Sunday, January 2, 2011

“Progressive” Journalists and State Power

At the end of the movie “Animal House,” a band tries unsuccessfully to march through a brick wall at the end of an alley. This is supposed to be a scene which reflects the absolute absurdity of the film, but it also unwittingly presents a picture of the modern “Progressive” mindset: the state can do anything as long as it has enough authority.

Such actions, of course, reflect Einstein’s alleged definition of insanity (repeat an action over and over again while expecting different results), yet that irony is lost at the present time, especially in the world of modern journalism. People are forever diagnosing the mainstream media as either having a “liberal” bias or engaging in coverage that lacks “objectivity.” The answer to such issues, unfortunately, seems to be to engage in more insanity. Let me explain.

In a recent column, Glenn Greenwald decries what he sees as a “merger” of journalists and the state, and I agree with his sentiments wholeheartedly. Greenwald is one of the few journalists out there who is not a shill for particular politicians or the Democratic Party, despite the fact that his political views definitely are left-of-center.

Yet, for all of his excellent insights, I’m afraid that even the great Greenwald is missing the bigger picture. The problem is not misplaced priorities on behalf of journalists or the fact that most media outlets are owned by corporations (which most Progressives confuse with free markets). The problem is that modern journalism is a relic of the Progressive Era when state power merged with the press to promote “American” interests. Progressivism itself – of both the “liberal” and “conservative” viewpoints – is the problem.

Most Americans believe that the significant “revolution” in our nation’s history occurred from 1775 to 1781, yet the republic that emerged following the colonial war with Great Britain no longer exists and has not existed for at least a century. We may shoot fireworks on July 4, but the document we supposedly celebrate – the Declaration of Independence – is nothing more than parchment under glass and is more irrelevant to our present lives than the old “constitution” of the former Soviet Union.

The United States as we know it was shaped first by what most people call the Civil War and second by the Progressive Era of the late 1800s and early 1900s. If there is a year when the constitutional American republic died absolutely, it would be 1913. (Thomas DiLorenzo refers to the passing of the Constitutional amendments to authorize both the income tax and direct election of U.S. Senators as the “Revolution of 1913.” Congress also authorized the Federal Reserve System in that year.)

However, the process leading to the permanent establishment of the Leviathan State was begun long before 1913, which codified the movement that already existed. Every “Progressive’s” favorite Republican President, Theodore Roosevelt, already had put into motion the process in which Congress ceded its powers of lawmaking to the executive branch, something that continues apace today.

In his utterly statist Losing the News, Alex S. Jones decries the loss of daily newspapers and suggests that what he calls the “watchdog of government” be “rescued” by government itself through subsidies and government regulation, and does so without any irony whatsoever. Yes, he calls for a “watchdog of government” to be tied financially to the state, a relationship that he claims will increase the “objectivity” of the press, a view that makes sense only if one falls into the “Progressive” camp.

It is hard to fathom the utter nonsense of Jones’ proposition, yet Jones is typical of most mainstream journalists today. As a former newspaper reporter, I can attest to the desire by journalists to have “access” to those in political power and to be advocates for a certain politician or political points of view. If there is a constant theme among mainstream journalists, it is that state control of our lives must increase.

If one reads a typical newspaper or watches a news show on television, this point almost is impossible to miss. Look at all of the journalists who worked in the executive branch of the federal or even state governments. (Relatively few former legislators become journalists, as lobbying is a more lucrative career. The vast number of journalists who had government titles worked either directly for an elected official – i.e. Chris Matthews – or had a high-profile position as a political appointee for a regulatory agency.)

This is not unlike the “revolving door” between government regulators and the firms they help regulate or between U.S. Department of Justice antitrust division attorneys and high-paying private firms that specialize in antitrust litigation and defense. The relationships are more than just symbolic, however; they highlight the real merger between modern corporate journalism and the state.

Greenwald’s concerns deal specifically with the WikiLeaks release of classified U.S. Government documents, but the problem is much broader than just whether or not one thinks Julian Assange is a hero or a criminal. Furthermore, the problem is not that many journalistic outlets are owned by private corporations. Instead, the problem with modern journalism is that most journalists are little more than foot soldiers for state power, and they demand (and receive) special privileges from the authorities.

In Losing the News, Jones (who was an editorial supervisor of mine more than 30 years ago) is openly disdainful of blogs and the “citizen journalism” that has erupted on the Internet. Instead, he holds to the academic/state view that “journalists” should be credentialed, and that First Amendment protection should be afforded only those who fall into that proper category.

One would think that his would be a minority view, but it is not. As they have done with the rest of the Constitution, Progressives have re-interpreted the First Amendment as offering protection only to those people who have proper journalistic credentials and who are employed by official media outlets. Thus, as Greenwald points out, many of them can argue that Assange really is not a journalist, so he does not enjoy the same protections as did the New York Times after it published the Pentagon Papers.

Read newspapers like the New York Times and Washington Post, or watch Fox News or MSNBC, and you will see what I mean. Journalists employed for all of these entities (with the exceptions of Judge Andrew Napolitano and John Stossel on the Fox Business Channel) tend to believe that “progress” occurs only with the advancement of state power over the lives of individuals.

That is why you will see uncritical support from these outlets of the Transportation Security Administration’s utterly-invasive “security” measures, or why the NYT has been a consistent shill for high income tax rates. Such things are the logical end of a Progressive ideology that claims freedom advances only with the advancement of state power (in the hands of the correct and properly-credentialed people, of course.)


Anonymous said...

A very important column, Bill.

Rob said...

I'm no Constitution-worshipper, but I'd like to point out something about the First Amendment. Here's the text:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

It seems to me that the word "press" there refers to the printing press. That is, "the freedom [...] of the press" refers to the freedom to publish. Compared to the earlier reference to "the freedom of speech", this makes perfect sense: speech is verbal, while publishing is written. Only those who actually seek to limit what is free to publish would hide behind credentialism here.