By now, readers of Big Journalism are more than familiar with the liberal media’s exercise in conspiracy, collusion, and confusion that was the JournoList.
For most on the political right, the leaked emails being exposed by Tucker Carlson and his DailyCaller website serve as proof that the Mainstream Media has jumped the shark, compromising its traditional credibility and betraying a deep, passionate left-wing bias beneath what was supposed to be objective journalism.
But while all of that is certainly true, I believe it is based on a flawed premise. Specifically, that the Mainstream Media has ever been – or even should have ever been – credible and objective.
The historic reality is that media in America has always been a tool of partisans. During the years proceeding the American Revolution, the revolutionary founders used the pages of the emergent colonial newspapers to rally support for their petitions against the crown. In fact, newspapers were perhaps the most powerful tools in moving public opinion in favor of independence, both through publication of stories hostile to British intentions, or editorial tracts promoting revolution.
The most famous man in America at the time of the Revolution was Benjamin Franklin, who’s own paper, the Pennsylvania Gazette, carried America’s first political cartoon – JOIN OR DIE – penned by Franklin himself. Of course, Franklin was also a Founding Father of the nation with a seat in both the Continental Congress, and on the more exclusive sub-committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence. Certainly the Gazette, then, lacked objectivity, if not credibility.
When, after the war, the first Congress under the new Constitution passed the First Amendment, securing freedom of the press in the new nation, it was not a fair, unbiased press they were defending, but the gritty, partisan, error (if not patently fabrication)-prone press of the Revolution.
When the second President of the United States signed the Sedition Act, granting the federal government the power to imprison journalists who printed utter falsehoods, he may have lacked Constitutional and moral justification, but he was not without cause.
Anti-Federalist provocateurs like Benjamin Franklin Bache, grandson of the Founding Franklin, spread the most salacious stories about the fledgling American government under the Federalist party, largely to promote support (in the likely event of war with Britain) for the French Revolution. It was not only through editorializing that the Bache’s Aurora and other newspapers pushed this agenda, but through hard – if selective – reporting on British atrocities against American interests and blatant omission of French ones. The smear campaign reached such heights that President Adams actually feared for his life.
For their part, the Federalists, guided by Alexander Hamilton, also sought to sway public opinion toward war with France using the same questionable techniques.
While this sort of manipulative, partisan press may sound radical and inappropriate to modern Americans, the truth is, it has always been this way.
When Jefferson sought the Presidency in 1800, he did not campaign. That was still considered unseemly in the political culture of the day. He did, however, pump money into Republican newspapers, not for ads, but for advocacy.
Abraham Lincoln actually shut down newspapers that he saw as hostile to Union goals or dangerous to Union strategy, and newspaper magnates of the industrial revolution drove politics in this country. They even gave their papers names like The Democrat. How objective could such a paper actually be?
In fact, it wasn’t until the twentieth century that the idea of a transcendent press really became dominant and Americans began to accept journalism at face value. But had journalism actually changed, or were Americans, united against the common enemies of Depression, Nazism, and the Imperial Japanese simply in enough general political agreement to temporarily believe the media represented them all while it really continued to pursue its own partisan agenda?
Consider the great pillars of late twentieth century news – Walter Cronkite, Peter Jennings, Dan Rather, etc… These men were the very embodiment of the ideal of seemingly objective journalism. Yet, Walter Cronkite – “the most trusted man in America” – was hardly non-partisan. He was a member of the World Federalist Association, calling for the end of American hegemony and ceding of American sovereignty to a one-world government. He was a supporter, even with CBS resources, of the anti-war movement during Vietnam. His declaration that that war was unwinnable altered history forever, swaying public opinion and even convincing President Johnson that the jig might actually be up.
Peter Jennings dated Palestinian activist Hanan Ashrawi while serving as ABC’s Bureau Chief in Beirut and conducted the first-ever western interview with Yasser Arafat. Was it only coincidence then that he refused to call the Black September terrorists who kidnapped and killed the Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics terrorists?
And of course, Dan Rather lost his job over the Killian Documents scandal in which CBS published obvious forgeries of National Guard papers criticizing the military service of President George W. Bush. As if in answer to the question of credibility and objectivity, Mr. Rather defended his erroneous reporting as perhaps, “fake, but accurate.”
Did none of this apparent bias affect any of the rest of the decades of news these men and their small cadre of equally liberal peers covered, or was there simply no alternative media to highlight their bias in the post-World War Two America? When seasoned media professionals fondly reminisce about the days when President Roosevelt could be in a wheelchair or President Kennedy could openly liaise with myriad women, aren’t they really harkening to a day when no one questioned their open liberal biases? Did the public not have the right to know that their President was in a wheelchair, or a philanderer? Is it up to the media if a voter chooses to factor health and moral standing and honesty in their voting decisions?
For all of the talk about a fourth branch of government, calling to account corruption on both sides of the aisle, and informing the people’s decisions with transcendent objectivity, the media has always been a bullhorn for specific biases. The virgin media of our youth did not exist, and it should not exist. As with every other facet of life in a free society, it is only competition that creates progress and openness. In media, this means diverse views and diverse sources, calling not only corrupt politicians into account, but each other as well.
As distasteful as openly partisan media may be, it is the media of the twentieth-century that should be most feared – where the illusion of fairness masks the great deceit of the people. It is the media of the twentieth-century that gave such rapid rise to the ideas of globalism and socialism, because that is the media that championed them unchecked and quietly but consistently for more than fifty years.
So rather than decrying the JournoList as a bad thing, I choose to celebrate it for further illuminating the true state of things. The Mainstream Media is exceedingly, socially, and politically liberal. It has been for years, and its high-time the charade was finally ended. Only the emergence of an equally biased, right-wing media exposed the list, and only that same new media can continue to break down the left-wing media’s faux-fairness front to reveal them for what they really are. In the balance that might one day exist between left-media and right-media, a better quality of journalism will emerge – one where sloppy, selective, dishonest reporting is instantly revealed by the opposition. People will get better news, they just may have to work harder to get it than just flipping on CBS in the evenings and getting lied to with a straight face for an hour.
And who knows, maybe in this truly competitive environment, a market will emerge for a genuinely fair and balanced media that holds itself to a higher standard than anything we have ever seen before.