Big Government, Bad Journalism

posted at 5:45 pm on June 26, 2010 by Doctor Zero

Just the other day, I was discussing the challenge of maintaining cordial relationships in a highly politicized society with a friend of mine.  When politics have infused every aspect of our lives, right down to the menus at fast-food restaurants, our political opinions are often interpreted as judgments of character.  The conservative sees a diehard Obama supporter as an accomplice to tyranny, while the Obama supporter sees the opponents of socialized medicine as accessories to the murder of the uninsured.  No matter which side of the debate you come down on, it’s easy to see that the stakes are high, and participation has become mandatory.  The option to stay out of the argument no longer exists, because regardless of your station in life, this vast and activist government is not going to leave you alone.

I found myself thinking along these lines while watching JournoList, the electronic locker room for liberal reporters, collapse beneath the weight of Dave Weigel’s spleen.

Weigel has spent the last few months working as an observer of the conservative movement for the Washington Post, whose readers must wonder about the identity of the vast Tea Party crowds occasionally blocking their view of the IRS building.  As it turns out, Weigel really hates the people he’s been covering, and sees himself precisely the way conservatives see most dinosaur-media reporters: as a partisan operative of the Democrat Party.  He expressed his hatred, and loyalties, in a series of communications posted to JournoList.  These emails became an embarrassing burst of digital flatulence when they were made public.  Weigel is out of a job at theWashington Post, and JournoList is gone.

Blogger Ace of Spades wonders why the Post couldn’t find a sympathetic correspondent to cover the “conservative beat,” and answers his own question by pointing out the Post has no interest in publishing material that might lead its readers to begin grooving to that conservative beat.  The last thing they want is for their right-wing avatar to come back with a horde of angry natives behind him and lead a successful insurrection.

Here we cross the line between editorial decisions and bias.  Why would an unbiased newspaper be afraid to honestly report news that makes one side of a political debate look appealing, instead assigning a reporter to highlight fringe material to cast them in the most negative light possible?  Of course, they are biased, but it’s even worse than that.  They’re subjective. They pretend to be commentators, but they’re actually players in the game… just like everyone else.  Our fates are all controlled by the immense central government worshipped by the Post. They have a vested interest in ensuring its sustained growth, so they can make their fortune writing epic tales of its heroic deeds.

Big Government makes for bad journalism.  As I like to point out whenever someone like David Frum gushes over “moderates,” there is no meaningful way to be moderate when a carnivorous super-State is chowing down on huge portions of the private sector, while dismissing bedrock Constitutional rights with an irritated wave of its hand.  You either resist the onslaught of the State with all your might, or bear passive witness to its expansion.

At this moment in American history, there is no functional difference between a genuine “centrist” and Dave Weigel’s right-wing “ratf**kers.”  If you think you should be allowed to keep your own medical insurance, and see your own doctor, you’re taking an extreme partisan stance.  If you don’t think the government should be able to revoke the First Amendment or due process rights of private corporations at its convenience, you are a declared enemy of the State.

For the same reason, journalists can only make the thinnest pretense of objectivity when covering the super-State.  Merely reporting honestly on its past and current activities would qualify a journalist for associate membership in the Ratf**ker Pack.  As my Green Room colleague Karl points out, some of Weigel’s most intellectually offensive emails concerned the kind of organized narrative manipulation that appears to have been the true purpose of JournoList all along.  In the immense political struggle now under way, there is no room on the sidelines.

Mainstream media figures want to pose as friendly partners in an intelligent conversation, but the size and power of the government they cover makes it impossible to analyze dispassionately.  In their hearts, journalists really hate the idea of seeing that exciting mega-government torn down, or they believe it’s impossible to do so.  That’s why they see the new breed of aggressive, Tea Party-endorsed Republicans as either enemies or lunatics.  It doesn’t help that they’re well aware of ongoing statist efforts to control or subsidize the media.  Even those reporters who aren’t True Believers are reluctant to earn a spot on the enemies list of an eternally triumphant statist elite.

It’s striking how much venom Dave Weigel directed at people who never insulted him personally.  In the pressure cooker of an overwhelming, and collapsing, centralized government, the personal and political are fused into a single identity.  Asking uncomfortable questions is an act of rebellion, and effective resistance to the will of the elite is a declaration of war.  Media operatives, who eat and drink politics with every meal, are just a little further down the spiral of bitterness and desperation that awaits us all.

Cross-posted at www.doczero.org.

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