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November 26, 2002
The Useful Idiocy of NPR

NPR is running a series of articles about the growing anti-war movement in the U.S., in between their on-going series covering both the growing homeschool and Christian men's small group movements.

(I call that the Woodlief Test, by the way: say something obviously out of keeping with reality, in order to let people's reactions make your point for you, i.e., "what, NPR running a series on Christian men's small groups? Are you smoking crack?") I'm sure there's a literary term for it, but I could never keep irony, synecdoche, etc., straight, so I call it the Woodlief Test.)

So no, NPR isn't running a series on the latter two movements. It is running a number of reports on the anti-war movement, however, and I suspect -- given the level of idiocy among the interviewees -- that this is really the work of some closet hawks. I first realized the effectiveness of this tactic -- letting the idiots speak for themselves -- while watching Louis Farrakhan be interviewed on one of those late-night news programs. My first thought was that it was shameful to give such a vile person a platform, especially when there are black religious leaders with many more people in their congregations. But soon Farrakhan was talking about space ships coming to rescue blacks from Earth, and about not having any problem with the Jews (this sounds much friendlier, actually, in English than in the original German), and it struck me -- thousands of people now see first-hand that this man is an idiot, and that the people who associate with him are idiots as well.

So where I once thought that disproportionate interviews of Left-wing idiots was solely attributable to Left-wing bias among journalists, now I'm not so sure. The biggest enemy Dick Gephardt ever had, for example, was the simple reality that he looks like the offspring of a carnival freak and an albino lizard, with the mannerisms of a crooked mortician. So the more TV time he got, the better. Likewise for these twits I heard interviewed yesterday, who are seeking to recreate some romanticized version of the Sixties, or at least to score a little weed and tail at the anti-war march.

Let's begin with the words of a sophomore interviewed at a peace rally, who hails from some no-name college that probably should long ago have been converted into a landfill:

"I'm like, opposed to Bush because, like, I don't feel that he's tried all um, um, like alternatives, and like, I think he won't agree to, like inspections, and that he won't oppose, um war."

First, I suspect there is a secret campaign to revoke the 26th Amendment, and that its primary strategy is to put microphones in front of twenty year-olds. Perhaps a cultural anthropologist reading this can enlighten me, but I'm not sure if there has ever been a case where a society with language has morphed into a society without language, and I'm curious to know whether ours will be the first.

But that is another matter, and the interesting points about the student's comments are that President Bush, of course, has agreed to inspections, and that this was common knowledge well before the peace rally at which said student was interviewed. Her out, I suspect, is this word "feel," which should be stricken, upon penalty of expulsion, from the vocabulary of every college student. It may be the case that President Bush in fact has agreed to weapons inspections, but we shouldn't let this get in the way of our feeling like he has not.

Plus, there's this really cute guy named Jeremy, and like, he's totally going to be at the rally, so, like, get off my case, mkay?

The interview next turned to a meeting of a Chicago neighborhood chapter of ACORN, known variously as a community activism organization and as another mechanism in Jesse Jackson's shake-down portfolio. A woman at the meeting asked whether the chapter should speak out against the war, and then answered her question by noting that, among other things, "the dollars from our community are going to pay for this."

Now, I could be wrong, but I suspect that there won't be a net outflow of dollars from her community any time soon. What's more, she should probably be careful about arguing the principle of local sovereignty over tax dollars, lest she see the funding for teen centers, soup kitchens, and midnight basketball -- the things that serve as "community" any more in inner cities -- dry up and head for Bolingbrook.

A man in the ACORN group chimed in to push her point further, asking, "What kind of message does it send to say that we don't like this man (Hussein) and so we are going to kill him? What kind of message is that?"

The message, of course, is that getting on the wrong side of the U.S. government and its citizens can very likely get one killed. This seems like a message worth reinforcing, and Hussein a deserving object lesson.

The dolt continued: "We see all this gang violence, and this is where they get it, they get it from our warmongering leaders."

Right. Little Johnny isn't busting caps in the 'hood because he had no father or mother or preacher or teacher worth a darn, no, he's slinging slugs because Ronald Reagan sent troops into Grenada. Johnny may not be able to spell his own last name correctly, but he's socially conscious.

Finally, the report brought us news from a teach-in being held in a college town (the name is irrelevant, because they all tend to be the same town). It featured an activist who travels around the country doing teach-ins, when he isn't in Iraq expressing solidarity with people who have no choice but to voice opposition to U.S. intervention. His voice evoked the image of a spindly man with a neat beard, wearing a tweed jacket and open-toed Birkenstocks over dark blue socks knitted in some third-world hut, bought during an excursion paid for by a Ford Foundation boondoggle. He sounded like the kind of guy who marries an unhappy stringy-haired woman with an M.A. in sociology, and who fathers one unhappy child and makes him read Hegel and Foucault. You've met this guy before -- you've heard him holding forth in line at the Ann Arbor Starbucks, you've seen him teaching an undergrad section at Berkeley -- it's always the same guy, and yesterday his wisdom was being carried by NPR.

He was preceded by a painfully articulated question from a student in the audience which, after much deletion of "likes" and other verbal placeholders, and insertion of proper grammar, went something like: "what else are we supposed to do, given that Hussein has not disarmed, and shows a willingness to use weapons of mass destruction?"

The activist responded, "I agree with you that Hussein's behavior is unacceptable, but Bush's behavior is also unacceptable, and I'm here tonight to talk about that."

Yes, Hussein's behavior is unacceptable. A time-out -- of a duration approved by the section on responsible child-rearing of the American Psychological Association -- for troubled little Saddam. Barring a time out, unfortunately, this activist doesn't have much to offer, because meeting with force the danger represented by Iraq is also "unacceptable." Thus Bush's behavior is treated as morally equivalent to Hussein's, and the judgment of the activist, this unelected, unaccountable, unopposed activist, is elevated to a wisdom that transcends global politics.

