Jay Leno's Test

May 18, 2000

A few weeks ago, Jay Leno spoke at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner. Earlier in the day he went to the streets to conduct one of this famous sidewalk interviews. He found that hardly anyone could identify media personalities like Tim Russert or Andrea Mitchell. Well, that shouldn't be of much concern except to the media talking heads who have an inflated view of their own importance.

But usually when Jay Leno hits the streets it's to ask bystanders some fairly basic questions about politics or history. The results are troubling. Recently when he asked who was the president during World War II, one replied Abraham Lincoln. Another said Jimmy Carter.

Now I wouldn't necessarily be concerned about these Jay Leno polls if they weren't also validated by national surveys. One of the most famous showed that two-thirds of American seniors could not get within 50 years of the dates for the Civil War. Most did not know what was the precipitating event that got the United States into World War II. And of course, many did not know who the president was at the time.

This is an election year, and I cringe when I think how many Americans cannot tell you who the vice-president is: a man who is now running for the presidency. They cannot tell you who is running against him. And after both of these men pick their running mates, it will be embarrassing to find out how many Americans don't know who those people are.

I don't know how to correct the problem. Long-term solutions require better classroom education and better textbooks. But short-term solutions are elusive. I do know this. I wish the people who will elect a new president and a new Congress knew a little more about politics and history than they currently know.

I'm Kerby Anderson of Probe Ministries, and that's my opinion.