[guest post by JVW]
Reflecting upon the last couple weeks of malodorous journalism, National Review’s Charles W. Cooke provides his usual pointed appraisal:
Our national press is a national joke. Vain, languid, excitable, morbid, duplicitous, cheap, insular, mawkish, and possessed of a chronic self-obsession that would have made Dorian Gray blush, it rambles around the United States in neon pants, demanding congratulation for its travails. Not since Florence Foster Jenkins have Americans been treated to such an excruciating example of self-delusion. The most vocal among the press corps’ ranks cast themselves openly as “firefighters” when, at worst, they are pyromaniacs and, at best, they are obsequious asbestos salesmen.
He writes about the idea of the media frenzy, which we saw in such stark relief last weekend, where the narrative reigns above all, facts and nuance be dammed. Noting that this tendency to readily believe stories which neatly fit into the preconceived biases of an educated but uninquisitive urban self-appointed elite is nothing new, Mr. Cooke notes that this sort of lazy malpractice has become markedly worse since Donald Trump became President:
[T]he victim of the frenzy — who is usually Donald Trump but might also be Brett Kavanaugh or Nikki Haley or Ben Shapiro or a county comptroller from Arkansas or the children of Covington High School or someone who just happens to share a name with a school shooter and once complained online about his property taxes — who will complain bitterly about the spectacle and then be condescended to on the weekend shows by professional media apologists such as CNN’s Brian Stelter.
This phase is the final one within the cycle, and it may also be the most pernicious, for it is here that it is made clear to the architects of the screw-up at hand that they should expect no internal policing or pressure from their peers and that, on the contrary, they should think of themselves as equals to Lewis and Clark. To watch Stelter’s show, Reliable Sources, after a reporting debacle is to watch a master class in whataboutism and faux-persecution, followed by the insistence that even the most egregious lapses in judgment or professionalism are to be expected from time to time and that we should actually be worrying about the real victim here: the media’s reputation. This, suffice it to say, is not helpful. Were a football commentator to worry aloud that a team’s ten straight losses might lead some to think they weren’t any good — and then to cast any criticisms as an attack on sports per se — he would be laughed out of the announcers’ box.
[Note, link above has been added by me and is not in the original NRO piece.]
And here he gets to the heart of the matter:
“Accountability” doesn’t mean “always running a retraction when you get it wrong.” At some point it means learning and adapting and changing one’s approach. It is not an accident that all of the press’s mistakes go in one political or narrative direction. It is not happenstance that none of the major figures seem capable of playing “wait and see” when the subject is this presidency. And it is not foreordained that they must reflexively appeal to generalities when a member of the guild steps forcefully onto the nearest rake. Ronald Reagan liked to quip that a government department represented the closest thing to eternal life we are likely to see on this earth. In close second is a bad journalist with the right opinions, for he will be treated as if he were the very embodiment of liberty.
And with respect to the oft-made claim that President Trump is a threat the First Amendment, Mr. Cooke is not buying it:
Donald Trump, at whom [MSNBC’s Kasie] Hunt’s quip [that Trump was the most anti-First Amendment American ruler since King George III] was aimed, does indeed have instincts toward the First Amendment of which he and his acolytes should be ashamed; he does indeed have a tenuous relationship with the truth; and he does indeed wear a skin so thin as to border on the translucent. But he has not — ever — “attacked the free press”; he has not prevented, or attempted to prevent, the publication of a single printed word; and he has made no attempt whatsoever to change the law that he might do so. Rather, he has repeatedly — and often stupidly — criticized the press corps. The difference between these two actions is the difference between a bad art critic’s savaging a painting in print and a bad art critic’s savaging a painting with a chainsaw. One is the exercise of liberty; the other, vandalism and intimidation.
It’s a long piece and I could go on and on pulling out the great tidbits that are neatly sliced with Mr. Cooke’s sharp wit (no, wait, that metaphor strains way too much; unfortunately he’s a way better writer than I am). If you will indulge me one more, I really liked this paragraph where the inanity of modern news reporting is attributed to the historical ignorance of the media class, a particular bugaboo of mine:
Selective political interest is disastrous in its own right. But when combined with the catastrophic historical illiteracy that is rife among the journalistic class, its result is what might best be described as the everything-happening-now-is-new fallacy, which leads almost everybody on cable news and the opinion pages to deem every moment of national irritation unprecedented, to cast all political fights as novel crises, and, provided it is being run by Republicans, to determine that the present Congress is “the worst ever.” Turn on the television and you will learn that our language is the “least civil,” our politics is “the most divided,” and our environment is the “most dangerous.” When a Democrat is president, he is “facing opposition of the kind that no president has had to suffer”; when a Republican is president, he is held to be badly unlike the previous ones, who were, in turn, regarded as a departure from their predecessors. Continually, we are held to be on the verge of descending into anarchy or reinstituting Jim Crow or murdering the marginalized or, a particular favorite of mine, establishing the regime outlined in The Handmaid’s Tale. Past is prologue, context, and balm. Without it, all is panic.
Anyway, do read the whole thing. Not only does Mr. Cooke give the corrupt media establishment forty stripes minus one across the back, but he also names deserving names (hello, Jim Acosta!). Great stuff as usual from him.