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Print view: Alfred E. Neuman never worried. So too with the Post and the Times
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NO NEED TO KNOW! Alfred E. Neuman never worried. So too with the Post and the Times: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, JUNE 28, 2011

You’re right—we completely forgot: You’re right! Our non-annual fund drive continues this week. Yesterday, we forgot!

Tomorrow, we’ll go back to pimping our current ventures; we think we had a pretty good weekend. For today, if you want to support the cause, you know what to do: Just click this.

From Krugman to Doctor Garofalo: In the age of talk radio and the web, it’s easy to see how the average Joe reasons. With that in mind, we recommend this recent blog post by a bemused Paul Krugman.

Krugman pens a short complaint about the absurd reactions generated by any comment or statement. “I really do worry about the state of reading comprehension,” he says. “Or maybe it’s just that extremists can’t grasp the notion of non-extreme positions held by other people.”

Indeed. If you read comment threads at any site, you’ll see absurd or semi-absurd reactions to almost any post. Case in point: Responding to Krugman’s post, the second commenter quickly explained the public’s inability to reason. “It's a lack of teaching critical thinking,” she wrote. “The powerful do not want the powerless to have strong enough analytical skills to see how little the current arrangement helps most people, or the powerless might do something about it.”

Is that why we peepul don’t reezun reel guud? You can sign us up with the skeptics. And sure enough! Before too long, the inevitable happened. The fourteenth commenter placed the blame on the other tribe:

COMMENTER 14: my hypothesis is that liberals are smarter, at least in a scientific sense: they can think in more nuanced ways and thus have a more analytical mind. this always them to understand various types of readings and their meanings. they think more deeply. so, my hypothesis is that conservatives are the ones who misread your argument about greece and argentina, dr. krugman.

Are liberals “smarter, at least in a scientific sense?” Do we liberals “think in more nuanced ways and thus have a more analytical mind?” We liberals have been telling ourselves this pleasing story for a very long time. On average, this thesis could be true. But then again, maybe it’s not.

Is our tribe smarter than their dumb tribe? Sometimes, it seems that Keith Olbermann signed with Current TV to disabuse the world of this notion. Consider last Friday’s on-line discussion with Janeane Garofalo, who had appeared as a guest on the evening’s regular program.

To watch the entire discussion, click here. In what follows, we’re discussing a seven-minute span which starts around the one-minute mark. (If the tape at Current isn’t working, you can watch this at YouTube. Click here.)

A bit of background: Back in April 2009, at the very start of the Tea Party movement, Garofalo appeared with Olbermann on the old Countdown program. It was her third appearance on the MSNBC program in just an eight-week span. On that occasion, Garofalo offered a widely-criticized critique of the various redneck racists found in the Tea Party movement. In fact, everyone within that movement was a redneck racist, the thoughtful pundit explained.

In an early part of her discussion, Garofalo offered an overview:

GAROFALO (4/16/99): This is about hating a black man in the White House. This is racism straight up. That is nothing but a bunch of tea-bagging rednecks. And there is no way around that.

[…]

We’ve discussed before— The limbic brain inside a right- winger or Republican or conservative or your average white power activist, the limbic brain is much larger in their head space than in a reasonable person. And it is pushing against the frontal lobe. So their synapses are misfiring.

Is Bernie Goldberg listening? Bernie might not have heard this when I said this the first time. So, Bernie, this is for you. It is a neurological problem that we’re dealing with.

A sympathetic soul might want to assume that Garofalo was joking. But actually, no. She was not.

For whatever reason, this was Garofalo’s final appearance on the MSNBC version of Countdown. Since Olbermann brought her back in his first week at Current, it may be that the “suits” at his previous channel kept her off their air, though we have no way of knowing.

That was then—and this is now. We strongly recommend that you watch the first eight minutes of Olbermann’s chat with Garofalo at Current. For ourselves, we will only say this:

As recently as a few years ago, we would have assumed that no two people ever had such a stupid discussion on any topic, at any time in human history. We truly wouldn’t have understood that people can be this dumb for a full seven minutes..

