Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
We have long known that the progressive media no longer have any journalistic integrity. The pass given to Barack Obama on his gaffes, sketchy personal history, and dubious associates––all of which would have sunk a Republican candidate––stripped the last camouflage from reporters who used to at least try to hide their political biases and prejudices. Now facing the end of their messiah’s presidency, the media left are pulling out all the stops to elevate Hillary Clinton and demonize her opposition in order to complete The One’s fundamental transformation of the United States.
But candidate Obama, whose dubious personal biography the media helped to keep on the down low, lacked much of a public record, making him something of a blank slate to be filled with pleasing rhetoric and a feel-good bio. Hillary, on the other hand, has a long public history of money-grubbing, lying, and abusing power. We all know the catalogue of Hillary scandals, from Whitewater to Benghazi, from Filegate to Emailgate, from lying to the grieving parents of the dead heroes of Benghazi, to lying to the American people about the classified information that passed through her unsecured private server. Despite their eagerness to cover Bill’s sexual scandals in the 90s, today’s mainstream media have ignored, downplayed, or rationalized most of Hillary’s bad behavior. And during this primary season, they have not objectively followed the most blatant scandals––Benghazi, the unsecured email server, and the fiscal skullduggery of the Clinton Foundation–– with the obsessive fervor they’ve devoted to Donald Trump’s bad manners, Carly Fiorina’s alleged failures at Hewlett-Packard, Dr. Ben Carson’s missing surgical sponges, Ted Cruz’s “meanness,” or Marco Rubio’s traffic violations.
So we shouldn’t be surprised that the New York Times endorsed Hillary on the eve of the Iowa caucuses. Having helped put an incompetent and malignant token black in the White House, the Times is now eager to install a token woman, no matter how lacking in skill and achievements. But still astonishing is the editors’ claim that Hillary is “one of the most broadly and deeply qualified presidential candidates in modern history.” Such preposterous praise recalls the presidential historian who claimed that Obama is the most intelligent candidate for president ever––the same genius who thinks there is an “intercontinental railroad” and an “Austrian language.” As I’ve learned during 40 years of observing affirmative action in the university, when progressives are serving the gods of diversity and leftist ideology, reality doesn’t matter, and hectoring claims of achievement substitute for the real thing. Like a poem, the diversity “mascot,” as Thomas Sowell puts it, doesn’t have to do anything but exist.
Meanwhile, the left-wing media are viciously attacking the Republican primary candidates. Donald Trump in particular excites their fury, not so much for his policy prescriptions but for his style. The Huffington Post is attaching something like a political surgeon general’s warning to stories about Trump, warning readers that he’s a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, birther, and bully. BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith tells his staff it doesn’t violate the mythical ideal of journalistic non-partisanship to call Trump a “mendacious racist.” Instead of analysis of Trump’s policy ideas and an exposure of their incoherence or unworkability, we get a string of question-begging epithets and crude name-calling.
So the party of alleged rationality, analysis, fact, and nuance once again reveals its intellectual bankruptcy with such insults. Calling Trump a “racist” for wanting to bar Muslims entry into the U.S. bespeaks an ignorance of what the word means, since Muslims can be of any race or ethnicity. And to think racism lies behind Trump’s call to ship back 6, or 11, or 20 million illegal aliens is to believe that if the same number of low-skilled, uneducated Canadians, many of whom were criminals or welfare leeches, had illegally entered the country Trump wouldn’t mind. The same is true for “birther” and “xenophobe,” which are mere smears, “emotional terms,” as Orwell said of “fascist,” that mean “something cruel, unscrupulous, arrogant, obscurantist, anti-liberal and anti-working-class.” In short, the language of the schoolyard, not reasoned discourse.
As for “bully,” after seven years of Obama’s bullying racialist demagoguery, bullying of the Constitution, bullying arrogant partisanship, and use of federal agencies like the IRS and EPA to bully political foes, to attack a mere candidate for his crude style is to strain out the Republican gnat after swallowing the Democrat camel. So too with Hillary, who has an extensive record of bullying state troopers, secret-service agents, and worst of all the victims of Bill’s sexual harassment and assaults. And don’t forget the “vast right-wing conspiracy,” which one of her minions resurrected recently to smear Charles McCullough III, the Intelligence Community Inspector and a man of impeccable reputation and bipartisan support. McCullough had the gall to tell Senators that some of the emails found on Hillary’s server contained material classified at the highest security levels. This sort of bullying, whose intent is to misdirect our attention from likely felonies, in its dire effects makes Trump’s crude taunts sound like the repartee in a Jane Austen novel.
Such hypocrisy and ideological biases are why the mainstream media no longer have any credibility beyond the most die-hard partisans seeking confirmation of their biases. So what’s the solution? Demand more “objectivity” and “fact”? Remember, progressives came up with the idea that newspapers, the major media of the early 20th century, should be staffed with an elite of objective professionals reporting only the facts. As progressive Walter Lippmann wrote in 1919, the social, political, and economic complexity of modern life required that newspapers be brought “under social control,” that is, subjected to trained technicians far above the petty prejudices and selfish interests of the masses. Professionalization of the news, Lippmann argued, would create a “common intellectual method and a common area of valid fact,” and result in “a form of cooperation” rather than an “irreconcilable antagonism.”
In other words, progressives like Lippmann didn’t acknowledge the “irreducible complexity” and diversity of the American people. Both of these were institutionalized in the Constitution’s structure, and reflected in the riotous mix of opinions found in the 11,000 daily newspapers of the day, each of which wore its political preferences and biases on its sleeve. Instead progressives wanted to homogenize opinion on the basis of “facts” discovered by journalistic “science.” Nearly a century later we now know that like all the other progressive schemes to reduce the people’s diverse opinions to one unified ideology, the idea of a professional media has failed. The news doesn’t just report facts, but reflects the incompatible opinions and values of the people on issues that cannot be resolved just intellectually, for they involve principles and beliefs that are not “scientific.”
The solution to media bias, then, is to be found in diversity. The worst era of media bias was the decades after World War II, when the rise of television drove many newspapers out of business, leaving public opinion in the hands of a few major papers and the “big three” television networks. We witnessed what mischief this liberal monopoly could make in its slanted reporting on Vietnam and Watergate, a minor political sandal that never endangered our security to the extent that Hillary’s Benghazi and email lies and cover-up have.
But starting in the 80s, the rise of talk radio, cable news, and the Internet has now restored that variety of opinion once expressed by the abundance of different newspapers that could be found in most cities before the 50s. That’s why progressives scheme to limit the First Amendment and attempt to silence opinions they don’t like, and that’s why they and their shills in the legacy media demonize Rush Limbaugh and Fox News––they have broken the monopoly and provided alternatives to the progressive gospel.
In the end, as free citizens armed with the vote and blessed with a First Amendment, we are responsible for searching out the truth and thinking for ourselves, just as we are responsible for voting. It’s our job, not the media’s, to protect our political freedom.