I often email my posts to a list of fellow bloggers and assorted friends of Breath of the Beast (If you want to be included let me know). Although the number of comments that my latest post has received was pretty average, the message that I sent out about it stirred up more return traffic than any other email I have ever sent out. The debate has been lively and stimulating. It has prompted me to define the scope of the awards more tightly and to rename them.
I had already had second thoughts about the original name but then I got messages from Pamela at Atlas Shrugged, (Voice of) Jackalope, Jewish Odysseus and Jeremayakovka all of whom I admire. The give and take over dozens of emails that flew back and forth forced me to the conclusion that, as satisfying as it is to call these idiots idiots, many of the people whose attention we most want to attract are repelled by that kind of harsh language. It would be much more productive to use language (especially in our headlines) that will help us to sell our position to the unconvinced folks who might be listening to the pernicious high priests of journalism only because they are the only source of information they trust. Trust is really the issue.
A friend of mine had recently recommended FreeRepublic.com to me. He told me to be sure and see the text of the speech that Tony Snow, the former White House Press Secretary delivered as he accepted the Freedom of Speech Award from The Media Institute at their Friends & Benefactors Awards Banquet in Washington, D.C. on October 16, 2007. The speech is long but nearly revolutionary in its impact. Its well worth reading in its entirety (Find it here.) and it deserves a much wider distribution than it has had to this point. I’d like to take some choice bits of it out here because they highlight the importance of having the right name and focus for this award.
Snow began his speech with a startling premise.
“We also hear that the First Amendment is under siege. I think that’s true. I don’t believe anyone here would disagree with the proposition that the quality of public discourse isn’t what it once was or that it presently achieves levels of excellence and depth that it desperately needs to reach.
Yet, while it may be tempting to blame the usual suspects — the government, interest groups, angry factionalists — those forces frequently have always tried to restrict the free flow of ideas, and they always have failed.
They’re not the culprits here. Instead, there’s a new and unexpected menace on the block:
Those are fighting words for certain. But this guy is no pugnacious ideologue, he is not a professioal media critic nor does he show any signs of having been embittered by his year and a half long skirmish with the press as White house Press Secretary. In fact, he makes a convincing and passionate case that he loves and respects the press. Snow, in a good natured, understated and understanding way, goes out of his way to explain that the Mainstream Media have already painted themselves into a very tight corner.
“… members of the mainstream press are scratching their heads and asking, “What’s going on here?” Why are the nation’s newspapers hemorrhaging readers? Why are the television networks losing viewers? Why has cable news suddenly hit still water? What is going on? Don’t Americans care about the news?
Well, of course they do: The problem is, they don’t think they’re getting news — and they’re right. Three factors explain the sudden crisis facing once-mighty keepers of the First Amendment flame.”
It is interesting that Snow uses the image of keepers of the flame”. This concept of a priestly trust goes back beyond the beginning of recorded history. I am going to return to priesthood soon so remember it.
“The Roper Organization conducted a poll after the 1992 election and discovered that 93 percent of Washington political reporters voted for Bill Clinton. Only 2 percent identified themselves as “conservative.
Subsequent surveys have indicated a similar spread in party affiliation, which makes the Washington Press Corps the most reliable Democratic voting bloc in the nation.”
It’s no wonder that the media do not express the views and represent the aspirations of the rest of the country. They only talk with each other and there is no one there to tell them they might be missing something. Snow characterizes the resulting spiral of self-sustaining insularity as:
“… sheer smugness. Reporters and editors for three decades have sneered at accusations of bias, as if the claim were novel — it is not — unthinkable — it is not — or false — which it also is not.
The major media organs in this country have become purveyors of conventional wisdom
— generally, conventional liberal wisdom.”
The unreality of this lopsided distribution of political belief is striking. After all, President Bush has prevailed ( if only narrowly) in two hotly contested presidential races and the Senate and Congress are almost evenly split between Republican and Democrat. Even so, the left (only because they have such a dominant representation in the media) enjoys the pleasure of striking a condescending attitude toward those whose ideas and beliefs do not have the constant reinforcement and validation of a media that is constitutionally unable to provide fair reporting of the ideas and aspirations of half of the nation. It is even fair to ask, “How do the conservatives and centrists maintain the level of popular support, the integrity of ideology and the morale to win elections in the face of such a disadvantage in the Public Relations Wars?” If the media were not so skewed, so sure that they are right, if they treated conservative ideas with a modicum of respect how would that affect the political balance of the nation?
Because the only voice heard in the mainstream media is a left-leaning one, it has become acceptable for otherwise intelligent people to speculate on whether the last two elections were stolen. I have heard ostensibly reasonable people discuss the idea that there is a real possibility that the Bush administration is trying to, in some unspecified way, silence anyone who opposes him, render the democratic process inoperative, throttle the press and metamorphose into the far left fantasy of him as BusHitler. Snow continues: point out that the only thing resembling a group with a monolithic ideological and unity or purpose that even remotely resembles a fascist system is the media itself.
