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Tuesday, December 28, 2021

We Demand Stupid

No one ever lost money underestimating the intelligence of the American public. —H.L. Mencken

Poor Ezra Klein. When the confines of the Washington Post could no longer contain his massive intellect, his new Vox venture had grand aspirations of cerebral, substantive policy coverage (because what MSNBC regular doesn’t brag of being a “wonk” or a “geek?”).

It took breathtakingly little time since its launch for Vox to realize that this isn’t what generates web traffic and social media shares. I know this because there were three separate Vox stories about the MTV Video Music Awards in my Facebook feed this morning.

Vox hosting a highbrow policy symposium.

Vox hosting a highbrow policy symposium on social media.

The whole spectacle is reminiscent of a newly minted J-school grad who just knows s/he is going to be The One Who Elevates Public Discourse to its proper place in our civic realm, earnestly banging out longwinded, self-serious manifestos that’ll be read by five supportive drinking buddies and no one else.

Pretty soon, our would-be Edward R. Murrow tires of ramen noodles, and a shitstorm of “Bad 80’s Hairdos” photo compilations is headed toward your eyeballs.

Klein isn’t alone in having thus been humbled. Al-Jazeera America, easily the best cable news network in terms of actual reporting and in-depth coverage, has avoided the standard fare partisan shoutfests and cutesy stories about a dog who can fart a Coltrane tune. It’s also going broke for its troubles and has begun laying off staff.

Brother, can you spare a dime?

Brother, can you spare a dime?

It calls into question whether or not what civic idealists consider “serious journalism” is even viable in the marketplace. Whenever someone makes a run at it, it quickly devolves into dumbed down infotainment.

This isn’t to suggest it’s the worst thing ever and that we should all wring our hands over it. It’s not my place to tell you what should capture your interest, and if a 20-second clip of cats leaping and missing is what gets you through the day, rock on.

After all, one reason The Mudflats enjoys such popularity in the Lower 48 isn’t because progressives here in Washington look to Juneau for enlightened social policy. No, the esoterica of Alaska politics makes for compelling reading precisely because it’s such a train wreck and fun to watch. What is Don Young if not the legislative equivalent of a dog trying to get traction on the ice, only to wipe out in his own poop?

I can haz Pulitzer!

I can haz Pulitzer!



4 Responses to “We Demand Stupid”
  1. mike from iowa says:

    We demand stupid redux……and Dennis Miller shows up,up there.

  2. Mike D. says:

    “We” is not me. Some of us don’t demand stupid.

    But in fairness to those who prefer YouTube videos gone viral to hard news, perhaps the demand for stupid is a response to a world in which fear and bad news is magnified 24/7 and so immediate. It is almost impossible to escape the redundancy of the latest world crisis, human tragedy, celebrity minutia, or Facebook post of meaningless experiences deemed unique.

    Were I to go on a search for real news and fact, where would I find it? Fox, MSNBC, Ezra Klein, Al Jazeera, oil industry ads, the political messaging of Sullivan or Begich, The Mudflats, a do nothing congress, Israel, Palestine? It is hard to be an informed participant in our democracy with so many competing interests and points of view. More so when so much of what we are told is financed by special interests, and what passes for news is often hard to distinguish from entertainment.

  3. mike from iowa says:

    We demand stupid……..and Shane Holt hasn’t showed?

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