We Have A Free Press. Maybe Someday We’ll Have A Courageous One…
Mainstream-media political journalism is in danger of becoming increasingly irrelevant, but not because of the Internet, or even Comedy Central. The threat comes from inside. It comes from journalists being afraid to do what journalists were put on this green earth to do.
What is it about Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert that makes them so refreshing and attractive to a wide variety of viewers (including those so-important younger ones)? I would argue that, more than anything else, it is that they enthusiastically call bullshit.
That’s part of it. But more then that, there’s the issue of trust. You really have to regard someone who can passively record whatever in-your-face bullshit a given white house operative wants to dispense at them, and not raise a single squeak of doubt as to the truth or falseness of it, as a fellow participant in the Bush assault on our democracy. If you keep your mouth shut in the face of bullshit, then you’re not a neutral observer. The stenography of lies only makes you a liar too. But it’s even worse then that…you’re helping them bullshit the public. And democracy can’t work if the voters don’t know what the fuck is really going on! A truly neutral observer calls the facts as they find them. They don’t help bullshitters hide the facts, by keeping their mouths shut when they can plainly see a lie for what it is.
I’m not sure why calling bullshit has gone out of vogue in so many newsrooms — why, in fact, it’s so often consciously avoided. There are lots of possible reasons. There’s the increased corporate stultification of our industry, to the point where rocking the boat is seen as threatening rather than invigorating. There’s the intense pressure to maintain access to insider sources, even as those sources become ridiculously unrevealing and oversensitive. There’s the fear of being labeled partisan if one’s bullshit-calling isn’t meted out in precisely equal increments along the political spectrum.
There’s the fantastic salaries of the top network news talking heads, and other celebrity "journalists" and pundits. But you can’t live the cushy life if your business is disturbing power. You have to understand that, going into it. I think most of them just want the fame, and the glory, and most of all, the money…
As it turns out, “regular Joe” Thomas Friedman, who so frequently advocates economic policies with little regard to their impact on working Americans, is among the wealthiest human beings on the planet.
As the July edition of the Washingtonian Magazine notes, Friedman lives in “a palatial 11,400-square-foot house, now valued at $9.3 million, on a 7½-acre parcel just blocks from I-495 and Bethesda Country Club.” He “married into one of the 100 richest families in the country” – the Bucksbaums, whose real-estate Empire is valued at $2.7 billion.
Let’s be clear – I’m a capitalist, so I have no problem with people doing well or living well, even Tom Friedman. That said, this does potentially explain an ENORMOUS amount about Friedman’s perspective. Far from the objective, regular-guy interpreter of globalization that the D.C. media portrays him to be, Friedman is a member of the elite of the economic elite on the planet Earth. In fact, he’s married into such a giant fortune, it’s probably more relevant to refer to him as Billionaire Scion Tom Friedman than columnist Tom Friedman, both because that’s more descriptive of what he represents, and more important for readers of his work to know so that they know a bit about where he’s coming from.
Mind you, I don’t think everyone needs to publish their net worth. But Friedman’s not everyone. He’s not just “doing pretty well” and is not just any old columnist. He’s not just a millionaire or a multimillionaire – he’s member of one of the wealthiest families in the world, and is one of the most influential media voices on the planet, who writes specifically about economic/class issues. If politicians are forced to disclose every last asset they own, you’d think at the very least, the New York Times – in the interest of basic disclosure – should have a tagline under Friedman’s economic columns that says “Tom Friedman is an heir to a multi-billion-dollar business empire.”
Again, there’s positively nothing wrong with people being rich in general, or Tom Friedman being a billionaire scion in specific. The problem is that so few of his readers know this, even as he aggressively uses his platform to justify policies that almost exclusively benefit his super-wealthy brethren – all under the guise of supposed objectivity.
Then again, the fact that we know so little about who is actually making opinion in this country isn’t surprising. Even looking at this kind of information as it relates to the most important opinionmaker in the world is looked down upon by Washington insiders/elites/politicians. To paraphrase Jack Nicholson from “A Few Good Men,” deep down in places they don’t talk about at parties, they want billionaires like Friedman dictating the debate because they need someone creating public rationales for policies that enrich Big Money interests, sell out America and guarantee the next fat campaign contribution.
It isn’t merely that the mainstream news media has been bought out by corporate interests. It’s that the most widely read and listened to journalists these days are vastly more wealthy then even an average upper middle class American, let alone a two-job a week just to meet the bills working stiff. People that rich, might as well be living on another planet. You need to realize this, when you’re reading their opinions about things like, oh, the minimum wage, or college tuition, or the cost of living, or unions, or public education, or the rights of minorities…let alone their opinions about taking America to war. You can damn well figure none of their kids will have to pick up a gun in a fire fight in some distant land, let alone themselves.
The big names in the mainstream news media are so damn wealthy, their interests and the interests of the big corporations that give them a pulpit are just about one and the same anyway…no need to pressure them to take a particular stance on an issue.