Ed Driscoll

JournoList: The View from Inside the MSM's Cocoon

When I interviewed Jonathan Strong of the Daily Caller earlier this week about the JournoList, for a segment for tomorrow’s PJM Political, he said, “There are critics on the right who say that the media is very liberal. The members of the JournoList actually had a sophisticated media critique that the media leaned to the right.”

This was the line that Al Gore was touting immediately after the 2002 midterms; it seems obvious in retrospect that that mindset strengthened amongst leftwing journalists as a result of the 2004 elections. A few months ago, the Anchoress explored how the MSM’s mindset of the 2004 election flowed smoothly into 2008, coupled with an infinitely more charismatic candidate, tied into the legacy media by means of the JournoList:

[In 2004] the Democrats not only outspent the GOP, they also had the press promising (by way of Newsweek’s Evan Thomas) to deliver 10-15% of the vote Kerry’s way, and the MSM did manage to do something like that. They carried Kerry’s water, called him “brilliant” while neglecting to look at his college transcripts (after the election, it was revealed Kerry’s grades were worse than Bush’s “gentleman’s ‘C’”) or demand to see his military records (even as they went through Bush’s with a fine-toothed comb and even made stuff up). They demonized the Swift Boat Vets who questioned Kerry’s fitness for office, and in all ways protected the Democrat candidate while beating daily on Bush.

Taken singly, it was sound and fury, signifying nothing, but taken all together, the daily pounding was effective.

The press understood how successfully they had enhanced the Kerry campaign, and I believe it is one of the reasons they were so bold about going “all in” with Obama. They repeated the strategy of protection; of not asking the candidate any tough questions, or looking at his history or his associates, all while administering daily beatings to the opposition. Admittedly, they had a more difficult time beating on McCain, who was a weak candidate, because they’d spent the last 8 years calling him the “good” sort of conservative, when doing so could hurt Bush. But then McCain brought Sarah Palin into the picture, and the press managed to savage her in an unprecedented manner, even before she made her own mistakes, to excellent effect. The press did not manage to win the presidency for John Kerry; they made sure they could deliver it to the “sort of God”, Barack Obama, using the lessons they learned during the Bush-Kerry campaigns.

Needless to say, the idea that the MSM is outmanned by the right is quite an interesting argument, but then, these are the folks who believe that the New Republic, or at least its publisher, is too conservative, so from that perspective, they probably view the network news as nearly an outpost of the VRWC as well. This of course is in contradistinction to the party line that the left liked to espouse for years, that there is no real media on the right. (This argument morphed in recent years to believe that Fox was somehow illegitimate as a news source because of the bias o f its center-right tone. But between the New York Times admitting in 2004 that — shocker! — “of course” the Gray Lady swung from the left, and the biases espoused by the members of the JournoList and its founder’s self-admitted mission statement, the idea of an “objective” media is looking more and more like something out of a Lou Grant rerun from 1979.)

And of course, that worldview, from the center of the cocoon looking out, is entirely different from what the MSM tells its readers. That disparity was highlighted by Ace in early May, when that month’s News of Fresh Disaster rocked the Washington Post that Newsweek (“a liberal opinion magazine written by liberals who don’t want to admit they’re liberals,” as Andrew Ferguson brilliantly defined it last year) was about to go on the market after hemorrhaging box cars full of money:

For liberals, lying about one’s liberalism is a feature, not a bug.

Liberals love outrageously liberal publications which pretend to be neutral. The New York Times. CNN. The Washington Post (in the main; here and there it departs from orthodoxy).

The entire MFM is premised upon this lie.

And liberals love it.

Liberals love being instructed that their opinions are not liberal at all, because if their opinions are liberal, that implies a choice has been made, and if there ever was in fact a choice, that implies (though it does not prove) that another choice was possible and even legitimate, and liberals are not fond of acknowledging that opinions contrary to their own have some merit.

They prefer being instructed that their opinions are not opinions at all, but facts and/or simple common sense and/or the manifestly just and right way to view the world.

