Media Ignorance

People in the major news media have come in for considerable and sometimes bitter criticism. They’ve been charged with anti-Americanism, leftism, bias and just plain lying, as in the cases of former New York Times reporter Jayson Blair, The Associated Press’ Washington reporter Christopher Newton and The New Republic’s associate editor Stephen Glass. My assessment is much kinder. Yes, a few are scoundrels with devious hidden agendas, but for the most part they’re nice people with little understanding. Brit Hume, Fox News anchorman — a notable exception — delivered a speech at Hillsdale College last April highlighting grossly erroneous predictions by some of his colleagues. In the days before the Iraq War, NBC’s Chris Matthews predicted, “(It) will join the Bay of Pigs, Vietnam, Desert One, Beirut and Somalia in the history of military catastrophes.” NBC military analyst Gen. Barry McCaffrey warned that if there were to be a battle for Baghdad, the United States could take “a couple to three thousand casualties.” In the war’s early stages, Merissa Marr of Reuters said: “As the dream of a quick clean war and cheering Iraqis evaporated last week, America and its allies have been furiously tweaking their media strategy. But how can they hope to gain the upper hand?” The history of events has proven these know-it-alls dead wrong. Why aren’t these people ashamed to show their faces? But more importantly, why do we even listen to them? Maybe we aren’t. That might explain why alternative news sources such as Fox News, Drudge Report and talk radio are capturing larger and larger audiences. On NBC’s June 15 edition of “Meet the Press,” Tim Russert interviewed retired Gen. Wesley Clark, who might be a presidential candidate in 2004. Clark criticized President Bush’s tax cuts. That’s OK, but Clark demonstrated gross ignorance when he said, “I thought this country was founded on a principle of progressive taxation. … In other words, it’s not only that the more you make, the more you give.” Tim Russert, just as ignorant, passed over the statement. The fact of the matter is that the Framers of our Constitution so feared the imposition of direct taxes, such as an income tax, that Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution says, “No Capitation, or other direct, Tax shall be laid, unless in Proportion to the Census or Enumeration herein before directed to be taken.” It was not until the Abraham Lincoln administration that an income tax was imposed on Americans. Its stated purpose was to finance the war, but it took until 1872 for it to be repealed. During the Grover Cleveland administration, Congress enacted the Income Tax Act of 1894. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional in 1895. It took the Sixteenth Amendment (1913) to make permanent what the Framers feared — today’s income tax. When we had warm winters and oppressively hot and dry summers, one could hardly turn on the television without hearing some politician or reporter whining about global warming and our need to sign the Kyoto agreement. Winter 2002-2003 saw extreme cold conditions. In the Midwest, the daily temperature was 4 degrees Fahrenheit cooler relative to the 10-year average, the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic roughly 3 degrees cooler. I wonder why reporters aren’t tracking down Bill Clinton, Al Gore and the environmental wacko brigade to query them about global warming this winter and spring. Maybe they’re appearing on Western television news, since the Pacific Northwest average winter temperatures have been the second-warmest in the last 30 years in the region. Many media people have been journalism and/or communication majors. Most of these programs have little analytical rigor. Along with departments of education, they are a dumping ground for the most ill-prepared students. That might explain a lot.