The U.S. media establishment has been up to its usual occupation during a presidential season: harrumphing, growling, tut-tutting at the idea of putting a non-“mainstream candidate”—someone other than a liberal Democrat, that is—in charge of anything more consequential, in Washington terms, than an armchair at the Commerce Department (if that).  However, this year, with Donald Trump as inspiration, contempt has given place to alarm and indignation.  A yahoo and trash-talker sitting at the desk of Barack Obama, reversing his notable achievements, undoing his legacy?  Politesse comes unraveled at the prospect.  The liberal media to the rescue!

If you’ve been around the media as long I have, meaning possibly you were with me at Washington’s Valley Forge press conferences, you need no reminder that on important occasions like a presidential election, “objective” coverage is off.  It’s guerre à outrance.  News stories and reports, for all their grounding in factuality, take on an adversarial tone.  It’s all the more bare-knuckled in the age of an Internet alive with angry, fractious voices, ready to level accusations of every kind and strew them here and there like ticker tape.

Just the other day, as I was compiling my notes, I read that a Roll Call columnist had called Trump “subhuman.”  Aha, I thought; wonder where he got that one—from Goebbels?  The same sage likewise helpfully noted the “blackened” condition of the candidate’s “soul.”  The old media are reckless in their own way, deploying epithets suggestive of Trump’s duty to hurry his obviously impending resignation from the human race.  The New York Times’ Frank Bruni, in the week I write, likened Trump to the emperor Nero, of fiddling-while-Rome-burned fame.

The picture, I admit, got blurrier with Hillary Clinton’s sinking spell.  Democrats and progressives, accustomed to dutiful media coverage of Trump’s liabilities and Clinton’s comparative virtues, came unglued at all the supposedly unmerited focus on the latter’s health, and on her questionable quest for privacy at all costs.  “Can’t a girl have a sick day or two?” piteously pleaded CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.  Brian Beutler of The New Republic aired his fear “that political journalists will pave the way to a Trump presidency by underplaying the risks he poses to American democracy.”  See what happens when you get taken for granted as a member of the liberal apparat?  Step out of line, and the reproaches begin to fall.  The media’s membership in that apparat has been a matter of public record for several decades.  Various studies show dramatic imbalance between the number of “conservatives” and “liberals” (as they are usually denominated) enrolled in various communications capacities.  Even the film critics assigned by the BBC to rate the best movies of the century—I learned this from the Washington Post—had among them not one identifiable conservative.

I could go on and on with the anecdotal stuff.  To what purpose?  Everyone is familiar by now with the general media disposition to present Trump as a bull with designs on the White House china closet.  Probably worse anti-Trump stuff than we have seen so far will have been written by the time these lines see daylight.

I prefer to “frack,” as Texans say, a little deeper.  Two points need attention.  First, what conservatives of varied descriptions fear or suspect about the media is right; it has a double-strength lens on its left eye and a patch over the right one.  It has a left foot that tingles with desire to come down hard on the enemies of righteousness.  And, second, that won’t change in your time or mine.  Not much anyway.  There’s a cultural factor here—one I haven’t given up on modifying.

As to Point 1, nothing much is new here.  As a commentator of rightward disposition, I was invited frequently in the 1980’s to make speeches about this stuff, so that I might satisfy audience wonderment over how such a thing could be: reporters and editors who don’t understand the virtues of free enterprise and traditional moral values.  There were plenty of people back then who wondered what was wrong with the ideal, less and less widely professed at the time, of giving readers and viewers the facts with which to make up their own minds.  “I’m your eyes and ears,” I used to say idealistically.  “I’m not your brain.”

Even then, surveys and studies showed the media falling more and more neatly in line with the assumptions of the, um, educated class.  The “ideas people” who were coming out of college then didn’t, and apparently still don’t, think conservatives very astute in their varied attachments to concepts such as tradition and ordered liberty.  What we wanted, of course, though the “ideas people” pooh-poohed the notion, were moorings to keep the national boat from drifting downstream, striking loose timber before running aground.  The “ideas people” saw themselves as qualified in any weather to helm the vessel, with regard less for the tides than for the latest discoveries of the passengers.

