The Rise of Global Idiocracies

Americans Were Asked Three Questions

In 2003, one year after the invasion, several researchers wanted to understand the bizarre beliefs Americans espoused about the war. The researchers asked Americans three basic questions, to which the answers were clearly “no” — Has the United States found clear evidence in Iraq that Saddam Hussein was working closely with the al-Qaeda terrorist organisation? Has the US found Iraqi weapons of mass destruction? And whether or not they agreed that world populations supported the war, opposed it or were evenly balanced. The team found that Americans, on average, were misinformed. A majority of Americans surveyed repeatedly in 2003 believed that Hussain was working with al-Qaeda. In fact, Hussain and al-Qaeda were sworn enemies.

The Source of News Matters

How did Americans come to be so ill-informed about a war of such enormous consequence? It’s reasonable to posit some role of the media they consumed. The team also asked respondents where they got most of their news. Of the 3,334 persons asked, 19 per cent primarily obtained their news from print media while 80 per cent cited non-print means. Respondents were then asked about the specific news network they primarily use to obtain “information.” Because consumers of public radio and public television were so few, they were combined into one category.

My Personal Experience

As a scholar, I am curious about the causal pathways that account for the failures of important media houses to inform their publics. Personally, I have had about 20 years of my own experiences that have helped shape my understanding of these failures. Here are a few insights from my own participation in news programs that span North America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

‘Editorial Positions’ Are usually Missionary

For many years, I had experienced the “editorial positions” of television networks — notably of the BBC and Al Jazeera — on drones. Neither channel would indulge any position, however grounded in data, which supported the drone program in Pakistan as I did. At one point, during an Al Jazeera programme, the co-host, Mehdi Hassan, actually said “forget about the data”. For some time, I was persona non grata at the network for repeatedly calling out Al Jazeera’s fictions about the programme.

The Philippa Thomas Fiasco

Of more concern is my recent interview with Philippa Thomas of the BBC. Ms. Thomas is a popular newsreader on the network and I had been interviewed by her before. She is one of countless many persons who are hired to read the teleprompter with enthusiasm while interviewing guests, while never cultivating any substantive expertise.

Britain’s Domestic Politics Tied With BBC?

I’ve been left pondering that interview and the comportment of Ms. Thomas. Was Ms. Thomas simply a rank simpleton or ignoramus? I must reject that explanation because the premises of her questions reflected a deep familiarity with Rawalpindi’s narrative. Also, she seemed astutely aware of the kinds of things that would irritate Pakistan’s Derp State. I also reject the conspiracy theories popular in India that the BBC is “anti-Hindu”. The BBC does spend a lot of time covering uncomfortable events in India, but too many Indians would rather blame the international coverage of atrocities than the perpetrators of such atrocities.

The Birth of Idiocracies

While it’s easy to be outraged that the BBC is happily carrying out Pakistan’s information offensive, we need to ask ourselves, is there any network that is any better across the board? As I reflect upon my own experiences as a public intellectual but also my experience as a scholar who has sought to understand how media informs the public, I have come to the conclusion that the greatest threat to democracies everywhere and a secure and peaceful world is, in fact, such media houses.

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