Sunday, November 09, 2008

Objective Pretense

It was a bad week. Couldn’t start my column on Sunday like I usually do because the hard drive on my laptop crashed while I was away for the weekend. Monday morning I got it outlined on my back-up machine before leaving for school, but after school I had to drive a hundred miles (round trip) to drop my main machine off with the nearest Apple-certified technician. Tuesday after school I picked it up and hurried home to vote before the polls closed. Election results were depressing for conservatives like me. Wednesday morning I was pulled over for speeding on the way to school. Been driving that road the same way for thirty-one years, but oh well. I was going 55 in a 45.

Most of my students are Obama supporters. I’m not and they know it. I knew they would be giving me plenty of “I told you so’s” that day and I wasn’t looking forward to it. In the first class, students asked if I’d heard that Sarah Palin thought Africa was a country and not a continent.

“No, I didn’t,” I said. “Where did you hear that?

“On television this morning,” said one student and another concurred right away. “She’s pretty dumb,” he said.

“What news show were you watching?” I asked. Neither could tell me, but I learned later that the information came from sources in the McCain campaign and was widely reported in the Mainstream Media. For two months, students had been repeating reports about how ignorant and inexperienced Sarah Palin was. I asked each class that day how many of them had seen reports like that. About two-thirds raised their hands. Several told me Palin spent too much on clothes, thought she could see Russia from her house in Alaska, shot animals from a plane, had a pregnant teenaged daughter, or avoided answering interview questions.

“Hmm,” I said. “Let me ask you a few questions. Did you hear that Obama claimed a few months ago that he’d campaigned in 57 states and still had one more to go?” In five classes with approximately 125 students, only one girl had heard it on the radio.

“Okay, how about this one: When Katie Couric interviewed Joe Biden about comparing our financial crisis to the Great Depression, he claimed President Roosevelt went on television to explain the 1929 stock market crash to the American people. How many of you heard about that?”

Not one had. Several students said television hadn’t been invented then. I told them it had, but televisions weren’t being sold because nothing was being broadcast until the late forties. We’d been studying the Great Depression and several knew that Roosevelt didn’t become president until 1933 - nearly four years after the stock market crash.

Then I told them that during the vice presidential debate, Biden claimed that “Article One of the Constitution defines the role of the vice president of the United States” (find it at the 4:00 mark) when actually, the executive branch is defined in Article Two. Not a single student heard about that blunder either.

Many times during September and October I’d had students turn to Article II in their textbook’s copy of the Constitution so they could read about qualifications, duties, and powers of the president and vice president. They’d also read several parts of Article I which outlines the US House of Representatives and the US Senate. “Biden has been a US senator for 36 years,” I said. “Don’t you think he should know this stuff?”

Many nodded gravely.

“So what’s the point I’m making?” I asked each class and waited for them to think it over. “I can show you Obama and Biden saying dumb things on ‘You Tube,’ but only one girl heard any of it. On the other hand, most of you heard plenty to make Palin appear foolish. What’s up with that?”

Students suggested that television stations don’t like to show bad things about Democrats. “That seems like a valid conclusion,” I said. “Our broadcast media had plenty of material on both sides, but only used it against one. Why would they do that?”

“Because they’re biased?” several asked.

“I think so,” I said. “Their reporting has certainly had an influence on you. Do you think it’s had a similar influence on Americans who vote?”

There were nods all around.

“Fox News seems to have a conservative bias, but all the rest have a liberal bias. The worst part, however, is that none of them admit it. They pretend to be objective.”

“You’re taking this too hard, Mr. McLaughlin,” said one boy as class was ending.

“Perhaps,” I said. "Been a hard week."


Anonymous said...

Noam Chomsky, Professor of Linguistics at MIT and co-author of "Manufactuing Consent," can give chapter and verse of media manipulation by the Republicans during Nixon and Reagan administrations, but seems to be sitting this one out when it comes to how biased the media was for Obama.

