08/20/2010 08:49 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Friday Talking Points [135] -- The Sky Is Falling!

The media, quite obviously, has lost any capacity it once may have had for self-examination, to say nothing of its sense of irony. Every so often, this is proven beyond doubt by a single story. This, sadly, is one of those times.

Here's a quick quiz, to demonstrate what I'm talking about. Did you hear that "almost one-fifth" (actually eighteen percent) of Americans responded to a recent poll by saying that President Barack Obama is actually a Muslim? Most of us heard that news in the past twenty-four hours or so. This is because it falls into the category of "media catnip," which is properly defined as "a story which, in true feline form, causes the media to get really, really silly -- to the point of brainlessness."

OK, here's the quiz part. What percent of the people who think Obama is a Muslim learned this untruth from the following sources:

The media?

The internet?

If you don't know the answer to that, take a guess. Go ahead.

You might think that the media, being staunch arbiters of truth (ahem), would score pretty low. You might think that the internet -- whom the media routinely ridicules for its lunatic, fact-free nature -- would score pretty high. You would be wrong on both counts.

The real answers are that seven percent of people who think Obama's a Muslim learned this from the internet. A full sixty percent say they learned it from the media.

Now here's the ironic part: the reason you didn't know the answers to that quiz already is that the media didn't tell you. Any news which reflects badly on the media itself is simply not reported. It goes straight into the memory hole. We routinely hear poll numbers on how few Americans (for instance) think Congress is doing a good job. But we almost never hear that the media is seen in an even worse light in similar polls. Because of the "Fight Club" nature of the news -- the first rule of the mainstream media is not to talk about the mainstream media.

Here's an example of a news cycle, circa 2010, as a satiric example:

An acorn falls on the head of Chicken Little. He runs around screaming "The sky is falling!"

The initial media reports actually get this right, by stating it as: "Chicken Little Says The Sky Is Falling." This quickly morphs into: "Is The Sky Falling?" and then straight into declarative mode: "Sky Is Falling!"

For an uninterrupted period (dependent on whether any other catnippy "news" stories break during this time), the airwaves are filled with "experts" explaining how the sky can fall, and politicians claiming they've been telling people about the dangers of falling skies for years.

Then it gets contentious. The "news" media laps this up with a spoon. "Here's Schmucky-Ducky from the BigEnder Party explaining why he thinks the sky will fall within one week, and why everyone should be AFRAID FOR THEIR LIVES and how the only recourse people now have is to elect more BigEnders into power. For a contrasting view, we also have Looney Tooney of the LittleEnders Party who explains how the whole thing is a myth dreamed up by the BigEnders to score cheap political points, and how the whole thing got started by Chicken Little -- who has long-standing BigEnder ties, and is, in fact, an idiot."

Eventually everyone goes haring after some other shiny, shiny bit of media catnip, and the story dies down. A year later, a pollster reports that eighteen percent of Americans believe the sky is falling (or going to fall soon); fourteen percent think the sky will never fall; and a whopping 58 percent who weren't sure exactly what "the sky" was, and had to have the term defined for them.

The media dutifully reports the results of this poll, and slants the news as "How in Heaven's name could so many Americans be so monumentally stupid?" -- without ever stumbling upon the obvious answer: "Because, to paraphrase the learnéd thinker Forrest Gump, stupid is as stupid sees every night on the teevee screen."


But I already wrote a rant on this subject, yesterday, so I'll just chalk it up as one more reason why banging your head against a wall repeatedly is likely a better use of your time than listening to the media about anything, and quickly move on.


Most Impressive Democrat of the Week

To refute what was just said (to a certain extent), we were actually pleasantly surprised this week that the media -- led by none other than NBC (I know, you could've knocked us over with a feather) -- actually reported a very important story that they've been ignoring for the past few months: the withdrawal of the last American "combat troops" from Iraq.

OK, there are plenty of caveats to gripe about in that statement. After all, 50,000 troops are still in Iraq, and "combat" versus "non-combat" is largely in the eye of the definer of the term. As things stand, the remaining troops are scheduled to be out of Iraq (all of them) by the end of next year.

But still, this is indeed big news. When Barack Obama was sworn in, we had north of 140,000 troops in Iraq. This means over 90,000 troops have now come home. In other words, big news.

