In the U.S., the media establishment has two different ways of responding to rich people who try to use their money to reshape society. One of these approaches is illustrated by the case of George Soros, the twentieth richest American. Arguably, Soros is the main reason why the Democratic Party has lurched so far to the left, becoming obsessed with identity politics, Islam, and illegal immigrants. He champions the undemocratic EU and decried the democratic Brexit vote; he supports immigration policies that would advance Europe’s Islamization, weaken its economic power and social fabric, and ultimately destroy its freedom; and he oversees a massive network of organizations that seek, in their various ways, to transform America from a people’s republic to a People’s Republic. But as far as the mainstream media are concerned, that’s just fine. Articles about Soros in places like the New York Times and Washington Post read like press releases: one Times reporter recently described Soros’s Open Society Foundations, through which he carries out much of his mischief, as “promot[ing] democracy and human rights in more than 120 countries.” That’s world-class whitewashing right there. Last year, the Times actually ran an op-ed headlined “Israel’s War on George Soros” — as if this guy who funds a multitude of groups that demonize Israel and relativize terror were the victim and not the assailant.
By contrast, consider the Koch brothers, Charles and David, who tie for the #6 spot on Forbes‘ list of wealthiest Americans. While Soros wields direct power over scores of groups that seek to influence public policy, the Kochs tend to spread money around to universities and think tanks over which they have little or no authority, as well as to fund medical research centers, theaters, opera houses, athletic stadiums, and the like. And yet the mainstream media routinely label the Kochs “controversial” (a word they rarely attach to Soros), depict them as puppet masters (again, Soros, the top puppet master of our time, is almost never called one), cast them as right-wing extremists (in fact they’re libertarians who support same-sex marriage and legal marijuana), and paint them as mysterious and dangerous figures, huddling in the shadows and usurping the authority of the American electorate. On the contrary, it’s Soros, the fervent socialist, who strives to undercut democracy and impose his will on the West, while the Kochs, as noted, are libertarians, using their wealth to try to shore up individual rights and other core constitutional values.
If the Kochs haven’t been in the media’s crosshairs lately as much as they were a couple of years ago, it’s because the mainstream media are now busy beating up on Donald Trump — and given that the Kochs loathe Trump too, they no longer make suitable punching bags. In their place, however, the media have installed Robert Mercer, a pioneer of computer science and artificial intelligence who went on to make millions as a hedge-fund titan, and his daughter Rebekah, who studied biology, mathematics, management science, and engineering at Stanford. Like the Kochs, the Mercers are libertarians. Through the Mercer Family Foundation, which Rebekah runs, they bankroll the Breitbart website; they also contributed to the Ted Cruz campaign during the 2016 Republican primaries, but threw their support behind Donald Trump when he received the party’s nomination. The fact that they’re tied to both Trump and Breitbart makes the Mercers the ideal media targets de nos jours, given that the traditional big-time media view websites like Breitbart (and this one) as enemies. Together, these sites form what the Washington Post itself has called “an alternative media ecosystem” — an ecosystem, one might add, that poses an existential challenge to the old media’s news-shaping oligopoly.
The bottom line here is quite simple: the old media, which are out to destroy Trump, are also out to smash the Mercers. In the pursuit of this goal, no smear, it has turned out, is too outrageous. Hence Esquire tells us that the Mercers are “reactionary … wingnut plutocrats”; the New Yorker refers to their “empowerment of the alt-right, which has included anti-Semitic and white-supremacist voices”; and the Post hog-ties them to the “alt-right,” which it defines as “a small, far-right movement that seeks a whites-only state and whose adherents have espoused racist, anti-Semitic and sexist points of view.” The most recent assault on the Mercers has taken the form of an effort to remove Rebekah from the board of trustees of the American Museum of Natural History. On what grounds? Because the Mercers, in addition to donating generously to that museum (and to many other cultural, scientific, and educational causes), have given money to organizations that question the so-called “consensus” on man-made global warming. In a February 5 op-ed in the Times, climate-change machers James Powell and Michael E. Mann argued that Rebekah’s continued presence on the board is inconsistent with the museum’s mission as a “sanctuar[y] of truth and science.” Powell and Mann collected 400 signatures on a letter calling for Rebekah’s ouster. I would say that this campaign seems to me the height of indecency (you don’t establish, or defend, a genuine scientific consensus by organizing a witch hunt), except for the fact that Mann, a climatologist at Penn State, has previously gone much further than this, responding to critics of his climate-change hypotheses, among them writers Mark Steyn and Rand Simberg and fellow climatologist Tim Ball, by suing for defamation.
Today, after months of being brutalized in the media, Rebekah Mercer fought back. Her op-ed in the Wall Street Journal — and kudos to the Journal for running it — is an impressive, even eloquent, statement of her belief in an America where citizens enjoy “equality and fairness before the law,” where foreigners are able to “apply for entry,” and where “discrimination on the basis of race, gender, creed, ethnicity or sexual orientation” is recognized as “venomous and ignorant.” She believes “that power should be decentralized, with those wielding it closely accountable to the people they serve”; she is deeply committed to “research and the scientific method”; and she believes that “genuine scientific discovery flourishes only in an atmosphere of dispassionate, open-minded inquiry.” Why did she back Trump? Because “he promised to tackle entrenched corruption on both sides of the aisle.” And why Breitbart? Because “it adds an important journalistic voice to the American conversation” (although she feels that its new-resigned publisher, Steve Bannon, took it “in the wrong direction”).
The most important contribution of Mercer’s op-ed is its stand against lockstep establishment thinking.
“I oppose politicized science,” she writes, “in which researchers cannot study certain subjects — or even ask certain questions — for fear of a career-ending backlash and persecution.” Noting that America “was founded on the principle of open discourse” and that “[i]ntellectual diversity and vigorous, reasoned debate have been fundamental to America’s success, making us the freest, most prosperous, and most innovative society in human history,” Rebekah Mercer warns that “we have lost our way” and that “America is now a society that threatens, pillories, and harms those who dare to question the status quo.” Who can argue with any of this? It will be interesting to see how Mercer’s critics respond to her patently sincere declaration of principles. I should think they will find it rather difficult to answer. Then again, it’s easy enough to sneer at principles when you don’t have any yourself.