To explain the point, O’Reilly didn’t rely on data. He merely argued that the main culprit for American’s poor level of informedness was the public schools. Then: “Number two, the Internet has created a generation of self-absorbed, addicted, distracted and ignorant people. The powerful machines, hand-held many of them, are diverting a lot of Americans away from real life. You can now create your own world on the net devoid of reality, and millions of Americans are doing that. The result is that a very few shrewd people are now wielding enormous power.”
That is to say that the crisis that O’Reilly presents is not quite there, according to the data.
The Annenberg Center’s Daniel Romer this morning told the Erik Wemple Blog that “getting lost in TV” is quite easy for Americans. “So it’s really not the Internet, it’s TV” that’s the problem, Romer said. “It has been for years, ironically, and that’s where [O’Reilly] is. It’s kind of weird to have him blame the other medium.” In fairness to O’Reilly and his ilk, the Annenberg study found that watching “national nightly TV news or cable news . . . was positively associated with awareness.” The trouble comes with watching movies and following shows on television.
Perhaps O’Reilly’s gut is better with numbers and demographics than a team of prominent researchers. Certainly he believes so. But if you’re going to whack the Internet on the top-rated cable-news program, perhaps a bit more data would help things along. Whatever the minutiae, O’Reilly clearly has a selective set of views on the Internet. A few weeks back, Tom Brokaw was quoted as dismissing the relative smallness of the cable news audience vis-a-vis the network broadcasts. O’Reilly ripped back, in part, “Here on ‘The Factor,’ we are the center of discussion on the Internet nearly every night.” That ignorant Internet!