But how often are the justices discussed on news programs, where ostensibly, Americans receive their civic education? A quick Nexis search for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, to take one example, finds her mentioned less than once a month each on ABC, CBS and NBC morning and evening newscasts in 2010: 10 on ABC, eight on NBC, six on CBS. That's just mentions, not stories.
Or take "communism." The word was mentioned just 19 times on the Big Three morning and evening newscasts in 2010 (eight on ABC, seven on CBS, four on NBC). That's despite Communist parties still ruling China, North Korea and Cuba, among others.
Perhaps the news media think they don't have time or space to waste on high-school basics about civics. Newsweek turns to liberal experts to find agreeable culprits for civic ignorance, such as "our reliance on market-driven programming rather than public broadcasting," which would "foster greater knowledge" than commercial news.
But guess what? Playing our Nexis game, Ginsburg was only mentioned six times and the word communism was only mentioned seven times on "PBS NewsHour" in all of 2010. Someone wouldn't necessarily get a better test score from Jim Lehrer than from Katie Couric.
The liberals at Newsweek also blamed America's decentralized or federalist system of government. We have civic ignorance, they report, since unlike Europeans and their majority-rule parliamentary systems, Americans have to contend with voting for "subnational" officials. Likewise, American schools are "decentralized" and managed by states, without a central national curriculum.
How ironic that Newsweek would find Americans ignorant for not knowing the authors of the Federalist Papers even as they blame federalism for our civic stupidity.
Naturally, the magazine also blamed America for having "one of the highest levels of income inequality in the developed world, with the top 400 households raking in more money than the bottom 60 percent combined." Those darn successful people. So if we more aggressively redistributed wealth, Newsweek suggests, more people would know who the vice president is.
There are more direct culprits that could correct this ignorance: teachers, parents and, yes, journalists, for not emphasizing this "rote knowledge" of the facts around which we organize our government and remember our history.
By the way, Newsweek only mentioned Ginsburg three times in 2010.