Generational Shift


I don’t read Maureen Dowd.  I don’t read Sen. John McCain’s Twitter feed.  (Or anybody else’s, for that matter.)  But their recent literary output seems to provide a terrific, concentrated example of the difficult shift from old media to new.

McCain snarked on Twitter about some silly-sounding government spending.  Dowd, for whom the acid remark is an end instead of a means, loved it and repeated it.  Neither of them, at any time, bothered to look into the projects they’re snarking.  Not even a quick Google.  Why?  Probably because neither of them has quite gotten used to the existence of Google.  It still doesn’t occur to them that, before shouting something into their megaphones, they should Google it; that there’s a good chance that with just a couple of minutes’ effort, they could avoid revealing their ignorance.

For example, at first glance, “Irritable Bowel Syndrome” is hilarious.  It’s also a real, actual illness that causes real, actual people to suffer.  If you were a sitting U.S. senator or a writer for the newspaper of record, and you saw research money for it in a federal budget, it would probably be worth 5 minutes on Google to find out what it is before you made fun of it.

McCain and Dowd (and yours truly) grew up in a world where if some obscure thing sounded silly, you could just make fun of it and ridicule anybody who said something should be done about it.  Virtually nobody who heard you was going to know any more about it than you did.  That’s no longer the case.  Virtually everybody can know everything, now.  To Yglesias’s generation and everyone younger, fact-checking with Google is reflexive.  McCain and Dowd haven’t adjusted to that reality.

So, if you’re a senator or a major media star, before you bloviate or ridicule, I’d suggest you check your facts.  Your readers are going to.  If you don’t know what the heck you’re talking about, they’re going to know it.  Instantly.


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4 Responses to “Generational Shift”

  1. Sandi Says:

    You’re on a roll today, JU. The same thing occurred to me when I read the Dowd column this morning — that there was probably a logical, reasonable explanation for each of the silly-sounding programs cited. I am also not a Dowd fan, and I realized why when I heard David Denby on the Diane Rehm Show discussing his book Snark, which I am really interested in reading. He distinguishes Dowd from say, Jon Stewart, because Dowd has no purpose behind her writing other than to ridicule and self-aggrandize, whereas Stewart’s work derives from real political passion and a keen sense of right and wrong. Dowd has always bothered me for that reason, and every time I read her, I always think to myself that she’s not nearly as good a writer as she, or apparently the NY Times, thinks she is.

  2. Terry A. Says:

    “McCain and Dowd (and yours truly) grew up in a world where if some obscure thing sounded silly, you could just make fun of it and ridicule anybody who said something should be done about it.”

    Finally, common ground between me & McCain.

  3. urbino Says:

    Interesting, Sandi. I’ll have to look into Denby’s book. Dowd has always struck me as the quintessential “mean girl” — a glorified gossip columnist. I don’t know why anybody treats her like a serious participant in the public debate.

    But, then, I don’t know why anybody treats a lot of news personalities like serious participants in the public debate. I guess it’s because they so dominate the mass media, they ARE the public debate. No way any of them will criticize another — except for stepping outside the group-think.

    I wonder what theme they’ll pick for this year’s prom. I hope it’s dreamy.

    Finally, common ground between me & McCain.

    Well, you both closed in on much younger women, so there’s that.

  4. Mo MoDo Says:

    I am not a fan of Denby’s book and have said so. And a lot of people are missing that by quoting King Lear, Dowd is calling McCain a senile old man.

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