This isn't really wisdom at all; it is merely a form of mental gymnastics performed for an uncritical audience. It is expression rather than critical thought, and it survives only because opinion in college circles has become truly that -- opinion that is clung to without analysis. If these are the best and the brightest that colleges have to offer, American taxpayers may well have reason to start demanding refunds. Fortunately, they are neither the best nor the brightest, which is perhaps what qualifies them for airtime on NPR.

NPR: an unwitting tool of subversion in the conservative arsenal. The communists always had their useful idiots, so why shouldn't we?

Posted by Woodlief on November 26, 2002 at 09:20 AM


I tend to think of it, not as "mental gymnastics" but as "mental masturbation".

Posted by: Thoth on November 26, 2002 10:01 AM

Unfortunately, it only works on people willing to use their brain - there are too many people in this country for whom the only function of the brain is to be a sponge for stuff like this.

For the rest us, though, it works really well. And I'm afraid I have to agree with Thoth.

Posted by: Deoxy on November 26, 2002 11:18 AM

NPR - what do you expect out of a place that gives sanctuary to Garrison Keillor and Lake When-will-he-begone? Don't be surprised if Michael Moore starts a show on NPR next year, if he wasn't so darn busy giving talks, signing books and making movies for the "not-so best and brightest students".

Loved the reference to Bolingbrook. I can remember when Bolingbrook was a couple of cookie-cutter subdivisions in the middle of corn fields, with the only places to eat consisting of a truck stop and White Fence Farm fried chicken. Now it is just another member of the suburban sprawl/strip mall complex radiating out of Chicago.

Posted by: MarcV on November 26, 2002 12:28 PM

Tony, I was at the State Street Espresso Royale cafe about 15 mins ago, and there was a guy, just as you described, who, in addition to the fashion pointers you describe, was wearing a multicolored, knit, Guatamelan wool cap. And while we waited in line for coffee, the guy held forth, declaiming on the evils of G.W, Republicans, the Right etc. Had a very plain looking, dumpy woman by his side, looked like most faculty women do, who drank in his words, and positively glowed at her hubby's "eloquence and brilliant political analysis".
And the crying shame of it all is that it is people like this the populate the faculties of all our majo universities, and where they spew their extreme leftist ideological venom and influence impressionable young college kids, and teach them to become traitors.
Maybe, I am just too angry right now. Excuse me. DAMN!!! I need to find a real job, and move from this god-forsaken Univ town!!!!!

Posted by: sid on November 27, 2002 08:49 AM

I don't know that there is a literary term for the concept, but I call it autoparody. This is defined as doing the most extreme parody of the subject that results in being identical to the original. You can't do a parody of it, it's already as bad as it gets. Thanks, Ed.

Posted by: Ed Martin on November 28, 2002 10:34 PM

I liked the reference to Bolingbrook too but I can't envision how it must look now since I lived there in 77. It would interesting to see again if I ever get back up that way.

The thing I really can't understand is why we continue to fund NPR. If congress is serious about controlling spending this would be a great way to prove it. Failing that they should turn it over to someone like Roger Alies to make it fair and balanced. That is not worth the trouble, better just to put it down like a rabid dog.

Posted by: Starhawk on November 29, 2002 08:26 AM

This same report ran on McNeil-Lehrer the other night - the activist was actually a guy in his late twenties in a polo and slacks who looked like he should be organizing a summer camp. A Non-Violent Organic Collective Summer Camp for the children of the tweedy nerd from starbucks, of course.

Posted by: binjty on November 29, 2002 02:55 PM

You really captured that well. That guy's wife has an appointment in the Women's Studies program and blames the Nigerian riots on the Miss World contest's lack of respect for the indigenous culture. After all, the contest was being held in Nigeria because the Nigerian federal government had promised that local sharia laws on stoning of adulterous women would not be carried out.

The NPR story ran at a time when they usually do long stories on such heavy matters as new ways of teaching self esteem in nursery schools. The different, equally boring and insipid, story with the same subject on the Lehrer program came from Chicago.

People complain about the left-wing bias of NPR and PBS but fail to see that they are so excruciatingly boring when they do stories like this that no one listens. By contrast, people like Fox News and Limbaugh are driven by ratings and let entertainmnet values drive their commentary. Generally, the regular news stories on NPR, but not PBS, are so good that it must be more centrist than people think. I agree with you that the long form stories on subjects dear to the hearts of left wing academics and no one else are a soft form of discrediting the cause.

Posted by: Jim Linnane on November 30, 2002 06:26 AM

Technically, neither of Keillor's outlets, A Prairie Home Companion and Writer's Almanac, is an NPR program; they are distributed by the rival Public Radio International, though NPR stations may carry them on a market-exclusive basis. (Where I live, NPR can't touch them because they're carried by another local station.)

Posted by: CGHill on December 1, 2002 01:35 PM

You know, I hadn't thought of it this way, but it makes a lot of sense. The other day they had some ex-CIA policy wonk speaking at a college about how Bush and his 'cronies' are up to whatever he thinks they are up to, and every time he made a nasty, ad hominem comment about the President, the crowd gave him a good laugh.

I remember being a college student. I'm pretty confident that I could go to Alaska and sell ice to college students there. If the only people you can convince are college students, the odds are your idea isn't worth much. So if the best this guy can do is go to a college and sell his theory, I'm inclined not to give it much credence.

Unfortunately, most of the time around here, it's NPR, talk radio, or music. So if I want news, I have to settle for NPR. Which is kind of like settling for the NY Times. It may be far off center, but at least the grammar is better than most of its competition.

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