Full disclosure here; I don’t care much for Ellis Henican. It’s not just that I often disagree with him; to me he seems just the stereotype of a whining, sniveling and patronizing liberal elitist that likes to look down on the little people of this country and tell us that he knows better. So when I listened to his discussion about the Cordoba Mosque controversy on Fox News Watch Saturday morning, it was easy for me to embrace the dark side of the force. Ellis Henican said this:
“It is not the role of those of us in the punditocrasy to be as quickly as ignorant as the least ignorant member of the public. These are complicated issues.”
Struggling for context in his remarks, it would have been valuable for him to say that news media pundits should make it their job to educate themselves well and more fully on controversial issues before sounding off to those who might not have, but he didn’t really say that. Did he?
The definition of ignorance: lacking knowledge or awareness in general; uneducated or unsophisticated: he was told constantly that he was ignorant and stupid. Oxford American Dictionaries
Because I’ve listened to Ellis Henican call people silly, stupid and ignorant a lot over the years while rolling his eyes, I have learned to take a dim view of his context and meaning. What I think Henican actually meant was that news pundits such as he should not be so quick to lower themselves to the best and most aware of the general public. Henican believes he is better than the public and we need him to make sense of things. This is liberal elitism at its finest. It is wrong minded and is one reason why mainstream media is failing.
As a less sophisticated new media pundit not yet aspired to the punditocrasy, I understand there are two general approaches to journalism. Pulitzer Prize winner, Walter Lippman, believed that the journalist’s role was to act as a translator and mediator between the elite class and the general public. John Dewey, a philosopher, pragmatist and progressive educationalist, believed that the general public was not only capable of understanding the issues but were the best place to for discussions to be vetted. When journalists include the public in the conversation by providing good information, the best ideas rise to the surface.
Ellis Henican is of the Lippman approach and has completely failed in his job. On Meet the Press Sunday morning, one commentator remarked that 70% of New Yorkers disagreed with the mosque being built near ground zero and national poles over the last week trend well above 60%. If Henican is supposed to be a mediator, he is doing a poor job of it. The people are having a discussion and he remains ignorant of their depth and passion on this subject. The liberal punditocrasy isn’t listening. Telling dissenters they are stupid, bigots and racists because they don’t agree with you does not help the discussion. It only makes it more complex.New media resources like blogs, twitter, and facebook are increasingly important to the overall discussion because they bring people directly together in dynamic ways. Yes, it can be messy. We chat. We read. We challenge. We vote real time on good and bad ideas. Yes, it is true that some people are going to give out bad information, call each other names, and some people are going to jump to conclusions but as the discussion grows corrections happen and people learn. The best ideas bubble to the top. With access to new media we don’t always require middlemen to translate for us and to tell us what we should properly think. We have ways to talk among ourselves, come to understandings, and generate new thinking instead of relying on those elite classes that would arrogantly tell us what to think. The truth is, we don’t really need the elitist pundits like Ellis Henican anymore.