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Emmy-winning investigative journalist kicks off Lyceum lecture series

By Carolina Astrain
Sept. 28, 2012 at 4:28 a.m.
Updated Sept. 29, 2012 at 4:29 a.m.


• WHAT: Rick Shenkman "Election 2012, Presidential Politics & American Myths"

• WHEN: 7 p.m. Monday

• WHERE: Leo J. Welder Center for the Performing Arts

• COST: Free


  1. What subject do politicians lie about the most?
  2. Have Americans always mistrusted their leaders?
  3. Are American voters better informed about politics today than they were a generation or two ago?
  4. Was Abraham Lincoln ambitious to become president?
  5. What qualities should you look for in a president?
  6. What single quality was shared by all the great presidents?
  7. What taboo subject can we never talk about in American politics?
  8. Are Fox News viewers better or worse informed than Jon Stewart's?
  9. Has it been true that any person from any background can grow up to be president?
  10. What myth do politicians peddle about themselves, whether they are rich or poor?


  1. Their health.
  2. No. Until the 1970s Americans trusted their leaders and institutions to do the right thing most of the time.
  3. No. This despite the fact that they spend far more time getting an education.
  4. Yes.
  5. Match the person to the job, which is complicated. Can they serve as commander-in-chief, educator-in-chief, diplomat-in-chief, legislative-leader-in-chief, party leader-in -chief?
  6. An ability to adapt to change.
  7. The ignorance of millions of American voters.
  8. Surveys show that they test at about the same level of knowledge about politics and government.
  9. Most presidents were born rich or in the upper middle classes.
  10. Nearly all presidents like to establish an emotional connection with their audience by claiming they, too, pulled themselves up by their bootstraps. This is known as the rags-to-riches myth.

It was polling data collected during the Iraq war that made Rick Shenkman question the state of public opinion.

"I couldn't believe that the majority of the American people thought that Saddam Hussein somehow was responsible for 9/11," said Shenkman. "How can you run a democracy if the majority can't get the facts straight about one of the most important events of our time?"

The self-proclaimed history nerd and author of "Legends, Lies and Cherished Myths of American History" and "Just How Stupid Are We?" kicks off Victoria College's Lyceum 2012-13 lecture series Monday evening at the Leo J. Welder Center.

The author and Emmy-winning investigative journalist said he inherited his love of history from his mother and a book he stumbled upon the summer of 1970.

"It's burned in my memory," Shenkman said. "I had never bought a history book in my life before."

At the time the lecturer was in between his sophomore and junior years of high school.

"It was a red, white and blue cover," said Shenkman who spent $1.65 on his impulsive purchase. "That was a lot of money back then. I got two bucks a week mowing the lawn."

He spent the next three days holed up in his room reading, "The Age of Reform," by Richard Hofstadter.

"I still remember the opening lines they were something like, 'The United States was born in the country and has moved to the city,'" Shenkman said.

Despite the condescending tone in the title of his latest book, "Just How Stupid Are We?" the author said people shouldn't be afraid of admitting their ignorance and should strive to learn more.

"That's what makes life worth living," Shenkman said. "There's always something around the corner."

Shenkman blames the abandonment of civics in public school systems.

"We've got a much more higher population and yet we've seen no better schools or politics than that of our grandparents," Shenkman said. "It's a real question about whether or not education is the key."



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