Unexamined Premises

The Media's Potemkin Village Starts to Topple


Wednesday night’s CNBC Republican debate turned out to be a tussle between the three left-leaning “moderators” and the candidates on the main stage, most of whom can safely be described as center-right. And finally — thanks largely to the huge ratings bonanza that is Donald Trump — the American people got a chance to see the true, ugly, partisan, smug, self-righteous face of what we used to call journalism, but now is simply political advocacy employing computers and television cameras under the shield of the First Amendment.

Ted Cruz punched the hardest when he went straight after the moderators: “This is not a cage match,” he snarled. But of course it was a cage match and never was intended to be anything else. The entire Leftist media operation cannot imagine it being anything but; for them, a group of Republicans needs to be confronted, challenged and if possible humiliated, while a group of Democrats needs to be cosseted and caressed. It’s not that it’s a deliberate plot, mind you, but rather is the result of a world view that states there is now only one side to a story, and that is the Left side. And all right-thinking people agree.

It may difficult for conservatives, who often smell a conspiracy where there is none, to accept this. Surely the lockstep, if not to say the actual socialist goosestep, of the Left can only be the result of a malevolent plot to crush conservatism. Now, crush conservatism they most certainly want to do, but for decades they’ve gotten away with it because — and this is important, so pay attention — there has been no effective opposition within the ranks of reporters and editors. Conservatives have simply taken themselves out of the game, and largely through attrition.

As a result, the journalists at the national level are rarely exposed to any kind of contrarian or oppositional thinking when it counts — in the story conferences.  Most civilians have no idea what these are or how, outside of the movies, they actually function, but during my 25-year stint in the mainstream media — including sixteen years at Time magazine at the end of its glory days, they were places to present story ideas, get criticism on the spot from editors and colleagues, and hash out the day’s top news qua news.

But for lack of any pushback, the “progressive” mindset (cultivated at the university level and reinforced by the old-school ties that operate to a degree among top journalists that would amaze you), the Big Seven — the three nets, Time and Newsweek, plus the New York Times and the Washington Post — that set the agenda for the rest of the country was pretty much the epicenter of the famous “bubble” we hear so much about.  It’s also worth noting that, even today, most of the senior figures and marquee writers in the media establishment not only know each other, they socialize, live in many of the same neighborhoods, work within blocks of each other, have summer houses in the same place, sleep together, and occasionally even marry each other. It’s an incestuous as you feared.

But not a conspiracy. Rather think of the MSM as a small Scandinavian village, so far untouched by “diversity.” Since everybody knows each other, and follows the same rules, life is calm and good. It’s only the outsiders — those conservatives — who disrupt the natural harmony. Like foreign bodies, they must be mobilized against and expelled by the progressive immune system.  To quote a famous Leftist, Benito Mussolini, the founding father of Fascism, “everything within the State, nothing outside the State.”

Now here’s the thing…

"Mr. Trump: When did you stop beating your wife?"

“Mr. Trump: When did you stop beating your wife?”

There aren’t that many of them. The Leftist MSM may seem like a monolith, but mostly it’s a collection of rueful men and women who wish they were doing the things they’re assigned to cover, instead of actually covering them. Like groupies, they derive satisfaction and self-worth from orbiting the heavenly bodies they watch, and around whom they revolve. As I wrote on Twitter last night:

Dirty lil secret of MSM is that most would really rather be doing what the folks they cover do, Serious jealousy and fanboydom at work here.

What the candidates did the other night to the MSM should not be underestimated. At last, it was not just a lone Newt Gingrich bashing the ideological inanity of his interlocutors, but a number of them, including Cruz and Rubio. By presenting a relatively united front against the clear animosity emanating from the three CNBC hosts, the candidates were able to keep the focus off the stupid questions (“are you a comic book version of a campaign?) and onto the biases of the moderators themselves.

Which is why the morning-after headlines were not so much about who “won” but how CNBC — and by extension the entire MSM — disgraced itself. Bashing the media may not be a policy platform, but it’s nourishment and sustenance to a long-suffering conservative constituency which doesn’t much care whom or what is being bashed so long as somebody or something is being bashed. They’re tired of being punching bags, and especially tired of getting smacked around by folks like Reince Priebus (who approved the CNBC debacle), who are ostensibly on their side.

And which is also why the cracks around the foundations of MSM hegemony are a bigger story than most realize. The Soviet Union looked monolithic until a few brave Hungarians (who hated the Russians anyway) opened the floodgates to the West in 1989 and in so doing brought down both the Berlin Wall and the U.S.S.R. The MSM’s cultural hegemony will last precisely as long as it takes to even the odds — not solely, it should be noted, by creating alternative venues of news and analysis (Fox News, PJ Media, Breitbart, et al.) but by flooding the outlets of the MSM with journalists who do not wear their ideological biases on their sleeves but who can still provide skillful professional pushback to help shape the overall narrative.

In other words, you can’t win if you don’t play. Despite the fervent hopes of some on the Right, the New York Times (to which I’ve contributed) and the Washington Post are not going anywhere any time soon. Despite films like Truth, Hollywood will not suddenly collapse under the ideological baggage of some (not all) of its producers, writers, directors, studio execs and stars. These institutions haven’t lasted this long without having something going for them, and that is, at root, a demand for non-ideological excellence.

So it’s not easy to break in to places like these; it takes talent, hard work, luck and what used to be called sticktoitiveness. Whining about liberal bias means nothing if you don’t back it up with some action of your own. The MSM is shaky right now, no question. So put your shoulder to the wheel and knock it over. If you can.