A ‘Bubble’ Media Diet: The Daily Show, M*A*S*H and the PBS NewsHour?

BY Paul Solman  April 5, 2012 at 3:31 PM EST


Jon Stewart interviews Adm. Mike Mullen during a 2010 “Daily Show” taping. Public domain photo via the U.S. Navy

Making Sense
In Tuesday’s post, which featured viewer emails responding to Charles Murray’s bubble quiz, we published one from a 61-year-old “denizen of San Diego, Calif.” named Bill Morris. When we wrote to inform him that his email was about to appear on Making Sen$e, he responded by elaborating on his initial question about Charles Murray’s score on the quiz.” We thought the rest of his response was interesting enough to share it here:

BILL MORRIS: Since my only response so far was to inquire what Murray had scored, here is the rest of my reaction.

My grandfather was an illegal alien from Wales; he became a coal miner and union organizer in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., then had to flee (because of his union work) to Pittsburgh, where he became a steel mill worker. My father, born in 1905, had to drop out of school at age 14 to help support his family — he had eight surviving siblings. (He had already skipped two grades, and finished high school at night within two years.) He started as a blueprint boy, and became a mechanical engineer. So, very blue collar, creeping into the middle class. My mother was more middle class, with some pretensions and aspirations for something above the middle class. (I don’t believe my father ever dared to tell my mother of his father’s union activity.)

> My brother is a Republican (establishment/economic type, not Tea Party or evangelical). We no longer discuss politics. My mother was a “rock-ribbed Republican” (she detested FDR). I am a yellow-dog Democrat and a convert to Masorti (“Conservative”) Judaism. My television watching habits revolve around three programs: The NewsHour on PBS, The Daily Show and reruns of M*A*S*H. Favorite music: blues, rock, R&B, soul, Afropop, Irish, Hawaiian slack key and anything by Ravel or Debussy. I hate country western, and Mozart bores me. I have no guns, and my father also did not, as a matter of principle.

I scored 14 on the Murray test. I suspect that it was that high because I grew up in a lower-middle-class neighborhood.

I had a midlife crisis and went to grad school — linguistics and cognitive science — and was in grad school when Murray and Richard J. Herrnstein came out with “The Bell Curve.” It was much discussed, and not much respected.

Ever since “The Bell Curve,” Charles Murray has given me the creeps. So the fact that he scored 48 puts me far away from him, and that’s fine.

But it all makes me wonder what being in Murray’s bubble means. Part of it, I’m sure, has to do with where one lives, and we know from other studies that more than ever people self-segregate into islands of red and blue. (Which, of course, feeds gerrymanders, which, of course, further pushes the political parties to more extremes.) It would be interesting to me to know how scores of from this quiz correlate with geography.

But I wonder about the notion of “bubble” here. Experientially, yeah, apparently I am an “embubbled” individual; I don’t eat at IHOP, and I don’t watch American Idol. (And I think that Budweiser tastes like it’s been run through their famous Clydesdale horses.) But how does Murray’s notion of bubble correlate with information flow? How does it correlate with awareness of (a) news, (b) domestic political issues, (c) international political issues, (d) science and even (e) religious issues?

If having a thin bubble correlates with ignorance on these fronts, then what does “bubble” mean?

I would rather have a conversation with someone who has high information flow and high comprehension, whether he scores 80 or 3 on the Murray test, than with someone else who scores 14 and hasn’t a clue.

This entry is cross-posted on the Making Sen$e page, where correspondent Paul Solman answers your economic and business questions