One of the minds behind NPR — argumentum ad ignorantiam

Some months ago, I read and enjoyed Michael Sragow’s fine Victor Fleming: An American Movie Master. It’s clear from the book that, as a director, Fleming was the last of a dying breed — a gentleman in Hollywood and, of course, a truly great director, responsible for such classics as Red Dust, Gone With the Wind, and The Wizard of Oz.

What I also read and enjoyed very much this morning was Sragow’s description of his run-in with NPR (appearing as part of a larger article about Fleming’s ability to avoid the limelight, even as his stars and his movies shown ever brighter):

OVER a year ago a producer for National Public Radio’s “Fresh Air” interviewed me about whether my book, “Victor Fleming: An American Movie Master,” would be worth the host Terry Gross’s time. The result was a mildly farcical call and response. Fleming, I said, molded as many great stars as any director in Hollywood, including Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, Spencer Tracy, Judy Garland and Jean Harlow. The producer responded, “Then why haven’t I heard of him?” I explained that he was not a self-promoter, hired no publicist and left no diaries or journals. But he did direct pictures that defined movies for generations of Americans, smash hits like “Gone With the Wind,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “Captains Courageous” and “A Guy Named Joe.”

The producer repeated, “Then why haven’t I heard of him?” I added that he died young, at 59, in 1949. Not only that, his best director friends, Howard Hawks and King Vidor, and respected colleagues, like David O. Selznick, outlived him and later took much of the credit for his work.

Again the producer asked, “Then why haven’t I heard of him?”

I said that’s why I wrote the book.

The problem wasn’t simply the producer’s argumentum ad ignorantiam.  It’s also the persistence of conventional wisdom.

NPR — paid for in significant part by taxpayers, ardently liberal in its outlook, and guided by idiots.

Will you all join me in remembering this wonderful phrase — argumentum ad ignorantiam — the next time you read the newspaper or listen to a TV show?

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  • David Foster

    A person who *wasn’t* a follower of conventional wisdom would be unlikely to want to work for NPR, and even more unlikely to have a successful career if he did choose that organization as an employer.

  • Zhombre

    “Conventional wisdom,” the last refuge for the stupid, smug, incurious and complacent, the perfect fit with NPR.

  • Charles Martel

    Not to mention the solipsism: If I haven’t heard of it, it doesn’t exist or isn’t important.

    Where did we go wrong? How did we build a system where the incompetent and unfit can rise so high?

  • Jim Carroll

    I feel a bit sorry for NPR.  Their charter is to suck up tax money while coming down to the left of the Lame-Stream Media.  Problem is, there’s not a hell of a lot of room to the left of the Lame-Stream Media.  Poor NPR — they don’t have a niche to b&tch in.

  • Al

    Certainly, the producer for “Fresh Air” displayed his “fly over” attitude. And there are many instances of blindly liberal bias in their programing. But there are gems also. “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” is a rip. While usually militantly liberal, “This American Life” can be edifying. Pull up the piece when Ira Flato’s crew were on an aircraft carrier in the Gulf of Oman. And “Story Corps” can stimulate a kaleidoscope of thoughts and emotions.

  • Mike Devx

    I’ve definitely heard of Mr. Fleming.  His achievement in 1938-39, directing both ‘The Wizard of Oz’ and ‘Gone With the Wind’ stands for me as one of the great achievements.
    On the second film Fleming took over early.  Here’s an anecdote pulled from Wikipedia that demonstrates his influence:
    > Producer David O. Selznick replaced the film’s director three weeks into filming and then had the script rewritten. He sought out directorVictor Fleming, who, at the time, was directing The Wizard of Oz. Fleming was dissatisfied with the script, so Selznick brought in famed writer Ben Hecht to rewrite the entire screenplay [for Gone With The Wind] within five days.” […] Selznick literally locked himself, Fleming and screenwriter Ben Hecht in a room for five days to completely redo the script.
    >Again the producer asked, “Then why haven’t I heard of him?”
    >I said that’s why I wrote the book.
    Maybe the better reply would have been:
    Sragow:  Based on everything I’ve just told you, do you agree, you should have heard of him?
    NPR producer: Yes, sure.
    Sragow: Strange, isn’t it?  You’ve heard of the others.  Perhaps it would be worth wondering a great deal more: why haven’t you heard of him?
    Sragow:  Based on everything I’ve just told you, do you agree, you should have heard of him?

    NPR Producer: No, I don’t know. If I haven’t heard of him, then I haven’t, right?
    Sragow: Then based on your answer, no, my book is not worth your time. (And you’re not worth mine.)

  • gpc31

    Concerning NPR and other conceits of the credentialed elite, it’s useful to remember that “prestige” and “prestidigitation” share the same root.  I understand the appeal of projecting illusory competence.  But it must take amazing amounts of self-delusion to believe in one’s own tawdry little magic tricks.

    Ed Driscoll has a really important takedown this morning, from a generational and historical perspective, of Frank Rich and his ilk.  Also see a great blog from the guys at powerline.