Book Saloon: Echo Chamber

People are often puzzled as to why I read, almost exclusively, nonfiction books.  The reason they find this so odd, in part, is because they perceive nonfiction to be the sort of dry, boring, graph and statistic-filled stuff they were forced to read in college, or the textbooks through which they plodded in high school, laden with dates, facts, and events ripped from their context, lacking any discernible narrative, wit or theme.  In short, they’re thinking of books like Echo Chamber:  Rush Limbaugh and the Conservative Media Establishment, which thank heaven is not representative of the genre.  This dreary, insomnia-curing stinker, written, if that is the correct word for what they’re doing here, by Kathleen Hall Jamieson of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania and Joseph N. Cappella of the Annenberg School for Communication, also at UP, is an earnest, exhaustive analysis, based on nearly eight years of tireless research, seemingly dedicated to making a fascinating, crucial topic of our era so boring no one will ever care about it.

Their shocking thesis, that Rush Limbaugh, the editorial page at the Wall Street Journal, and Fox News constitute a “conservative media establishment” that have “protected Reagan conservatism across a more than decade-long period and insulated their audiences from political persuasion from Democrats and the ‘liberal media,’” is so glaringly obvious that you indeed wonder why it took two college professors to dream it up, but there it is.  Like even the worst nonfiction book, there are astounding statistics for the still-awake shot through the plodding sociologese in which the book is written…  polling they conducted in 2004 showed that while 91.3% of Limbaugh listeners thought the Iraq war was worth it, only 73.1% of FOX viewers did, 60.9% of WSJ readers did, compared to the notably less addled and misled public, only 48.7% of  who by then clung to that demented notion. Naturally, these rather eye-popping numbers as well as many other astonishing facts, are presented in such a bland way, complete with decimals, that you might miss them, and wander dazedly on to the next mind-numbing description of methodology.

Missing, though, even from a section about the economics of AM talk radio in a post Fairness Doctrine world and the obvious machinations of Rupert Murdoch to advance his particular ideology, is the elephant, literally, in the living room:  thousands of righty gasbags putting out a coordinated message every day that infects the mainstream media, lies to the public, promotes racism, misogyny, torture, and war as it has reduced our political discourse into an Orwellian sideshow while Americans are fleeced, duped, spied upon, and if they complain about it, tased.  In their conclusion, (eponymously titled, natch) they actually take great pains to avoid this unpleasantness for anyone still reading, of whom there couldn’t possibly be many.  

In a moment of mental abstraction for which I’m still kicking myself, I bought this book to read on the train to Seattle, and having been rescued from much of that infuriating drudgery by a delightful retired couple I befriended from Wisconsin, it then took me all week to finish it, and I hated every minute of it.  But I was determined to do so, lest any Hag reader waste $24.95 on this gaseous blunder, and, I might add, shamefully missed opportunity.

20 Comments

  1. dirigo says:

    The logic (or lack thereof) of all this is represented in the silly and dangerous speech just given by the former governor of Alaska.

    Unbelievable tripe!

  2. timothy3 says:

    Hag (and any other interesteds), regarding non-fiction and since this is a Book Saloon post, there’s a guy named Amir Aczel (whom I believe is mathemtician–not at all my background) who selects very specific things to write about in the fields of science, anthropology, mathematics, and etc.
    I’m currently reading his Descartes’ Secret Notebook and recently read his The Jesuit and the Skull (about the Jesuit Pierre de Chardin’s work in paleontology).
    Next up is Fermat’s Last Theorem
    Now, I mention this writer and these specific works for one reason: they are a welcome relief from the pathetically child-like political scene we’re all subjected to everyday.
    Anyway, this writer is insightful, enlightening and, frankly, fun (which, as everyone knows, is my operative word).

    • cocktailhag says:

      Thanks, T3, for an on topic comment, since we’re all a little unwell with Palinitis at the moment, quite understandably. (Sheesh, again, that woman is a pure, unadulterated nincompoop, and a lying bitch to boot, but I digress…)
      Many, if not most, nonfiction authors can put information together that is an absolute thrill to read; laughs, thrills… you name it. All the better because it’s true.
      Next time I have to catch a train, and don’t want to bore myself out of my skull, I’ll dig up your recommendations. Sounds like just what the doctor ordered.

  3. heru-ur says:

    I read non-fiction almost exclusively. I read perhaps 60 books a year on average, and the topics usually tend to be on some subject that I am interested in learning about at the moment. Last year it was eastern philosophy for the most part, as an example. I have read every book that the great American paleontologist Niles Eldredge ever wrote.

