For something to be revitalized, it must first have become defunct, gone extinct. The idea of renaissance implies the idea of a dark age out of which it emerges. Journalists sound very much as though a dark age has ended and that they have entered a renaissance. Perhaps they have. But if so, why were they in a dark age to begin with? Or to put it another way, if journalism’s back, where was it hiding for the last eight years?
There is no answer to this question that casts the media in a flattering light. At best, they were merely derelict; at worst, they refused to do their job for reasons of politics and partisanship. It’s unlikely that in their hosannas to themselves, reporters meant to convey the impression that hitherto they had been asleep at the switch. Yet by so loudly advertising the alacrity with which they were now executing their solemn duties, they inadvertently exposed their quiescence under President Obama.
Why did journalism have to reassert itself? Had it been tamed or rendered timid? Each time someone proclaims that the media are back, he implies that they had gone away. You can’t return unless you’d left. So where did the media go? Were they on sabbatical or something? When reporters swear, “We’re doing our jobs again,” they are confessing, “We weren’t before.” Which leads one to ask, Why not?
There is a quality of “doth protest too much” to these oaths. They are too effusive, too vociferous. The zeal of the convert draws attention not to the zeal itself but to the conversion. If reporters are now doing their job, this suggests that they weren’t when Obama was president. This disparity between the media’s attitude to Trump and their attitude to Obama confirms their critics’ worst suspicions.