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Aristotle, Curiosity, and the Mainstream Media

In 1850, Palmerston sent British warships to the Aegean to recompense and protect a Gibraltar-born British citizen whose house had been burnt by the Greeks.  In 2012, Barack Obama stands by while four Americans are murdered by terrorists in Libya and then blames the event on an internet video. Who? When? What? Where are the contemporary Woodwards and Bernsteins hot on the trail on this pullulating story? Why aren’t scores of journalists running this one to earth, badgering their sources, burrowing into the interstices of this story? Watergate was a pathetic little burglary. No one suffered a scratch. Benghazi is, or should be, an international incident. Four Americans were murdered by terrorists on the anniversary of the biggest terrorist attack on the United States in history. The president and his minions, ever mindful of protecting their pacific narrative about the Arab Spring (to say nothing of their vigilant protection of their prospects for reelection), stand by in supine inactivity while a few hundred RPG-equipped hordes batter our consulate, finally, after seven and a half hours, overcoming their valiant resistance. Our drones were in the air, capturing the event in real time. We had an AC130 airship in the vicinity that was not called on. A squadron of F18s, less than an hour away in Italy, were not scrambled. Why? Why were those Americans left to die? Who told the president? When did he learn about the attack? What were his orders?  Why don't we have the answers to those questions? Why aren't those questions printed daily on the front pages of The New York Times?

Even to ask those questions is to answer them, sort of. We know the answer. It is “politics,” political expedience. It would not serve the Leftist agenda, therefore Ambassador Chris Stevens and his colleagues had to die and we had to pretend it was no big deal, or if it was a big deal it was all the fault of an obscure internet video about a medieval warlord who may or may not have existed.

“All men by nature desire to know”—except if they work for The New York Times, The Washington Post, etc., and the subject of inquiry is politically inconvenient. “All the news that fits our agenda,” that’s the real, if unstated, motto of The New York Times and its kindred “news” organizations.

Which brings me to my second point. Richard Miniter, in that morning panel, outlined how it was that big stories became big stories, how thinly sourced they often were, and how they required the active involvement of a handful of editors and organs like the Times and and The Washington Post. Over the course of this past election, one heard—and I was among those proclaiming—that alternatives to the (formerly) mainstream media were much more prominent now than in 2008 and that therefore organs like the Times, the Post, etc., now had real competition.  They no longer set the agenda, but, powerful though those teetering enterprises were, they were merely one voice among many.

The first proposition is true.  Internet entities, prominently including PJ Media, do offer real and increasing competition to those legacy outlets.  But the second proposition, alas, is not true: a tiny handful of organs, conspicuously including the Times, still sets the agenda for what is news. The idea that “new media” has emerged as a serious rival is, as Miniter said, “a myth.”

I do not say this gladly. I wish Miniter were wrong.  But my observation of what just happened in this election, and what has not happened in the (non) coverage of Benghazi, convinces me that he is correct. So I can take scant consolation from John Nolte’s insistence that “new media” made a big difference in the election. True, he acknowledged, we didn’t win—but our loss would have been larger had there not been internet sites from Breitbart and Drudge to PJ Media and Red State purveying “the rest of the story.” Maybe so.  Nolte admitted that “new media” could not—not yet—set the agenda, but it was, he argued, a potent weapon in shooting down false narratives. Again, maybe so. But the biggest false narrative of this past election was that Mitt Romney was an insensitive plutocrat out of touch with the common man.  The whole “Bain-Capital-is-Evil” meme was tirelessly and successful pursued by the Obama campaign. It was less than ridiculous. It was a patent, malevolent lie.  Romney never managed to counter it, and neither did we.  So much the worse for us, and for the country.