Today, I am running a column that I posted a while back about the sorry state of American journalism. Historian Victor Davis Hanson wrote it in 2019, but much of its content is still quite current. You will find Hanson’s complete bio at the end of the post.
For the past few years, I have struggled to understand, if not accept, what has happened to the practice of journalism in America. It has degenerated into something that I no longer recognize.
When I began my professional journalism career at the Chicago Tribune in the early 1970s, the concepts of fairness, balance, and objectivity were required components in the newsroom. If I inserted my opinion in a story or was perceived as biased, I heard it from many Tribune editors. “Yates, you can’t say this,” they would bark.” Where’s the attribution? I don’t care what YOU think; report the damn story.”
Sadly, that kind of editorial oversight seems to be missing from newsrooms today. Like CNN’s Jim Acosta or April Ryan of the American Urban Radio Networks, reporters prefer to create news with their antics at press conferences rather than report it. Neither would have lasted a day in the old Chicago Tribune newsroom.
Hanson examines the decline of journalism and offers some thoughts on why it is happening. Here is Hanson’s column. Please give it a read. It contains a lot of wisdom.
Journalism is Dead—Long Live the Media!
By Victor Davis Hanson
There still exists a physical media in the sense of airing current events. But it is not journalism as we once understood the disinterested reporting of the news. Journalism is now dead. The media lives on.
Reporters today believe that their coverage serves higher agendas of social justice, identity politics, “equality,” and diversity. The degree a news account is expanded or ignored, praised or blasted, depends on its supposed utility to the effort to fundamentally transform the country into something, unlike its founding.
At the recent third president-less White House Correspondents’ Dinner, passive-aggressive journalists whined that they were victims, standing on the barricades against the all-powerful, all-evil—and all absent—Donald Trump. If the attempt was to return professionalism to the evening and eschew the pathological celebrity obsessions of the past, the result was only more confirmation of the self-referential and narcissistic culture of the Washington press corps.
Why should we believe reporters suddenly worried about ethics, free inquiry, and speech?
No journalist who pontificates now about the supposedly First Amendment-violating Trump ever mentions that Barack Obama had Fox News’s James Rosen (and his relatives) monitored, that he surveilled the communications records of Associated Press reporters, or that he spoke with the press far less often than did Trump, and often fixated on Fox News.
Journalists themselves had no problem with colleagues colluding with the Clinton campaign, as evidenced in the Wikileaks Podesta trove. There was never much introspection about why the elite press and media corps—loudly progressive and feminist—was decimated by #MeToo Movement allegations of long-standing sexual harassment and assault.
Were there serious worries voiced over journalistic ethics when CNN’s Donna Brazile leaked primary debate questions to the 2016 Clinton campaign? Did journalists speak out when journalist Candy Crowley abandoned her moderator role and turned into an Obama partisan in the 2012 second presidential debate? Were reporters at all worried when the Shorenstein Center cited 90 percent negative media coverage of the Trump campaign and presidency? Did they object much when Twitter and Facebook exiled conservative voices that they found inconvenient?
Are journalists concerned when campuses shout down visiting lecturers or pass speech codes to restrict free expression? Was the strange Obama-era state surveillance of fellow journalist Sharyl Attkisson of any importance to the journalistic brotherhood? Did they fret that the Obama-era FBI likely inserted informants into a political campaign or deliberately deceived a FISA court to spy on an American citizen?
Have journalists signed any of their accustomed collective outrage letters over the New York Times’ Nazi-like anti-Semitic cartoons and its pathetic sort of, sort of not initial apologies?
Concerning the three great psychodramas of the last two years—the Kavanaugh hearings, the Covington kids fiasco, and the Jussie Smollett fantasy—the media for too long trafficked in the lies of the discredited and predicated their coverage on ideology: feminists, Native Americans, and African-Americans as noble victims; their white male oppressors not so much, regardless of the facts of the case.
During the Duke lacrosse team mess, the University of Virginia fraternity hoax, and the George Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin drama, the public first began to sense the old implicit media bias had become something new—an outright distortion of evidence to serve a higher cause. We are now at the point that the news consumer has little expectation that journalists will report the facts but assumes that they will massage, distort, and misrepresent narratives for purposes of supposed social utility.
The media does not just mislead in what it reports; it also chooses not to report the news it finds antithetical to its social justice mission. Voters never learned about what Barack Obama actually had said at a dinner honoring Rashid Khalidi because journalists suppressed his speech. In the same fashion, the public never knew that then-Senator Obama had posed for a photo-op with Louis Farrakhan. A picture was also never released until after Obama had left office. In a new condemnatory account of media misbehavior, Unfreedom of the Press, Mark Levin inter alia devotes a discussion to what we might call the “un-news,” the long history of deliberate suppression of important stories that do not advance the media’s ideological objectives that transcend simply reporting the facts of important daily events.
We might call their modus operandi “critical journalistic theory” that postulates few disinterested facts, only interpretations constructed by white male elites. So, to get at a different “truth,” journalists must deconstruct the story by changing or omitting bothersome facts to transmit the “true” essence of an event.
Recently, the media was faced with an existential decision over whether to own up to its peddling myths about Russian collusion or to double down on them. So they perpetuated the farce by bragging on their own contributions to it, and by extension, sought to ensure their tarnished reputations by further tarnishing them.
There was never any evidence to support the collusion hoax. Despite denials, the yarn arose mostly from Hillary Clinton’s (illegal) hiring of British subject Christopher Steele (albeit through the intermediaries of the DNC, Perkins-Coie, and Fusion GPS) to smear her election opponent. After all, presidential candidates are not supposed to hire foreign nationals to work with other foreign nationals to conduct espionage to undermine an opponent’s campaign—and then illegally hide the nature of such a “campaign expense” through three firewalls.