    I do re-read the classics at times. I have read The Hobbit around 10 times I suppose. I have read Stranger in a Strange Land 5 or 6 times I guess. (too bad reading others never seems to improve my own writing skills)

    I read with great sadness that the vast majority of Americans do not read a single book after they leave school. Even college graduates do no read books, or so says a lot of polling. How can this be?

    I also read with utter amazement at UT when someone will thank some fellow or gal for bringing up or explaining a topic that has been, at least to me, common knowledge for a long time. It is as if the curiosity has gone out of the culture. Most, seemingly, want their information spoon fed to them in little “sound bites” or packets with passion. This is why so many will dismiss someone as “he is bad” rather than consider the ideas on the table.

    Oh well, they say all old farts end up saying things like I just said so take it all with a grain or two of salt.

    • cocktailhag says:

      I like The Hobbit, too, but I haven’t read it since I was a kid. I find I read less these days; chiefly when I travel, because I’m on the computer so much. Go figure. I’m also about to run out of shelf space, so this is a frugal move.

  4. The Heel says:

    Tart, I saw the clip and had to interpret it as satire – which it technically is.
    I got a good laugh out of it.

    I could spend all day here but this is not what I am getting paid for, so allow me to copy and paste from the thread I still engage in with rmp:

    A People that elects brain dead morons on such a regular basis is certainly capable of electing a brain dead Jesus bimbo in between the usual imbeciles. Plus, like I say, the Reps have 3 more years to find the new messiah…

    • cocktailhag says:

      I’m glad you caught up with RMP, but as you often do, you might have overplayed the Smarty hand. You see, RMP’s never seen you have a tart mixup, or have a hippie “bag the Nazi.” so I could put my curlers in, so he hasn’t yet caught on to your rhetorical style, and your more recreational take on things. RMP is a serious type, much more so than you or I, and he might not see the smirk (or tip, as the case may be) that comes with your words. It’s still nice to see my virtual friends meet with my real ones, though, and I bet you two will have more discussions in the future.

      • The Heel says:

        Tart,
        you are right, I should probably watch my heelish mouth and refrain from ad hominem attacks – Dear rmp, I apologize for calling you naive.

        This blog is a lot more fun than I thought and a dangerously welcome distraction from writing business plans and evaluating ERP solutions :)

        Looking for more exchange of ideas and opinions and especially looking forward to catching up with you in person, Tart – smirks, beers and puffs will be provided by your faithful heel….

        • cocktailhag says:

          I don’t believe I’ve ever heard “faithful” and “Heel” in the same sentence, but you’ve managed it. I think RMP will someday grow to love you as I do, although he’s not so fond of Heels, as a group. He got turned off on John McCain when he left his disabled wife for a “young, rich, woman.” That’s a hurdle to climb with a guy who settled on just one tart, and stuck with her for decades…. I’d downplay it.

    • heru-ur says:

      “Plus, like I say, the Reps have 3 more years to find the new messiah…”

      If they hunger for power enough they could nominate Ron Paul, if he would still accept the nomination, and demolish the Democratic Party.

      Put a little hash in the pipe and smoke that over.

      =:-)

      • cocktailhag says:

        To my considerable chagrin, my source at the Plaid Pantry downstairs has flaked out three days in a row, so putting anything in my pipe is not possible at the moment. Worse, I think that if Ron Paul were ever brought forth, the Dems would, in the general election, clobber all his ideas, even the ones on which we both agree, and our wasteful empire would become even more bipartisan. I’ll take Palin; discrediting her ideas (if you deign to call them that…) would do America some good.

  5. retzilian says:

    CH, I would be happy to send you a copy of my non-fiction book (as soon as I buy some more), parts of which you would really enjoy, but it’s about a murder story that you might find tedious. It’s a compilation of blog entries I wrote in real-time during the investigation and trial, and it tends to be a little repetitive because of that. But,it’s quite funny in parts and well researched.

    And it’s probably a lot more entertaining than the dreck you just paid $24 to read.

    I was always a fan of true-crime, psychology, FBI profiling books and reading about serial killers and such, but you might not like that stuff.

    • Karen M says:

      Retzilian… Are you a fan of Ann Rule? I haven’t read anything of hers in years, but I used to…

      I used to read more non-fiction, but these days I read more fiction, because I find it is more true… if more people read more literature, they would not be so constantly surprised by the narratives that keep popping up in politics and in public life. It’s been happening in Fiction for years…