Some liberals will watch that tape and see something different. We will only suggest the following: This shows that the problem Krugman cites is not confined to the other tribe. And this:

Your nation’s future is placed in great danger by the superhuman dumbness displayed on that Current tape.

What’s so dumb about that discussion? Current TV doesn’t post transcripts; we don’t intend to force our analysts to transcribe the various things that were said during that gruesome chat. We will only transcribe this passage, near the two-minute mark, where Garofalo explains how she knows “the Tea Party is racist:”

GAROFALO (6/24/11): There has been racism in our country since its founding. It would be odd if it didn’t exist now that we have a black president. That would be weird. And when anybody says to me, “What makes you think the Tea Party is racist?” What makes you think they aren’t?

We’ll only say this: In the end, it’s up to you to understand how monumentally dumb that highlighted passage is. As Wittgenstein said in another context: At some point, explanations must end.

(One hint: Garofalo is discussing millions of people in that highlighted passage.)

Krugman’s post points to a major problem: Wee the peepul don’t reezum reel gudd. At one time, this problem was contained by a cultural practice: Crazy people weren’t allowed to go on the air and spread their foolishness around. For that reason, citizens were rarely exposed to lunatic discussions in which tribalized people engaged in the world’s most god-awful forms of “reasoning.”

That system broke apart in the past few decades. First, they let Imus on the air; then came Howard Stern. After that, it was Rush and Sean.

Now, our tribe is part of the problem.

That discussion is one of the dumbest ever. Can your country survive such burdens? If we had to bet, we’d say no.

Nothing new under the sun: If you watch the first eight minutes from last Friday’s discussion, you’ll hear a lot of foolish smack, including Doctor Garofalo’s diagnosis of Clarence Thomas’ Stockholm Syndrome. (We’re always glad when the white doctors emerge from the bush to help the black folk with their obvious maladies.)

This is extremely dumb stuff. But this sort of thing is nothing new from this particular doctor. Consider a few clips of Garofalo’s brilliance from the old Countdown programs.

In February 2009, the doctor explained a disturbing statistic: Thirty-seven percent of women had a favorable impression of Rush Limbaugh, according to a Public Policy poll. The doctor knew why that was:

GAROFALO (2/26/09): The type of female that does like Rush is the same type of women that falls in love with prisoners, like Richard Ramirez or Squeaky Fromme. Good example—Charles Manson. Eva Braun, Hitler’s girl friend. That is exactly the type of woman that responds really well to Rush. There will be some Eva Brauns out there that will respond really well to this cattle call right now, or to this clarion call—is that the right word?—he`s putting out there.

Why had CNN’s Daryn Kagan dated Limbaugh? The doctor explained that too:

GAROFALO: She dated him. So either she suffers from Stockholm Syndrome, like Michael Steele, the black guy in the Republican party who suffers from Stockholm Syndrome, which means you try to curry favor with the oppressor—

OLBERMANN: Talk about self-loathing.

GAROFALO: Yes. Any female or person of color in the Republican Party is struggling with Stockholm Syndrome. That’s a whole other issue. We don’t have time. Let`s go back to Rush Limbaugh.

[..]

Human frailty, let’s go with human frailty. It is human frailty that makes it be a conservative. You know what I mean? Whoever the person is, and this transcends gender and skin color, people that cleave unto the conservative message or to the modern day Republican Party, there is something wrong with them.

[…]

OLBERMANN: John Dean wrote about this. It is not conservatism anymore. It is authoritarianism.

GAROFALO: It is authoritarian message and people that follow the authoritarian message. It is the unrestrained id. It is whatever is wrong with us. It is whatever the flaws in human being.

I’m a narcissist that suffers with self-loathing. But I prefer to channel my issues into a much more positive direction. So I do identify with Rush on the level of narcissism and self-loathing combined. But I’m a far better person than he is. I don’t say that with arrogance. I say that because it is fact, scientific fact.

