A View From The Handbasket

Thursday, August 10, 2006
Dimly aware
Posted by neros_fiddle at 10:28 AM

Exhibit A:

Some 30 percent of Americans cannot say in what year the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against New York's World Trade Center and the
Pentagon in Washington took place, according to a poll published in the Washington Post newspaper.

While the country is preparing to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the attacks that claimed nearly 3,000 lives and shocked the world, 95 percent of Americans questioned in the poll were able to remember the month and the day of the attacks, according to Wednesday's edition of the newspaper.

But when asked what year, 30 percent could not give a correct answer.

Of that group, six percent gave an earlier year, eight percent gave a later year, and 16 percent admitted they had no idea whatsoever.

Exhibit B:

The reality [...] is that after a 16-month investigation, the U.S. weapons hunters known as the Iraq Survey Group declared that Iraq had dismantled its chemical, biological and nuclear arms programs in 1991. That finding in 2004 reaffirmed the work of U.N. inspectors who in 2002-03 found no trace of banned arsenals in Iraq.

Despite this, a Harris Poll released July 21 found that a full 50 percent of U.S. respondents -- up from 36 percent last year -- said they believe Iraq did have the forbidden arms when U.S. troops invaded in March 2003, an attack that aimed to eliminate supposed WMD.

"I'm flabbergasted," said Michael Massing, a media critic. "This finding just has to cause despair among those of us who hope for an informed public able to draw reasonable conclusions based on evidence."

Exhibit C:

Although a majority (70%) of Americans recall without prompting that freedom of speech is one of the rights contained in the First Amendment, recall of the other freedoms drops off very quickly from there.

  • Only one-fourth mentioned freedom of religion, and one in ten mentioned freedom of the press or freedom of assembly. Freedom to petition the government over grievances was mentioned by just 1 percent.
  • Although 72% were able to name at least one of these rights correctly, this fell to only 28% who could name two or more, only 8% who could name three or more, only 2 percent who could name four or five. Remarkably, only one person of the 1,000 interviewed was able to correctly name all five freedoms.
  • Given a list of freedoms Americans enjoy, most were able to recognize freedom of religion and freedom to criticize the government as First Amendment rights.
  • About one in ten incorrectly mentioned the right to bear arms as a First Amendment Freedom. In actuality, this right is protected by the Second Amendment.
  • A majority also incorrectly said the right to vote and the right to trial by jury were guaranteed by the First Amendment.
  • Other rights that more than one-third believes come from the First Amendment include right to own a gun, the right to an attorney, the right against self incrimination, the right of women to vote and the right to a public education.
  • About one in five say the right to own and raise pets and the right to drive a car are First Amendment rights as well.
  • Although unaided recall of the five First Amendment freedoms drops off quickly after freedom of speech, this is not the case for some aspects of popular culture. The TV cartoon show “The Simpsons” has five main characters that Americans remember much more readily. While only one in a thousand were able to name all five freedoms contained in the First Amendment, one out of five Americans can name all five of the Simpson characters.
  • More than half (52%) of Americans can name at least two characters from “The Simpsons,” while only about half that number (28%) can think of two or more First Amendment freedoms.
  • Americans are also more likely to remember which ad slogan belongs to which brand. When read five popular ad slogans, three-fourths (74%) of Americans were able to correctly recall the brands connected with at least two of these, compared to 28% who could name two or more freedoms. One-fourth of Americans could identify the brand of four or more of these slogans, compared to only 1% who could name at least four of the five freedoms.
  • Americans are also much more likely to be able to name the three judges on the popular TV program “American Idol” than First Amendment freedoms. Although almost half could name none, a majority (54%) could name at least one, 41% could name two, and one-fourth could name all three.

And finally, the end result: Exhibit D.

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