The Corner

Roger Kimball Nails the Lou Dobbs Departure

Though an all-purpose populist irritant, Lou Dobbs touched the third-rail inveighing against illegal immigration, earning the ire of Media Matters and the New York Times, and disturbing leftist CNN’s centrist pretensions. The less in all this? Writing in Forbes, Roger explains:

Here’s a conjunction worth savoring: Media Matters and [as it proclaims] “The power of media to elevate the political discourse.” Feeling a bit sea-sick? Paul Krugman will increase the malaise. “Until now,” he writes in his New York Times blog, “it really has seemed as if there was nothing, nothing at all, that someone on the right could say and do that would make them unacceptable in polite company. Now it at least seems that there is a line somewhere.” For those of you who wonder what has happened to the public’s sense of irony, I note further that Krugman calls his blog “The Conscience of a Liberal.” … I’d like to pause to consider Krugman’s invocation of “polite company.” When it first reported on Dobbs’ departure from CNN Nov. 11, The New York Times described Dobbs as “an outlier at CNN, which has sought to position itself as a middle ground of sorts in the fractious cable news arena.”

Elevating political discourse. Drawing a line in the sand. Polite company. A middle ground. Get it? If you’re Media Matters, CNN or The New York Times, you are in the happy position of proposing that what you espouse is elevating, middle-of-the-road, non-fractious opinion that is acceptable to “polite company,” i.e., you and your friends.

But according to what dispensation are entities like The New York Times and Media Matters, individuals like Burns and Krugman, endowed with that coveted imprimatur? Who says that they get to determine what is acceptable and unacceptable to polite company? That they get to stake out what counts as “the middle ground”? To decide what “elevates” and what is merely ideological pandering? … [Like Dobbs,] Krugman and his confreres also have strong opinions. But they arrogate to themselves alone the privilege of deciding whose opinions count as part of the “middle ground” that is acceptable to “polite company.” The opinions of people like Dobbs, or the millions who watch Fox News instead of CNN, do not pass muster. Why?

The English critic William Hazlitt once spoke disparagingly of “common place critics” who pretend to put themselves “in the middle, between the extremes of right and wrong.” Something similar could be said of the rancid, illiberal liberalism of commentators like Krugman and Burns. They look upon their own opinions less as opinions than as universally applicable observations that reflect the state of nature. Their opinions are just what any enlightened, virtuous member of “polite” society believes. Only those who disagree with them have “fractious,” line-crossing opinions unacceptable to such polite company as represented by Krugman, The New York Times and Media Matters. Here’s what’s really at stake in the controversy of Dobbs and CNN. It’s not only Dobbs who’s been rusticated: It’s also the robust liberalism that thrived on disagreement, argument and polemic.