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12 October 2009


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Sad, but true. Yesterday, I was at a friend's house, his roommate was talking on his cellphone, speaker on, with a fellow paranoid traveler. Did you know that Jefferson had something to say about Hitler and the government is going to get rid of talk radio? The other nutty conspiricy theories were too numberous to count in that conversation.

Actually, talk radio would probably be a good first start of things to get gone. Or at least bring back the "fairness doctrine". Where would that leave FOX?

frank durkee

Amen. True of religious knowledge as much as any other, perhaps more so.

Fr. Frank Durkee. Episcopalian

Cold War Zoomie

The last few years have driven me bonkers, and basically has burned me out.

But don't we go through cycles in this country?

Yellow Journalism

Isn't there a chance we're hitting rock bottom and maybe a new era of "enlightenment" will come our way?

Or maybe I'm turning to delusions as a tonic for my pounding brain!


I agree with much of Mr. Sale's comments, but I wonder if he isn't looking at the past with rose-colored glasses. I'm not sure the situation today, as lamentable as it is, is much different from time's past and is arguably better than some periods of American history.

Kevin Egan

This well-intentioned jeremiad may be besides the point: I don't think anyone much watches these shows except the other rotating cast of characters. Intelligent people gave up on them long ago; the people on them use them to reinforce the opinions of their small coterie of Washington insiders. The problem lies more in the fact that those insiders have power, make policy; but they've always ignored the wise and done what they wanted--read Kennan's memoirs!

A truer problem, then, would be the policy process of our elites. But that could be changed by the most powerful agent of social change that exists: militant non-violence. If you really want to insist that our elites *listen* and *think*, start organizing a national boycott by all people of conscience against an issue that matters. I'd start with the American Empire, our national security state, which is unsustainable and which is destroying us from within, just as its predecessors have all previous empires; but your mileage may vary.

Militant non-violence; millions of conscientious Americans on strike, sitting down on the national mall for as long as it takes. Then you'll have the change you desire--but not before.

Sidney O. Smith III

I assume that Mr. Sale is referring to Frederick August Hayek and not to Salma Hayek who, undoubtedly, has an exceptional and august body of work herself.

If true, then alas, I don’t see a whole lot of evidence that President Obama and his economic team subscribe to the work of F.A. Hayek, but here’s hoping our nation, somehow and someway, bypasses the road to serfdom.

anna missed

Couldn't agree more. It's the worst characteristic of the village narrative, and probably, it is it's underlying purpose - to drown out all alternative scenarios/explanations Politics by other means, as it were.


As someone who has lived in four different countries for significant stretches of time and has always had an interest in international politics I'd like to throw in my two cents to this topic. And I'm sad to say that Richard Sale is entirely correct. What the development of the 24 hour news channels seem to document that also in the news and information business there is an inverse correlation between quality and quantity. The more you get from something, the more the per unit quality declines, until that quality gets so diluted that it becomes a question of whether its still worthwhile to be bothered.

Unfortunately, the format that in my observation appears to be most resilient against this downhill slide in quality doesn't seem to exist on US television. What I'm talking about is a format I learned to love as a young man in Western Germany. At a time when there were only two national channels, both public, one of them had a one hour Sunday Morning talk show that always assembled 'six journalists from five countries' to discuss national and international politics of the day from an international perspective.

I don't think there were many other opportunities in the 1970s for an ordinary citizen to get the occasional opinion of a journalist from the USSR or the GDR. Of course it was a given that these people were not dissidents, otherwise they wouldn't have been allowed to work in the West, but they couldn't just spout party line rhetoric either, because that would immediately have been challenged and ridiculed. So they had to try and present their perspective in an intelligent manner. In return, they also had the opportunity to challenge mindless arguments from their western counterparts, and the whole set-up did make for a good program. Unfortunately, the program was discontinued when the guy who had been in charge of it, and was its idiosyncratic face, turned out to have been a careerist during the Nazi regime.

BBC World still does have a similar weekly program called 'Dateline London', which for example regularly offers an opportunity to hear journalists from Islamic countries. Regrettably however, that program was cut back from an hour to thirty minutes about a year and a half or so ago. And BBC World is unfortunately also more and more succumbing to the personality cult around its presenters that seems to be so omnipresent on 24 hours news channels in the US.

Although it is does also suffer from the personality cult thing, the freshest face in international news channels at the moment actually seems to be the English-speaking version of Aljazeera. I think that should ring alarm bells, at least in CNN International and BBC World.

Steven Mains

I am continually surprised that the commentators don't challenge the premise of the reporters' questions even when they are obviously flawed. If the foundation is slanted, the house can't be made true. The discussion slips from being a comparison of ideas to a regurgitation of the host's points. I assume guests wouldn't be invited back again if they didn't "play along" -- evidence of Sale's point that the appearance is usually a pretext for self-display, I suppose.


