The Limits Of The Tanning Bed Media
He may be columnist to the world (as Hugh Hewitt describes him each week), but Mark Steyn writes, "I'm not a 'journalist' and have never described myself as one":
And, when I give speeches or appear on TV or radio and the organizers or producers send us the biographical intro in advance, my trusty assistants always insist on the removal of the word "journalist". This used to be purely for truth-in-advertising reasons - I wouldn't want audiences to get the false impression that I'd passed rigorous tests and acquired a diploma signed by Professor Miller. But lately it's been for a more basic reason. I had lunch with Ken Whyte, my publisher at Maclean's, the other day, and mentioned en passant that one consequence of a year's worth of thought-police investigations was that it was no longer possible to avoid the painful truth that, for a profession that congratulates itself incessantly on its courage, bravery, fearlessness, etc (far more than, say, firefighters do) and hands out awards all year long for "speaking truth to power", most journalists are total pussies happy to suck up to state power as long as it's in PC clothing. Professor Miller, a J-school ethics bore boldly campaigning for the right of government bureaucrats to censor writers, would seem to be an almost parodic example of the phenomenon.
As Michael Malone wrote last week -- and I'm sympathetic on a host of levels -- "A few days ago, when asked by a new acquaintance what I did for a living, I replied that I was 'a writer', because I couldn't bring myself to admit to a stranger that I'm a journalist":
I'm not one of those people who think the media has been too hard on, say, Gov. Palin, by rushing reportorial SWAT teams to Alaska to rifle through her garbage. This is the Big Leagues, and if she wants to suit up and take the field, then Gov. Palin better be ready to play. The few instances where I think the press has gone too far - such as the Times reporter talking to Cindy McCain's daughter's MySpace friends - can easily be solved with a few newsroom smackdowns and temporary repostings to the Omaha Bureau.
No, what I object to (and I think most other Americans do as well) is the lack of equivalent hardball coverage of the other side - or worse, actively serving as attack dogs for Senators Obama and Biden. If the current polls are correct, we are about to elect as President of the United States a man who is essentially a cipher, who has left almost no paper trail, seems to have few friends (that at least will talk) and has entire years missing out of his biography. That isn't Sen. Obama's fault: his job is to put his best face forward. No, it is the traditional media's fault, for it alone (unlike the alternative media) has had the resources to cover this story properly, and has systematically refused to do so.
Why, for example to quote McCain's lawyer, haven't we seen an interview with Sen. Obama's grad school drug dealer - when we know all about Mrs. McCain's addiction? Are Bill Ayers and Tony Rezko that hard to interview? All those phony voter registrations that hard to scrutinize? And why are Senator Biden's endless gaffes almost always covered up, or rationalized, by the traditional media?
The absolute nadir (though I hate to commit to that, as we still have two weeks before the election) came with Joe the Plumber. Middle America, even when they didn't agree with Joe, looked on in horror as the press took apart the private life of an average person who had the temerity to ask a tough question of a Presidential candidate. So much for the Standing Up for the Little Man, so much for Speaking Truth to Power, so much for Comforting the Afflicted and Afflicting the Comfortable, and all of those other catchphrases we journalists used to believe we lived by.
I learned a long time ago that when people or institutions begin to behave in a manner that seems to be entirely against their own interests, it's because we don't understand what their motives really are. It would seem that by so exposing their biases and betting everything on one candidate over another, the traditional media is trying to commit suicide - especially when, given our currently volatile world and economy, the chances of a successful Obama presidency, indeed any presidency, is probably less than 50:50.
Furthermore, I also happen to believe that most reporters, whatever their political bias, are human torpedoes . . .and, had they been unleashed, would have raced in and roughed up the Obama campaign as much as they did McCain's. That's what reporters do, I was proud to have been one, and I'm still drawn to a good story, any good story, like a shark to blood in the water.
So why weren't those legions of hungry reporters set loose on the Obama campaign? Who are the real villains in this story of mainstream media betrayal?
The editors. The men and women you don't see; the people who not only decide what goes in the paper, but what doesn't; the managers who give the reporters their assignments and lay-out the editorial pages. They are the real culprits.
Why? I think I know, because had my life taken a different path, I could have been one: Picture yourself in your 50s in a job where you've spent 30 years working your way to the top, to the cockpit of power . . . only to discover that you're presiding over a dying industry. The Internet and alternative media are stealing your readers, your advertisers and your top young talent. Many of your peers shrewdly took golden parachutes and disappeared. Your job doesn't have anywhere near the power and influence it did when your started your climb. The Newspaper Guild is too weak to protect you any more, and there is a very good chance you'll lose your job before you cross that finish line, ten years hence, of retirement and a pension.
In other words, you are facing career catastrophe -and desperate times call for desperate measures. Even if you have to risk everything on a single Hail Mary play. Even if you have to compromise the principles that got you here. After all, newspapers and network news are doomed anyway - all that counts is keeping them on life support until you can retire.
And then the opportunity presents itself: an attractive young candidate whose politics likely matches yours, but more important, he offers the prospect of a transformed Washington with the power to fix everything that has gone wrong in your career. With luck, this monolithic, single-party government will crush the alternative media via a revived Fairness Doctrine, re-invigorate unions by getting rid of secret votes, and just maybe, be beholden to people like you in the traditional media for getting it there.
And besides, you tell yourself, it's all for the good of the country . . .
Not to mention the environment. If the news industry wasn't a collective Victorian Gentleman, then Obama's quotes on coal would be screamed in 48-point Times Roman Type on every newspaper's front page--if only because it's an incredible story, no matter what your thoughts on the environment.
CBS's Scott Conroy writes:
Seizing on a newly released audio tape picked up by the Drudge Report, Sarah Palin took the opportunity here in coal country to accuse Barack Obama of "talking about bankrupting the coal industry."
But it wasn't "newly released." It's been buried in the middle of an hour-long video uploaded by the San Francisco Chronicle that's been hidden in plain sight on the Brightcove video distribution Website since January, until some enterprising blogger stumbled over it.
In the above quote, Michael Malone writes, "Who are the real villains in this story of mainstream media betrayal? The editors." And he's right. Check out what the editors at the San Francisco Chronicle signed off on: the Chronicle uploaded the video of their interview with Obama to their Website under the narcoleptic headline of "Obama's straight-ahead style" -- meaning they couldn't stumble over anything the senator said that they want to highlight in their headline. Which means either the writers at the Chronicle don't know a killer story when they see one--or they're willing to bury such a story if it helps their man get into office. (See also: media and Edwards, John; note dramatic contrast with Plumber, J.T., and Palin, Sarah.)
When the MSM moans about the gallons of red ink it's spilled since 2001, it needs to ask itself if it's prepared to actually report the news, in a fashion that interests readers, or if it exists as a non-profit ideological support system.