The other day in the Wall Street Journal, my friend Fred Barnes deposited a few thoughts on journalism provoked by the discovery of a mother lode of left-wing bigotry, screeds and semiliterate gibbering. He hastened to tell his readers that there was no conspiracy behind the journalists’ “tilt” to the left, but rather, “The media disproportionately attracts people from the liberal arts background who tend, quite innocently, to be politically liberal.” Then he filed a caveat, noting that “hundreds of journalists have gotten together, on an online listserv called JournoList, to promote liberalism and liberal politicians at the expense of traditional journalism.”
Well, let me address Mr. Barnes‘ thoughts before jumping on the JournoList controversy. I rather doubt that journalism was ever a conspiracy. In fact, I doubt that journalism was preordained to be dominated by liberalism. There was a day, before the New Deal, when there were plenty of journalists who were not guided by left-wing ideas or any motive at all. The clever journalist, usually, just wanted to get a good story. Yet the New Deal came along, and then World War II and finally, television. At first, it was humanitarian to be in sympathy with the New Deal. Then it was patriotic to be in sympathy with what was a growing homogenization of views amongst news gatherers. Finally, it was good sense to be a liberal newsman. By the time television came into its own, liberalism was the corporate mentality of the news-gathering business. Hence, you can take a television news gatherer or a print news gatherer and plug them in interchangeably.
By the 1990s, this corporate mentality had begun to change. Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes saw a market. They dissented from the media’s corporate mentality and presented the news from a conservative perspective. Talk radio came along and presented a conservative talk venue. Now Fox News alone brings in more revenue than the combined revenue of CNN, MSNBC and the network news shows on ABC, NBC and CBS. The corporate mentality suddenly was in trouble.
Instead of breaking up along reasonable lines, it has tried to remain coherent and viable against the odds. While Mr. Murdoch and Mr. Ailes at the Wall Street Journal and Fox have employed ideologues and entertainers, the media’s stalwarts are all “true” journalists who have continued gathering the news, pronouncing on it and covering their gluteus maximus when some poor wretch such as Dan Rather proves to be an embarrassment.
Recently, there proved to be another embarrassment. I have in mind Mr. Barnes‘ “hundreds” of journalists. They were indeed sedulously advancing “liberalism and liberal politicians at the expense of traditional journalism.” Yet, with admirable sang-froid, the Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz, who watches over the corporate mentality of journalism like a mother hen, tsk-tsked that some of the listserv messages “show liberal commentators appearing to cooperate in an effort to hammer out the shrewdest talking points against the Republicans - including, in one case, a suggestion for accusing random conservatives of being racists.”
Did you say “liberal commentators,” Howard? They were all left-wing commentators. One reason the keepers of the news’ corporate mentality can no longer be taken seriously is they cannot identify a left-winger. There is no sense of symmetry in their world. Where the products of Mr. Murdoch and Mr. Ailes can be called conservative, no product of ABC, CBS, NBC, the New York Times or The Washington Post can ever be called liberal, to say nothing of left-wing. Call them the products of the corporate mentality.
Typical of the corporate mentality - any corporate mentality - they lack wit, humor, any form of urbanity. Here is a sampler preserved from Tucker Carlson’s Daily Caller website by Peter Wehner of the sort that aroused Mr. Barnes‘ initial thought on journalism:
Laura Rozen: “People we no longer have to listen to: would it be unwise to start a thread of people we are grateful we no longer have to listen to? If not, I’ll start off: Michael Rubin.”
Michael Cohen, New America Foundation: “Mark Penn and Bob Shrum. Anyone who uses the expression ‘Real America.’ We should send there [sic] a** to Gitmo!”
Jesse Taylor, Pandagon.net: “Michael Barone? Please?”
Laura Rozen: “Karl Rove, Newt Gingrich (afraid it’s not true), Drill Here Drill Now [website], and David Addington, John Yoo, we’ll see you in court?”
Jeffrey Tobin, the New Yorker: “As a side note, does anyone know what prompted Michael Barone to go insane?”
Matt Duss: “Ledeen.”
Spencer Ackerman: “Let’s just throw [Michael] Ledeen against a wall. Or, pace Dr. [Eric] Alterman, throw him through a plate glass window. I’ll bet a little spot of violence would shut him right the f*** up, as with most bullies.”
Joe Klein, Time: “Peter Wehner … these sort of things always end badly.”
Then there was a National Public Radio producer who wrote that she would, upon hearing Rush Limbaugh had a heart attack, “laugh loudly like a maniac and watch his eyes bug out. … I never knew I had this much hate in me.”
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R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is the founder and editor-in-chief of the American Spectator and an adjunct scholar at the Hudson Institute. His new book is “After the Hangover: The Conservatives’ Road to Recovery” (Thomas Nelson, 2010).