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The Traveling Press Courtiers
Adversarial journalism has been replaced by secretarial journalism.

Vice President Joe Biden and Chinese president Xi Jinping in Beijing

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Matthew Continetti

But it is a picture of the world that has much in common, that is identical in fact, with the one being painted by the communications gurus and pollsters and political impresarios inside the Obama White House. After the last several weeks, Democrats are in need of a confidence boost, and the editors of the Times are ready to provide one. “Democrats’ Health Law Counteroffensive Is Up and Running” ran the jump headline of the Weisman-Shear article. After sighing in relief, a reader of the Times need not go far to read another piece of hard-hitting shoe-leather, “In Obama’s Book List, Glimpses of His Journey.” In it Peter Baker tries desperately to find the hidden meaning in the president’s taste for trendy literary fiction that is often reviewed but seldom read.

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“A reading list offers a rare window into the presidential mind, a peek at what a commander in chief may be thinking beyond the prosaic and repetitive briefings that dominate his days.” What the president’s fondness for titles such as Netherland, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, All That Is, and The Lowland shows, in my opinion, is his familiarity with developments in the publishing world, his writer’s interest in the interior, the marginal, the psychological, the twee. His predecessor was known for consuming histories and biographies of great statesmen. The nonfiction title most associated with President Obama is plagiarist Fareed Zakaria’s Post-American World. We can’t say he didn’t warn us.

Americans may be tiring of glimpsing Obama’s journey, but our secretarial media is not. Their fascination and support for modish liberalism is one of the reasons their industry is dying. When Steve Clemons provides content more or less indistinguishable from a reporter’s, why hire the reporter?

Recently, for example, Hillary Clinton has been allowing extremely wealthy people the privilege of paying her $200,000 to ask her questions. Her preferred interlocutor is Democratic heavy lifter David Rubenstein of the Carlyle Group. On Wednesday evening he interviewed Clinton before an audience of VIPs — the full spectrum of American life, from Steve Rattner to Christiane Amanpour to Bill Daley — at a memorial event for the late diplomat Richard Holbrooke.

Maggie Haberman of Politico reports that Rubenstein grilled Clinton for 30 minutes on such pressing topics as “her law school days and why she chose Yale over Harvard . . . how her family reacted when she moved to Arkansas; her rival Rick Lazio walking to the podium to try to get her to sign a soft-money pledge during their 2000 Senate race debate; a moment when she said she knew she’d won the race; and Obama imploring her to become secretary of state after their hard-fought 2008 contest.” Rubenstein also asked Clinton if she’s ever thought about joining a private-equity firm. “Is that an offer?” Clinton replied. Oh, how the audience laughed.

The accommodation with the Iranian regime did not come up during the conversation. Syria does not seem to have come up. Nor does Chinese saber rattling. The bin Laden raid came up, mainly as an opportunity for Clinton to say that she supported it. When Haberman asked Rubenstein why he had no questions on important diplomatic affairs for the woman who has as good a claim as any to be the next president, Rubenstein said Clinton wouldn’t have given him direct answers to such questions, so why ask them in the first place. “I’m not a journalist,” he said. “I’m a businessman.” Would the interview really have been any different otherwise? Would we actually be able to tell the difference between a softball interview by David M. Rubenstein and a softball interview by Michael D. Shear?

Denying the obvious truth that her paper has a liberal bias, the Times editor Jill Abramson once told Michael Kinsley that her news pages represent “a sort of cosmopolitan outlook.” How right she was. The sort of cosmopolitan outlook shared by the wealthy and well-educated is in such great supply that journalists are in danger of becoming unnecessary. Any member of their class is able to perform their function. Not long from now we will dispense with the middle-man altogether, and the news will come to you directly from the salaried functionaries of the powerful themselves, from their friends and cronies, from the fashionable and righteous and cosmopolitan taking dictation in exclusive gardens and pavilions, enjoying the brisk air under refreshingly sunny, egg-shell-blue skies.

— Matthew Continetti is the editor-in-chief of the Washington Free Beacon, where this column first appeared. © the Washington Free Beacon. All rights reserved.



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