Martin Hackworth NEW

I’ve spent the past week recovering from surgery with three books, all 27 episodes of “The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr” and a moderate dose of TV news. The books were “Hate Inc.” by Matt Taibbi, “The Room Where It Happened” by John Bolton, and “Manufacturing Consent” by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky.

My one sentence review: “Brisco County” is an overlooked gem, most TV news may be described as whatever occupies the gulf below awful, and all three of the aforementioned books were well worth the time I invested in reading them.

Shelbie Harris, your book reports on books one and three are due by the end of the week. Don’t make me come looking for them.

One of the hot topics on the TV news I encountered was the recent train wreck of a debate between President Donald Trump and challenger Joe Biden. Why the outcome of this debate came as a surprise to anyone is beyond me since, a few twists and turns aside, it was fairly obvious how it would play out before it began. Debates between political candidates are hardly ever informative. They are spectacle and are designed to be just that. Throw a meathead like Donald Trump into the mix and you only feign surprise.

Candidate debates are a few hours of your life you can’t get back no matter who’s involved. They’ve always been more about “gotcha” than substance. The longer you sit on the edge of your seat, waiting for the prestige, the more the hosting network can deliver you to advertisers. That’s the game.

If you really wanted to inform audiences about the useful differences between candidates, there are far better ways to go about it. A sit down discussion between the candidates about their policy differences and governing commitments, moderated by people with actual expertise in economics, science, foreign affairs, social policy, law, etc., as opposed to vacuous network news personalities, could be incredibly useful.

Just don’t hold your breath.

The problem with providing substantive information to TV audiences is that it necessarily includes things like nuance, shades of gray and facts that challenge basic assumptions. All of these things either offend or go right over the heads of audiences who have been trained for decades to view politics like a sports championship — with a clear winner and an equally clear loser. Most of that audience would either go to sleep in the first 15 minutes of a substantive candidate forum or find an NFL rerun.

The only people that I know who insist that there is serious, credible value in the spectacle of presidential/vice presidential debates are the “college and coffee set” (a great Taibbi line) who sit in their car listening to NPR waiting for that driveway moment. Well, them and journalism professors who’ve encountered Mark Twain but didn’t understand the first thing about what they read.

One of the things I most enjoyed about Matt Taibbi’s book, “Hate Inc.,” was his assertion that “Russian collusion” is the current generation of the media’s “weapons of mass destruction.” True that — though I think that Russian collusion has strong competition from half a dozen or so other stories since 2016.

How our media has evolved to be even less trustworthy than one of the biggest, most bloviating idiots to ever occupy the Oval Office is some story. If you want some insight into how this came to be I cannot recommend “Hate, Inc.” enough.

One of the stories most bolted to the hip of “Russian collusion,” is the Russian interference in our elections narrative — which seems to be producing a veritable panic ahead of the upcoming election. This, once again, is a story in which the facts are not particularly well aligned with the hype.

Did the Russians attempt to sow discord ahead of the 2016 election? Certainly. Shall I fan you gently so you don’t go into shock? The question is, how effective were their efforts? That turns out to be not particularly so if you examine the available facts.

The tactics the Russians are known to have employed to influence the 2016 election only work on phenomenally stupid people. Though there’s no shortage of people out there fitting this bill, there aren’t enough to account for President Trump’s unexpected 2016 victory.

No, for that you have to take a look at how large media empires have scored record growth and profits from Trump. We didn’t, as it turns out, need the Russians to screw ourselves. All we needed was our own media.

Associated Press and Idaho Press Club award-winning columnist Martin Hackworth of Pocatello is a physicist, writer, consultant and retired Idaho State University faculty member who now spends his time raising children, llama farming, riding mountain bikes and motorcycles and playing guitars. His video blog, “Howlin’ at the Moon in ii-V-I,” may be found at and on YouTube at