Wednesday, October 7, 2009

You Want Them To Write Good Things About You

Peggy Noonan somehow still has an editorial page at the WSJ, and she's using it to lament the passing old guard "Elders" of journalism like Bob Novak and Bill Safire:

Who are the Elders? They set the standards. They hand down the lore. They're the oldest and wisest. By proceeding through the world each day with dignity and humanity, they show the young what it is that should be emulated. They're the tribal chieftains. This role has probably existed since caveman days, because people need guidance and encouragement, they need to be heartened by examples of endurance. They need to be inspired.

And they should never be questioned. They faithfully and unquestioningly write down whatever government or corporate powers say, and then they print it for us, or repeat it on Sunday morning talk shows in a very Serious Tone.

Democracy cannot healthily endure without free and unfettered debate. It's our job to watch, critique and question, and, being us, to do it in colorful terms.

But knowing where the line is, matters. Seeing clearly the lay of the land, knowing the facts of the country and your countrymen, matters.

Which gets us back to Safire and Cronkite and Novak and the rest. They knew where the line was. They were tough guys who got in big fights, but they had a sense of responsibility towards the country, and towards its culture. They, actually, were protective toward it. They made mistakes, but they were solid.

These concepts are, quite simply, contradictory. On the one hand, she posits what we all know-that freedom of speech is critical to a democracy, and criticizing and questioning in essential. And then she just goes right on to say that Safire and Cronkite* and Novak knew there was a line they shouldn't cross, and that they were protective of the status quo.

They made mistakes, but they were solid.

That's worth repeating, because it pretty much sums up what's wrong with mainstream journalism today.

What does solid mean? Solid means that they are down with the system; solid means that whatever else, these guys are on board with whatever those on the inside want. Solid means that they are looking out for the system and the insiders and the status quo. And this is infinitely more important, according to Peggy Noonan, than being right!

It's ok if they made mistakes, and we killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, because these guys were solid. It's ok that they ignored all of the evidence that we were heading towards the biggest depression in 70 years, because they were solid. It's ok to repeat bullshit about Iran's nuclear intentions, and to amplify calls for more war, because they are solid. It's ok that they don't actually question what power speaks to them, because that's not their job-their job is to be solid.

Apparently, as a journalist, you should think mostly about what other people will think of you:

Someone's going to sum you up one day. You want to live your professional life in a way that they can write good things.

I guess what Noonan wants us to write about her is "She made mistakes, but she was solid."

*Cronkite was, actually, the kind of journalist that we should hope to emulate. Cronkite spoke truth to power. Cronkite stood up and told the truth about Vietnam. It's ridiculous for Noonan to lump him in with the likes of Novak and Kristol.

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