One of the most disturbing pieces of news I’ve read in a long time came from a poll about trust in news organizations. As Andy Barr, of Politico, reported on January 27, Fox is now the most trusted TV news network in the nation. That’s right, in a nationwide survey of 1,151 registered voters conducted by Public Policy Polling, the home of Hannity and O’Reilly and Glenn Beck ranked HIGHEST in TRUST, at 49%, of any news network. It beat out CNN, trusted by only 39%, and the three “major” networks, ABC, NBC and CBS, none of whom even reached the high thirties (NBC led at 35%. Apparently, PBS wasn’t even included.)
For anyone who values accuracy, for anyone who values actual objective reporting rather than slash-and-burn “opinion” growled by conservative curs like the three mentioned above, the results of this poll are more than befuddling; they are alarming in the extreme. For what this confirms is what many of us have suspected for many years: Americans have now lost all connection with reality (the contempt of the Bush Administration for “reality-based” opinion seems prescient here), and prefer to be roused out of their shopping stupor by rabid demagogues. Americans do not have the patience to read; they do not want to be bothered with “facts.” They want someone to tell them what to think and how to think and to entertain them with simplistic savagery and rant that can penetrate their beaten-down skulls. They want quick solutions to complex problems that any four-year-old can understand. They want to know who the bad guys are and who the good guys are, and a program for rounding up and eliminating the bad—starting with the eggheads in government who make them feel stupid.
So here’s the situation. We now have many of the ingredients in place for an eruption of mob agitation and anger similar to the ones that erupted in Europe in the 1930s. We have an economic collapse. We have urban bankers receiving huge bailouts from a government that seems to be in their pockets, while average people get stuck with the bill—those who still have jobs and can pay the bill, that is. We have a nation reeling from the offshoring of the very economic engine—manufacturing—that brought it to the top of the global economy. We have corporations handed a Supreme Court decision that promises them even more power to buy politicians and collude in looting the national treasury than they already have. We have states going broke, major corporations going on the dole, the federal government going ever deeper into debt, and the stage set for a collapse of the dollar that could make savings and earnings worthless. And we have half the world pissed off at the USA for its years of high-handed domination of the global economy and the corresponding ruin and/or enslavement of countless local economies—not to mention its overwhelming military power and political meddling in nations all over the globe. And what Fox-devoted Americans want is a simple and easy solution to these problems, something that will restore quickly, easily, directly the “greatest nation ever” to its rightful place as NUMBER ONE.
In short, the ingredients of scalding discontent are in place (and more can be added at a moment’s notice via flood, storm, earthquake, or even a nice little military incident ginned up to get the blood boiling) and require only a little spark, a nice scapegoat towards which the good citizens of the nation can direct their wrath. These are the things that Fox does so well. Its pundits can rail about foreigners, immigrants, ragheads and assorted third-worlders without even a script. Its slanted news coverage can highlight the most wacky of paranoid fantasies—they’re arming, they’re developing nukes, they’re all on welfare, they’re sneaking onto our airplanes, into our subways, our ports, our ships, our nuclear plants—and make them reverberate throughout the land with the utter simple-mindedness and ferocity that its audience requires.
You get the picture.
Fortunately, we still lack the demagogue who can bring all this together. We still have a few reasonable voices counseling caution (and an unknown number who don’t watch networks at all). We still have no logical and helpless-enough target against which to direct the collective anger. But these things were lacking in Nazi Germany before 1930 as well. Then along came a house painter with a knack for boiling brain cells with his very voice. And the convulsion started.
Will it start here? Perhaps it already has. Just think of it: 49% of those polled said they actually trusted the Fox News Network. Fox more than any other. Fox über alles.
Can the bonfires be far behind?