The Free Press of Mankato, Minn.: America the less factual?

A critical commentary on conservative talk-show host Glenn Beck in The Washington Post might be passed off as just another attack from the “liberal” media. But a reading between the lines suggests the free market of ideas is being increasingly dominated by the big box store of instant gratification.

In a Jan. 3 piece in The Washington Post, columnist Dana Milbank remarked that a recent Gallup Poll showed Beck is admired more than the pope. Beck is garnering more than 3 million viewers a night on his Fox News show, beating out even longtime commentator Bill O’Reilly.

Milbank argues Beck is as popular as he is wrong or insulting. Beck opined President Barack Obama has a “deep-seated hatred for white people,” and according to Milbank, Beck has “trafficked” in falsehoods about death panels, government health insurance for dogs, FEMA concentration camps, an Obama civilian security force not unlike Hitler’s SS, forced abortions and sterilization agents in drinking water.

But Beck is not really the issue. He’s an entertainer making a living off outrageous, albeit somewhat unconscionable, talk and commentary, no matter what the factual implications.

The fact Beck has an audience of 3 million should concern the other 297 million of us.

What is driving demand for Beck’s and others’ anger instead of facts as their currency? As consumers, do we find facts not necessary? We’d like to think some just watch Beck for his entertainment value. Have we created so much fear in this country — a la 9/11, a black president, health care reform — that people will simply go to the commentary that is like a glass of whiskey rather than a cup of coffee? Commentary that makes us high instead of alert?

Whatever the answer, we seem to be creating a lot of incentives for our citizens to be divided, to reject compromise that may leave us, at best, a dysfunctional democracy, and at worst a chaotic state driven to collapse.

The idea of fighting fair seems to have swirled down the drain as we’ve pulled the plug on our always precarious melting pot. Entrepreneurial vultures, like Beck, swooping down on the roadkill of American civility are only the symptom of a larger problem.

There’s plenty of blame to go around. National media, first and foremost, still focus on conflict first, as compromise is a less exciting story. Our political players are all too happy to accommodate the media’s thirst for controversy over compromise, as it’s easier to direct the attention away from the special interests picking the pocket of the taxpayers.

We can’t totally blame the media, however, they cater to a demand of people in a legal business.

This sort of dominance of the free market of ideas can’t, and shouldn’t, be solved by government. But we should remember as consumers in the free market of ideas, we will certainly get what we demand and reward.

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