January 28th, 2011 10:41 EST
We Need to Stop Listening to Politicians and Start Following The Money Trail
One sure sign that television news is ex officio state theater is its disrespect for the uses of ignorance.
All good reporters know or learn sooner or later that their ignorance, far from being a shameful handicap, is in fact a great strength. But television news is too invested in looking good and acting smart to do its job. Television is like that ubiquitous clerk we`ve all encountered who is all too pleased to tell us he doesn`t have what we`re looking for. Remember him? Remember that smirk?
If television executives gave a damn about an informed public they would insist that their reporters adopt this mantra:
I don`t understand what you`re talking about, please explain, and please understand that if I don`t understand the public won`t either.
Confused? What is a derivative? What is a value added tax? How much of the national budget goes to foreign aid? What is the difference between a tax assessment and a tax valuation? Do we really have the best health care system in the world, as some politicians claim? Why are our property taxes so high? Why is the talk about too much government limited to Washington and state capitals when we know perfectly well we have regional and local overlap and duplication?
The list of developments and processes that go unexplained in American life is long and dangerous. A major reason is that reporters parrot what so-called experts tell them, acting as if they understand what they barely understand. This, not elegant writing, is what fundamentally distinguishes The New York Times from its peers and from television news. The Times insists that its writers understand before they attempt to convey. The Times revels in not knowing and finding out. Television revels in knowing and not finding out. In this sense, television closely resembles our educational system, which may explain a lot.
And about those experts, most of them work for think tanks with an agenda, a bias, but our society pretends that we have a press capable of making these distinctions when in fact it is merely parroting what these prejudiced experts say and presenting it with a contrary view. That`s the theater of journalism, not journalism. It`s stagecraft.
Television culture is inherently smart-alecky and therefore bound to gloss over a great deal of useful ignorance. Once a reporter says, I don`t get it, he or she actually is on the trail of the real story, not a concoction of utterance and cover-up. The beginning of the real story is a proper assessment of just how unenlightened you are.
Our schools should be instilling in young people how useful ignorance is, how they can acquire great wealth by starting out from ignorance instead of pretending they know more than they do. Ignorance is a gift, but one has to accept it. Pretending that one is informed, as television newscasters and anchors do, is like trying to accept a gift with a clenched fist.
Television wants to come across as enlightenment personified, a disservice to everyone. It`s the perfect medium for posturing politicians because, like them, it is invested in appearances rather than substance. Together they con us day after day. Looking good is being smart, they tell us. Yes, it sure helps to look good, but if it were a guarantee of being smart we wouldn`t be in the political and economic messes we`re in, would we? We have more than our share of handsome boobs and attractive ditzes in politics.
We can`t solve any of our problems as long as we indulge the illusion that we know the answers. This is why our politics is so disquieting. It`s not the politics of inquiry but of polemic. But only inquiry will dig us out, and the one thing in which television news is invested is not digging out anything. Its presumption is that news is a ready-made throwaway product. As a result, we get the appearance of news, news theater. As far as television news is concerned the weather is a disposal product.
Our educational system and our approaches to improving it seem to reflect this same dilemma. We emphasize how valuable what we learn is when we should be emphasizing that school is about learning how to learn. School ought to imbue us with awe at all we don`t know. Otherwise we seek to graduate smart asses instead of people committed to lifelong learning. If we knew as much as we pretend to know, as much as our politicians and media people claim to know, the world would be intolerably boring. What is truly exciting is all we have yet to learn "and that is what is wrong with our public life. We`re too damned full of ourselves, which sadly translates to being full of it.
Djelloul Marbrook is a retired newspaperman. His second book of poems, Brushstrokes and Glances, will be published by Deerbrook Editions on December 20, 2010. His first book of poems, Far From Algiers, won the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize from Kent State University in 2007 and was published in 2008. It won the International Book Award in 2010. His novella, Artemisia`s Wolf, will be published by Prakash Books of India in December. His novella, Saraceno, was recently published as an e-book. His story, Artists Hill, adapted from the second novel of an unpublished trilogy, won the Literal LattÃ© first prize in fiction in 2008. The pioneering e-book publisher, Online Originals (UK), published his novella, Alice MIller`s Room, in 1999.
Del`s book, Far From Algiers: http://upress.kent.edu/books/Marbrook_D.htm
New review of Far from Algiers: http://www.rattle.com/blog/2009/05/far-from-algiers-by-djelloul-marbrook/
Artists Hill, Literal LattÃ©`s fiction first prize: http://www.literal-latte.com/author/djelloulmarbrook/
His blog: http://www.djelloulmarbrook.com
His mother`s art: http://www.juanitaguccione.com
His aunt`s art: http://www.irenericepereira.com