Why do we, the media, tolerate and encourage lying?

Years ago, I remember seeing the show Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction on Fox. I had already done some grad-school research on Rupert Murdoch and come away convinced that he wasn’t a political ideologue but rather a man who didn’t share most folks’ ethical concerns about how to make money. So at the time, I joked the show was Phase 1 of Murdoch’s strategy to run “news” and “entertainment” out of the same Fox division. (Yes, I anticipated FNC’s evolution. What do I win?)

Murdoch is indeed very good at this. His businesses could, as the cliche goes, sell ice to Eskimos. The Economist doesn’t specify FNC by name but remarks with wonder at the Fox-fed Tea Party:

It is a neat trick. Conservative elites pretend to be part of a marginalised cultural force while at the same time orchestrating an electoral bloodbath led by America’s least marginalised people. The fact that this is working so well tells us a lot about who the elites really are and where the power really lies.

Far away from the glamor and high pay of cable lies punditry is the indispensable Politifact. What’s most amazing about Politifact is that it’s virtually the only bulwark we have against the incredible distortions that pass for political advertising these days.

Consider this: We raise a huge stink when a wide receiver catches a touchdown pass and uses a prop in celebration. “Oh, it’s unsportsmanlike! It’s taunting! What horrible role models!” And yet we tolerate behavior several times worse from our politicians.

You’d think you could find some respite from these shenanigans if you watched, say, the History Channel. Apparently not. Today, I stumbled upon Ancient Aliens, which rounded up a gaggle of alleged experts to explain that the archaeologically significant site of Mohenjo-daro, Pakistan, had turned up evidence of an atomic blast taking place thousands of years ago, surely evidence of alien intervention.

In rebuttal, one guy got one sentence.

I dug up a more thorough rebuttal here. But what does it say when the History Channel is entertaining notions of easily refuted nonsense, and I have to find a Google Group to find the truth?

Hey, you’re an elitist! And stupid! And not dumb enough!

No, I’m not reviving Mostly Modern Media as a political ranting blog. It’ll still be mostly about modern media, which can include everything from newspapers to iTunes. (I am also going to make an effort to put more funny things on here. No point in keeping my wit confined to Facebook when I can inflict it on others as well.)

Over the weekend, The Washington Post ran a truly wretched Outlook piece by Charles Murray, who has resurfaced 16 years after causing an academic shitstorm with The Bell Curve. Murray basically claims there’s a “New Elite” that’s actually rather stupid and out of touch with mainstream America because we don’t watch NASCAR and MMA. (How about one out of two?)

The Economist‘s bloggers came up with two responses. Democracy in America runs one that’s a little unfocused but effectively skewers Murray for simultaneously sympathizing with Tea Partiers’ resentment of the “elites” while reinforcing the notion that the “elites” are, in fact, better:

“Attention all tea-partiers: Charles Murray thinks Barack Obama is smart, and you’re dumb.”

A more concise and more effective response comes from Lexington, which questions Murray’s right to tell us who’s a “mainstream American” and who isn’t.

America is surely too vast and complex for authenticity to be appropriated by any particular social group or pattern of behaviour.  Sarah Palin claims to represent “real” American values. But how many Americans have really skinned a moose (or whatever else she claims to do)? And, really, what does it matter?

That nails it.

I went to an elite school (my mom didn’t, and my dad went to a top-flight state school). I even got a master’s degree. Where I live, that makes me typical, not an exception. I don’t think any of my neighbors, classmates or colleagues need to hear Murray, Sarah Palin or anyone else telling us we’re not mainstream Americans. And I don’t think the media ought to be giving them such a megaphone to tell us.

But we “elites” tend to be either postmodernists who want to give everyone a voice or simple masochists.