I agree with Tony Snow that the Mainstream Media is a sort of priesthood. But where they once held the bright virile flame of freedom of speech as their sacred trust, most of them are far more interested in keeping and nurturing the sickly shimmer of “progressive leftist ideology.
Every priesthood has some “barrier” or qualification by which it attempts to set itself above “ordinary people”. Some are more justifiable than others. Lawyers, Psychologists and Physicians, for example, have their ordeal by education and their professional oaths that make them priests of their professions. The Catholic priesthood, of course have the direction of the infallible Pope and the (for most people) inconceivable sacrifice of celibacy.
The journalistic priesthood’s qualifying barrier has less to do with education or behavior. It is a modern mythology that was created on the bones of a few true heroes, people like (e.g. Ernie Pyle, Robert Capa, Stephen Crane and Dickie Chapelle) who risked everything to bring back real stories from dangerous places and cataclysmic events. In recent times that mantle has been expropriated by undeserving media whores (e.g. Charles Enderlin, Dan Rather, Peter Jennings and Christiane Amanpour) who stay in safe compounds and toady up to the terror factions to by their own security and to secure access to tainted information.
Films like The Killing Fields, All the Presidents Men and The Year of Living Dangerously pandered to this myth and have helped turn it into the basis of a false priesthood. Most people today will not question the priestly dedication of truth and fairness to which most journalists pretend. They may, as old-time Catholics did, know in their hearts that the priest is just a human being like them, but the mythos of the priesthood keeps them from questioning them.
The primary control on questioning the media is their use of political correctness. Snow describes it this way:
“But smugness isn’t the only threat to the First Amendment. Political correctness also stands in the way. It routinely imposes the kind of censorship journalists ought to hate most — prior restraint. It forbids the mere contemplation or acknowledgment of views that ruffle the feathers of self-appointed arbiters of the acceptable. These grandees usually find some kindly explanation for their banning of forbidden topics and thoughts — the communications in question hurt people’s feelings, invoke stereotypes, that sort of thing. But let’s be clear: the First Amendment didn’t create allowances for censors.
The Constitution’s authors would have grasped the utter frivolity of political correctness. It isn’t necessary. American society has a wonderful record of rejecting demagogues and verbal exhibitionists, without prodding or intervention from self-appointed scolds. The votaries of hatred and division occasionally have their day, but never for long. Americans have little patience for tub-thumping maniacs, and they reject demagogues with regular and ruthless efficiency.”
The more difficult the barrier, the more unassailable the status of the priesthood but the greater the loss of trust will be if the public perceives a betrayal; this is why, in the case of the Catholic priesthood, it was not so much the sexual abuse and the callous and unsympathetic treatment of the victims by the church hierarchy to damage the Catholic priesthood. It was the transgression (by a relatively few priests) of their most forbidding priestly qualification- and then they did not police themselves convincingly.
Although I am Jewish, I share family ties with many Catholics and I have seen, through the eyes of people I love, how the greatest, most benevolent and most unassailable priesthood in the history of mankind, a priesthood that was once beyond any kind of questioning used that position of power to protect members of their own caste who hurt ordinary people. The Catholic priesthood is now all but totally discredited by its own arrogance of power.
This is exactly why the al Durah affair is so important. My friend and mentor Richard Landes flew to Paris yesterday to confront the egregious journalist Charles Enderlin and his Employer France2. Richard has pursued Enderlin and France2 for seven years because they are guilty of the very same kind of transgression of “priestly vows and responsibility” that brought the Catholic hierarchy so low. The al Durah affair and Enderlin exposes the way in which the mainstream media has betrayed our trust and the sacred flame the are supposed to keep for us. They reported an event that they did not substantiate. When doubts were raised about it they prevaricated and concealed evidence. Even when they saw the terrible damage (the beheading of Daniel Pearl, the Ramallah lynchings, Osama bin Laden’s use of it to rationalize 9/11 and a million other acts of riotous violence, retribution and hatred) that their blood libel had caused, they have refused to cooperate in helping to repair that damage.
The suffering of the sexual abuse victims against the background of the uncaring, self-protection of The Church Hierarchy ultimately turned the tide against The Piesthood in the sex abuse cases and is that same asymmetry that will have to carry the day in our fight for an honest media.
Tony Snow ended his speech with this:
“There’s an old boast in the business — that the job of a journalist is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. The thing is, we never realized that we were becoming The Comfortable — with good pay, job security, and access to movers and shakers all around the world.”
Not only are the mainstream media “the comfortable” they are increasingly afflicting the afflicted as they use their priestly power to:
1. Blacken the reputation of Israel and weaken her position against those who will not be satisfied until she is destroyed.
2. Increase the suffering of all Muslim people by pimping out the news for the professional terrorist groups that have gained ascendancy in the world of Islamic politics since the 1960’s when the Western mainstream media proclaimed and supported Arafat as the Palestinian national leader
3. Continue to deny any distinction (or even difference in value) between the Caliphate fascist death cult of Islamism and Western Civilization.
For that reason, I am going to rename these awards the Charles Enderlin Prize for Pernicious Journalism - “The Chuckies” for short!