Date Archives → October 2014
Happy Birthday P. G. Wodehouse
The English novelist–most famous for his thoroughly awesome series of “Jeeves” novels–would have been 133 today. Here are some of my favorite Wodehouse lines of prose:
He enjoys that perfect peace, that peace beyond all understanding, which comes to its maximum only to the man who has given up golf.
Insidious things (mint juleps). They creep up on you like a baby sister and slide their little hands into yours and the next thing you know the Judge is telling you to pay the clerk of the court $50.
He felt like a man who, chasing rainbows, has had one of them suddenly turn and bite him in the leg.
She fitted into my biggest armchair as if it had been built round her by someone who knew they were wearing armchairs tight about the hips that season.
The Right Hon. was a tubby little chap who looked as if he had been poured into his clothes and had forgotten to say ‘When!
She uttered a sound rather like an elephant taking its foot out of a mud hole in a Burmese teak forest.
Mr. Obama’s Legacy, Part 2: The Demise of the Fourth Estate & the Death of Journalism
I owe my vast and demanding readership a follow-up to my previous post about the long-term legacy of the Obama presidency. You’ll find the Part 1, “The Weaponizing of the Federal Bureaucracy” here.
Prior to the 1970s, Journalism students in America’s colleges and universities were taught a code of ethics that demanded objectivity in their reporting. It was understood that reporters and writers would have viewpoints and biases, but that they had a professional responsibility to keep their opinions out of their writing and to set their biases aside when reporting the news. No, this was never perfectly achieved but it was the ideal to which professionals aspired and the standard to which they were held.
Students were also taught that journalists played a vital role in American democracy–namely, keeping the government accountable and keeping the citizenry informed about what their government was up to. They inherited a tradition from Enlightenment Europe that viewed the press as a “Fourth Estate”–and therefore a pillar of civilized societies.
Americans understood that one of the key traits distinguishing the great Western democracies from totalitarian states and banana republics was a press that was free, able and willing to challenge the government.
Sure, guys like Walter Cronkite were ideological liberals. But the point is, Cronkite and his generation cared about being perceived as objective. He didn’t allow the mask to slip until late in his career and life.
All of that began to change when the maoist hippie protesters and campus sit-in organizers of the sixties became the adjunct professors of the seventies and the tenured professors or deans of the eighties.
Once these “Progressives” were solidly in control of of the nation’s “J Schools” (and the rest of Liberal Arts departments for that matter) they began turning out a new kind of journalist with a new sense of mission.
These new reporters no longer saw their mission to be informing the public of the facts (whatever those facts might be) and holding government officials accountable (no matter which party might be in power.) This new generation of journalists very consciously viewed themselves as a force for societal transformation.
As the battle lines of the”culture wars” formed (especially after 1973’s Roe v. Wade), this new breed of journalists picked a side.
This made advancing a set of agendas the primary mission of reporters, rather than objectively reporting events. And advancing agendas required actively helping one political party’s candidates and hindering the other’s. It also meant moving the electorate to the left.
All of this was accomplished subtly but powerfully through the reporter’s and editor’s power to decide what is “news” and what isn’t. To choose which questions to ask and which to leave unasked. And to choose who is questioned and who is left alone.
This wave of reporters were already well up the ranks of the nation’s news organizations by the time Ronald Reagan took the oath of office in 1981. Some older reporters sensed the shift and threw themselves into the agenda-driving fray.
As long as Republicans were the party in power, reporters and editors could continue to plausably claim they were continuing to fulfill their independent and objective watchdog role. But with the election of Bill Clinton, that claim became harder to square with reality .
Such claims became laughable when Barack Obama got his party’s nomination and the Republican nominee, the moderate John McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate. The news media’s advocacy became an powerful asset for the Obama cause–and an unsurmountable obstacle for Team McCain.
After the election, the country’s most incompetent and corrupt administration since Warren G. Harding’s benefited from a news media and liberal blogosphere that saw its sole job as running interference for President and his allies in Congress.
