White House Press Secretary Dana Perino should have gone with “no comment.” Engaging in some good-natured bantering about her job on the NPR news quiz show last week, Perino confessed that when a question about the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis came up during a recent press briefing, she was stumped. “I was panicked a bit, because I really don’t know about the Cuban Missile Crisis,” she said of the U.S.–Soviet nuclear showdown, one of the pivotal events of the second half of the 20th century. The 35-year-old spokeswoman for the leader of the free world then said that when she got home that night, she asked her husband to explain: “I said, ‘Wasn’t that like the Bay of Pigs thing?’ And he said, ‘Oh, Dana.’”

Naturally, administration critics quickly seized on Perino’s remarks as the latest evidence of White House cluelessness. But if they’re hoping for an outpouring of public outrage, they’re in for a long wait. The American people, after all, aren’t exactly in a position to throw stones at anyone for their ignorance of history or global affairs. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, only 47 percent of high school seniors have mastered even a “minimum level” of U.S. history. In a recent Newsweek survey, more Americans could name the latest winner of the American Idol competition than the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. And just 36 percent of respondents in a Pew survey could identify Vladimir Putin as the president of Russia. As it happens, Putin recently compared U.S. missile plans in Eastern Europe to the Cuban Missile Crisis—which is why Perino was asked about it at the briefing. But at least she seemed to know who Putin was. - Eric Effron