That discussion was stunningly stupid, so KO brought her back. Three weeks later, one of the dumbest people on earth discussed the amazing dumbness of the other tribe:

GAROFALO (3/16/09): Grover Norquist has those meetings where the talking points are created and handed out to all and sundry in the right wing machine. Unfortunately, they do have a base that listens to this. And because their life isn’t working, they want to blame all the wrong people.

[…]

Unfortunately, a lot of the people in the right-wing base are not the most intellectual people in the world, not the most savvy people in the world, and they are definitely quick to anger, and quick to blame other people.

It is a ridiculous thing. You know, I don’t know what to say about it other than it is a very sad, sad thing, and it is part of the human nature of a personality type that tends to identify as Republican or conservative. It is an unfortunate part of our society. It is a scourge on our society.

Too funny. “Unfortunately, a lot of the people in the right-wing base are not the most intellectual people in the world!”

After the subsequent April discussion, Garofalo was gone from MSNBC. Perhaps the “suits” had cut her loose. Last week, KO brought her back.

It’s true that Rush and Sean got there first. But can your society function this way? Our guess would be no, it cannot.

Special report: No need to know!

PART 1—WHAT, US KNOW THINGS (permalink): David Brooks has a semi-complaint about Barack Obama. He gives voice to this semi-complaint in today’s New York Times:

BROOKS (6/28/11): The Obama style has advantages, but it has served his party poorly in the current budget fight. He has not educated the country about the debt challenge. He has not laid out a plan, aside from one vague, hyperpoliticized speech. He has ceded the initiative to the Republicans, who have dominated the debate by establishing facts on the ground.

For ourselves, we’re surprised to read that the GOP has “established (some) facts on the ground.” For ourselves, we have no idea what “facts” Brooks has in mind. But many liberals will tend to agree with Brooks’ semi-complaint about Obama.

Obama hasn’t educated the country about the debt challenge? Almost surely, that claim is correct.

In fairness, it’s very hard to “educate the country” about any topic these days. We live in a highly tribalized world; no public figure, not even a president, can be expected to overcome the various tribal lunacies which are found all around. If memory serves, Obama did attempt to “educate the country” about the national health care challenge. But no matter how many speeches he gave; no matter how many press conferences he held; no matter how long his “answers” were, very little “education of the country” emerged.

Instead, a Facebook post discussed “death panels.” In millions of minds, that post at Facebook stuck.

Could Obama have done a better job “educating the country about the debt crisis?” Everything is possible. But for today, let’s ask a different question: How good a job have our biggest news orgs done when it comes to this task? Consider one example:

In the news pages of today’s New York Times, Carl Hulse does a news report about the ongoing debt limit talks. At one point, he quotes Bernie Sanders:

HULSE (6/28/11): As the debt talks resumed at the White House, Senator Bernard Sanders, the Vermont independent, took the floor to urge the president to resist Republican pressure to wring most of the savings out of federal programs rather than impose any new taxes on the nation’s most affluent.

“It is time for the president to stand with the millions who have lost their jobs, homes, and life savings, instead of the millionaires, who in many cases, have never had it so good,” he said.

Sanders would favor a tax increase on the nation’s millionaires. “In many cases,” those folk “have never had it so good,” he declared.

By instinct, most liberals will be inclined to agree with that declaration. But how good a job has the New York Times done at explaining this matter? The New York Times is our most famous newspaper. How hard has it tried to “educate the country” about the facts which lie behind that declaration?

For ourselves, we’d be inclined to say this: The Times hasn’t tried at all. Neither has the Washington Post, the Times’ partner in avoidance. Our American civic religion is based on a familiar notion: As citizens, we have a need to know.

But our greatest news orgs no longer seem to subscribe to that basic notion.

“What, us know things?” Would such a motto be out of place on our great newspapers’ mastheads?

By most accounts, our nation is facing a major crisis as those debt talks proceed. Over the course of the next few days, we’ll look at the ways our biggest news orgs have walked away from a basic task.

Obama has failed to “educate the country?” It isn’t that Brooks is wrong in that claim. But our idealistic young analysts rose from their chairs when they read the savant’s complaint.

Looking who’s talking, our analysts cried! Heal thyself, several said.

Tomorrow: What Bruce Bartlett said