In the early days, the agenda-mongering in the press was uncoordinated and non-orchestrated. It succeeded organically because of a shared world view — everyone pretty much agreed with everyone else. But that all changed with Mr. Obama’s candidacy and presidency.
In 2007, liberal blogger Ezra Klein quietly formed a GoogleGroups message board called “Journolist” and began inviting other influential liberal reporters, writers, bloggers, and academics to join. Ultimately the list grew to more than 400 of the nation’s key journalists working at most of the elite media outlets. The secret network allowed leftist journalists to coordinate messaging and strategy.
Journolist offered the Obama administration a power to dispense preferred talking points and suppress unflattering news narratives that must have made Vladimir Putin envious . Of course, Team Obama happily accepted.
The existence of this group explains why, to the this day, Mr. Obama looks like he’s been slapped in the face with a wet mackerel on those rare occasions a reporter dares to ask him a hard or embarrassing question.
When the existence of Journolist leaked out, it was hastily shut down, but it has almost certainly been reconstructed in a stealthier way. In a broader sense, journalists now view themselves as righteous soldiers in the culture wars, fighting with the tools at their disposal to shape public opinion and make sure the “right” people get elected.
Sure there are a few exceptions — throwbacks to the earlier breed of objective journalist. ABC’s Jake Tapper comes to mind. But these are rarities. Real journalists generally don’t get promoted, or, if one slips through the system, don’t stay employed.
The most recent example is CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson, who tended to ask tough questions about the Obama administration’s Solyndra boondoggle, the Fast and Furious gun walking scandal, and Benghazi. Her pursuit of the Benghazi story was the last straw for her colleagues at CBS. She was instructed to play ball. She refused and resigned.
No, the presidential candidacy of Barack Obama in 2008 didn’t cause the death of journalism. But it finally exposed the truth that the corpse was cold.
The Wendy Davis Slime Machine
I’ve been following politics and studying elections most of my adult life. I’m also an avid student of history. And if there has ever been an uglier, more vicious, more dishonest media campaign for political office than that of Wendy Davis for Texas governor, I’m not aware of it.
Even the left-leaning Washington Post is now recoiling in horror. (“Wendy Davis is Running One of the Nastiest Ad Campaigns You Will Ever See“) A writer for hyper-liberal Mother Jones magazine called her latest ad, “offensive and nasty.”
The fact is, those adjectives accurately describe the entire campaign–which has received massive out-of-state funding, particularly from liberal coastal elites who fell in love with Wendy the state legislator when she conducted an 11-hour filibuster on the floor of the Texas House against a bill that restricted late-term abortions. When Davis’ filibuster–which was accompanied by pro-abortion supporters hoping to pelt Republican legislators with tampons, condoms, bricks and jars of urine and feces–became a widely covered national story, she became the darling of the Left and Big Abortion.
Thus out-of-staters have poured millions into the Davis campaign. And those dollars have funded a relentlessly negative, misleading and ubiquitous television ad campaign. Her campaign has been carpet bombing the local airwaves for weeks.
Meanwhile, the Greg Abbott campaign has barely bothered to respond to the stream of ugly accusations in the Davis ads. In fact, he’s hardly bothered to advertise at all–which tells you everything you need to know about what Abbott’s internal polls are saying about the election.
And explains why the Davis campaign is plumbing new depths of sliminess as election day approaches. May that day come quickly.
Forgot to mention that the campaign media company that created Davis’ latest ad is the same one that crafted the attack ad against Mitt Romney that falsely suggested a woman died of cancer because of him. So . . . lie down with dogs . . . fleas . . . and all that.
We’ve Seen This Before (Part 2)
You’ll find the first installment of this series here. The premise is that we’re living at a time in which it’s easy to think we’re experiencing unprecedented levels of global dysfunction and entropy.
Yes, a lot of ugly and troubling things are happening. But we’re also victims of the 24-hour news cycle and instant video from every corner of the planet.
A generation ago we might never even read about a handful of ISIS-besieged Yazidi citizens being rescued by helicopter from a remote Iraqi mountaintop. Today we watch video of it shot by a camera-phone in the chopper a few hours after it happened and share it with all our friends on Facebook.
