When our Founders (rightly) insisted upon a free press, they could never have envisioned the wounds the modern American media inflicted upon itself and, by extension, upon the American body politic. The Founders’ goal was a press that zealously kept watch on politicians, keeping them honest and reminding them that they were the people’s servants, not their masters. Instead, we have a media that selectively watches some politicians, while following a “don’t ask, don’t tell” standard as to others. And during those eras when the press’s preferred political party is in power, it turns its energies to attacking and destroying people, both private citizens and celebrities, who have the misfortune to catch the media’s eye.
As I hope to demonstrate below, some of the worst media scandals ever took place during the Clinton presidency. While the mainstream media (as opposed to the paparazzi/tabloid media) carefully averted its eyes from the Clintons, it savaged Tonya Harding, Richard Jewell, and Princess Diana. Please remind me if any such “assault by media” events happened during the Bush years. I can’t think of any, and am not surprised at that memory lapse, since the mainstream media’s entire energies were directed towards discrediting George Bush.
Beginning with 2008 election cycle, the media once again reversed course: it kept up the attacks on Bush, as well as targeting any Republicans who looked too close to winning the prize (can we say “Sarah Palin”?), and began once again focusing its energies on non-political inessentials — a pattern that it has kept to through the present-day.
My whole theory about the ebb and flow of tabloid and political reporting depending upon which party is in power began when I watched ESPN’s The Price of Gold, a documentary that examines Nancy Kerrigan’s infamous knee capping back in 1994, six weeks before the Lillehammer Olympics (and a few months before triumphant Republicans were able to seize Congress because of America’s horror at Clinton’s far-Left agenda.) Within a few weeks of the attack, the FBI had figured out that Kerrigan’s main on-ice rival, Tonya Harding, a powerful, scrappy poor kid was somehow involved. There was no question but that her husband and three conspirators actively carried out the attack. Harding subsequently pleaded guilty to obstructing justice by failing to give the FBI information after the attack, but she’s never admitted to being complicit in the attack herself.
If you get the chance to watch The Price of Gold, you should. Kerrigan refused to participate (although her husband appears twice), but Harding finally got the chance to tell her story. The documentary intertwines interviews with people who knew Harding and Kerrigan, fellow Olympic figure skaters, media people involved at the time, and Harding herself, as well as contemporaneous footage showing Harding from a little girl on ice right up until her demeaning post-Olympics career as a boxer. Separate from whether she was involved in the assault, Harding emerges as a very sympathetic figure. Unlike most American skaters, she pulled herself up by her own bootstraps, training in a shopping mall, suffering hunger and parental abuse, and eventually ending up in an abusive marriage. Despite this, she turned herself into one of the world’s top skaters.
Once Harding had hauled herself into the upper ranks, she discovered blatant class discrimination from two sources: the skating powers-that-be and the media. The skating world, still in thrall to Sonja Henie, demanded that, in addition to being powerful athletes, women skaters had to look like fairytale princesses. Nancy Kerrigan conformed nicely to these demands. Not only was she exceptionally pretty, she was also a powerful athlete. Thanks to her looks, she got lucrative endorsements, which enabled her to pay thousands of dollars for a classy princess costume, and to have the best training money could buy. Harding, on the other hand, was attacked for her homemade costumes and energetic rock music routines.
As for the media, they could have championed the working class heroine, but they didn’t. With the Olympics nearing, the narrative was set: beautiful princess facing challenge from ugly stepsister. Yes, Harding was scrappy and self-made, which even the media recognized was admirable, but she simply wasn’t photogenic. The press besieged her, but not in a respectful way.
After the attack, all Hell broke loose when it came to the media. Keep in mind that, when the media went after Harding, never leaving her alone for a single second, no one knew whether she was innocent or guilty. Indeed, we still don’t, although people close to Harding have their guesses. The absence of proof or knowledge didn’t stop the media from making it impossible for Harding to train or to do anything else. It was clear when Harding made her disastrous appearance at the Lillehammer Olympics that she was destroyed, not by a guilty-conscience (and, again, we don’t know if she had a guilty conscience), but by being hunted relentlessly for six weeks. It probably wasn’t a coincidence that this debacle took place as Clinton was plummeting in the polls thanks in large part to his healthcare initiative.
There was another media frenzy in 1994 as well, which was also a distraction from actual news about Clinton’s myriad policy failures: The OJ Simpson trial. For nine months, the media provided wall-to-wall coverage of the trial, allowing it to keep to a limit any meaningful political coverage.
Two years later, the media engaged in even more shameful behavior in the case of Richard Jewell, the hero who saved so many lives at the 1996 bombing at the Atlanta Olympics. After first lauding him, the media then tried and convicted him, at the same time stalking and harassing him unmercifully. When he was definitively cleared, the media hounds just slunk away into the night; their work was done. That was the same year, as you recall, was that Clinton caved on gay rights, enacting “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the military.
And then there were the Bush years. Please remind me of any famous media scandals during the Bush years that did not involve attacks on George Bush or his policies. I can’t think of any.
