conventional wisdom

She came to her new position a well-respected, hard-working and much-adored national figure. Yet after many months sitting in the seat once belonging to America’s most trusted man, Katie Couric and CBS Evening News is mired in last place in the ratings war. She’s even behind Charles Gibson, whom she regularly bested in morning TV battles. What the mainstream New York Times and right-wing Fox News are saying is fast becoming the conventional wisdom about Couric: America wants men in positions of authority.

I write this because, soon enough, the talking heads will connect Katie Couric and Hillary Clinton. They will speak in syllogisms the main premises of which will be as clear and direct as the minor premises and conclusions are subtle and implied: an America that’s not ready for Couric in a position of authority is probably not ready for Hillary in the position of authority. Or Obama or Richardson.

When talking heads begin to apply this “conventional wisdom” to Hillary or others like Barak, let us remember what noted economist and Democratic presidential adviser John Kenneth Galbraith observed decades ago. According to Galbraith, “conventional wisdom” is often wrong and is promoted largely because it accords with a self-interested view of the world.

So object loudly when anyone attributes Couric’s poor showing with lame comments such as those of Fox TV’s Bill O’Reilly, who said, “Most middle Americans . . . feel comfortable with men” in positions of authority. He’s wrong: the vast majority of Americans are fair-minded and want both women and men to succeed.

But it’s not the Bill O’Reilly’s of the world we should worry about. The vast majority of Americans depend on the mainstream media more than Fox TV or the O’Reilly Factor. Thus, we need to make sure mainstream media (wittingly or unwittingly) doesn’t circulate so-called conventional wisdoms that are actually antiquated notions about power.


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