The media ‘echo chamber’

… according to Charles Pierce, author of Idiot America. Pierce’s book discusses what he sees as an assault on intellectuals, on credible expertise, and perhaps more generally, on reason (also the title of a book by former Vice President Al Gore). Gore puts it pretty succinctly when he says, “reason, logic and truth seem to play a sharply diminished role in the way America now makes important decisions” (p. 1). Pierce suggests that certain intellectuals have always resided outside of the mainstream, on the fringe, with ideas not popularly accepted. However, when these ‘cranks’ as he calls them, become part of the mainstream public debate, merely because they’ve written a book, or the ideas have been enshrined on a TV show or through talk radio, then the role of the crank as a voice of intellectual diversity is diminished. He has three rules that he says govern how this ‘dumbing down of the public discourse’ happens:

  1. Any theory is valid if it sells books, soaks up ratings, or otherwise moves units. Madonna ‘writes’ children’s books. Mitch Albom tells us which five people we’ll meet in heaven. Michael Crichton, MD, deceased novelist, traveled the rubber chicken dinner talk circuit to shoot down global warming science. In fact (speaking of global warming) much of the PR campaign against global warming is based not on science, but on paying a small minority of dissenting scientists to get their talking points out on television. ‘Skeptic’ authors and their books are a good example. Sourcewatch has a different take.
  2. Anything can be true if someone says it loudly enough. Talk radio is predicated on this. We’ve seen how opinion shows deal in shouting matches. Add liberals vs conservatives, and you may have yourself an audience, an audience that believes what is being said and holds those ‘truths’ to be self-evident. Let’s face it, academics or those trained in the sciences, those with advanced degrees, in most cases are too busy doing their research and writing to worry about making TV appearances, and when they do aren’t necessarily very good at it. Be wary of scientists who spend most of their time on TV, doctors who spend most of their time testifying in malpractice cases, etc.
  3. Fact is that which enough people believe. Truth is determined by how fervently they believe it. There is no question but that the Tea Party movement includes many people sincerely upset about the economic crisis that has befallen the US. However, whether they have a profound understanding of the causes of that crisis is entirely another matter. Glenn Beck’s ‘tree of revolution‘ (see also Jon Stewart’s parody), or Pierce’s example of Alec Rawls’ ‘crescent of betrayal,’ would seem to apply here. The movement’s spread depended on the millions donated by various corporate ‘front groups’ such as Freedom Works and Americans for Prosperity.