Monday, October 26, 2009

The Idiot Culture

Taking Journalism’s Temperature: 1999

“In what Carl Bernstein has called the ‘triumph of the idiot culture,’ the ideals of truth, justice, and emancipation have become almost meaningless, mere verbiage that professional journalism organizations quaintly place in their codes of ethics. ‘For the first time in our history, the weird and the stupid and the coarse are becoming our cultural norm, even our ideal,’ says Bernstein. ... Of course, one reason newspapers have turned to gross simplicity and the sensational is to attract younger people who don’t read, and so print journalism has tried to be more like TV, becoming more simple to attract readers who still won’t read the paper.”
—Peter Sacks, author, journalist and essayist, in Generation X Goes to College, 1999.

Editor’s Note: Which explains the balloon boy.


  1. Amen!!! It also explains the apparent fascination with the trials and tribulations of the Goselins (sp?). The only question that I have about those dysfunctional people is, whatinhell are they doing on what calls itself The Learning Channel"?

  2. Ted,

    As a matter of fact, newspapers were grossly simplistic and sensational 100 years ago and became much better in the last century. You know that. Your Peter Sacks quotation is grossly simplistic.


  3. Since that was written, the internet has supplanted TV as the number one source of everything, period, bringing endless capacity and potential, not only for knowledge, but misinformation, dishonesty, and misuse of technology and brain cells, wasted on crap like gaming. any time a human is involved...

  4. On Oct 26, 2009, at 10:27 AM, Ed wrote:

    Hello, Ted,
    Hmmm, I grew up in NYC in the 1040s and 1950s reading the Daily News. I vividly remember stories about Pat Ward and the highly placed British pols who patronized her and her colleagues. If there were other stories in the News, I've forgotten them.

    Meanwhile, at school, because I was quick to learn, the 5th and 6th grade teachers left me alone while I sat in the back of the classroom, reading years of Readers Digests stretching back to the Great Depression. Because that magazine was family-oriented, I can't remember a single thing I learned from it.

    I'm reading a great biography of Teddy Roosevelt
    (Wilderness Warrior). There's a little bit about the ginning up of the Spanish American war because Teddy created wild life refuges wherever he went or whatever nation he conquered. Not an edifying tale: the war I mean.

    My parents told me about Father Coughlin. My late father in law, Oliver Pilat, wrote a bio of Westbrook Pegler.

    I think what we're experiencing is par for the long, long course. I also like to think - in my more optimistic moments - that the people sucked into paying attention by Limbaugh, Fox, MSNBC, et al, may someday want more substantial fare. Think of today's hysterial press as a sort of loss leader.

    Many alert WORDsters have commented that Sacks's quote is out of date, and that now every idiot is sucked into the Web, not TV. I don't really see much difference....

    As a lifelong glass-half-full guy (despite my life lessons so far), I agree: Sooner or later institutions will run amok without watchdogs to bring them up short, and *some* people may wake up and cry, WTF?!?, as if somehow something bad had been done to them, instead of their having abandoned the republic and public responsibility themselves.