My guess is, it's a pretty cushy job over there in the "Peoples Republic of Cambridge" and why rock the boat when you're considered by liberals to be the final say in political thought control.

Tom McLaughlin said...

Good point. Nixon, Ford and Carter were a generation ago. Today's new block of voters need to learn all over again that leftist methods of dealing with recessions and depressions only make them worse.

Hold on tight. Going to be a rough ride for a few years.

Anonymous said...

Gee have the networks announced that Rules for Radicals have just replaced the bill of rights? It has got to be true, after all A "former" ACORN member is running the Coleman/Frankenfreak recount where they have already "found" 100new pre-dated votes for the alleged comedian.

Anonymous said...

Tom, My dad was a math teacher and high school principal in eastern maine for 30 years. He loved teaching young people. In your columns in which you talk about your students I see the same love for the job as that which I saw in my dad. Money is a necessity but his main motivation was love of teaching youngsters.

Coca Cola, Disney, MTV and many others have discovered how malleable youngsters are and have used it in, to my mind anyway, in unseemly ways in order to enlarge profits. Since the proof is in the pudding, the vast profits are proof that it can be done. What the media did to Americans in general you have easily pointed out in relating how it worked on your students.

The saddest part of all of this is that rather than a debate of ideas it is the selling of a personality based on nothing but hype. Dennis Rodman, Oprah, Dale Earnheardt jr, and Hannah Montana could be sold just as easily. And even sadder is that many American adults are just as easily manipulated as our youngsters. The main stream media should be ashamed but rather are proud as peacocks of their accomplishments.

What does the future hold I wonder.

Tom McLaughlin said...

The next two to four years will be interesting. How long will it take for the love affair with Obama to cool? I predict very soon. It's much harder to govern than to campaign. Democrats control everything now and there's no one to blame for what happens.

Thank you for the kind words. I do like teaching, very much. I'll go on to other pursuits in a couple of years, but I'll miss it. What I'd really like is to do it part-time, but it's not structured that way.

Frontline produced a documentary a few years ago called "Merchants of Cool" which made many of the same points you do. They are malleable and they're also hungry for something beyond what we offer in public schools. They devour fantasy novels about wizards and vampires to satisfy a yearning for something transcendent. There's a vacuum out there that we don't fill.

As for issues? Well, they have to be dealt with now, don't they. The Obama cult of personality will be tested when he makes tough decisions required of the chief executive.

Anonymous said...


I always enjoy your columns in the Conway Sun. I think you gave your class a good lesson on bias but it extends beyond the news media and into popular entertainment. Some comedian gets a laugh by playing on the early perception of a [usually Republican] politician and everyone else runs with it including the news media. I'll bet many of your students get their news from Comedy Central.
Ask your students about the following pols (some they have never heard of) and see if you get the same responses that I list.

Ford - Good natured, yet clumsy jock.
Reagan - Dottering old man on the verge of Alzheimers.
George H.W. Bush - Likable but goofy Yalie, in over his head.
Dan Quayle - Dense pretty boy.
James Stockdale -- Senile old man
Bob Dole -- Grumpy old man with a chip on his shoulder.
George W. Bush -- Idiot son of a former president.
John McCain - Old man with a chip on his shoulder who doesn't understand the modern world
Sarah Palin -- Empty headed bimbo with a funny accent prone to use colloquialisms in her speech.

Ask them about others:
Bill Clinton -- Intelligent womanizer
Al Gore -- Intellectual who cares about the planet
John Kerry -- Intelligent with a focus on the world
Barak Obama -- Intelligent savior of the country
Joe Biden -- senior statesmen.

Then have the students research the education and work experience of these pols and have them develop their own opinions not parroting Stewart or Colbert (who claims to speak the truth as it is in his opinion).
Sorry about the soapbox spiel, I get tgat way

Anonymous said...

Mr. Cote failed to mention the media perception of John Edwards as bright and fresh. He had almost no experience when he was nominated in 2004.