You may recall that a mere 72 hours after Saddam was captured alive, the president of the United States gave an exclusive interview to Diane Sawyer. Big news, big guest.
"Big deal" quoth much of America.
Paris Hilton was on another channel at the time. Hilton, while lacking the intellectual candlepower to toast bread, has certain other assets - she's rich; she's good-looking; she has a certain Internet-porn come-hither look around the eyes (and around everything else).
The George Bush interview was watched by 11 million people, mostly older. The Paris Hilton reality show, "The Simple Life," was watched by 11.8 million viewers, mostly younger. Perhaps more astonishing, "The Simple Life's" ratings were fairly typical for such drek. The Diane Sawyer interview with President Bush received the highest ratings of any presidential interview all year, including Tom Brokaw's plum interview after the end of the Iraq war.
Now you might think this might be a good reason for Howard Dean to pick Paris Hilton as his running, uh, mate. But that's not my point.
I bring it up for another reason: Americans have a tendency to think the problem with politics lies with their candidates and not themselves. The truth is Americans deserve the blame for the state of our politics and the state of our media. I know it's not savvy to criticize the customers, but perhaps especially at Christmastime, we should still have a few scrooges left.
First of all, if you only get your news from television, I can speak freely because that means you're probably not reading this. Second, you're an idiot.
OK, maybe not technically an idiot in the sense that you're only qualified to be an assistant spellchecker in an M&M factory. But, to the extent you take being an informed citizen seriously, you get a failing grade. Whether you are liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, if your only news source is the boob tube you are simply underinformed, though not necessarily misinformed.
Unfortunately, most Americans are underinformed. If current trends continue, only 1 in 4 households will buy newspapers by 2007, according to Peter Francese, the founder of American Demographics magazine. This is a trend with roots that predate the rise of the Internet, and, I'm afraid to say, the Internet will not solve the problem. If huge numbers of people believe they are too busy to read newspapers, there's no reason to believe they'll have enough spare time to sit at a computer.