The Corner

Media

Martha McSally’s Blasphemy

Sen. Martha McSally speaks during a Senate Armed Services Subcommittee hearing on preventing sexual assault, March 6, 2019. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

As I note in my New York Post piece today, I don’t believe that Martha McSally, who is serving her first term in the Senate after being appointed to take John McCain’s seat, is going to be helped much by accusing CNN’s Manu Raju of being a “hack.” Attacking the press might be an effective way to excite national conservatives, but it probably does little to entice independents and moderates in Arizona.

One group, however, was greatly affected by the interaction: journalists, who seem to believe that McSally has engaged in some great sacrilege. A distressed National Press Club statement calls her comment “ethically wrong.” The New York Times’ Michael Barbaro says it is “never” ok to attack a journalist. One wishes there would have been this level of outcry when Elizabeth Warren, also a senator, called Fox News a “hate-for-profit racket.” But so it goes.

The Washington Post’s media critic labeled the interaction “chilling.” Now, “chilling,” it seems to me, would more appropriately describe the government spying on reporters or throwing someone into prison in effort to appease foreign theocrats. I’m pretty sure, at this point, the largely inconsequential McSally-Raju kerfuffle has generated more outrage from mainstream journalists than either of those cases.

It should also be noted, rude or not, that McSally’s underlying grievance is legitimate. CNN, as Charles Cooke has written, is no longer a news network, and Republicans have no ethical responsibility to treat it as such, whether one of its reporters happens to be asking a legitimate questions or not. And no matter how many times his colleagues put the word “respected” in front of Raju’s name, it doesn’t change the fact that he has a long history of partisan bias, not only with his still-unexplained Don Jr. “collusion” piece, but on the issue of Brett Kavanaugh and many others. The fact that Raju does some good reporting, doesn’t mean he isn’t also a partisan. You can be both.

So when Bill Kristol contends, “If it’s liberal to hold public officials in our liberal democracy accountable for doing their job, then I guess I’m liberal,” he misses the point. It’s not “liberal” to ask tough questions, it’s “liberal” to only ask tough question of one side.

Because if media held public officials accountable we would be knee-deep in exposes explaining how House Democrats and former intel chiefs were able to hoodwink outlets like CNN into a three-year 24-7 frenzy over a conspiracy theory. There hasn’t been a single day of self-reflection on the matter of dossiers or botched “scoops,” much less accountability (save by one or two reporters.)

If Raju was concerned about accountability, he wouldn’t allow the same House Democrats to continue to dictate the focus and assumptions of his questions. Raju’s query wasn’t illegitimate — though it was certainly loaded — but it does illustrate that whenever Democrats decide to change course, the entire media turns their giant ship and sets a course to follow them.

Conservatives surely remember how this worked during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, when outlets helped Senate Democrats spread one unverified story after the next by merely asking questions. When Michael Avenatti’s client made a transparently idiotic charges of gang rape, CNN didn’t debunk or verify the accusation before airing it, they simply helped amplify it. It does this all the time.

Now, it probably would have been far more constructive for McSally to have answered Raju like so: “Manu, you are a consummate hack, but the answer to your question is . . .” In any event, McSally is now fundraising on the event. And Raju immediately posted the video as if it was worthwhile news, basking in the subsequent melodramatic statements that confirmed his victimhood. This is a symbiotic relationship between two partisan entities — even if one side never admits its role.

David Harsanyi is a senior writer for National Review and the author of First Freedom: A Ride through America’s Enduring History with the Gun

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