They do not usually acknowledge their politics as matters of ethics, in which one’s responsibilities, duties, and rights depend upon one’s starting assumptions about what is to be more or less highly valued, which is, in itself, largely an arbitrary (or at least highly arguable) choice.

People can debate ethics.

They prefer to view their politics as a matter of strict black and white morality in which their view is not arguably the more ethical or sound one, but in which their view is Good (capital G optional), and the opposite politics are Evil (capital E required.)

One can debate such ethical dilemmas such as whether it’s better to see your kid go hungry or steal a loaf of bread from another family.

One can’t argue, really, whether or not it’s better to do Good than it is to do Evil.

Liberals favor the latter formulation. And because they’ve had 60 year of stultifying reinforcement of their prejudices by a lockstep MFM and academy, they’ve gotten quite accustomed to that formulation, and actually tend to get emotionally angry when it’s suggested they’ve not really chosen Good over Evil so much as their idiosyncratic and arbitrary preference for one good (no capital g) over another, arguably just-as-valuable good.

They don’t like hearing, for example, that by choosing Equality as the paramount good, they have decided that Freedom is a far less important good, and always to be compromised and diminished in order to expand Equality. They will insist, until their dying breath, that by choosing Equality over all else, they are actually also creating the most Freedom, too.

All upside, no downside. Nothing lost for everything gained. Straight Good versus straight-up Evil.

The MFM coddles them with this messaging. It tells them, every single day, that they have not chosen one good over another just-as-valuable good — a choice which would then be a questionable one, a debatable one, a not-clearly-superior one — but Good over Evil itself, and that’s no choice at all, really.

And they like that. They like that lots.

Those liberals who do in fact realize the MFM is liberal like it too, in the main, because even while they may recognize that stance as dishonest, they recognize it as an incredibly useful bit of dishonesty.

There are partisans. There are ideologues. There are strong adherents of a political philosophy. Such people have thought a fair amount about politics, and have made some choices along the way, and tend to be hard to influence, in terms of general tendencies.

And then there are a lot of people who don’t think much about politics, and for whom politics are simply a chore. They’re not interested in politics itself — and to the extent they’re interested in politics at all, it is chiefly for personal reasons. Fitting in, not looking stupid and uninformed. Doing the least amount of political work for the greatest amount of social benefit.

There are many soft-liberals for precisely that reason. Because a soft-liberalism — a vague and guazy feel-goodery, a brainless parroting of “nice” sentiments, an adherence to political correctness — causes you few if any problems in social situations or work. It gets you a little cheaply-earned assent and praise, because so many other people are apathetic and soft-liberal and are similarly disposed to agreeing with nonsense.

And meanwhile, departing from that soft-liberal line takes not only work — you have to read up a bit on the conventional wisdom if you wish to dispute it, while it takes no reading at all to merely repeat the conventional wisdom — but exposes you to social penalties, too. No one has to really “choose” to be a soft-liberal; it’s the default setting, as it were, the industry standard for people who really don’t care all that much.

Choosing to be a communist is Decision. And, similarly, choosing to be a conservative is a Decision. Choosing to be a strident, partisan liberal ideologue is also a decision (but an easier one, too, because it’s only a few degrees removed from soft-liberal feel-goodery).

But choosing to be a soft-liberal and mouth empty platitudes? Easy as pie, and not one in 20 people is going to bother challenging you on those platitudes.

Saying anything else just might get you into an argument. Now, some people like arguments (us lot, for example) but most do not. Most people are adverse to confrontation and react emotionally, not intellectually, to disagreement.

Plus, if you don’t really know much at all about politics, such arguments will almost certainly result in that fact being exposed, and then you’ll look uninformed and stupid — and who the hell wants that? No one, that’s who.

So, all else being equal, it makes perfect sense for the 15-20% of our population that barely knows anything at all to politics to stick to the safe harbor of the default script.

This is the MFM’s greatest achievement — that for this 15-20% of the population that has no serious, structure political beliefs at all, an adherence to the general basics of liberalism is the default setting. All ties go to the liberals, in other words, and that’s big thing, isn’t it?

And that’s why we’re so outraged at the MFM. This isn’t just about their smug arrogance or corrupt pretense of being the fair-and-objective Deciders. It’s a personal thing — our personal revulsion at a set of know-nothing inexpert, unprofessional clowns arrogating to themselves the power to decide what is and is not permitted in polite, enlightened discourse — but it’s not just personal.

This has enormous implications for the trajectory of our politics — if the MFM can establish that soft-liberalism is the cost-free, work-free, choice-free, information-free path of least resistance for such a big chunk of our population, the MFM basically gets to choose the nation’s path.

Which… they largely have, of course. And that is why I fluctuate between treating the Democratic Party and the MFM as our top opponents in politics. Yes, it’s the Democratic Party on the ballot every two years.

But, as Andrew Breitbart rages in his stump speech, it’s actually the MFM which props the Democratic Party up by delivering unto them 15-20% of the public they never had to convince or fight for. 15-20% of the vote is delivered to the liberal camp every election simply because the media has established that’s the way nice people who just want what’s good — and want the least hassle over politics — vote.

And I think a fair number of partisan liberals understand this (far more than would be willing to admit it) and that accounts for their rage at FoxNews and Rush Limbaugh and any other contrary voice. If the Democrats’ advantage among soft-liberal apathetics declined to 15-20% to 10% or 5% or (God Forbid!) no advantage at all, they could start seriously losing elections.

So: I think that liberals either tend to think of themselves as not liberal at all, just Virtuous, in which case they prefer liberal magazines which claim too that they’re not liberal at all, just Virtuous.

Or, some liberals realize the enormous advantage they have secured in promoting a monolithically liberal media which establishes a default setting for soft-liberalism and appreciate the hard work of daily dishonesty that the MFM engages in to continue this advantage.

It’s hard work rising each day to write up a pack of damnable lies. And then repeating them dutifully on Hardball each night, and then getting drunk and falling asleep, and then waking in the morn to lie again.

As Jonah Goldberg wrote in the latest emailed version of the G-File (sadly otherwise not online, to the best of my knowledge — or TTBOMK as the kids say on the Interwebs these days):

Speaking of herds, I refuse to be cowed into finding just one or two things to love about the JournoList story. Everything about it is great, including the fact that it’s not nearly as big a deal as people are making it. That just adds to the deliciousness. The JournoListers could shrug the whole thing off if they didn’t mind being seen as political hacks. But because they cling to an oversized view of their own importance, they feel they have to simultaneously argue the list was a good and fine thing — because they are very serious people — despite the fact that it was chockfull of hackery. I love how honest mainstream guys like Chuck Todd (a truly decent guy) are dismayed by such an unsurprising phenomenon and how his dismay launched a whole new round of denial. I love how the so-called “reality-based community” sees nothing wrong with trying to shape reality. I love the breezy confirmation of so much that I’ve said and written about contemporary liberalism, to wit: Liberals have settled dogma so they end up arguing about tactics — how to get power, what to do with power, how to crush opposition — rather than principles.

For instance, I wrote this five years ago:

Of course there are arguments on the Left and there are individual liberals with deep-seated convictions and principles. But most of the arguments are about how to “build a movement” or how to win elections, not about what liberalism is. Even the “Get out of Iraq now!” demands from the base of the Democratic party aren’t grounded in anything like a coherent foreign policy. Ten years ago liberals championed nation-building. Now they call it imperialism because George W. Bush is doing it.

A good illustration of the fundamental difference between Left and Right can be found in two books edited by Peter Berkowitz for the Hoover Institution, Varieties of Conservatism in America and Varieties of Progressivism in America. Each contains thoughtful essays by leading conservatives and liberals. The conservatives defend different ideological philosophical schools — neoconservatism, traditionalism, etc. — but the liberals argue almost exclusively about which tactics Democrats should embrace to win the White House.

Krauthammer’s Law, from way back in 2002, posits, “To understand the workings of American politics, you have to understand this fundamental law: Conservatives think liberals are stupid. Liberals think conservatives are evil.” Just this month, Dennis Prager wrote that “The Left Hates Conservatives” — this isn’t news, as the nearly decade-old date of Krauthammer’s observation makes clear. But Prager does try to make sense of why the left hates conservatives:

Perhaps the most telling of the recent revelations of the liberal/left Journolist, a list consisting of about 400 major liberal/left journalists, is the depth of their hatred of conservatives. That they would consult with one another in order to protect candidate and then President Obama and in order to hurt Republicans is unfortunate and ugly. But what is jolting is the hatred of conservatives, as exemplified by the e-mail from an NPR reporter expressing her wish to personally see Rush Limbaugh die a painful death — and the apparent absence of any objection from the other liberal journalists.

Every one of us on the right has seen this hatred. I am not referring to leftist bloggers or to anonymous extreme comments by angry leftists on conservative blogs — such things exist on the right as well — but to mainstream elite liberal journalists. There is simply nothing analogous among elite conservative journalists. Yes, nearly all conservatives believe that the left is leading America to ruin. But while there is plenty of conservative anger over this fact, there is little or nothing on the right to match the left’s hatred of conservative individuals. Would mainstream conservative journalists e-mail one another wishes to be present while Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi or Michael Moore dies slowly and painfully of a heart attack?

From Karl Marx to today, the Left has always hated people on the Right, not merely differed or been angry with them.

The question is: why?

Here are three possible answers.

Read the whole thing. It’s also worth revisiting another essay from Ace, this one from 2007, which also tangentially explores this topic, “The Toxic Self-Delusions of the Liberal Psychology.”

As Prager concluded his essay, “Hatred of conservatives is so much part of the left that the day the left stops hating conservatives will mark the beginning of the end of the left as we know it.”

As a song almost as old as most of President Obama’s ideas goes, you may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one…

Update: JournoList as combination media self-herding device, and a self-enforcing device, for the incurious — and (scroll down) those who prefer walkable urbanism versus your car-centric views.”

Speaking of herds, I refuse to be cowed into finding just one or two things to love about the JournoList story. Everything about it is great, including the fact that it’s not nearly as big a deal as people are making it. That just adds to the deliciousness. The JournoListers could shrug the whole thing off if they didn’t mind being seen as political hacks. But because they cling to an oversized view of their own importance, they feel they have to simultaneously argue the list was a good and fine thing — because they are very serious people — despite the fact that it was chockfull of hackery. I love how honest mainstream guys like Chuck Todd (a truly decent guy) are dismayed by such an unsurprising phenomenon and how his dismay launched a whole new round of denial. I love how the so-called “reality-based community” sees nothing wrong with trying to shape reality. I love the breezy confirmation of so much that I’ve said and written about contemporary liberalism, to wit: Liberals have settled dogma so they end up arguing about tactics — how to get power, what to do with power, how to crush opposition — rather than principles.

For instance, I wrote this five years ago:

Of course there are arguments on the Left and there are individual liberals with deep-seated convictions and principles. But most of the arguments are about how to “build a movement” or how to win elections, not about what liberalism is. Even the “Get out of Iraq now!” demands from the base of the Democratic party aren’t grounded in anything like a coherent foreign policy. Ten years ago liberals championed nation-building. Now they call it imperialism because George W. Bush is doing it.

A good illustration of the fundamental difference between Left and Right can be found in two books edited by Peter Berkowitz for the Hoover Institution, Varieties of Conservatism in America and Varieties of Progressivism in America. Each contains thoughtful essays by leading conservatives and liberals. The conservatives defend different ideological philosophical schools — neoconservatism, traditionalism, etc. — but the liberals argue almost exclusively about which tactics Democrats should embrace to win the White House.