Election 2020

Roy Moore and the Fire This Time

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

What began as a targeted hit on Roy Moore in his Senate race against a faceless Democrat with the generic name of Doug Jones has now turned into a blazing ammo dump, littered with the bodies of Hollywood celebrities and politicians in both the United States and Britain. And yet, despite the best efforts of Gloria Allred, Moore is not only still standing, he is probably again leading in the race. A pair of recent polls has Moore up over Jones by anywhere from two to seven points, and only Democrats will be surprised if Moore wins on Dec. 12. In the immediate aftermath of the sexual allegations against him, Moore had plummeted from a commanding lead to a tie — but as I observed on Twitter at the time, that probably represented his low point, and we could expect a reversion to Alabama’s recent norm as a solidly Republican state.

The initial burst of accusations, coupled with an outside-the-deep-South ick factor regarding grown men chasing high school girls, might have sunk (and still might, if anything more, and worse, comes out) Moore but for several factors. One is that the election is taking place in Alabama, not on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, a place where the idea of federalism and individualistic regions and states is becoming increasingly anathema to its essentially one-size-fits-all fascist ethic; as the socialist Benito Mussolini famously said, “Everything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.”

For another, the conflagration that claimed the reputations and careers of Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, et al., and which continues to roar up the mountain to where the swell folks live, has made everybody forget about the li’l ole tarpaper shack down the holler that is Roy Moore.

And then there’s the media

In the wake of the Roy Moore fiasco, a number of “hot takes” have made their rounds in the media. How obviously hypocritical it is, for example, for evangelical leaders to stand behind a man credibly accused of sexually assaulting a minor. The dim-witted tribalism of people like Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, who all but said she’d elect Jack the Ripper to the Senate as long as he pledged to overturn Roe v. Wade. How Donald Trump could spend most of the 2016 campaign and beyond reveling in accusations against Bill Clinton—that Clinton of course denies—while taking Moore’s own denials at their word. And more to the point, how the president, accused of sexual misconduct by far more women than Senator Al Franken has been, still couldn’t resist taunting Franken from his (undoubtedly gold-tinged) glass house.

All of these are deserving of comment, to be sure. But there is one hot take that the media seems to be missing—the one about the role it has played in creating this sad, sordid, sickening mess in the first place.

How have we reached a point in this country when nearly half the voters of a U.S. state so mistrust, and even revile, major media outlets that they are willing to brush aside credible evidence and elect an accused sexual predator simply out of spite? How have we reached a point where a president of the United States can just declare “fake” news he doesn’t like—and largely get away with it?

In at least one survey, trust in the media—the necessary vanguard of any free society—is even lower than trust in Trump, which itself is nothing to tweet about. How on earth has this happened?

Well, that’s easy. The media, in the form of the Baby Boomers who have reached its highest echelons and have controlled it for the past quarter century, sold its soul to the Democrat party — first to George McGovern, then (briefly) to Jimmy Carter, and finally and fatally to Bill (but not Hillary) Clinton and Barack Obama. Whereas old-school reporters and editors abjured involvement in politics, they embraced it. Whereas once a reporter left to become a public-relations flack or, worse, to work for a politician, he was finished as a journalist, the Boomers celebrated such experience as a resume builder. In short order, a revolving door appeared, connecting the newsrooms of Time, Newsweek, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the television networks to the corridors of political power.

David Axelrod, for example, worked at the Chicago Tribune, as the City Hall bureau chief, before moving on to managing campaigns. Several of my Time magazine colleagues segued into Democratic administrations, including Jay Carney (press secretary) and Rick Stengel (State Dept.). In the other direction, Clinton administration hacks and henchmen such as James Carville and George Stephanopoulos smoothly transitioned into plum media gigs. So why should anyone trust the press any more?

The real reason for a situation that allows the Roy Moores and Donald Trumps of the world to rise above mere laughingstock status is that the media has totally lost its connection with a large portion of the nation, almost all of them conservatives. Worse, the media has become what Trump and allies refer to as “the opposition party”—and, as such, a most useful foil for the Trump administration.

This problem is real. The anger against the mainstream media is deep-seated. And, as difficult as it is for many to accept, much of the anger is justified.

This piece by Matt Latimer in Politico, goes on to make the case that the national media has long held a double standard in its news coverage, which is obvious to anyone on the right side of the aisle. “The job of the media is to reluctantly report the news it can’t ignore anymore & then explain why it wasn’t important in the first place,” cracked Jim Treacher. Iowahawk’s famous dictum also comes to mind: “Journalism is about covering important stories. With a pillow, until they stop moving.” Nobody trusts the media any more because the media is, by its own definition, partisan and therefore untrustworthy.

And so conservatives view it, rightly, with mistrust and distrust. They know from bitter first-hand experience that there’s an agenda behind nearly every story, in every section of the Times: a crack about Trump here, a dig at the Right there. Even ESPN, which used to be a sports network, has gotten into the act, politicizing sports to its own detriment and to the likely ruination of the NFL. Nearly every mainstream media outlet takes as its standpoint a position that is well left of center, at which point its opponents (for so reporters think of those I call Real Americans) can only be deemed far-right. It’s a deliberate slander, of course, and everybody knows it.

What to do, what to do?

Of course the first step is for the heads of the major media outlets to actually care about the problem. Despite a few half-hearted efforts during the aftershocks of 2016 election to try to better understand the Trump voters that many reporters didn’t know even existed, it’s not clear that most really do care. There’s very little incentive in today’s tribal climate to try to offer a more balanced picture on various issues or to hear out the other side—to have a frame of mind that accepts that maybe tax cuts can help spur job growth, or maybe the Obama administration did make some mistakes, or maybe every single thing Trump does and says isn’t by definition an outrage requiring days of focus and attention, or maybe federal regulations have in some cases gone too far, or maybe there are other smart, well-meaning Republicans who aren’t Susan Collins or Lindsey Graham.

That’s advice they won’t heed because they cannot heed it; to do so would be to betray what they consider to be their real job: pushing a Leftist agenda, boosting Democrats, and hoping like hell they’ll be offered a job in the next Democrat administration. Because if you can’t reward your friends, punish your enemies, and improve your own material circumstances, what’s the media for, anyway?