How the Conservative Media Peddles Ignorance

In an interview with ABC News' Jonathan Karl this weekend, Donald Trump was asked for one word to describe himself. His response? "Smart." (At least he didn't say "humble.")


In terms of press savvy, Trump is smart enough to once again fool the media into another few years of conversations about whether he'll run for president.

It's clear there is a significant constituency of individuals in the Republican Party that would like to see Trump run -- and not just for the laughs. He strikes a tone that perfectly captures the essence of the modern conservative movement: He is smart enough to be dumb.

Ignorance is not a state of mind but, rather, a potent political strategy of the right. Mother Jones reported last week on a new study on media coverage of climate change published in the journal Public Understanding of Science that found "watching Fox News and listening to Rush Limbaugh both increase one's level of distrust of these scientific experts. Or as the paper puts it, '[C]onservative media use decreases trust in scientists.' "

On This Week ABC's Karl, his voice elevating in pitch as he traveled down the rabbit hole of rationality, asked Trump: "But you don't still question [Barack Obama] was born in the United States, do you?"

"I have no idea," Trump replied. "Was there a birth certificate? You tell me. You know, some people say that was not his birth certificate. I'm saying I don't know. Nobody knows and you don't know either, Jonathan."

In its online post of the interview, ABC felt compelled to label Trump's birtherism "a conspiracy theory that has been proven false."

Karl then asked if Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, who was born in Canada, would be eligible to run for president. Trump replied that he was "not sure" where Cruz was born -- ignorance pays, after all. Perhaps his investigators in Hawaii will soon receive transfers to Alberta to hunt for Cruz's birth certificate.

Trump's ignorance is not isolated to birtherism; he is ignorant of climate change. No need for scientists -- 1920s magazine covers are the only evidence Trump needs.  

Trump is also ignorant of how unemployment is measured. But as long as he can demonize Barack Obama over it, who cares? They're not real numbers anyway.

These answers from Trump strike at his appeal to the inner psyche of the conservative media and its GOP consumers. His wealth and celebrity grant him a level of credibility, which he uses to reinforce discredited right-wing ideas. If scientists are not to be trusted, who is? In the minds of conservatives, Donald Trump.

If he were just another rich guy on Fox, it would be less concerning. But in what is becoming a perennial four-year cycle, Trump interjects his "don't know nothing" philosophy into the electoral process with the rest of the media ready to play along, taking him seriously as someone who should be listened to in debates about public policy.

That is when Trump's brand of ignorance stops being funny and starts being dangerous. 

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