With the lead-up to the 2008 election, the media once again took its eye off politics and started the scandal watch again. It continued to savage Bush, and added Sarah Palin to its list of people it had to destroy. Headlines became pure fluff. Hard news — about the attempted Iranian Green Revolution, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the Syrian Civil War, the economy, the IRS scandal, the NSA scandal, etc. — was quickly and inaccurately summarized to make room for the really important stuff. The MSM primarily devoted itself to attacking Republicans, lauding Democrats, worshipping Obama, supporting gay rights, demanding massive changes to the military, climate change, closed bridges, and Miley Cyrus and her ilk. Whitney Houston, who killed herself directly or indirectly through years of drug abuse got more coverage than Chris Kyle, a true American hero who got murdered.
A good example of the media’s bizarre focus is Alec Baldwin. Baldwin has always had a famously combative relationship with the media, especially the paparazzi. He’s now taken to the pages of The Vulture to reveal that he’s not a gay-bashing monster but is, instead, a compassionate fellow who is a victim of media and gay attacks. It makes for an enlightening read, although not in the way Baldwin intends.
I should say here that I hold no brief for Baldwin. As 30 Rock showed, he’s an extremely talented comic actor — and that’s the only nice thing I can say about him. He’s an angry, combative, whiny, hate-filled man who believes himself to be an intellectual. (Which reminds me of the response the Jewish mother gave to her son when he proudly showed up wearing his “captain” outfit for his new yacht: “Sammy, by me you’re a captain and by you you’re a captain. But tell me — by captains are you a captain?” With regard to Baldwin, one is tempted to say, “Alec, by you you’re an intellectual, and by Leftists you’re an intellectual. But tell me — by actual smart people, are you an intellectual?”)
Nevertheless, despite all that is really unpleasant about him, Baldwin makes some good points in his extended, almost maudlin rant. First, he’s right about the attacks gays are making on free speech. It doesn’t excuse his obscene, abusive language, but Baldwin has vaguely figured out that the speech police are out there. Indeed, he rises to a certain level of sardonic wit when he calls Anderson Cooper (who I always think looks as if he’s lived his life in a deep sea cave) “the self-appointed Jack Valenti of gay media culture,” for demanding that the media “vilify” Baldwin. Baldwin doesn’t see or doesn’t care about the way gay issues suck up all the media’s air time to the exclusion of coverage about Benghazi, the IRS, North Korea, Fast & Furious, etc.
Baldwin also makes a couple of good points when he talks about the paparazzi and MSNBC. Of the press, he accurately — indeed, in an almost low-key way — describes its behavior:
And this isn’t the days of Rona Barrett and Ron Galella, who were viewed as outcasts or peripheral at best. Paparazzi today are part of a network that includes the Huffington Post and, much to my dismay, even NBC News, in their reliance on tabloid reporting.
Photographers today get right up in your face, my wife’s, my baby’s. They are baiting you. You can tell they want to get into it with you. Some bump into me or block the entrance to my apartment, frustrating my neighbors (some of whom may regret that I live in their building).
The other point Baldwin makes that is worth noting is his attack on MSNBC. Putting aside the obvious sour grapes, he confirms what all of us have always suspected — MSNBC is run by Leftist businessmen who employ minimally intelligent talking heads to operate as an attack machine, rather than a news agency. (Baldwin concedes that Rachel Maddow isn’t stupid, but thinks she’s a “phony,” whatever he means by that conclusory word.):
Phil Griffin is the head of MSNBC, and when I saw that Griffin didn’t have a single piece of paper on his desk, meeting after meeting after meeting, that should have been my first indication there was going to be a problem. Phil is a veteran programmer who knows well the corridors and chambers of television programming—and couldn’t give a flying fuck about content.
Even as the media has spent the Obama years obsessed by Alec Baldwin, gays, and Miley Cyrus, what about the way in which it’s performed its core function under the First Amendment, which is to ensure open and honest political discourse in America? I don’t think I need to start preaching to the choir here. You can amuse yourself by comparing coverage of Bridgegate to the media’s announcement that Hillary Clinton’s entire past, up to and including Benghazi, is off limits. After all, “What difference, at this point, does it make?”
Or you might want to compare the microscope placed on Sarah Palin (including reporters going through her garbage or Andrew Sullivan’s increasingly insane theories about her son Trig’s parentage) versus the three monkeys approach the media took to every facet of Barack Obama’s history (“hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil”).
The profound damage the media is inflicting on America with its slavish devotion to the Democrat Party came to mind when I read an article about the Ukrainian media’s role in the current uprising. The article shows two things: (1) that a media complicit with the government is terribly damaging to the rights of the people and (2) that a media that backs away from that same government can then destroy it (and that’s true whether or not it’s a government that deserves to be destroyed). Both of these are useful lessons for America.
