Journalism and Underwater Basket Weaving

Raging complaints on all sides of political issues take stabs at the media for misrepresenting one thing or another. People argue that the media companies are responsible for the lack of knowledge and integrity in modern-day journalism. But the root cause of the problem in the media goes back even further, to the college years.

English programs around the country attract thousands of students each year. In these studies, students study classical works, modern writers, and proper grammar. The outcome is a person with an extremely powerful weapon: the ability to persuade and influence through text. (I must admit that any English student writes far better than I, a lowly economics major, buried in the texts of Rothbard, Mises, and the other economic greats.)

Have you read an article lately, written by an English major, in a college newspaper? It's either a pitiful attempt at a sports review or incessant babbling about the cafeteria food composed in a witty, irresistible format.

Now, every once in a while, they dare to write an article on politics and/or economics. I have to admit that I hardly ever read the whole article. Not because the article is written poorly, but because I cannot stop vomiting profusely at the utter ignorance and Marxist propaganda found within the lines.

The threat posed by English majors is their ability to write skillfully, but without proper knowledge, information, or theory. Most college writers have gathered their political understanding from Michael Moore movies, viewed intermittently between bong hits. If the college writer is adventurous, he or she may have read Nickeled and Dimed or The Jungle, the biblical texts of many collegiate political writers. And if they are really studious, they have even read some Karl Marx.

And so the result of this research leads to some of the most well-written and convincing untruths about human kind and economic theory. These students, throughout their education, have learned all about using emotional appeals in their writing to influence an audience. Nobody needs to write an honest article. Simply create a few strawmen, a victim, and cite a bit of socialist theory, and you have just the right ingredients.

Now, I don't want to go too far. I'm not suggesting that all students should read Rothbard, Mises, and Hayek. (God bless them if they do!) Some simple theory would suffice; even a strictly Keynesian course in economics would greatly benefit any future writer.

Surely, you must agree that there is place for elective courses of study. These electives can be used to garner further information about the world. The additional writing material from taking these classes can be potentially endless. If a student were to diversify, they could study economics, biology, and political science, with upper level history classes. With so much knowledge, an English student could actually gain perspectives of the world not offered in common curriculum. I'm not suggesting this would help future writers with conversion to more free market ideas – though that is a possibility. If anything, students would inevitably learn to write in a manner more responsive to theory and the human condition, than on unwarranted, unjustified emotional appeals.

But the reality of elective courses is that most students take the easiest, weirdest, and dumbest courses possible. I must admit that for this reason, I proudly earned credits in Native American Religions and Architecture and Society. Okay, so I only took the Architecture and Society class because Jazz and American Culture was already full. But what can you do? Most students choose electives the same way I did.

Instead of taking classes to diversify knowledge, English majors take Film in the 1990's, Witchcraft, West African Tribal Religions, or Underwater Basket Weaving. At Loyola University in New Orleans, one English professor teaches a class called Harrison Ford. No, I'm not kidding; this is a class about Harrison Ford. Students watch all of his movies and write essays about him. Oh, the value of a college education!! (I'm really only insulting the class because I ran out of electives and am secretly envious of those who took it!)

But what can you do, really? It's impossible to actually expect a student to take Macroeconomics or Industrial Organization and Public Policy as an elective. Any knowledge of economics will at best be learned from a Marxist sociology class with the word "society" somewhere in the title. And so, unfortunately, thousands of English students one day end up writing articles about economic issues with little knowledge of actual theory or workings.

This is a big reason why so many of us are upset at the things we see and read in the media. Colleges and universities have pumped out a generation of Underwater Basket Weaving students with all the English skills to persuade the general public to believe any boneheaded idea they may publish. But, hey, it's not all hopeless – at least they know a lot about Harrison Ford.

June 21, 2006