Only because it's my job, I follow hundreds of mainstream media types on Twitter and all day long watch broadcasts of MSNBC and CNN. The fact that this makes me the least informed person in the country is for another post, but what I see reminds me very much of high school. It's hard to quantify, but like The Matrix, as these thousands of tweets stream by throughout the day, you eventually see a pattern and get a sense of how this subculture works.
Just like high school, there's a pecking order in the media -- a cool kids' table, and the requisite desire to be liked, need to be included, and a somewhat nauseating set of rules to it all. Glib, detached irony is a calling card as is an obsession with the fun and games of politics -- because that's all any of this is to them. It's as though taking the future of your country seriously immediately relegates you to the nerd table.
To be fair, though, some things they do take seriously. The RIGHT things, the politically correct things: same-sex marriage, the Congressional Black Caucus -- that kind of stuff. I'm not trying to throw a newsflash your way that the media is leftist, you already knew that, but what's fascinating to watch is the CONFORMITY.
Bottom line: Everything a vast majority of the media does is meant to impress their own. It has nothing to do with getting to the truth or informing the public. They're writing, reporting, and tweeting only to satisfy and aggrandize The Collective -- to continually prove they belong or to improve their standing.
Like I said, it's like high school, and wanting to be part of the cool kids' clique requires conformity – and this conformity isn't exclusive to only left-wing journalists. Media-approved conservatives like Joe Scarborough, David Frum, Peggy Noonan, and the like are just as bad; maybe worse because they should know better.
These unwritten rules and the Borg-like collective conformity that manages the media does, I think, explain at least part of the day-to-day corruption we face. The Narrative is everything -- it's the daily homecoming game where you better show up, look a certain way, speak a certain way, and not spoil the fun. And by "fun" I of course mean the thrashing of conservatives and conservative ideas.
The media does dutifully cover everything, but The Narrative is what drives coverage, the national conversation, and The Agenda. The media might report that unemployment has increased but The Narrative tells us that's a good thing. The media might report that Obama is lying about Romney's record at Bain Capital but The Narrative is entering week seven of demanding Romney release more tax returns.
Obviously, the pressure to fit in isn't felt only among our media overlords. It's a part of any subculture, including conservative ones. But it's not only especially grotesque and artificial in the media; it's dangerous.
The media is supposed to be objective, competitive, and independent. Instead, though, it's the complete opposite -- an organism ruled by conformity, political correctness, and corrupt Narrative leaders like Politico, The Washington Post, The New York Times and whoever finds the latest nonsense-distraction to play whack-a-GOP with -- to keep our eye off the economy. And the finding of this nonsense-distraction is considered The Prize. If you want your stock to climb, if you want a seat closer to the king, tripping up the Republican party is your quickest route (and Ben Smith's reason for living).
Now seems like a good time to get to the point.
Over the past week, we've seen the worst part of the Media-Collective at work: what happens to those who dare, even for a moment, to defy The Narrative.
Over the past years, the failing Newsweek has been a reliably liberal pipe-organ, especially after Tina Brown's takeover. But this week, the weekly dared to run a cover story written by a conservative that makes a damning case against Obama. As you might expect, the blowback from The Collective has been fierce. Politico's Dylan Byers, one of the Media-Collective's top conformity enforcers, has been especially rabid. Suddenly this same so-called media analyst whom we've caught in bed with Media Matters more than once is obsessed with fact checking. Naturally, he's never been this obsessed with tripping up and discrediting any of Newsweek's liberal cover stories.
But this is more than about discrediting or even left-wing bias. It's about enforcement.
Newsweek takes a single step off the Leftist Narrative-Plantation and hell is rained down on them from more places than just Politico. This is the Media-Collective sending a message that this kind of thing just isn’t allowed – a harsh reminder to everyone else that you will pay a heavy price amongst your own every time this happens.
In a nutshell, it's bullying and thuggery -- it's Jimmy Cagney smacking the barkeep around until he agrees to purchase a certain kind of beer.
We saw the same thing happen to Politico reporter David Cantanese, who stepped off the Leftist Narrative-Plantation with a "for argument's sake" defense of Todd Akin's thoughtless and stupid comments about rape and abortion. The sin Cantanese committed wasn't a journalistic one. He wasn't taking a side; he was promoting a discussion that wasn't occurring within The Collective's monolithic coverage. But for doing so, the cool kids trotted him out for public humiliation after a little of the ole' re-education.
Cantanese's only real sin was going off-script and threatening to derail a Distraction-Narrative the corrupt media believes can help them run out the clock for Obama. With 70-odd days to go until the election, if everyone in the media stays in line, Obama's Media Palace Guards know they can milk Akin for at least another week's worth of "Akin exposes a larger problem for the GOP brand" stories (as NBC's Chuck Todd just now said) that distract from the economy.
The news isn’t all bad, though. Not every mainstream media-type is eager or willing to conform. There are some brave souls out there who don’t work in New Media and still retain their credibility. Until a few months ago, off the top of my head, I would've only been able to name ABC's Jake Tapper and CBS's Sharyl Attkisson as exceptions. But recently I've seen some stirrings from two others, and this is most unexpected.
Campbell Brown, a former CNN anchor, has become an op-ed writer and what she's writing about is nothing like her former show. She's been effectively critical of two media sacred cows: Obama and Planned Parenthood, and just this morning was on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" pushing back at the criticism that her being married to a Romney advisor has anything to do with her recent independent streak. Rather than attack me, she basically said, attack my arguments.
Obviously, Brown is getting a taste of the personal attacks the left always launches against apostates.
The most surprising new member of this club, though, might be Norah O'Donnell, who recently moved from MSNBC to CBS as that network's Chief White House Correspondent. Freed from the openly liberal NBC, in recent days O'Donnell has openly bristled (more than once) against the atmosphere of complete and total presidential obedience that emanates from the White House Press Corps. -- Jake Tapper being a notable exception.
Tapper is also a notable exception for having the sand and enough respect for the ideals of his profession to have said this yesterday on Laura Ingraham's radio show:
“We are spending a lot of time in the last few weeks, those of us in the political world, political journalists and also politicians, talking about things other than the economy,” said Tapper. “[A] lot of people are hurting out there. I’d like to see more action taken and more emphasis given to this issue.”
Tapper also said he relates to Mark Halperin’s recent comments about the media. Over the weekend, Halperin said, “I think the press still likes this [Romney tax return] story a lot, the media is very susceptible to doing what the Obama campaign wants, which is to focus on this.”
“I have said before… [that I] thought the media helped tip the scales. I didn’t think the coverage in 2008 was especially fair to either Hilary Clinton or John McCain,” Tapper said.
On the 2008 coverage, he noted, “Sometimes I saw with story selection, magazine covers, photos picked, [the] campaign narrative, that it wasn’t always the fairest coverage.”
I've seen a lot of headlines around Tapper's statements that claim he's accusing the media of "failing the country," but that's putting words in his mouth and reading intent. That's not something I'm going to do.
But I do think that what Tapper said is not only true (obviously) but a very big deal coming from someone as respected and high up as he is. And Tapper's work at ABC News reflects his words. He's covering the big issues.
What we have to hope for is that Tapper's "I'm Spartacus" moment registers with others as much as it did with me and encourages those within the media who thought they were alone to also stand up -- those who respect the ideals of their profession enough to shake off the conformity-shackles of The Narrative and to pursue truth and hold power accountable regardless of party.
Sometimes all it takes is knowing you’re not alone.
Or maybe being on vacation last week made me forget just how hopelessly corrupt this institution is.
Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC