Ed Driscoll

'The Rally to Restore Authority'

In his Wall Street Journal column, James Taranto has a great take on the purpose of Jon Stewart’s seemingly purposeless rally this weekend. As Taranto writes, it’s not postmodern in the sense of Stewart and Colbert as comedians pretending to be news anchors, with their followers in on the joke, but as with the Democrats’ cargo cult FDR-era Keynesianism, a last gasp attempt to return to liberalism’s glory days of the mid-20th century:

There’s no question that the media marketplace has changed a great deal with the rise of cable news, especially Fox, and also of talk radio. As Obama says, now we’re “exposed to all kinds of arguments” that the less diverse media of an earlier era might have succeeded in suppressing. Some of those arguments seem insane to people who find them uncongenial. [Err, such as this one — Ed]

Yet if it’s “sanity” you want, Katie Couric offers no less of it than Walter Cronkite did. The difference is that she has almost none of his authority. The oft-told story of President Johnson lamenting, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America,” is almost certainly apocryphal, but it was widely believed because it was believable. Applied to Couric, it can only be a laugh line.

Cronkite’s authority rested in part on genuine accomplishments as a journalist, especially covering World War II. But it also depended on the monopoly status of what have come to be known as the mainstream media, and on the reputation that Cronkite and other newsmen developed for being unbiased, above politics.

That reputation might or might not have been justified at one time. But by now it is well established that mainstream journalists are far more liberal on average than the nation as a whole. Cronkite in particular, in his later years, frequently let loose with loopy liberal opinions.

And even if the media once deserved their reputation as objective truth-tellers, at some point it was clear they had squandered it. Cronkite’s successor, Dan Rather, infamously tried to bring down a Republican president by telling a story based on obviously fraudulent documents (or, as the president might put it, documents “which don’t rank all that high on the truth meter”).

The “sanity” for which Stewart claims to long is the authority of the old mainstream media–their ability to set the boundaries of newsworthiness and respectable debate, claiming to be above politics while actually skewing leftward–though not so far or so intensely leftward as, say, MSNBC ranter Keith Olbermann.

Stewart mimics this authority by insisting that he is nonpartisan and nonideological. In truth, he is no more above politics than were Walter Cronkite or Dan Rather. But he’s clever enough to know that a Ratheresque assertion of authority would make him look ridiculous. So instead he makes an appeal to antiauthority, escaping scrutiny by insisting he’s just a comedian. “If you want to compare your show to a comedy show, you’re more than welcome to,” he smirked at Tucker Carlson on “Crossfire,” back in 2004.

The kind of “sanity” for which Stewart claims to be nostalgic is a thing of the past. Its last redoubt is National Public Radio, which by firing Juan Williams has made itself look more like the Radio Moscow of a half century ago than the CBS.

Or as Rush noted last week, the legacy media are presiding over their own demise:

It really is kind of comical to watch the media report every day on Obama. Here the country is being ripped to shreds, Obama’s policies are tearing down the greatest engine of economic production activity we’ve ever had in the world. Rising unemployment is surprising. The fact the stimulus didn’t work is surprising. And they report on this as though it’s just ho-hum, everyday politics, and they cover up the actual destruction that’s taking place on purpose. You conclude that they’re either in on it or they’re so naive and stupid, so devoted — I mean such groupies — that their guy can’t do anything wrong and that their number one objective is to be protective. It’s stunning to watch. It’s stunning to watch the news business lose itself. It’s stunning to watch them.

Look at CNN. Could anybody imagine…? Let’s go back 30 years. Let’s go back 25 years, just 25 years. Twenty-five years ago you had ABC, CBS, NBC. You’re 38. So within your lifetime, Aaron, there was a period where there was only one cable news network: CNN. Everything else was network: CBS, ABC, NBC, Washington Post, New York Times. USA Today kicks up in the early eighties, I believe. Maybe late seventies. Nope, eighties. Regardless, CNN was it, and therefore in cable news they were giants, and when breaking news was happening, emergency news, crisis news, they owned everything. And it was the networks who were behind the eight ball, the networks behind the curve.

CNN has presided over their demise. CNN, the people that run that network — the people that owned it, created it, founded it, operated it — have sat there and presided over its demise to practical irrelevance. They have done nothing about it in the process. The efforts they have made to arrest it have only worsened the problem. They routinely lose audience. I saw the other day that this new show they have at eight o’clock has set an all-time network low, CNN low of something like 50,000 viewers in the 18 to 25 or 25 to 54 demographic. Now, in the old days, you lose audience like that and you get canned long before it gets to this point. They are — and it’s not just CNN now. It’s MSNBC. All these major networks and newspapers are literally presiding over their own demise and doing nothing about it.

* * *

As a media guy myself, it genuinely stuns me. Now, I know that modern media has become fractured and niche audiences are now pursued rather than mass audience, except I don’t look at it that way. I’m not looking at a niche. But if you look at cable television, it is niche. I mean, the Food Channel is obviously looking at a niche audience. They’re not mass marketing. But you would think that news networks would be mass marketing. What’s niche about news? At some point you figure, everybody wants to be informed at some point about something. But it just stuns me professionally to watch, to see these once-great entities shrink right before our very eyes and literally nothing be done about it. In fact, it’s excused.

It’s certainly excused at ABC, which attempted to court a little controversy by having, alongside former Clinton operative George Stephanopoulos, new media guru Andrew Breitbart — and having earned the wrath of the hard left, quickly retreated and lied about Andew’s involvement on election night along the way. Or as Ace writes, “Well, It Turns Out You Don’t Need To Watch ABCNews On Election Night After All:”

Andrew Breitbart had been asked to participate in some sort of “digital townhall” and provide commentary during the night.

After the typical caterwauling of the censors of the left, ABCNews has withdrawn the offer, apparently, or at least guaranteed to the lefties that Breitbart will not appear on TV.

After ABC claimed he was never to appear on TV — they claimed he would just be hanging out at the online forum or something — Breitbart produced an email from them contradicting them.

Upshot? The f*** with ABCNews. They sure do hop-to when lefty bloggers demand they do, eh?

Indeed they do — it’s far from the first time ABC and its related networks have withered in the face of pressure from the left.