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Dig This: Why Are We Sooooo Dumb?

I recently attended the National Conference for Media Reform in Denver, Colorado. The four-day affair was exhilarating and valuable in many ways.  The single most remarkable thing about the conference was the intelligence, generosity and passion of the presenters and participants.  We live in a time when most Americans seem to have a “get it while the getting is good” attitude, or for those that are lucky enough to be among the “haves,” an “I’ve got mine” attitude.  So, to be in contact with a large group of people dedicated to truth and diversity in journalism and democracy in media was different and refreshing.

Media Reform?  What’s wrong with American media?  Well, the most obvious problem is that it doesn’t inform or educate us. The world’s reaction to our ignorance, as Americans, was expressed in the headlines of Daily Mirror in 2004, “How can 59,054,087 people be so DUMB?”  There are many questions that come to mind in response to such provocative headlines; like—Are Americans less-well educated or genetically inferior?   Or is “class and privilege” a greater factor in “what we know,” or is it more dependent on the flavor of Kool-Aid we choose to drink?

Most likely it is some combination of these influences and other factors that determine our individual level of education and world view, but what about the information we receive every day, the information we need to make good, informed decisions?   That question defined what the Media Reform Conference was all about.

How do you get your information?  What institutions or segments of our society determine the content and “framing”  of our national dialog?   Who decides what stories we are allowed to see and hear in the everyday world?

The fact is that the majority of American voters still get their news from corporate-owned, commercially-oriented television networks.  Though for several years, the Internet has become the alternative source of news, especially among younger voters.  Also trust in network news has declined to all-time lows as shown in recent polls.  No matter where you get your news, sources of information have dwindled dramatically over the last couple of decades due to media consolidation and a decrease in real investigative reporting.  News has become more polarized, propagandized and homogenized as a result.  So, while we live in a world where information abounds and Internet access is provided at our fingertips 24/7, we find ourselves wandering in a “news desert.”

Literally, a handful of multinational corporations determine what “news” Americans will see and hear each day; and as our news has become more infotainment than fact, journalistic ethics have been abandoned to special interests and monetary gain.  These changes have happened over a number of years, and many people in the U.S. have not paid attention to the problem or the results.  A very serious result of this development is that Americans have become more polarized, less trusting and incapable of working together for the common good of our nation and the world.  I place the responsibility on corporate media consolidation and corporate influence for this sad state of affairs.

While most of us have been oblivious to the deterioration of the media, the more aware, like the people at FreePress.net, the sponsors of the National Conference for Media Reform, have been waving the large orange caution-flag for years.  Others, in an attempt to counteract the corruption of the media, like aNewsCafe.com, have moved onto the World Wide Web to practice independent, ethical journalism and serve their communities better.  Some of us have chosen to support local Community Radio stations like KKRN that provide a diversity of voices in a democracy sorely lacking in tolerance and understanding.  Many support programming on PBS television stations like KIXE in an attempt to fill the void created by corporate media.

Americans are inherently no dumber or smarter than any other nation or peoples, but we are starved for good information in the Age of Information.  This is hurting us economically, socially and morally.   What can you do?  Educate yourself; use and support local independent media that cares about you.  You’ll be glad you did.

Doug Bennett is local talk show host on KKRN, 88.5 FM; community organizer; and retired general contractor.