Hal Bidlack

Hal Bidlack

Way back in the late 1970s I was a college student at the University of Michigan. As I wanted to follow my father’s example of military service in WWII, I enrolled in the four-year ROTC program there. I very much enjoyed my time in ROTC, and I liked the many activities the program offered, to say nothing of opening up the path to what would become an over 25-year military career.

During my four years as a cadet, to raise money for our ROTC activities, many of us worked as concert security people for the various bands and musicians that came to campus.

Which, of course, leads me to Ted Nugent swinging onto the stage on a vine, in a loin cloth…

I still remember the night Ted Nugent played a concert very well. Now, I’m not much of a hard rock fan (I’m more of a John Denver kind of guy) and so I was not especially excited about working the Nugent concert, but I have to admit, the man knows theatrics. His entrance to start his show was on the aforementioned vine, wearing, well, you read it above. The crowd loved it and I think people went home happy.

I thought about that concert when I read a recent Colorado Politics story reporting on Mr. Nugent’s strong opinions on Colorado Prop 114, regarding the reintroduction of wolves in parts of Colorado. Nugent, widely known as a hunting enthusiast, to put it mildly, strongly opposes 114. In a recent video, he stated, “The wolf is a liability wherever they are found,” and goes on to rant a bit more about wolves destroying, apparently, entire “livestock populations.”

While I do not care for his music, I admit I was impressed (as a rank amateur guitar player myself) by Nugent’s amazing skill on his fretboard. And I would think that his opinions on guitar technique would be both valid and expert. On wolves, not so much. Everyone is certainly entitled to their own opinion, but I wonder why an aging hard rocker would be considered an important influencer of public opinion.

The CP article also cited an actual wildlife biologist, and linked to an earlier story in which said biologist noted that wolves pose little threat to people and domestic animals. This gentleman’s opinion is expert in wildlife management, and I respect it. I will not, however, take his views on playing electric guitars very seriously.

We have an odd culture in our great nation, wherein we seem to want people who are famous for entertaining us to also offer guidance and opinions on matters of governance. And certainly, some of those entertainers likely have well thought out and cogent points of view. But in general, I rather prefer the opinions of area experts (cough…Dr. Fauci…cough) than those of people who act, sing, or otherwise distract us from our daily lives.

Again, I do not object to Mr. Nugent having an opinion, nor am I offended by his offering that opinion to the public. But I would hope that his thoughts would not be too influential in changing public opinion, absent actual expert qualifications. One of the many problems with journalism today is that many reporters believe in reporting stories correctly (so far, so good) and with balance (usually ok…) and equal weight (now we are at the core of the problem).

Take climate change, for example. I happen to have a bit of expertise in that area, having focused my doctoral work on the military and environmental issues, and having worked on the National Security Council and other places on climate change, as well as being a senior research fellow at a couple of D.C. think tanks dealing with climate change. I would mention that I’m also witty and enjoy long walks on the beach, but perhaps I’m already bragging too much? (Ed: yes, I think so). 

So, when the media talks climate change, I usually have a pretty good idea what the actual truth is. But most stories will have what the reporter thinks is vital — equal time for both “sides.” The problem is the weight of evidence. Over 97% of scientists with actual expertise state that climate change is real, that humans are a major source of the problem, and the problem is very important. Less than 3% of scientists disagree. Yet the media will usually report on climate change as if the “debate” was 50-50. That may sound like good journalism, but it actually misinforms the public.  If you had a pain in your belly, and 97 doctors said you needed to have your appendix out, and three said it was just gas and you should ignore it, what would you do?

Ted Nugent has a pulpit because he is a famous musician. He can rant and bellow from that pulpit all he wants, as is his right. But we as consumers of information should think carefully about what we let into our brains. Expert opinions should carry more weight than those of a person who can play a guitar really well.  

Hal Bidlack is a retired professor of political science and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who taught more than 17 years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.

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