It's interesting to note that just about nobody could have predicted how this came about. Obama's detractors, during the campaign, all agreed that any troop withdrawal Obama would be in charge of would be an unmitigated disaster for all concerned, because he would ignore "conditions on the ground" and begin a "precipitous withdrawal," twenty seconds after he was in office. Obama's fans (many of them, at least) were severely annoyed at Obama when he didn't begin to pull one or two brigades per month out, twenty seconds after taking office, as he had been campaigning on. They accused him of going back on his promises, and that we'd be in Iraq forever.

Neither, as it turned out, was right. Obama has not gotten all American troops out of Iraq, but he has gotten almost two-thirds of them out, right on the schedule he set for himself (actually, a few weeks ahead of schedule, but who's counting?). And the sky did not fall, one way or the other.

Until this week, the media has mostly taken a pass on this story. And who could have predicted that the issue that consumed Americans for eight long years would barely be considered newsworthy as it ended?

We aim to do our bit to rectify this situation. President Obama's successful withdrawal of close to 100,000 troops from Iraq a year and a half after taking office earns him this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award. For this significant accomplishment, we believe he deserves a lot more credit than he's getting.

[Congratulate President Barack Obama on the White House contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]


Most Disappointing Democrat of the Week

The political landscape was littered with minorly-disappointing Democrats this week, which would have made choosing one of them a tough task.

But then an old favorite sprang back into the news. Rod Blagojevich, ex-governor of Illinois, was convicted on one count of lying to the feds this week. Blaggy (as we like to call him) treated this as some sort of vindication, because on the other twenty-three counts against him, the jury deadlocked. Blaggy obviously doesn't understand that any sentence which contains the phrase "the other twenty-three counts against him" is not exactly one you want in the news. Blaggy's future hung on the thin thread of one juror who, it was later revealed, had been offered Obama's old Senate seat for holding out. No, no -- we totally made that up! Sorry, it was just irresistible.

In any case, prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald swears he's going to take another crack at Blaggy, and that next time around he'll score more than one measly conviction. Which means (you guessed it) that Blaggy will continue to be "the gift that keeps on giving" here at MDDOTW headquarters.

Now-convicted, soon-to-be-sentenced, soon-after-to-be-retried disgraced former politician and current reality show actor Rod Blagojevich has won his fourth (but probably not his last) Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award. For shame, Blaggy, for shame!

[Once he gets sentenced, we'll try to find out what prison will be handling Rod Blagojevich's mail, so you can let him know what you think of his actions.]


Friday Talking Points

Volume 135 (8/20/10)

The official "silly season" topic this year is, quite obviously, the Two And A Half Blocks From Ground Zero Islamic Y.M.C.A. (Or "Y.M.I.A."). Sigh.

Watching the fury in the past week, it becomes easier to understand why our nation's Founding Fathers shied away from direct democracy -- because they were afraid what was later called "the tyranny of the majority" would occasionally lead to abuses of basic rights.

Barack Obama actually did something very presidential in the midst of all of this, but it was immediately misinterpreted by just about everyone, leading to denunciations from the left, right, and (of course) the media, who oversimplified what Obama said -- and then refused to admit that they had misinterpreted him, instead charging Obama with "walking back" his comments. But I already wrote about this aspect of the fray earlier this week. In a nutshell, the president did what presidents are supposed to do -- he stood up and defended the Constitution, while refusing to take a stance on what is, at heart, a local issue. This is, again, part of the president's job description and oath of office.

But he obviously didn't phrase it in a way the media could understand. So I'm going to attempt to write a clarification that Obama could give, to state his position in a way even the dim bulbs in the media could fathom. Obama's actual speech transcript from last week is definitely worth reading, especially if all you've heard about it is what others have told you (with their own "interpretation").

But maybe he needs to repeat himself, so a few more people understand where he's coming from. Below is my humble effort at what I would have him say to do so.