Lidia Pankiv, a Ukrainian journalist, was invited to speak on a talk show on Inter, the most popular news station in Ukraine. Andriy Danylevych, the show’s host, wanted to do a human interest story with her about how important it is for reconciliation to occur instantly between, on the one hand, a government that governed against the will of the people and then tried to kill them and, on the other hand, the people themselves. Pankiv was expected to tell a heartwarming story about how she calmed down riot police attacking civilians and how she ended up engaged to one of those riot police. Pankiv, however, wasn’t going to talk about reconciliation. Instead, she had a message for her compatriots about the media’s complicity in tyranny (emphasis mine):
You probably want to hear a story from me about how with my bare hands I restrained a whole Berkut unit, and how one of the Berkut officers fell in love with me and I fell in love with him. But I’m going to tell you another story. About how with my bare hands I dragged the bodies of those killed the day before yesterday. And about how two of my friends died yesterday. . . . I hate Zakharchenko, Klyuev, Lukash, Medvedchuk, Azarov. I hate Yanukovych and all those who carry out their criminal orders. I came here today only because I found out that this is a live broadcast. I want to say that I also despise Inter because for three months it deceived viewers and spread enmity among citizens of this country. And now you are calling for peace and unity. Yes, you have the right to try to clear your conscience, but I think you should run this program on your knees. I’ve brought these photos here for you, so that you see my dead friends in your dreams and understand that you also took part in that. And now, I’m sorry, I don’t have time. I’m going to Maidan. Glory to Ukraine.
When the show’s host tried to derail this conversation, the other guest instead agreed with what Pankiv had to say (emphasis mine):
Danylevych immediately tried to return to the night’s topic of reconciliation. But he was stopped by guest Konstantin Reutsky, a human-rights activist from Luhansk. Reutsky agreed with Pankiv, saying that Inter journalists had “lied and distorted information about Maidan over the last three months.” Danylevych tried to interrupt Reutsky, who went on to say that the protestors had tried for months to avoid bloodshed. “But what happened yesterday is a point of no return,” Reutsky continued. “After that you can no longer say, ‘Sorry, we got carried away, let’s turn the page and start afresh without offense.’ What happened yesterday is impossible to forget.” Danylevych, after shouting down Reutsky’s further attempt to discuss the crimes committed by the government, changed the topic. But a chief media mouthpiece of the regime, owned by the president’s oligarch backers, had been exposed. Hours later, the president fled his palace.
John Fund, whom I quoted immediately above, draws one conclusion:
As someone who reported from Eastern Europe during the fall of Communist regimes there, I recognized a recurring pattern in the collapse a quarter century later of the regime in Kiev. Regimes can stay in power in an age of mass media only if they have enough murderers willing to gun down people in the street.
There’s more to add than that, though. Certainly it’s true that, when the blood really starts to flow, the media can no longer hide what’s going on, and the government can hold out only if there are enough people willing to stomach the bloodshed of their fellow citizens to fight them to the death (e.g., Syria). What struck me most strongly about what happened in Ukraine, though, is the way in which a corrupt, complicit media propped up an administration that was governing against the will of the people. The Ukrainian government hadn’t resorted to physically attacking its people in the months leading up to last week’s uprising. Instead, it simply lied to the people and it was able to do so because the media covered for it. (I wrote those words before Putin stepped up his game against Ukraine. Putin understands that when a once great power is governed by a paper rat — Obama doesn’t rise even to the level of a paper tiger — the bad actors of the world no longer have anything to fear.)
If you’re now thinking about Obamacare and other events in the Obama administration, you and I are two minds with but a single thought. The media has turned on its head the Founders’ belief that a healthy democracy can survive only with a media that rigorously keeps politicians honest by accurately reporting what’s happening in the political world. Our media has utterly failed in its constitutional responsibility. When Obama ran for president, it covered for him, telling the world that no one had any right even to ask Obama about his personal history, political record, and peculiar group of friends. When Obama pushed for Obamacare, the media relayed his lies without comment and avoided covering anything negative. In Benghazi, the media carefully didn’t ask any questions that might have exposed Hillary’s and Obama’s lies. With the IRS scandal, the media simply buried the whole matter as quickly as possible.
The American media is Ukraine’s Inter. No, I take that back. The American media is worse than Inter. Ukraine doesn’t have a First Amendment. Its press has no constitutional right to be free nor does it have the moral mandate that flows from that extraordinary right to be the people’s watchdog. In most of the world, it’s always been a given that the press is the government’s mouthpiece — and, as Putin’s Russia shows, it can be deadly to try to break free from that relationship. In America, however, the media had something unique in world history: a signed, written contract granting it freedom from the government. The American media did something extraordinary, though: it shredded that contract, threw the pieces to the wind, and willingly put its neck in the government’s yoke — provided that the government was run by a Democrat.
In the past thirty years, the American media has managed to turn itself upside down. Instead of being a government watchdog and the people’s protector, it has become the government’s lapdog and the people’s persecutor. Moreover, it has done this to achieve blatant partisan outcomes: it uses its power to install and maintain Democrat Party governments and it deflects attention from its misbehavior by attacking a select few in order to divert and deceive the masses.