How Dumb Are Reporters? [Updated]

Years ago, I had a lot of fun with the New York Times Corrections section, which documented the fact, day after day, that the paper’s reporters and editors had little knowledge of mathematics, science, literature or history. The gaffes that appeared in the Times were stunning to anyone with a halfway-decent education.

I have been off that beat for a while, but our reporters’ educational deficiencies continue to amaze. Thus we have NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, who tried to one-up Ted Cruz. Bad decision. Cruz described the Democrats’ farcical impeachment proceeding as “like Shakespeare, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Mitchell sought to correct Cruz:


Heh. Cruz and many others explained that Faulkner got the line from Shakespeare, a writer of whom Mitchell apparently is unaware. Mitchell tried to retire from the field with her ego intact:


Here’s the thing, though. No one who studied Faulkner even superficially could fail to understand that the title of The Sound and the Fury was a Shakespearean reference. This was explained in every freshman English class where Faulkner’s book has been taught.

Here’s why: The full Shakespeare quote, from MacBeth, says that life “is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Why did Faulkner choose that Shakespeare quote for the title of his book? Because the first section of The Sound and the Fury is, in fact, a “tale told by an idiot.” It is a narrative by a character named Benji who lacks normal mental capacity. He describes many things that he does not understand–other people playing golf, for example–and the art of that section of the book is for Faulkner to write it so that Benji doesn’t understand what he is seeing, but we do.

This is all undergraduate English stuff, and no one could study Faulkner in college without the origin and significance of The Sound and the Fury being explained. And, if you didn’t take English classes in college, as Andrea Mitchell perhaps did not, you could just Google it.

In short, by trying to match wits with Ted Cruz, Andrea Mitchell revealed herself as a person who knows little or nothing about either Shakespeare or Faulkner. That isn’t necessarily disgraceful, except that 1) she shouldn’t have picked a fight with a very smart guy from a position of ignorance, and 2) her fallback position, claiming to be a Faulkner scholar, made her look dumber than ever. Deservedly.

This is all trivial, except for one fact: the politicians, reporters, writers, editors, “intellectuals,” college professors and so on who try to intimidate you with their claim to be smarter and more knowledgeable than you, are, with only occasional exceptions, frauds.

UPDATE: I am sorry to report that Andrea Mitchell (who is allegedly noteworthy only because she is married to Alan Greenspan, maybe we should return to describing her that way) majored in English literature at Penn. So she has no excuse for being ignorant of both Shakespeare and Faulkner. Maybe she skipped class a lot, I don’t know. But one way or another, she failed to get the most basic education. And now she is trying to export her ignorance to the rest of us.

That is pretty much the story of the 21st century.

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