Suggested remarks for President Obama

I would like to clarify the remarks I made last week on religious freedom, because I think many have been misunderstanding what I said. Last week I said the following:

We must never forget those who we lost so tragically on 9/11, and we must always honor those who led the response to that attack -- from the firefighters who charged up smoke-filled staircases, to our troops who are serving in Afghanistan today. And let us also remember who we're fighting against, and what we're fighting for. Our enemies respect no religious freedom. Al Qaeda's cause is not Islam -- it's a gross distortion of Islam. These are not religious leaders -- they're terrorists who murder innocent men and women and children. In fact, al Qaeda has killed more Muslims than people of any other religion -- and that list of victims includes innocent Muslims who were killed on 9/11.

I would like to reiterate this fact -- Al Qaeda didn't just hijack four airliners, it also attempted to hijack the Islamic religion in the eyes of the world. We cannot let them do so. As a Christian, I am appalled when I read about atrocities committed by someone claiming to represent all Christianity. My reaction is what any decent person's would be: that just because someone commits an act of terror 'in the name of Christianity,' this does not shake my faith and it also does not make me a co-conspirator with such a lunatic. American Muslims should not fear that they will be lumped together with terrorists committing atrocities either.

As president, it is a fundamental part of my job to protect and defend the Constitution. That is what I was doing last Friday. I stood up for the right of any religious group to build a house of worship anywhere they choose that the local government deems appropriate for religious buildings. This is a core part of being an American. This is one of our founding freedoms.

Al Qaeda hates these freedoms, it is worth pointing out. They are not fighting for the rights of minority religions to practice free from government interference -- they are fighting for the exact opposite. They are fighting to deny people the freedom of religion. And we simply cannot allow them to hijack the freedom of religion in this country in any way whatsoever. As my predecessor, President George W. Bush said the day after the 9/11 attacks, "we will not allow this enemy to win the war by changing our way of life or restricting our freedoms."

But there is also the freedom of speech in this country. And although I stand firmly for the right of any religious group to build a house of worship in any place approved by local authorities for that purpose, that is not the same thing as commenting on the wisdom of any particular project. There is a difference between defending a basic right and supporting a specific local project.

The people who want to build the Park51 project and the people who don't want them to go forward have, for the most part, been talking past each other instead of attempting a real dialogue. I've heard a lot of monologues on the issue, but the only person a monologue usually winds up convincing is the one giving it. The project's creators should explain to the community exactly what they are trying to accomplish. And those in that community should explain their exact concerns with the project. Perhaps this will not change anything, but I refuse to believe that such outreach to each other would not be worth attempting. Rather than shrill voices in the media, why not at least make the attempt to have a rational discussion about the issue? Perhaps some compromise can be reached. Perhaps not.

But to paint the other side's argument with a very wide brush is to prejudge the worth of each other's position. Rather than showing such intolerance, I would like to believe that actually talking to each other may do some good, here.

I have taken no position, and I will not take a position, on whether the Park51 project should go forward or not. It is a local issue, for the local community to resolve. I have always felt this way, and I have not changed my mind. Since some may have misinterpreted my previous remarks, I thought it best to reiterate exactly what I said last week. No governmental agency should make such a decision, because all Americans enjoy exactly the same right of religious freedom. This right should never be taken away, and never be called into question. But everyone should be heard from within the community while making such decisions as well, because the right of free speech is also unassailable.

The imam at the center of this controversy is about to embark on a trip overseas that the United States government is sending him on. He will be traveling as part of an outreach to the Muslim world, to bear witness to what the freedom of religion in America means for all people of faith. He will be out there speaking to people in other countries in an effort to spread goodwill and testify to the world about what living in a free society is all about. It would be a shame if he could no longer do so because he stopped believing that America was serious about defending the right of all to worship freely.

America is not perfect. We have, in the past, persecuted minority religions many times. Stretching back to the Puritans themselves, we have a dark past of such persecution. We are making progress towards the light, however. We do not today ban certain religions from practicing. We no longer declare open war on a particular religion. We do not force certain religions to hide their worship anymore. This has made us stronger. We have men and women from just about every religion you can name in the uniform of this country, fighting for America all over the globe, as well as those with no religion.

I'm going to close the same way I closed my remarks last week -- by reminding everyone of a tenet central to many religions: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. And, as a Christian, I always end my speeches the same way, but I would ask that all Americans echo with me -- in whatever language you choose -- the following sentiment: God bless the United States of America.

Thank you.


Chris Weigant blogs at:

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

Full archives of FTP columns:

All-time award winners leaderboard, by rank