NPR v. Fox News: Who Is the Smartest of Them All?
It's happened to every talk radio listener. You're running errands on Saturday morning. Forgot to bring the iPod with the Rush 24/7 podcasts. One AM station has an infomercial about investing in gold coins, the other a rerun of the Laura Ingraham show you heard yesterday. You hesitate, but you decide to push the FM button. But...the radio is still tuned to last night's blues show on NPR, and suddenly you are exposed to "Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me," the radio game show where well-informed liberal robots regurgitate the previous week's New York Times headlines by responding to multiple-choice questions, to the accompaniment of equally sophisticated audience members and hosts chuckling about how well-informed everyone in their liberal bubble is. Or as NPR phrases it: WWDTM, the "wacky and whip-smart approach to the week's news and newsmakers, is the oddly informative news quiz from NPR." In other words, it is a truly fingernails-on-a-chalkboard, cringe-inducing, sad little liberal consensus-building ritual that makes you reach frantically for the radio dial before the chortle-fest perforates your eardrums and causes your brain to explode. Aah, Kenny G. on Soft Jazz 105.8 -- anything -- relief!
I was thinking about WWDTM when I read about the recent nationwide survey conducted by Fairleigh Dickinson University as a follow-up to their similar regional poll done last November, which was reported with headlines like this one at DailyKos: "Watching Fox Makes You Dumber." The geniuses writing such headlines list nine questions, described as four dealing with international issues, four domestic. (The test did not have a math section.) Both surveys show that Fox viewers got fewer correct answers than people who didn't watch any news at all, while NPR scored highest of any media network.
The survey questions were exactly the kind that gets the "Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me" audience jumping up and down like an arm-waving fourth-grade teacher's pet:
1. To the best of your knowledge, have the opposition groups protesting in Egypt been successful in removing Hosni Mubarak?
2. How about the opposition groups in Syria? Have they been successful in removing Bashar al-Assad?
3. Some countries in Europe are deeply in debt, and have had to be bailed out by other countries. To the best of your knowledge, which country has had to spend the most money to bail out European countries?
4. There have been increasing talks about economic sanctions against Iran. What are these sanctions supposed to do?
5. Which party has the most seats in the House of Representatives right now?
6. In December, House Republicans agreed to a short-term extension of a payroll tax cut, but only if President Obama agreed to do what?
7. It took a long time to get the final results of the Iowa caucuses for Republican candidates. In the end, who was declared the winner?
8. How about the New Hampshire Primary? Which Republican won that race?
9. According to official figures, about what percentage of Americans are currently unemployed?
As a committed news junkie, I was disappointed that I didn't score nine out of eight; question six stumped me. With all the White House tergiversations, beer summits, debt limit deals, and smackdowns of Eric Cantor and John Boehner, I couldn't remember which Republican proposal Obama refused to consider. Even Glenn Beck got this one wrong, agreeing with the incorrect answer of a caller. "Approve the Keystone Pipeline" was the correct answer, which is a strange news item to select, given that Obama still hasn't approved it.
It's perhaps not surprising that NPR's audience score higher when tested on their mastery of the weekly news cycle. For one, 80% of NPR listeners have a college degree, and about 50% hold graduate degrees. For three, even if they don't listen to "Wait, Wait..Don't Tell Me," liberals think it's a sign of intelligence to drop the name of the Greek finance minister in cocktail conversation. Herman Cain tapped into something truthful when he asked how being able to recite the name of the "president of Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan" would create jobs for Americans. John Derbyshire likewise had a running gag on the sorely missed Radio Derb along the lines of: "And now for the news from Syria. Something happened in Syria. Turning to other news..." A typical Derb line: "The country in question is Mali, a sand-trap in between Niger, Mauritania, and Algeria. If you still can't place it, don't bother looking it up: you will never need to know anything about Mali. Trust me on that."
One the other hand, Cain and Derbyshire come dangerously close to celebrating ignorance. We ought to make our kids memorize dates and the names of kings and presidents. We ought to teach our children more of the heritage of this exceptional country so they can defend it when it's under attack. American popular culture, combined with an incompetent liberal education establishment, has bred a distressing amount of stupidity and superficiality. I sympathize with Sean Hannity when his Man on the Street interviews uncover the tragic illiteracy of American citizens about their history and political system. I shudder when students at Olympia High School (Washington) were asked to name the vice president of the United States, and one philosopher-king answered, "I don't know, somebody -- bin Laden." (On the positive side, it would be less damaging to the student's self-esteem to point out that his answer is essentially correct, since it contains all five letters of the correct answer, "Biden." A-minus. A more strict -- i.e., Fascist -- teacher might award five out of eight possible points.)
So I don't excuse Fox viewers who get only one right answer when asked four of the above questions. The problem is that the Fairleigh Dickinson survey confuses knowledge about news trivia with wisdom. The medical engineer who is consumed by his design for a new brain stent and might listen to Fox News on his commute...the truck driver who calls into Rush Limbaugh about the meaning of limited government...the farmer harvesting a thousand acres of wheat planning how to invest in a more efficient irrigation system tuned into Mark Levin in his harvester cab... These people are hardly stupid on account of the fact that they don't listen to the news like it's a college lecture they will be quizzed on later. Most Americans are busy raising children and contributing to our national wealth and intellectual capital. Most Americans possess a wisdom verbalized at Tea Party rallies about the greatness of their country. Most Americans understand the self-evident truths enumerated in the Declaration of Independence.
It's ironic that the progressives in education are fond of talking about how understanding the big picture and the "process" of reaching a solution is more important the simply parroting the "right answer." I've been to more than one parents' council meeting on the theory of multiple intelligences. This seems to be forgotten when being "well-informed" is equated with intelligence. Being able to identify the president of Uzbekistan but voting for something as nebulous as "Hope and Change" is not a sign of wisdom.