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How Republics Fall
The Fourth Estate’s degrading hero worship trivializes an election.


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The weird ecstasy of the media-political complex at the convention in Charlotte last month was the first sign that its attachment to President Obama, always fawning, had become morbid.

In spite of the anemic economy and a real unemployment rate above 11 percent, the high priests of pontificating liberalism were giddy with euphoria. The Democrats “put on a nearly flawless convention,” Paul Begala opined, and it was soon all but incontrovertibly established that, come November, the president — beautiful, magical, and lovable as he was — would vanquish his boring opponent.

The media savants sympathized with the delirium of Charlotte because they worship at the same altar and feed at the same trough. Two and a half centuries ago Edmund Burke said the reporters’ gallery in Parliament was an estate “more important far than” the other three put together. Today America’s Fourth Estate is not merely predisposed, as it has been for generations, to favor a particular political party: It is deeply engaged in the hero worship of a particular political leader.

The closeness of mainstream journalists to President Obama has debauched their integrity. Some of them give the White House veto authority over their stories. Others look to be rewarded with plum jobs or stimulus-funded ads. This abasement before power presages a return to a time when political writers, among them Swift and Defoe, were the professed protégés of statesmen and relied on Whig or Tory patronage for their bread; it also leaves the country vulnerable to the distortions of ostensibly neutral journalists who are too fervently committed to the leader to tell the truth about him.

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Obama worship, once the quaint foible of Grub Street liberalism, has become its opium, perhaps its bath salts. The unhinged quality of its analysis was painfully evident during the interval of bounce-talk that followed Charlotte. When, after days of media cheerleading, Obama rose modestly in the polls, the acolytes instantly sounded the death knell for Romney. The election was all but over, the princes of palaver declared. Time’s Mark Halperin spoke of the Romney campaign’s “death stench,” and MSNBC’s Steve Benan said that the president was now “exactly where he wants to be.”

Would a less prejudiced observer claim that the president was exactly where he wanted to be in early September, with a credit downgrade looming, a miserable jobs report on the wires, and a strike by Chicago schoolteachers trash-talking the generous, even lavish deal they had been offered, the kind of deluxe package that induced liberal Wisconsin to rise in revolt against public-sector irresponsibility?

Then came Cairo and, still more terribly, Benghazi. The “Gang of 500,” as Halperin styles the bigwigs with whom he shares the liberal soapbox, was duly outraged . . . by Mitt Romney. The Republican nominee had the lèse-majesté to criticize Obama’s foreign policy.

The president’s own statement on Benghazi, which he delivered in the Rose Garden before departing for a campaign event in Las Vegas, went largely unscrutinized by the media gang: “Libyans helped some of our diplomats find safety, and they carried Ambassador Stevens’s body to the hospital, where we tragically learned that he had died.”

The president’s air of certainty contrasted sharply with the reticence of his underlings. The State Department has consistently said it does not know what happened to Ambassador Stevens that night, and grim photographs cast doubt on the notion that he had been innocently conveyed from the bloody scene.

The Beltway clerisy failed to ask the obvious question: Was the president’s version of his emissary’s death a self-serving attempt to salvage a failing foreign policy? Three years ago Obama went to Cairo “to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world.” Should we learn that the men in the Benghazi photographs were not good Samaritans generously carrying an American to safety but thugs snapping trophy pictures of a Yankee infidel, Obama’s “new beginning,” if it came at all, will not have made much of a difference. The “new” Middle East in which American diplomats are abused and murdered and black flags fly over American embassies may prove to look a lot like the Old Middle East.

Which raises another question: If the administration’s Islamic policy has failed to pacify Islam and “make us safer,” why didn’t the president act forcefully in the months preceding the tragedy to protect American diplomats? Yet other than the British Independent and Matt Drudge, no big journalistic enterprise pressed for an explanation. Rather than probe the most devastating assault on the diplomatic corps since 1979, the media-political complex blithely turned its collective attention to happier matters, among them the president’s rising poll numbers in the swing states.

Like the decadents of France’s ancien régime, the liberal literati of mainstream journalism are convinced that the party will go on forever. Islamic zealots can be talked out of making nuclear bombs; stagnant growth and high unemployment can be counteracted with a Caesarian policy of bread and shows, free food and even free cell phones; a moribund economy can be propped up with the saline drip of Ben Bernanke’s liquidity transfusions.

As detached from reality as Marie Antoinette milking cows with Sèvres buckets, liberal journalists fail to grapple in any serious way with the “crisis of liberalism” at home and abroad, preferring instead to compose billets-doux to Barack praising his basketball prowess and panegyrics on Michelle’s dexterity as a horticulturalist.

In the unreal city of progressive punditry, a charismatic leader uncommonly gifted in the preaching of sermons really can build a brave new world in which benevolent planners use other people’s money to mold a better life for the masses. If the same Comtean model bankrupted Europe, that’s because European regulators failed to master the esoteric arts of “quantitative easing,” which magically does away with the need for intelligently invested private capital.

Having been corrupted into a semi-official state press, America’s mainstream media is now transforming the most important election in a generation into the political equivalent of an episode of The Bachelor. Liberalism’s scribal class is actually pleased that the contest has become a referendum not on the president’s record or his plans but on his charisma and popularity. In the kingdom of vapor, substance has no place.

This is how republics die, in thrall to the inane, the frivolous, and the inconsequential. A liberalism incapable of persuading the public to embrace its policies has been converted by its media tribunes into a publicity stunt. As a result, the nation that gave the world the Federalist Papers and the Lincoln–Douglas debates may very well reelect a flawed chief executive for no other reason than that he has been continuously portrayed as a super-nice guy by the media lackeys who tend the Obama cult.

Is it later than we think? Very possibly.

— Michael Knox Beran, a lawyer and contributing editor of City Journal, is author of, among other books, Forge of Empires, 1861–1871: Three Revolutionary Statesmen and the World They Made.



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