After her defeat, “collusion” morphed into a progressive and media-generated mechanism at first to account for the inexplicable Clinton defeat, then to abort the unpalatable Trump transition and presidency, and finally as a desperate preemptive effort to thwart an investigation of high crimes of Obama-era officials. And the collusion myth caused the nation a great deal of harm until even the onetime progressive heartthrob Robert Mueller’s “dream team” found no evidence for it whatsoever.
In response, did the media, in an introspective fashion, reexamine why they had peddled collusion through leaks, groupthink, and self-righteous sermons about their own wounded fawn egos? Hardly. No sooner had Mueller found no collusion and no case for prosecuting “obstruction” of such a non-crime than the media first declared itself correct and righteous for peddling the Russian conspiracy theory and, second, moved immediately to “tax returns,” in essence learning nothing and forgetting nothing.
Lately, a tiny few progressive journalists have tried to warn their colleagues that the collusion farce and other frauds have all but ruined what was left of the reputation of American journalism. The leftist anti-Trump Nation has just published Aaron Maté’s exhaustive account of the falsities, smears, and sheer ridiculousness of the media obsession with collusion.
Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi, another progressive anti-Trumper, had earlier done the same. And a few journalists, despite being deeply embedded within the Democratic-media nexus, have voiced warnings on other fronts.
CNN’s Jake Tapper finally had to remind his television audience that, contra the Joe Biden rollout campaign video and the progressive gospel, Donald Trump did not excuse white nationalists and Klansmen during the 2017 Charlottesville violence.
Recent polls of likely voters, of all Americans, and even the Washington press corps itself, show an overwhelming consensus that the media is both biased in general and in particular against the Trump presidency.
“Fake news” is not just a Trump talking point or obsession. It is a factual account of what journalism has become—so often an arm of the progressive movement and an incestuous and inbred group of New York and Washington coastal elite mediocrities, or what former Obama official Ben Rhodes cynically wrote off as an “echo chamber” of greenhorn know-nothings.
CNN’s White House correspondent Jim Acosta can delude himself into thinking the media got it right on collusion fantasies, but his own act as a disruptive and shallow performance artist has discredited him as a serious journalist. His own network has all but ruined its reputation and lost much of its former audience by reporting outright falsities and employing entertainment and news hosts in a wide variety of shows who descended into gross buffoonery—from Kathy Griffin’s decapitation video to Anderson Cooper’s on-air Trump defecation metaphor to Reza Aslan’s “piece of s—t” commentary to the late Anthony Bourdain’s quip about poisoning Trump.
Do we still remember the CNN news team in December 2014 doing an on-air “hands-up” charade in honor of the Ferguson shooting victim Michael Brown? Note that even Eric Holder’s Justice Department found that Michael Brown never attempted to surrender to police. CNN never apologized for its news team trafficking in false news that only inflamed passions at a time of increased national tensions.
CNN reporters like Gloria Borger, Chris Cuomo, Eric Lichtblau, Manu Raju, Brian Rokus, Jake Tapper, Jeff Zeleny, and teams such as Jim Sciutto, Carl Bernstein, and Marshall Cohen as well as Thomas Frank, and Lex Harris all have peddled false rumors, and gossip passed off as fact.
CNN “analyst” James Clapper, himself an admitted liar who has deliberately misled Congress while under oath, claimed that Trump was a virtual Putin asset for months. He never recanted. Finally, he and others have ended up attacking the idea that members of the Obama intelligence team “spied” on the Trump campaign, in effect defending himself on air by ridiculing charges against people like himself. None of these journalists wondered why they seemed to have repeated the same errors in the same fashion with the same denials of culpability.
What destroyed the present generation of journalism was not just that they live in coastal corridors of progressive groupthink. It was not just because they almost all graduated from liberal journalism programs that still regurgitate ossified Watergate psychodramas of investigative reporters as comic book heroes. Nor is the cause of their decline, even their own hair-trigger and social media snark, or the pushback from Donald J. Trump.
Instead, over the last 20 years, marquee journalists saw themselves as wannabe celebrities who were to make news, not to report it, to massage stories in such a fashion to serve their social justice agendas, and to virtue signal their superior morality, as many revolved in and out of government.
What have they become instead? People with enormous self-regard but with little experience with the public whom they were supposed to serve.
They espouse opinions on nearly everything while knowing almost nothing. They believe Washington and New York are the centers of the universe, while the universe is making both more irrelevant. As their ethics dissipated, their vocabularies shrank. Their poor communication skills grew ever poorer, and they displayed little knowledge of the history and culture of the people they reported on. Most could give an in-depth lecture on Botox but are ignorant about the U.S. Constitution or basic American history facts.
The people are finally tired of their bias, incompetence, and arrogance—and are finally beginning to ignore most of what they say and write.
Content created for the Center for American Greatness, Inc.
Photo Credit: Getty Images
About the Author: Victor Davis Hanson
Victor Davis Hanson is an American military historian, columnist, a former classics professor, and scholar of ancient warfare. He was a professor of classics at California State University, Fresno, and is currently the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He has been a visiting professor at Hillsdale College since 2004. Hanson was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 by President George W. Bush. Hanson is also a farmer (growing raisin grapes on a family farm in Selma, California) and a critic of social trends related to farming and agrarianism. He is the author most recently of The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict was Fought and Won (Basic Books).