Saturday night the wife and I sprang for the $4.95 to watch the live internet streaming debate between Bill O’Reilly and Jon Stewart. (Yes, we are party animals.) One of the questions was: “What do you think is the most fundamental problem with the public political discourse?” O’Reilly’s answer: “Capitalism.”
It’s a good thing I was drinking because I might’ve collapsed in surprise at being in total agreement with ‘The Mayor Of Bullshit Mountain’. O’Reilly explained how lucrative it is to be a professional hater – an assassin – as he called it. Now granted this is a bit like Ronald McDonald pinpointing French fries as the culprit behind America’s obesity problem, but he has a point. The highest paid media personalities are the ones most adept at working their audience into a blind rage every evening.
Bill O’ even suggested that a lot of times these haters don’t even believe the stuff they are saying, they’re just playing to their crowd. I’ve said as much before myself. The problem is that their allegedly massive audiences actually do believe what they are saying. And these are the people voting in primaries and driving the discourse.
Although I basically agree with Bill here, I think he’s only partly correct. Capitalism, or the fact that the haters command these huge followings, is more of a symptom than the root cause. I blame the people who dial in to these pontificating buffoons more than the pontificating buffoons themselves. Taken one step further, I blame an educational and cultural system that produces such a large number of people who are only interested in tuning in to media that reinforces their pre-existing beliefs and caters to their prejudices and biases.
The haters are just offering what the market demands. There is so much anger and frustration out there. The haters tap in to that and channel it in ways that are appealing to their listeners/viewers. It’s really mental laziness and lack of intellectual curiosity that make the success of the haters possible.
Hard news doesn’t sell and thinking for one’s self takes some effort which is why both are notably absent from the national public dialogue. The cable and radio haters don’t offer much in the way of actual news and they do your thinking for you. In a complex and diverse world with complex and diverse problems they offer simple explanations and even simpler solutions. Add in their masterful ability to play to the innate human need to feel victimized and you have a winning formula.
So yes, O’Reilly is right. Capitalism is dragging down the public discourse. But capitalism comes down to supply and demand and it’s obvious there is huge demand for dumbed-down, vitriolic, one-sided ‘info-tainment’. I hate to say it but my conclusion would be that the public discourse has degraded because the public itself has.