Social media streams fed to our smart phones 24/7 provide a constant adrenaline drip of alarm and dismay.
If something unspeakably horrific happens somewhere, we know about it within minutes. Often we watch it unfold in real time. We lose sight of the fact that the unspeakable has been happening with regularity ever since the Fall of Man — beginning with one guy named Cain taking a rock and bashing in the skull of his brother.
It’s just that in most generations, we had the luxury of not hearing about it. Or seeing graphic pictures of the body.
Furthermore, most of us know precious little history. So, with this series I hope to provide a few morsels of historical perspective. So welcome, time traveler, to this installment of “We’ve Seen This Before” . . .
It is 1918 and and you live in a Duluth, Minnesota.
For four long years most of the world’s great powers have been engaged in a war of unprecedented scope and scale. The industrial revolution has made a new kind of warfare possible.
Mechanized. Chemical. Terrifying. The miracle of mass production has come to the business of killing humans.
It’s called The Great War . . . or The War to End All Wars . . . because the horror has been so appalling that no rational person can imagine another war ever being fought. Here in 1918, the war shows signs of winding down but it has already produced the deaths of 9 million combatants and another 7 million civilians.
Over the past few years, you’ve watched President Woodrow Wilson–using the war as justification–roll back civil liberties and turn the U.S. into a quasi-fascist state.
The Espionage Act of 1917 was followed by The Sedition Act of 1918. This act forbade Americans from using, “disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language” about the United States government, flag, or armed forces while we were at war. The act also let the Postmaster General deny mail delivery to anyone considered a “dissenter” of any government policy during wartime.
You watched Wilson create the “War Industries Board,” with the aim of placing all American industry in the service of the state. In a few years it will serve as a model for the policies Mussolini and Hitler.
A gate of hell has opened up in Russia and disgorged something new, dark and unimaginably oppressive. The newspapers tell you that the Czarist monarchy there has been overthrown and replaced by something called a Marxist revolution. The world’s first atheistic totalitarian regime is now ruling the world’s largest piece of geography with an iron-fist. And the blood is already beginning to flow.
Before the 20th Century comes to a close, Communism will kill nearly 100 million.
A mysterious new viral disease is sweeping the world and killing millions–with no abatement in sight. It will come to be called the Spanish Flu.
Previous influenza outbreaks had tended to kill only the very young and the very old. But this plague specializes in killing healthy young adults. Each day your morning newspaper carries the reports of how many more thousands died over night–around the world and across America.
Your Halloween news for the morning of October 31, 1918 informs you that Spanish flu has killed 21,000 of your fellow Americans in that week alone.
This plague is everywhere. From the remotest Pacific Island to inside the Arctic Circle. You know many people who have died from it. Everyone does.
In fact, before this disease burns itself out, one third of the earth’s population will have contracted the disease, and somewhere between 50 million and 100 million people worldwide will have perished.
In many places, there are so many dead, and so many others sick and weakened, that the dead are being buried in mass graves dug by steam shovel.
It’s terrifying. And many preachers have taken to their pulpits and the street corners declaring the plague a punishment from God. Many others are confident that this pandemic, along with the global war and many other signs, indicate that the end of all things is at hand.
A world increasingly connected by telegraph lines means your morning newspaper frequently contains news of recent disasters–both natural and manmade. Every day brings the news of a new earthquake, tsunami, flood or famine.
Then on October 12, you witness with your own eyes what will be remembered as the greatest disaster in Minnestoa history as a huge portion of of the northeast corner of the state burns to a crisp. For three days it seems like the apocalypse has come as walls of uncontrollable fire burn through the forests and sweep east toward Lake Superior.
It is initially rumored that the fire was started by foreign agents.
Before it is finally extinguished, what comes to be known as the Cloquet Fire chars more than a quarter million acres, burns three communities to the ground, and kills nearly 500 people. Scores of unrecognizable victims are buried in mass graves.
In 1918, you and countless other people around the world are convinced that events are spiraling out of control, the pinnacle of Western civilization has been reached, and that life will never be as good and calm again.
But you are wrong.