The Lords Spiritual
If you were looking for the state religion in America where would you begin to look? Since a "state religion" is just an official or government-sanctioned creed -- an "organized collection of beliefs, cultural systems, and world views that relate humanity to an order of existence" sponsored by those in political control, the obvious place to begin the search is the news media.
The media as State Religion: the parallels are obvious when you examine them. The media tell us what is important, who to believe, what is appropriate. They point out the ne'er do wells we must all avoid and hold up role models to emulate. In short they perform every function that clergy did of old.
And like the churchmen of old they are rewarded by lands and rents by the political elite. The relationship between the modern media and the political class is widespread and deep. In Great Britain, where experience in these things runs deep, there are now actual attempts to license journalists, a development one website called a press "by appointment to the crown".
The BBC is the epitome of the modern media church which every now and again dispatches one of its number to the great unwashed to lead the wayward from their pagan slough. Except that today the churchmen are atheists and the pagans are the bitter clingers. Take the recent hit movie, Philomena, which features a BBC journalist. The American Humanist summarizes its plot:
Nominated for three Golden Globe awards—Best Motion Picture, Drama; Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Drama (Judi Dench); and Best Screenplay, Motion Picture (Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope)—Philomena is a major theatrical release that belongs squarely in today’s era of emergent humanism. For not only is one of the film’s two protagonists a forthright atheist (including the actor/screenwriter/producer who plays him), but the overall message is one of truth over dogma and humanity over religious oppression.
Which is to say that you should watch it. It has passed the censor librorum being both nihil obstat and imprimatur. You get three PC indulgences which can replace 2 units of carbon credit. In any modern morality play you know who the Good Guy is going to be: the atheist or the Muslim. And the bad guy -- even in a Tom Clancy Jack Ryan thriller -- is going to predictably be the hateful Christian.
The editors of today's flagship media outlets are the modern day equivalents of the Lords Spiritual in an Established Church. It exactly parallels the way things used to work back when the Church of England used to be the real Established Church.
Archbishops and bishops are appointed by The Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister, who considers the names selected by a Church Commission. They take an oath of allegiance to The Queen on appointment and may not resign without Royal authority.
The connection between Church and State is also symbolised by the fact that the 'Lords Spiritual' (consisting of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and 24 diocesan bishops) sit in the House of Lords. Parish priests also take an oath of allegiance to The Queen.
Now the Lords Spiritual are addressed as "Editors in Chief". That describes in fact, if not in theory, how the modern mainstream media relates to the powers that be. The great media personalities are nearly aristocratic themselves. Their condition is gentled at least, by consanguinity, in contrast to the barbarian hordes who attend NASCAR races and watch pro football, impelled by their defective, Trig Palin genes.
Trey Gowdy was disappointed in the media's stony silence over Benghazi. You can sympathize with Gowdy, but what did he expect them to do? While many reporters still think themselves truth's Good Servant, they are surely Obama's first. The oath of allegiance to the Crown takes precedence. Otherwise no invites to parties, no access.
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The benefits of Royal Favor are considerable. Politico surveys at the career of Ezra Klein. "For nearly five years, the Post has steered a bounty of financial resources to its star economics columnist and blogger. It has allowed him to have a contributor deal with MSNBC, a column with Bloomberg View, and to write long-form for The New Yorker. It has provided him with eight staffers to keep Wonkblog, his popular policy vertical, flowing with up-to-the-minute charts and analysis. The PR department has promoted him in profile upon profile." And now he's too big for even that spacious parish.
"But when Klein proposed the creation of an independent, explanatory journalism website — with more than three dozen staffers and a multiyear budget north of $10 million — the Post said enough is enough. Indeed, Jeff Bezos, the Post’s new owner, and Katharine Weymouth, its publisher, never even offered an alternative figure, sources familiar with the negotiations said." ...
The split, which has become a point of tension in the newsroom and the talk of the town in Washington, underscores a larger tension in the era of personal-brand journalism. Big media institutions go to great lengths to feed the egos (and pockets) of their growing stars, cultivating their image and reaping the rewards of high traffic. But when that brand becomes too expensive, or so big it threatens to outshine the institution itself, the institution is forced to let it go.
Klein is only the latest marquee journalist to outgrow his organization and launch a new venture. Nate Silver, the star political statistician, left The New York Times last year to reboot his FiveThirtyEight enterprise in affiliation with ESPN. AllThingsD founders Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg left The Wall Street Journal to launch a new tech news site with the backing of NBC Universal. David Pogue, the former New York Times tech columnist, went to Yahoo, where he is spearheading a new tech vertical. Glenn Greenwald, the former Guardian journalist, launched First Look Media with the backing of eBay founder Pierre Omidyar. Andrew Sullivan, the blogger hosted first by The Atlantic and then The Daily Beast, is now funded directly by his readers.
By contrast the conservative punditry often takes on the character of the itinerant preacher: miserably clad people who are down at heel, traveling on a shoestring, speaking on a soapbox, and often sustained by the meager pennies of their flocks.
These outlaw preachers elicit nothing but contempt from the journalists of the established media, who often consider these rival preachers nothing but disreputable Elmer Gantrys; con-men who rob simpletons. By contrast the great know how things really work from the inside, why they are even invited to the country weekend parties and official functions! They are given pride of place in the pomp and ceremony of Washington, even though everyone knows they count for nothing. In the return for their subservience they addressed courteously and their children allowed to attend gentlemen's schools. Perhaps one day they'll be lords and ladies themselves.
It's a good gig if you can get it. But in the meantime there is the little matter of the truth. We know that official journalism serves the Crown, but who remains to warn that the enemy is at the gates?
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