If ignorance is truly bliss, then many American news-media outlets are helping to ensure we have one big, happy country.
The long-running joke has been that Fox News is a dumbed-down source of information, yet many other outlets have been consistently following suit.
The Fox joke, by the way, has a basis in reality: A PublicMind Poll from Fairleigh Dickinson University found that folks who watch Fox are more ignorant than those who don't watch any news at all.
That's pretty scary. What's also scary is that Fox is the most-watched cable-news network.
If you really want to be terrified, however, take a gander at the results of all this dumbing-down. A Gallup Poll noted that nearly 20 percent of Americans believe the sun revolves around the Earth. A Zogby Poll found that 75 percent of Americans could name the Three Stooges, while only 40 percent can name the three branches of government.
Just as reality TV is not fully to blame for turning American intelligence into an oxymoron, we cannot put the full onus on the shoulders of the media. But they can take a major chunk.
With daily newspapers a dying breed, the Internet and TV have become the main sources of information. Sixty-one percent of respondents said they used the Internet as a source of news, and 78 percent tuned in to the idiot box, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life project.
On any given day, headlines from online sources include things like "Things to Buy After the Holidays," "See What's in Store for Capricorns This Month," and "What You Missed on 'Dancing With the Stars.'"
Links to mindless videos are also hot, with standard fare including 5-year-olds rapping, an elephant crapping, and cats playing Mozart on piano.
Television "news" shows feature two anchors telling really bad jokes to each other or, in at least one instance, actually sitting there and reading a newspaper aloud. When guests come around, they are likely to be reality-TV stars or celebrities who throw a TV set through the studio window if they don't like the questions.
Hard-hitting interviews in general are a thing of the past, as shows are too fearful of offending their guests. If interviewers asked tough questions, no one would want to appear on their shows. Besides, if they didn't have a fluffy interview lined up, they might have to do something drastic—like go out and find some news.
For the 50 percent of Americans who still get some news from that dinosaur called a newspaper, the situation isn't much better. Tucson is a prime example, with only one daily paper serving a metro-area population of 1 million. Daily local-news pickings are slim, and greatly supplemented by wire-service stories. While this is not necessarily a dumbing-down, it is a factor forcing people to seek information elsewhere.
When Americans do turn elsewhere, there's not much respite from the dumbing-down. Even big "news" magazines such as Time have fallen into the dumbing-down trap. Consider the Dec. 5 issue.
The cover of the edition released in Europe, Asia and the South Pacific featured an Egyptian man wearing a gas mask under the headline "Revolution Redux." The U.S. edition featured the headline "Why Anxiety Is Good for You," along with a cute cartoon.
Lisa Bloom, author of Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World, sums it up nicely in a Forbes article: The media "delivers crap to us; the crap mesmerizes us (i.e., it generates high ratings); the media gives us more, and—oops—we've all become dazzled and distracted and unfocused."
Madison Ruppert, editor of the alternative-news site End the Lie (endthelie.com), takes it one step further. "The events of the world are shaped and spun in the American mainstream media to keep the people of the United States from becoming agitated or asking too many questions."
Both theories hold water, as does the thought that many outlets have become scared stiff of doing anything politically incorrect, or that goes against the grain.
Alternative news sources have become one of the few places left to find anything near "All the news that's fit to print," rather than "only news that's meant to amuse."