What had been a friendly, very middle-class profession—newspapering—staffed by J-School graduates, or the even less educated, many with thirsts to be slaked at regular intervals from mysterious brown bags stashed in desk drawers . . . the profession of newspapering, I say, became the province of Bachelors of Arts from Prince ton, who had written term papers on the plight of the Appalachian poor.  Watergate, and the success of the Washington Post at extracting Richard Nixon from the Oval Office, gave not only newspapers but magazines and TV stations a sense of the Higher Calling.  The straightening out of political and sociological and cultural kinks became central to who we were as journalists.

From Point 1, Point 2 follows: the media as judge and jury and, sometimes, executioner.  The ax blades you hear being sharpened for use on the neck of Donald J. Trump evidence our mature media’s mature desire to clear away obstacles to the perfection of the new American dream: multiculturalism as the replacement ideal for that which I tend to think of as John Ford’s America—tall, rugged, easy-going, ritualistic, expansionary.  A key element of the new dream: group identities, group entitlements elevated high above any sense of a common American identity; the dream enhanced and made poetic through the settling of scores with oppressors unmasked for who they really are after centuries of unmerited dominance.  Heterosexists and racists, among other vicious types.

The left-wing agenda of the 21st century, in truth, goes far beyond the more or less conventionally liberal agenda of the 20th, which made more room for reform than for conquest and pillage.  The media as tale-bearers are on this showing a larger menace to conservatism, whatever the term has come to mean—I’m not really sure myself, unrepentant Buckley-ite that I am—than was the case in the 80’s.  Truth to tell, I’m not sure what “media” means anymore, other than, essentially, people with something to say.  Which means—yes!—conservatives as much as anyone else, however they denominate themselves for specific purposes: paleos, Second Amendment fans, patriots, libertarians, religious traditionalists; maybe just people who think of the Kardashians as rich white trash.

No one has a plausible program for the successful reinstallation of old, lost ideals that rivals the terms on which the media—I shall call them that for convenience—campaign against those ideals, dismissing them as irrelevant to modern concerns.  (The New York Times’ earnest, ongoing campaign for the norming of LGBT activities comes to mind.)  I don’t know what’s to be done about the media.  Neither does anyone who tells you he does.  The “culture” itself—to adopt that baggy, catch-all name for Who We Americans Are—desperately requires reorientation.  The media get their signals from the “intellectual” culture, and basically like what that culture likes and oppose what it opposes.  No wonder Yale has more clout in modern America than does the Kiwanis Club.  The Ivy League gets its stories told with enthusiasm and delight.

The culture that Donald Trump addresses is not, of course, the culture the media acknowledge as modern and up to date.  The voters who pulse to Trump’s battle cries haven’t gotten the message.  They slumber through what’s going on at fracking level.  They may yet catch on.  However, first, they have to stop fighting among themselves, learning, where feasible and desirable, to live and let live.  Conservatism is an anchor pulling against the drift of the American ship.  That’s good, not bad; intelligent, not stupid.  There’s about it the sense of a common good larger than any sense of multicultural good the intellectual establishment may propose.  I am talking about what we all have to work with—not just Second Amendment supporters; not just protectionists or free-traders (how many voters even understand such historical/economic lingo anyway?); not just religious-right voters or libertarians; all, instead, who understand intellectually or just in their hips—Willmoore Kendall’s great image—the beauty of freedom within order, and order as freedom’s protective armor.

Insistence on these values and norms, carried on with intelligence and zest, is the indicated counterstroke against cultural interpreters—those who work for the Times and The Atlantic and the Washington Post and MSNBC and HuffPo—with barely a clue as to what makes the world go round: honor, for instance, and courage and faithfulness.  And God.

I guess, in short, what would make the media conform to national needs is a daily, around-the-clock revolution in how we think and believe and live.

Got any better ideas?  Tweet me.


[Image Credit: By Michael Vadon (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons]