In Agatha Christie's "Ten Little Indians," a semi-drunken
gentleman proposes a toast. "Here's to the one universal virtue," he schleps, "nastiness."
Because there are so many more ponds in which to propagate, the talent of the media mosquitos has been seriously watered down. Thus the ever-increasing resort to hatred rather than humor. Don't have the facts? Invent some and disclaim it as all in fun if you get caught. Lush Rambo has gotten fat off that.
Every so often, usually in the context of how to improve education, you see the term "critical thinking." In an ever-faster, uptight world, a student with poor critical thinking skills proceeds at a handicap.
The worst case scenario now even has its own TV show, America's Dumbest Criminals. I submit that the dumbest of the dumb commit crimes guaranteed to get them caught due to an education system not conducive to critical thinking. Had they been taught to think things through, they wouldn't do dumb deeds in the first place.
I don't blame teachers or students for this, I blame political pressure. We are still debating evolution vs. biblical creation almost 75 years after the Scopes monkey trial in Tennessee.
There are so many things teachers can't teach, so much dumbing down of textbooks, that the ability to reason and question has been blunted. A product of this system thus robs a 7-11, then calls a cab to drive him home.
Combine ignorance with lack of economic opportunity and you have the country's dumbest criminal, Timothy McVeigh. Had he not been mustered out of the army he loved, or had he been able to find a good-paying job, he might not have ventured into the dark world of conspiracy theory and freelance bomb-making.
Despair is the devil's doorway which ignorance unlocks.
The young, dumb and disappointed descend to dastardly deeds. Those who know how to manipulate that disaffection do great damage. Several recent incidents point out the problem.
A talk show host at the Reno hate radio station last week took an ill-researched potshot at my Daily Sparks Tribune colleague in columny, Susan Severt. She dared to criticize this guy for trashing her neighborhood, Sun Valley (a blue-collar community of 14,000 with a mix of factory-built and site-constructed homes just north of Sparks).
The new shock jock in town apparently knows that his idol, Lush Rambo, built his national fame in part by demeaning Reno homeless people in 1988. So he perpetrated instant replay.
He simply trashed Ms. Severt as a "left-wing wacko liberal," the modern right-wing replacement for "pinko-commie-traitor." He obviously hasn't read her increasingly good work or much of the Tribune at all.
I monitor every newspaper in Nevada. We have the most diverse group of commentators in the state. The editorial page to which I've contributed for 10 years offers opinions from left to rifle to righteous of right.
A couple of months back, Assemblyman Peter Ernaut (R-Reno), called the Tribune to read the riot act about my continuing presence. He tried to get me axed because I'm now managing Sen. Joe Neal's (D-North Las Vegas) campaign against his guy, Republican Kenny Guinn. He had a point which might have won the day at just about any other paper without such balance.
Both Mr. Ernaut and the talk jock bank on bluster and intimidation, lambastation in place of conversation.
They have seen it work too often. A couple of weeks ago, Sen. Richard Jennings Bryan (D-Nev.) blasted Sen. Neal, stating "I cannot support any candidate who favors nuclear waste in our state."
That assertion was printed as fact by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the largest newspaper in the state, and distributed far and wide. Too bad it's not true. Just as the pseudo-Stern mischaracterized what Susan Severt never said, Sen. Bryan put words into Sen. Neal's mouth and got away with it.
The critical thinking necessary to formulate and ask followup questions proved absent among many mainstream media. The Tribune demonstrated the integrity to print the Associated Press clarification the next day. The Carson City Nevada Appeal did so on its own. Some others have not, so the disinformation proliferates.
Last week, a more modern propaganda technique also reared its ugly head. A professional "push poll" was conducted statewide. These things spread voter disinformation in the guise of leading questions. If you were queried about your knowledge of the awesome generosity of the gambling industry toward Nevada and its great unwashed, you were pushed toward a certain point of view. (Call or write if you were a victim. I'm collecting push-poll questions for future reference.)
As animosity replaces civility, sophistry supplants accuracy, aggressiveness crowds out progressiveness. Hard working Sun Valley people get dissed on hate radio with Susan Severt unfairly labeled and ridiculed as somehow opposing freedom of speech and the first amendment.
Patriotism remains the last refuge of scoundrels. In a rebuttal printed in the Tribune, the shock jock further accused Ms. Severt of libeling him. Based on his statement, he apparently wouldn't know a libel suit from a leisure suit.
The hate radio trash talker concluded his diatribe with "lighten up babe, it's only a joke."
No. It's not.
Untruth hurts and sometimes explodes.
Be well. Raise hell.
Andrew Barbano is a member of CWA Local 9413. He is a Reno-based syndicated columnist, a 29-year Nevadan, editor of U-News and campaign manager for Democratic candidate for Governor, State Senator Joe Neal.