As the Knowledge Gap Grows, So Does the Civility Gap
© Jack Cashill
At the end of his excellent—and lengthy—article in the National Review, “The Real Collusion Story,” Michael Doran describes the dilemma that now faces Hillary Clinton supporters in high places.
If they are to honor the emerging facts of the Russian collusion story, writes Doran, these supporters will have to abandon “satisfying self-images” and embrace “painful self-truths.” They will have to do this, Doran adds, “while also handing a well-deserved victory to a hated political enemy.” If history is any gauge, the left will prove incapable of soul searching on this level in anything like the near future.
Those who rely on mainstream media for their news would have to start their education in Russian collusion from scratch. As of now, most have no idea what role Peter Strzok plays or why his relationship with Lisa Page—Lisa who?--matters. What little they think they know about Carter Page is rubbish. And for all they know, Fusion GPS is the device that tells them how to drive from point A to point B.
Informed conservatives have a much firmer grasp on the facts of the Russian collusion story. Reading the Doran article would not shock them. It would simply help them put the facts in the place. This is not surprising. As countless studies have shown, conservatives tend to have a higher level of political knowledge in general than liberals and a much higher level than so-called moderates or independents.
What makes this knowledge gap more impressive is that political knowledge tests usually involve information featured in the mainstream media. In other words, conservatives are playing on the liberal’s home court. A test online from the generally liberal Pew Foundation asks questions, for instance, about the tap water in Flint and the Justice Department investigation “into Russian involvement in the 2016 election.”
Despite the home court advantage, the demographic groups that skew Democratic do poorly on these tests. Of the ten questions, women outscored men only on the Flint water question. In eight of the ten questions men led by double digits. On a four-answer multiple choice test, only 37 percent of female respondents identified Neil Gorsuch as a Supreme Court justice. For men, 53 percent got it right.
Millennials do no better than females. Those aged 18-29 outscored those aged 50-64 on only one question out of ten, that being the identity of the president of France. Closer to home, the older cohort more than doubled the score of the Millennials on the identity of Trump’s first secretary of state, 57-28.
In the social media era, the gap between what conservatives know and what liberals know continues to grow. On the collusion story—and in other cases as well—the gap has become more of a chasm. If current media dynamics hold, as they likely will on the collusion story, that chasm will prove increasingly unbridgeable.
Consider the case of the federal tank assault on a Christian community in Waco, Texas, the twenty-fifth anniversary of which will take place on April 19 of this month. The major media will not pay it much heed. The retelling of the story advances no obvious liberal agenda. More problematic for the left, at least one undeniable fact about the case still has the potential to harm that agenda, specifically the demographics of those who died.
In April 1993, few Americans knew what the Internet was. The recent emergence of talk radio had given conservatives a voice, but talk radio did not have, and still does not have, the power to create news. And as to Fox News, that was still a twinkle in Rupert Murdoch’s eye. For information about Waco, conservatives largely relied on the mainstream media, particularly CNN and the networks. Conservatives were skeptical about the networks, but that skepticism had yet to harden into distrust or worse.
So when the networks used their video to create an image of the typical Waco resident as white, gun-happy and cultish with more than a touch of redneck, viewers, conservatives included, assumed that image to be accurate. Even after the assault on April 19 of that year in which 74 community residents died, media consumers had no reason to suspect that most of the deceased were racial minorities, 27 of them black.
The media had excellent cause to bury this fact. If black leaders suspected that 27 of their brethren were killed under the direction of a man they helped elect president, they would have had a much harder time persuading their followers to re-elect Bill Clinton in 1996.
Had the Internet been mature in 1993, online journalists, paid and unpaid, would almost assuredly exposed the truth at least to those who cared to see it. As it was, the one medium that helped break the major media stranglehold on visual imagery was the videocassette recorder. It was through the VCR that I first got a glimpse of the truth about Waco. Further research confirmed the numbers.
This brings us back to the knowledge gap. Those of us on the right know what the left knows. It is in our faces. How could we not know, say, about Stormy Daniels or David Hogg? Those on the left, however, know no more about what the right knows than they care to know, which is very little. No one stumbles on Rush Limbaugh or Breitbart News.
Fox News is slightly more invasive and despised because of it. According to Barack Obama, Fox aired during the 2016 campaign “in every bar and restaurant in big chunks of the country.” Even if it did—it didn’t—Fox has nothing like CNN’s default penetration of public spaces, including every major airport in America. The left also rules at AOL News, Yahoo News, Google News, and Twitter. Exposure to one or more of these sites is very nearly unavoidable by anyone using the Internet. The right has nothing comparable.
Yet by using the social media liberals created, conservative journalists, paid and unpaid, have been able to loosen the major media’s grip on news creation and dissemination. Were an event like Waco to happen today—or Watergate for that matter--there would be no unchallenged consensus position. As a case in point, President Trump has reached a 50 percent approval rating despite the mainstream media’s desperate attempt to forge a consensus on the president’s unfitness for office. They have obviously not succeeded.
To ward off the threat from social media, the grandees of the mainstream media have worked hard to discredit information gleaned through these media. In 2009, for instance, the activist right exposed Obama’s “Green Jobs” czar Van Jones as a believer in the 9-11 “inside job” theory. Obama felt compelled to fire Jones. On Meet the Press, host David Gregory lamented, “You can be a target real fast.”
“A lot of people will repeat back to me and take it as face value something that they read on the Internet,” cautioned NBC talking head emeritus Brokaw. “And my line to them is you have to vet information.” Not to be out-preached, Tom Friedman of the New York Times countered, “The Internet is an open sewer of untreated, unfiltered information, left, right, center, up, down, and requires that kind of filtering by anyone.”
The left fears the information that comes from the sewer—the “fake news,” the “alternative facts”—because it might well be true. If true, that information threatens their worldview. To protect themselves, they have to shut themselves off from those who convey it. This fear helps explain why liberals on Facebook are three times more likely than conservatives to “unfriend” those of a different political stripe.
We know what they know, but they don’t what we know. We all know Stormy Daniels, but they don’t know Juanita Broaddrick, let alone Larry Sinclair. We all know David Hogg, but they don’t know David Daleiden. We all know about the greenhouse effect, but they don’t know about the medieval warming.
Your friends and family don’t know what you know, and the truth is, they don’t want to know. Be gentle.