Journalism Loves Absentee Landlords: Liner Notes

I have a new column up at The Federalist today (busy week!), titled “What Journalists Want From Media Billionaires: Lots Of Money, No Influence.” It would be easy — and semi-accurate — to describe it as a goof or a troll, and some took it that way:

It would be a bit more accurate, however, to classify it as “kidding on the square.” Perhaps it is a function of age, but along lines noted earlier this week, we do seem to be going through a period vaguely like the late 60s or early 70s, in which the young feel entitled to tell the old how to run things without adult supervision. Not surprising really, as both periods feature failing institutions and a resulting widespread distrust of said institutions. That said, one could debate the pluses and minuses of that dynamic for institutions at length.

For those who may find the piece a bit too trollish, I would quote the fictional Pres. Andrew Shepherd:

“America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say ‘You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country can’t just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then, you can stand up and sing about the “land of the free” ‘.”

As recently as 1995 this was stirring rhetoric for liberals, classic and modern. Shepherd was Hollywood’s fantasy version of Bill Clinton (and a widower, which maybe contained a message for Democrats in 2016, but I digress).

Does anyone think that today’s Big Media institutions buy into this ethos? Do you think that they believe people not only have the right to kneel during the national anthem, but to criticize at the top of their lungs those who do? Or cheerfully engage those who think such protests are merely bad tactics? Does anyone think a profession where only 7% will admit to being Republican celebrates those who stand center stage advocating that which the vast majority of journalists do not believe will “make the world a better place”? As a general matter, I do not (there are always exceptions and I applaud them).

But most of all, it’s grating that this sort of hubris dares taking offense when their hypocrisy is noted. If Rupert Murdock walked into the Wall Street Journal bullpen today and announced he wanted them all to focus on putting evil banksters out of business, one suspects the staff would cheer, not revolt.

What got left out? I forgot to include WSJ staffers leaking the full interview Gerard Baker conducted of Pres. Trump. And this was pure oversight, as I’m sorta sympathetic to why it was done, despite the obvious insubordination. But that’s the point: the fact that I may be sympathetic does not mean that the move was ultimately not a politically-motivated tantrum that in the longer run keeps the professions reputation in a ditch.

And for reasons of flow, I would up skipping A.J. Liebling’s classic quote: “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.” That’s a hard fact for today’s journalist class, but no less real today.

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