveals quite a bit about what Schwartz encountered during their private meetings regarding Trump’s personality and demeanor (can you say ADHD?).

    Anyway, despite his recent admission of personal regret for it succeeding far beyond expectations and helping to raise Trump’s public profile, nowhere in the article does it suggest that anything in the book was fabricated or falsely attributed to Trump, and neither has Trump ever refuted anything within, to the best of my knowledge. Indeed, he never hesitates to crow about it given the chance and even cited the book during his announcement of his candidacy as a prime example of his qualifications.

    Friday, September 16, 2016 at 2:16 pm | Permalink
  7. Ralph wrote:

    I take full responsibility the the anonymous post above. This is what happens when you post on a virgin laptop. Cheers 🙂

    Friday, September 16, 2016 at 2:59 pm | Permalink
  8. Jonah wrote:

    Reading the answer by Jane Goodall, it seems humans are evolving backwards

    Saturday, September 17, 2016 at 7:55 am | Permalink
  9. Dave TN wrote:

    If we are what we eat then it appears there are a lot of people consuming a lot of garbage. An article i read covers children’s mental development in the age of television. Its worth a read but one important point being made is it affects cognitive thinking. Here’s a bit:

    “Imagine a ball in real life and a ball on TV. Infants are developing 3-dimensional vision. The world of the screen exists in 2 dimensions, so the ball is just a flat, shaded circle. If you roll a ball across the floor it proceeds in a single motion, slowing gradually until it stops. The same action on TV is broken up—you see the ball leave someone’s hand, then there’s a shot of it in motion, then a picture of the ball at rest. If your infant wants to grab a ball in real life he’ll lunge for it, grasp at it, or crawl after it. The stuff on the screen just disappears, to be replaced by other stuff; you can never get your hands (or mouth) on it. Infants may stare at the bright colors and motion on a screen, but their brains are incapable of making sense or meaning out of all those bizarre pictures. It takes 2 full years for a baby’s brain to develop to the point where the symbols on a screen come to represent their equivalents in the real world. ”

    Apparently this has some similarities with adults as well in grasping difficult concepts, like the concept of Donald Trump being a charlatan businessman with schemes benefiting himself and not in Americans best interests.

    Saturday, September 17, 2016 at 5:52 pm | Permalink