Who knew Ken Burns is an idiot?

(Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, File)

Having spent a lot of time around academics and media types I learned years ago that people can be smart, talented, and complete dunces at the same time.

Orwell captured that reality with his typical genius, explaining: “Some ideas are so stupid that only intellectuals believe them.”


Marxists found that this was a problem for them as they spent decades recruiting proletarians to become revolutionaries without any real success. That’s why they developed the idea that the intellectual class would become the “vanguard of the proletariat,” leading the stupid bastards to communism kicking and screaming.

Guess who was right about communism? It wasn’t the intellectuals. Not a single one of their predictions about communism turned out to be right. The proletarians paid the price though, in blood and treasure. 100 million dead.

Yet there are still millions of communists, almost every one of which is an overeducated twit. Normal people were insightful enough to instinctively understand that communism was an idiotic and murderous idea.

America is filled with overeducated twits. We have spent trillions of dollars creating them, with the excuse that higher education has an enormous economic value for the individuals who get it and for the society in which they live. This is true when relatively few people get specialized knowledge or training, but emphatically not true when higher ed becomes a norm.

This is even true when we educate a class of intellectuals, as long as they are few and open to debate. Societies with smart, creative, and even crazy people doing crazy things tend to be great places to live. The food is better too.

Want proof that too much education is a bad thing? Biden keeps on trying to cancel student debt because nobody has opened up a Women’s Studies factory in town that pays high wages for recordings of blue-haired trans-women whining about oppression. Millions of young people are weighed down by vast amounts of debt that paid for totally worthless degrees.


Watching cable news gives you a front-row seat where you can watch this reality play out before your eyes. Ostensibly smart people–and I am certain that most would score above average on an IQ test–routinely spout the stupidest ideas and receive plaudits for doing so. TV shows and movies featuring good-looking and talented mimics churn out agitprop by the boatload for your entertainment on other channels.

The writers are usually idiot-savant intellectuals, and the actors tend just to be idiots who prove that when they open their mouths. I love watching Alec Baldwin the actor and cringe at Alec Baldwin the man.

Ken Burns–who at his best is a talented documentarian–proved his intellectual bona fides on CNN, displaying once again that intelligence, wisdom, and even attention to reality are entirely different from each other. He is smart, but an idiot.

Burns clearly needs an editor and a fact checker in order to sound coherent–and having enjoyed the Civil War documentary from decades ago I appreciate their good work. Burns is a superb storyteller, as long as he is surrounded by people who know what they are doing. But left to his own devices he spouts nonsense.

Burns gets so much wrong in his diatribe, but the ideological incoherence isn’t the striking part of his rant. You almost expect that in the way you expect Stephen Colbert to misrepresent his ideological opponents in the most unfunny way possible. Cable news is filled with ideological incoherence and ignorance of the most basic truths.


What I didn’t expect is his inability to distinguish historical eras. He does, after all, play a historian on TV. Some PBS producer clearly needs to prevent him from speaking without editors in order to preserve his reputation.

Ken Burns apparently thinks the creator of Potemkin villages was a Nazi.

Hate to tell you Ken, but you were off by a couple of centuries in your history, and a continent to boot. Grigory Potemkin was a Russian minister and lover of Katherine the Great, and the (likely apocryphal) story that he had fake villages built to impress Katherine as she traveled her poor country has nothing to do with the Nazis in any way.

There is literally no connection, and even somebody who is only pretending to be historically literate should know that.

Ken has recapitulated Bluto’s speech from Animal House:

Burns has proved himself to be an idiot. Not just because he has, apparently, no real knowledge of history (although he can spin a yarn with the best of them if fed the material), but he clearly has no idea that the last thing that Critical Race Theory advocates believe is that teaching their material proves America is great–another idiotic idea he actually vomited onto the table on CNN.

I am all for teaching diverse viewpoints, and would definitely allow CRT to be taught as one narrative among many in a college setting. I have taught Marxism and taken it seriously as a theory, despite its manifest idiocy because a well-rounded education isn’t about teaching a single narrative. But suggesting that CRT is the real history is profoundly wrong and certainly not in keeping with Burns’ “America is Great” speech.


CRT teaches the opposite, and if he knew even a little bit about it he would know that. But he is just reading the Leftist script handed to him.

Many literary figures are simultaneously geniuses and idiots. Ken is a storyteller and a great one. And clearly has no idea how to think critically. He apparently knows how to play a historian on TV when given a script, delivering his lines well.

But, as with so many storytellers, he can’t tell reality from fantasy. It turns out that in real life he is just Bluto.

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John Stossel 5:30 PM | July 13, 2024