Posted by guest blogger Evan Maxwell
One of the recurrent themes of the right-side blogosphere is the elitism of the largely left-side Main Stream Media. Another is the partisanship that bubbles just beneath the surface of self-same MSM. They are really part of the same phenomenon.
I started out late last week to post on what I saw as the latest expression of East Coast (read Manhattan) snobbishness, a New York Times editorial page attack on the Republican Congressmen who fielded a public hearing on “Border Vulernabilities and International Terrorism” on Tuesday. Predictably, the unnamed editorial writers dismissed the whole idea of border vulnerability as a Republican stunt. They particularly singled out a Texas border country sheriff “who obliged the Republicans by depicting life on the southern border as something out of a ‘Mad Max’ movie.”
A few lines later, the editorialists said, “House Republicans are trying to undermine (immigration reform) by stage-managing a specter of border chaos.”
Well, la-de-da! How perfectly Manhattan elitist to regard the world as a stage on which one side and then the other manages performances to make political points. This is the way sophisticates view the antics of their political adversaries.
(It’s probably also the way they view their own political posturing, though they certainly would be loathe to admit it.)
I have a more-than-passing familiarity with the state of affairs on the U.S./Mexico border. It has long been the place that most fascinates me. My wife, Ann, who writes as Elizabeth Lowell, just published a novel (The Wrong Hostage) that tries to sort out the various currents and undercurrents of the strip of geography that runs fifty miles on either side of the international boundary from Imperial Beach to Matmoros.
And let me assure the editorialists in New York City that the borderlands are, at times, chaotic and bizarre. The chaos is not a partisan issue; it is the everyday reality of the border underworld, a tangle of failed states, feral cities and enormous human conflict.
The smug dismissal of what are real problems is typical of the mind-molding elites of the Main Stream Media. The leaders of these media outlets really do believe that it is their institutional duty to shape the debate that the rest of us engage in, if we are interested in public policy and politics. In a former incarnation, as a staff writer at the Los Angeles Times, I was once treated to a stern lecture about the journalist’s duty. A man who was my boss told me my job was to “set the agenda for Los Angeles, Southern California and to a significant extent, the entire country.”
The admonition was odd, it seemed to me at the time, since it was coming from a mid-level executive, a guy who had, if I recall correctly, an associate of arts degree from one of Southern California’s weaker junior colleges.
He certainly hadn’t been elected, or even appointed, as the local, regional and national agenda-setter.
Which brings me to the second part of the idea that I’m playing with here: the partisan aspect of journalism. Last week, when I began to post on the NYTimes’ editorial archness regarding the border, I was on fire. I cranked out a brilliant (if I am the only one to say so) rebuttal to the idea that border chaos is nothing but a figment of partisan imagination.
And when I hit the button to post the brilliant rejoinder, technology betrayed me. The post disappeared. Not even Patterico could ressurect it.
I was on my way out the door for two days and haven’t been able to get online to reconstruct the piece. Interestingly, in the interim, Patterico got into a seemingly tangential flap with Dean Baquet, editor of the Other Times, here in Los Angeles. This contretemps is another aspect of the same phenomenon, the elitist and partisan bent of the media.
Dean Baquet is the less disdainful of the two editors recently criticized for breaching national security by revealing SWIFT system penetration by the U.S. government. His reactions to blog and political critics have been much more direct than those issued by Bill Keller. But Baquet is still an institutional actor, perfectly willing to “push back” (in the language of the day) against bloggers who criticize The Press.
Patterico seemed surprised by what seemed to be the implications of Baquet’s pushing back statement, and I agree that newspapers are often thought to be above the fray, reporting and analyzing but not engaging in the fight itself. But the truth of the matter is that The Press, in general, and individual papers, magazines and networks, have very strong views, usually unstated but clear enough if you examine their output.
That’s the anomaly the institution of the MSM can’t quite bring itself to acknowledge. They play a constant and crucial role in the partisan debates. They simply can’t appear to be doing so because that would be a betrayl of their self-imposed elitist status. They can’t be above the fray and still be part of it, so they have to occupy a neutral, unselfinterested niche. The closest you will find individual journalists and editors coming to such an admission is when say that they have the duty to set the agenda for public debate.
As though setting the agenda is a passive and non-critical function.
Patterico is right to be a little uneasy about the power of the press in this battle with the Army of Davids of the blogosphere. In the vernacular of the war gamers, we who blog are engaged in “asymmetrical warfare.” Or, in words that journalists reserve for the newsroom and not for public consumption, “You’re never going to win a pissing contest with a guy who buys ink by the barrel.”
But the fact remains: Main Stream media has built itself a powerful platform from which to influence public affairs. The practitioners of modern, big-league journalism are indeed an elite, self-created in the image of Woodward, Bernstein and other saints of contemporary reportage. They have accomplished much, some of it good, some of it less so. And in the process, they have built themselves into a power center that is has its own interests. Far too often, the modern press is partisan and less than even-handed.
The Main Stream Media has done something else, too. It has generated its own antithesis, the Blogosphere, partisan in the opposite direction, populist in the original sense of the word, and every bit as vocal as the most loquacious of network commentators, every bit as verbose as your average New York Times, or Los Angeles Times, editorialist.
Bill Keller, Dean Baquet and everybody else with a formal press card will push back. It’s entirely appropriate and expectable. In truth, I can’t even blame them; the present administration in Washington has made their lives fairly miserable for the past month, as has much of the blogosphere. But if they are smart, they’ll push back in fair ways, not in unfair ones. No ambushes, no conveniently placed exposes, no back-door reprisals by pressuring public officials to carry the water that the press wants thrown on its enemies.
People with power, and journalists have a great deal of power, always find a way to use that power. In the old days, journalists could have used the power with relative impunity, because there were fewer ways for an alternative voice to be heard. Today the playing field still isn’t level.
But it has less of a tilt than it used to.
And believe me, friends, that truth is making the folks inside the newsroom very, very unhappy.