A plague of celebrity ignoramuses

A plague of celebrity ignoramuses. By Rebecca Sugar.

Ms. Goldberg’s offense isn’t that she is an anti-Semite, it is that she is a self-important celebrity with a platform.

Like many others in her position, she takes that not as a responsibility but as an opportunity. She speaks because she can, not because she has something informed to say. What she has read or understands about the Holocaust, about racial ideas in 19th- and 20th-century Europe, or about the Jews in general is likely not much.

Yet somehow she was enthusiastically ready to educate her co-hosts and her audience about a subject on which she couldn’t write a serious two-page essay.

Who does this? Who speaks with presumed authority and moral superiority but next to no knowledge?

In our culture, that would be everyone with a Twitter account, an iPhone, a classroom full of students, an election coming up, or a TV show. Our entire culture is marinated in people mindlessly mouthing off simply because they have an audience. Everyone is Whoopi Goldberg in his own small way.

Viewers who tune in are to blame too. No one mistakes Ms. Goldberg for Bernard Lewis. But they tune in for her history lessons anyway, and she is all too happy to provide them.

Hitler might have destroyed the great Yiddish-speaking Jewish civilization of Europe, but its wisdom has survived. Perhaps Ms. Goldberg, and all of us, can learn something from this Yiddish proverb: The wise man, even when he holds his tongue, says more than the fool when he speaks.

Stephen Green:

Television is just a terrible medium for imparting vital information.

Maybe it once was and maybe it could be again, but I see very little evidence for either proposition.

“Being good on TV” is an uncommon skill — that’s why the big players get paid so well. But “being good on TV” is a skill that rarely overlaps with “being knowledgable, balanced, and able to communicate those things via a visual medium.”

And even if that overlap was common, it wouldn’t matter because the economics, the incentives of TV news, wouldn’t support it. TV is a visual medium, meaning it’s best at conveying impressions and feelings and inducing emotional responses.

It always comes down to survival of the fittest, and in TV Land, the fittest aren’t the most knowledgeable or balanced. The fittest tend to be the prettiest, the most sensationalistic, and those who are best at generating strong emotional responses from viewers.

Goldberg has two outta three, and that ain’t bad.

So go ahead and fire Whoopi Goldberg… or don’t. But if she does get fired, the economics of TV infotainment require that ABC News hire someone pretty much just like her.

Our problem isn’t that our TV “news” people say controversial things. Our problem — and this extends far beyond just TV — is that we promote ignoramuses into positions of seeming authority where they (and their audiences) give themselves far too much regard.

The mark of a dumbed down society is the elevation of feelings over facts. Everything can be overdone, but the direction we are moving in is worrying.