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BROOKS & DUMB! In a clueless column, David Brooks rolls over and dies for The Dumb: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, APRIL 27, 2010

Palin perjury spectacular: In this morning’s editions, the New York Times and the Washington Post are both ignoring the story. Luckily, we had our most intrepid truth-teller teasing this rather important matter at the start of last evening’s broadcast:

OLBERMANN (4/26/10): Perjury? Palin testifies she never used her hacked e-mail account for business. But the e-mails from that account suggest quite the opposite. And does it matter at all in that giant money scam that is being the imaginary president of the right-wing America?

Say what? Palin may have committed perjury? Even the sleepiest progressive sat up when this tidbit was dangled. And sure enough! Just a bit later, KO teased it again!

OLBERMANN: Did the imaginary president of the right-wing America perjure herself at a trial of her e-mail hacker?

Like you, we postponed plans for sleep. Soon, the liberal world’s “black Jesus” teased it for the third time:

OLBERMANN: Sarah Palin and perjury—Dave Weigel joins us. You’re watching Countdown on MSNBC.

Of course we were watching Countdown! On what other cable “news” program could we get played for such fools?

Finally, the time for the Palin perjury report arrived, with Olbermann scheduling it as the evening’s third most important news story. After a meandering introduction, KO finally threw to Weigel. Did Palin have a felony count on her hands? Showing the skills which get you good jobs, Dave let a clown down slowly:

OLBERMANN: Let’s turn now to Washington Post political reporter David Weigel. David, good evening.

WEIGEL: Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN: So you’ve now done your own reporting on the testimony in this case by Palin and the possible perjury issue. What have you found?

WEIGEL: Well, you seem to be having a good night and I hate to wreck it for you—

OLBERMANN: Um-hmm.

WEIGEL: But it just—we need to see the transcript, but it doesn’t sound like she actually trapped herself in anything here. The defense attorney, Wade Davies, was prohibited from taking this much further than the questions about what—the e-mails that were sent, that have been asked about previously. She stuck to saying that it was political e-mails, e-mails about the governor’s mansion.

The e-mails that you were talking about didn’t really come up. So the people I talked to inside the courtroom say that, maybe she could have fudged the words a little bit less, but this doesn’t seem to be a problem for her.

She could have fudged the words a little bit less! Translation: Congratulations, jack-asses! You’ve just been liberally scammed!

Bowing to Olbermann’s half-hour con, Weigel let the great man down slowly. “You seem to be having a good night,” he wryly observed, “and I hate to wreck it for you.” But no, the whole thing was just a big scam, Weigel went on to say (we’re translating)—as KO had known all along.

KO is paid $5 million a year to keep rubes’ eyeballs on the screen, even on nights when the actual news may be just a bit technical. At moments like these, he’ll serve us a well-adorned platter of Palin, letting us see his contempt for our IQs, which he finds to be pleasingly low.

Special report: Brooks & Dumb!

PART 1—BROOKS AVERTS HIS GAZE (permalink): In the past several weeks, David Brooks has written some amazingly weak columns.

One such column appeared last Tuesday. It began with a fairly obvious thesis—a thesis Cass Sunstein apparently raised back in 2001. Could it be that the Internet lets people restrict themselves to a limited range of political views? Does the Net let people reinforce their own political biases?

Duh. By now, it seems fairly clear that the Internet—and talk radio; and cable “news” channels—can in fact serve this function. We can restrict ourselves to a diet of our own preferred views in a way which was vastly harder before. For what it’s worth, here’s the way Brooks sketched this fairly obvious problem:

BROOKS (4/20/10): In the mid-20th century, Americans got most of their news through a few big networks and mass-market magazines. People were forced to encounter political viewpoints different from their own. Moreover, the mass media gave Americans shared experiences. If you met strangers in a barbershop, you could be pretty sure you would have something in common to talk about from watching the same TV shows.

Sunstein wondered whether the Internet was undermining all this. The new media, he noted, allow you to personalize your newspapers so you only see the stories that already interest you. You can visit only those Web sites that confirm your prejudices. Instead of a public square, we could end up with a collection of information cocoons.

Sunstein was particularly concerned about this because he has done very important work over the years about our cognitive biases. We like hearing evidence that confirms our suppositions. We filter out evidence that challenges them.

Duh. Obviously, in the current media world, it’s possible to restrict ourselves to media which “confirm our suppositions.” It’s possible to “filter out evidence that challenges” our beliefs. As he continued, Brooks noted that Sunstein’s gloomy hypothesis “certainly matched my own experience. Every day I seem to meet people who live in partisan ghettoes, ignorant about the other side.”

Duh. And yet, huzzah! An exciting new study has now cast doubt on this gloomy hypothesis! According to Brooks, two researchers at the University of Chicago have “measured ideological segregation on the Internet.” Surprise! Conservatives don’t spend all their time at conservative sites, this research has found. “People who spend a lot of time on Glenn Beck's Web site are more likely to visit The New York Times's Web site than average Internet users,” Brooks says. And not only that! “People who spend time on the most liberal sites are more likely to go to foxnews.com than average Internet users.” Things get even better as Brooks blathers further. “Even white supremacists and neo-Nazis travel far and wide across the Web,” David Brooks hopefully notes.

We’ll assume that these researchers have done good technical work. That said, their results are quite underwhelming, when applied as Brooks applies them here. It’s hardly surprising if Glenn Beck readers visit the Times more often than other Net-users; most other users aren’t on the Net for politics or news. And sure enough! In one short passage in his penultimate paragraph, Brooks seems to show that he understands the weakness of his happy-talk thesis:

BROOKS: This study suggests that Internet users are a bunch of ideological Jack Kerouacs. They're not burrowing down into comforting nests. They're cruising far and wide looking for adventure, information, combat and arousal. This does not mean they are not polarized. Looking at a site says nothing about how you process it or the character of attention you bring to it. It could be people spend a lot of time at their home sites and then go off on forays looking for things to hate. But it probably does mean they are not insecure and they are not sheltered.

Duh. Whether we’re talking about the Internet or cable “news” channels, when we scan the work of The Other Tribe, we often do so because it hurts so good—because we love to hate their (racist/elitist) work.

This piece by Brooks is astoundingly clueless, but it continues a long tradition—a tradition established by good-guy establishment pundits, people like Brooks and E. J. Dionne. Over the past twenty years, your culture has been driven into the sea, made increasingly dumb and dumber by some of the forces Brooks is discussing. But so what? People like Brooks and Dionne keep their lives simple by failing to see how this works.

Your nation is currently dying from Dumb; unless we find ways to reverse current trends, The Dumb will drive your world into the sea. That said, it’s intriguing to see the way Brooks started this happy-talk clatter with that reference to Cass Sunstein’s work. Can Brooks be so clueless that he doesn’t know how Sunstein himself has been slimed this past year? Is Brooks really ignorant about the way The Dumb has grabbed Sunstein himself?

“Every day I seem to meet people who live in partisan ghettoes, ignorant about the other side,” Brooks sadly wrote in this piece. Alas! If it’s ignorance that this pundit abhors, perhaps he should look in a mirror! Or is this “ignorance” willful ignorance, the willful ignorance of the pampered—of the well-mannered fellows, like Brooks and Dionne, who have agreed, from their leafy preserves, to avert their gaze from their culture’s decline as they help usher in The Dumb?

TOMORROW—PART 2: Sunstein, slimed by The Dumb

THURSDAY: Let this Cupp pass (just click here)