Aristotle, Curiosity, and the Mainstream Media
This week, I went to the 2012 “Mightier Pen Award” at a semi-secure widely publicized location in New York. Sponsored by the indispensable Center For Security Policy, the award “recognizes journalists who promote the need for robust US national security policies.” This year’s recipient was the great Monica Crowley, author (most recently) of What the (Bleep) Just Happened?: The Happy Warrior's Guide to the Great American Comeback.
Before Ms. Crowley’s luncheon talk, the Center had organized two panels on the media and the 2012 election. The first panel, “Beyond Bias: The Mainstream Media,” dilated on the role the mainstream media played in securing the election for Barack Obama. Speakers were my fellow PJM columnist Andrew McCarthy, Washington Times columnist Bill Gertz, and Forbes columnist (and PJM alumnus) Richard Miniter. The second panel, encouragingly titled “To the Rescue: The New Media,” featured Tiffany Gabbay from The Blaze, Peter Schweizer from the Hoover Institution, and John Nolte from Breitbart’s Big Hollywood.
It was a memorable event, a cathartic post-election moment at which little jewels of clarity and resolution were proffered and gratefully accepted by an audience most of whom were still suffering from PESS, post-election stress syndrome.
I’d like to share two points from the event. One concerns my title. Cardinal Newman once observed that, about most matters, to think like Aristotle was to think correctly. I believe that is true. Aristotle went wrong in a few areas—biology is a conspicuous example—but by and large his anthropology is spot on. It was with some chagrin, then, that I found myself disagreeing with a central Aristotelian observation in the light of Andrew McCarthy’s presentation. At the beginning of the Metaphysics, Aristotle says that “All men by nature desire to know.” Curiosity, he suggests, is native to the human animal. That is why were are so clever (that and the opposable thumb). But consider these questions Andy articulated about Obama and Benghazi:
- Who told the president about the siege on our consulate in that Libyan hell hole?
- When did Obama learn about the siege that left four Americans, including his official representative to Libya, dead?
- What were his orders about dealing with the siege?
Who, when, what. In the normal course of events, you would think that the men and women whose whole professional life is, or is supposed to be, driven by the desire to answer such questions would be busy as terriers digging for the truth about this extraordinary event. Four Americans, including a U.S. ambassador, murdered on the anniversary of 9/11 by offshoots of al-Qaeda. You’d think, wouldn’t you, that every Pulitzer Prize-craving journalist in the country would be all over this one.
Sniff the air. What do you smell? I smell scandal, a bug juicy scandal emanating from an administration that watched the seven and a half hour siege unfold in real time while U.S. military assets stood by nary an hour away and did . . . nothing. What happened in Benghazi contravened the official narrative about the beneficent “Arab Spring” that was breaking out all over, therefore it didn’t happen. Or rather, it happened because some dodgy character in California disseminated a cartoon-like melodrama about Mohammed. Did anyone—anyone—believe that? Where are the watch dogs of the fourth estate? Why is it that The New York Times, The Washington Post, MSNBC, and CNN have stood by in mute, simian idiocy, seeing, hearing, speaking no evil? Why? What happened to the desire to know? Who first told the president, the commander in chief, the man whose first responsibility is to provide for the national security of the United States, who first told him about the siege on our sovereign property in Libya? When did they tell him? It had to have been within minutes of that day-long siege beginning. And what was his response? What orders did he issue—or fail to issue—to safeguard those American citizens?
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.