These people, though very fallible, separated news from comment most of the time, generally qualified their opinions with at least a pro forma recognition that they didn’t know everything, and observed normal courtesies. One of the contributors to a Commentary magazine symposium on the future of America last year declared that the American people had been dumbed down to monosyllabic name-calling and were being guided through public events and personalities by a sound-alike corps of screaming, unmannered idiots. (This is an approximation of what was written, but a fair one.) This is the real problem. While Walter Lippmann and Eric Sevareid and their ilk were frequently mistaken and always pompous, they weren’t rude, weren’t in our faces all day, every day, and generally formulated their views with a fluency that lent them plausibility.
Now we have a confected Hegelian dialectic, a constant shouting match between obnoxious idiots, from Juan Williams to, dipping into the Hall of Fame of those whom the system retired, Eliot Spitzer. William Kristol stretches credulity at times with his residual notion of the inexhaustible potential for good works of the United States, the more aggressively projected the better. He seems to start again each year on July 4 with his multi-family incantation of the Declaration of Independence, not just the uplifting top-and-tail, but the Nuremberg indictment of poor old Farmer George (III) and the blood libel against the American Indian, and the amnesiac hyperbole of the slave-owner of Monticello. And he propels himself through the coming year with a new series of universalist American goals and a fast-moving kaleidoscope of potential chief executants. But he is a learned and civilized man and deserves to be taken seriously. So does the consistent, rigorous, and laconically amusing Charles Krauthammer. But, for failure to tuck their tails between their legs and join the Great Trek to neo-isolationism and orchestrated national self-criticism constantly trumpeted from the minarets of the Left, they are disparaged as “the bomber boys.”
Instead of a public dialogue, we have an infelicitous combination of blowhards in conflict, all-day television in search of controversy, where a Sherlock Holmes of information is required to discern much that is worthwhile. As I have written before, I believe it all started to deteriorate when the mainstream media destroyed the Nixon administration on a flimsy pretext, ensured the defeat of the United States and the obliteration of an independent South Vietnam and the triumph of Pol Pot in Cambodia, and then engaged in a 40-year collective self-canonization for their heroism and nobility, driving much of the American public into the arms of media contrarians and dissenters of varying levels of intellectual respectability. In this process, standards of public information have been coarsened and commendable variety has been reduced to mere cacophony. In public affairs, the media faithfully reflect society: All is dysfunction. Fox News may not have raised a banner of highbrow insight, but at least it has helped to balance the ideological noise level. As for the allegation of imbecility, it is a condition that transcends ideology, and those who pass out before noisy glass screens each day should not throw stones.