Never have I taken so little pleasure in saying "Amen".

William R. Cumming

There are many reasons including loss of advertisers that the MSM are in decline! Their audience is deserting them on a large scale. A business plan that caters to ignorance will not succeed very long [I hope]!


I used to enjoy the Sunday talk shows, when they were of substance. I think that was probably more than ten years ago. Something happened during the Bush administration that warped the process, altered the brains of newsroom producers, and they decided to entertain rather than inform.

William P. Fitzgerald III

Richard Sale,

I concur and don't think there will be much, if any, disagreement. In trying to answer the question, "why should this be so?", one would certainly come up with all sorts of reasons. My two obvious ones are, first, the absence of the study of logic, rhetoric and grammar in the education systems, which leadeth to gullibility in the populace. The other reason is the voracious appetite of, particularly, the electronic media for people to say things. Thus, we have the two necessary elements, gullible people and an endless supply of opinions being mistaken for facts.

And, for The Reverend Mr. Durkee, The (former) Protestant Episcopal Church would be far better positioned to defend true religious knowledge had it not trashed the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. That's an opinion, of course.



On average how many TV channels are there in each state in the U.S. of A? What's the demographics of Americans who really spend a %age of their time a week readin' a decent book & not some tabloid garbage from the newsstand?

I'm already dissed with ridiculous answers from my students 'bout Paris, one of the fashion capitals of the world bein' located in the U.S.

Seems like these days folks're not so much afflicted by illiteracy than plain ignorance & a total indifference to what's happenin' 'round 'em.

WWII won by the Japs. F*** me.


Is this new?

Is there really much difference between Rush Limbaugh and Walter Cronkite?

I am vexed by the fact it is necessary to consume 25-40 Ring Dings, Devil Dogs, and/or Twinkies per day in order to meet the minimum daily protein requirements.

Green Zone Cafe

A symptom of terminal decadence. I have made and am making contingency plans for my family - take note: Euro, Canadian, Aussie and NZ real estate is not likely to get cheaper.


I stopped watching the Sunday talk shows months ago for the very reasons you mention.

How many times will McCain be a guest this year, and he being the loser of the election?


Too true, alas! When was the last time you saw someone like Andrew Bacevich or Simon Johnson or Glenn Greenwald on the Sunday morning pablum fests? It must be something to do with their booking system. The usual suspects all have agents who are, no doubt, in constant contact with production editors of the Sunday shows, and they seem to just rotate the faces from week to week and from network to network. Just give me more of the same they say! It drives me batty and I've given up watching.

frank durkee

WPFIII, Since much of my ulimate world view was formed by the 1928 PB I have some resonance for your position. would profoundly disagree with your conclusion concerning matters since 1979 and earlier [1974 irregular ordination of Women ] in our strange and lively Episcopal branch of Christianity.

Duncan Kinder

My two obvious ones are, first, the absence of the study of logic, rhetoric and grammar in the education systems, which leadeth to gullibility in the populace.


Brett J

True, but I agree with Cold War Zoomie. (Pardon the positivity!) Change is afoot and many are moving away from receiving their news and insight from television of any kind - and onto the leveling platform of the internet.

The amount of content therein makes it possible to stay tightly within a circle of "I agree with this" sites, but that same quality allows stumbling across insight like that found on Sic Semper: questing for awareness and resonance of truth with few other motivating factors, unlike those whose Goal #1 is supporting the structure that gave them the opportunity to get on the Sunday Morning Chat.

Babak Makkinejad

"The search for bottom lines has become the rejection of complexity, and the fundamental reality that an idea is only as good as the ability to manage, resource, and implement it."

from http://csis.org/publication/us-strategy-afghanistan

Cloned Poster

SRW1, I agree Dateline London was great in the one-hour format, now, it is crumbling with Adam Boulton running the Fox/Murdoch agenda for Sky.


The sorry state of communication in the United States is the natural consequence of unfettered control of the airwaves that has been granted to corporations.


Mathew Yglesias has an interesting take, the most important point of which is that it is not the mass audience that views these shows (or blogs) that is important but who in the media watches:
"But even though the audience, looked at nationally, amounts to rounding error the networks are hugely popular among the tiny number of people who work in professional politics. Just like traders have CNBC and Bloomberg on in their offices, political operatives are constantly tuned in to what’s happening on cable news."
As marketing professors liked to them in B school "opinion leaders'. http://yglesias.thinkprogress.org/archives/2009/10/the-cable-effect.php

This is the same reason the Drudge report is constantly read and quoted; though if Toyota had a similar error rate the Yugo would be the best selling car in America.

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