Wednesday, December 07, 2011







Encouraging Ignorance


Why is it such a successful formula? A little while ago Rush Limbaugh pretended to review President Obama's speech (transcript, here) yesterday in Osawatomie, Kansas (a great name, thanks to the Osage and the Pottawatomie tribes). He imagined

Barack Obama yesterday said that the free market is "a license to steal." A license to steal! A license to steal. This from the guy who has stolen as much wealth from the private sector as he can under the guise of "stimulus spending." No, not personally. I don't mean he's enriched himself. I mean he's enriched his ideology, the Democrat Party.

Yes, he imagined Barack Obama said that the free market is "a license to steal." Rather, President Obama had said

But Roosevelt also knew that the free market has never been a free license to take whatever you can from whomever you can. (Applause.) He understood the free market only works when there are rules of the road that ensure competition is fair and open and honest. And so he busted up monopolies, forcing those companies to compete for consumers with better services and better prices. And today, they still must. He fought to make sure businesses couldn't profit by exploiting children or selling food or medicine that wasn't safe. And today, they still can't.

Barack Obama did not say something different than what Rush Limbaugh claimed the President said. He said the opposite: the free market has never been a free license. Obama said the free market works best when there is open competition, creating "better services and better prices." Further, he argued, profits are made by not "exploiting children or selling food or medicine that wasn't safe"- by not being "a license to steal." He did not even say that the free market should not be a license to steal; he said it is not.

Later in the speech, the Socialist-in-chief added "Yes, business, and not government, will always be the primary generator of good jobs with incomes that lift people into the middle class and keep them there."

But why do Limbaugh's listeners, most of whom are likely Republicans and the vast majority (and beyond) of whom are conservatives, appear to believe these things Rush puts into the mouths of leading Democrats.

Presumably, a disproportionate number of Limbaugh listeners are Fox News watchers who, it appears know less than people who watch no news. The Huffington Post last month reported on a survey from Fairleigh Dickinson University:

The poll surveyed New Jersey residents about the uprisings in Egypt and the Middle East, and where they get their news sources. The study, which controlled for demographic factors like education and partisanship, found that "people who watch Fox News are 18-points less likely to know that Egyptians overthrew their government" and "6-points less likely to know that Syrians have not yet overthrown their government" compared to those who watch no news.

Overall, 53% of all respondents knew that Egyptians successfully overthrew Hosni Mubarak and 48% knew that Syrians have yet to overthrow their government.

In 2010, a survey conducted by World Public Opinion, a project managed by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, had found "Those who watched Fox News almost daily were significantly more likely than those who never watched it" to believe things that were just not true. The previous year, a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll had demonstrated that Fox News viewers were far less informed about health care legislation than were viewers of CNN or MSNBC.

It's not the fault of viewers, of course, any more than it's the fault of Limbaugh's listeners that he lies to them. Fox News wasn't established to keep its audience informed, but rather as ignorant as possible and angry at Democrats, two objectives fully consistent with each other. Similarly, Limbaugh is not intent on educating his audience, at which point much of it would question his diatribes in favor of the more narcissistic elements of the free market system, as well as his frequent forays into racial bigotry. It's a formula that has made Rush Limbaugh extraordinarily wealthy, and he sees little need to mess with success.



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