The U.S. media are alone in that you must meet the condition of "concision" -- you've got to say things between two commercials or in 600 words. And that's a very important fact, because the beauty of concision -- you know, saying a couple of sentences between 2 commercials -- the beauty of that is you can only repeat conventional thoughts. Suppose I get up on Nightline, I'm given whatever it is, two minutes, and I say Qaddafi is a terrorist and Khomeini is a murderer, the Russians invaded Afghanistan, all this sort of stuff -- I don't need any evidence, everybody just nods. On the other hand, suppose you say something that just isn't repeating conventional pieties. Suppose you say something that's the least bit unexpected or controversial. Suppose you say,At this point the film cuts from one place to another, a series of different statements Chomsky made in different contexts:
Then the cutting stops, and the interview goes on:
- "The biggest international terror operations that are known are the ones that are run out of Washington."
- "What happened in the 1980s is the U.S. government was driven underground."
- "The United States is invading South Vietnam".
- "The best political leaders are the ones who are lazy and corrupt."
- "If the Nuremberg laws were applied, then every post-war American President would have been hanged."
- "The Bible is probably the most genocidal book in our total canon."
- "Education is a system of imposed ignorance."
- "There's no more morality in world affairs, fundamentally, than there was at the time of Ghengis Kahn, there are just different factors to be concerned with."
You know, people will quite reasonably expect to know what you mean. Why did you say that? I never heard that before. If you said that you better have a reason, you better have some evidence, and in fact you better have a lot of evidence, because that's a pretty startling comment. You can't give evidence if you're stuck with concision. That's the genius of this structural constraint.(Film transcript from here.)
Similarly, you can't give reasoning if you're stuck with concision; you can't give nuance if you're stuck with concision.
I don't believe it's only the US media that does this — at least, not any more, if it ever was. Importantly, today, it is true of most social media, certainly big ones like facebook and twitter. Now, there's an important difference, that on facebook & twitter you get microclimates of conventional opinion, which means outrageous statements (to some people) are treated as banalities (to others). But nevertheless I think the basic problem — "You can't give evidence if you're stuck with concision" — remains: and we are left either nodding our heads at what we agree with (perhaps a particularly nice formulation, perhaps a new instance of a familiar phenomenon or new instantiation of it — this isn't useless at all, but fleshing out what you believe is different from changing your beliefs), or dismissing something as rubbish without giving it a genuine hearing. Often the same claim will produce both reactions, from different audiences.
It's something other than conversation. Personally, I find it deeply frustrating. And to the extent that we are, in fact, more divided than before (an issue I am not sure what I think about), I think this is one of the structural causes.