The Frustration of Exposing the Shameful in a Shameless Political Culture
The good folks at the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity are having a conference today and Friday. After having gatherings of usually right-of-center and government-watchdog bloggers and writers from all across the country in locales such as Scottsdale, Arizona and Charlotte, North Carolina, the Franklin Center is gathering us all . . . in Alexandria, Virginia. So much for getting away from this winter cold. Seriously, if they held this conference any closer, they would be in my living room.
We get together at these gatherings to figure out how to be better and more effective at what we do, and I suspect one topic we’ll be grappling with is what to do when you’ve got what you’re convinced is a terrific story, some mind-boggling expose of waste, fraud, abuse, or mismanagement within our government at any level . . . and the public yawns. The Franklin Center was founded in part to fill the gap left by disappearing local coverage of state capitols, and their mission in a nutshell is to uncover, investigate, and expose shameful behavior in government. Unfortunately, they’re trying to do this in an increasingly shameless political culture.
There’s an outdated complaint that the Right has too many commentators and columnists and not enough reporters. Perhaps that was once true, but the ranks of those doing original reporting have expanded greatly once you add up everybody at NR/NRO, the Weekly Standard, the Washington Examiner, the Washington Free Beacon, Townhall, Reason, James O’Keefe’s videos, the Daily Caller, Breitbart, and a host of others I’m forgetting. We’re getting better at amplification and linking and promoting and tweeting each others’ work.
But for some reason, there are a lot of days when it feels like we’re not quite there in terms of actual real-world impact. I know everybody’s had at least one story that they feel was like nitroglycerin, and should have made a big, lasting impact, that just hit the web or print pages and … pppppht. Nothing. The world reads it, shakes their head and goes tsk-tsk, and goes on. We have a surplus of things to be outraged about and a dearth of attention and energy to focus upon it, and the public’s attention span seems to be shrinking every year. Obamacare’s messes, ludicrous contracts, Benghazi, embarrassing wastes of money, embarrassing wastes of space in Congress . . . they all just pile up without much of a consequence.
At one of our last gatherings, we noted how quickly everyone was able to turn a Post reporter’s dismissal of the horrific abortionist/ghoul Kermit Gosnell as a “local crime story” into a rallying cry; the media was dragged, kicking and screaming, into covering Gosnell nationally. We scrappy little Pajamahedeen can really get a story out to a wider audience when we’re all pulling in the same direction. Of course, it’s tough to get us all pulling in the same direction, and it’s got to be organic.
The Left has Journo-List; we have our mailing lists where a grassroots activist will dismiss all congressional staffers as useless selfish parasites sucking on the public teat . . . the congressional staffers for conservative lawmakers will take offense at the comment and call the activist an ill-informed rabble-rouser, and before we know it, it’s turned into a flame war. It’s fascinating to see how often the liberals describe the “right-wing noise machine” as a well-oiled, engine-revving, unified, self-reinforcing, powerful megaphone, a drone clone army, snapping to attention and coordinating its messages, activism and actions for maximum effectiveness.
To paraphrase Will Rogers, I’m not a member of an organized political movement; I’m a conservative.
Rereading the fine print on my invitation from Franklin, I see I’m supposed to come to this meeting with some solutions to these problems. Drat.
Like I said, our efforts as individual writers, reporters, bloggers, activists, and other politically active types have to grow organically; they can’t be directed on high. I can’t make somebody else care about a topic, issue, controversy that they don’t, and vice versa. There are few forms of criticism more tiresome than “Why are you writing about X? Why aren’t you writing about Y?” as if the world weren’t large enough for both.
Having said all that . . . maybe it’s time we on the Right stopped getting sucked into every penny-ante pie-throwing fight over every mook who comes along and says something stupid, controversial, or incendiary on cable news or Twitter.