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Dogpiling Taibbi and the Dearth of the Free Press

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Dogpiling Taibbi and the Dearth of the Free Press

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“Belief is the disease that knowledge cures.” –Unknown

By Lambert Strether of Corrente

I am afraid that the headline will be the last coherent thing about this short and ill-organized post, but bear with me; I feel a bit like somebody with an undiagnosed illness must feel. A little off, so I’m checking my breathing, hefting body parts, listening to my internal organs, etc., filled with a sense of unease, but not able to name the cause. The source of my dread, my angst, is the media, our famously free press, whose work product I consume daily, inordinately, ceaselessly.

I’ve been doing the “media critique” for some time; almost since Atrios paraphrased American pundit Mickey Kaus in 2002:

All 1300 readers of the powerful and malevolent MWO and Buzzflash, however, are so mindlessly deranged because ‘Bush is getting away with it’ that a fair percentage of them are simply incapable of controlling themselves. Media critique and political criticism of this kind, where journalists are given derisive nicknames and readers are asked to write faultfinding e-mails, is just the kind of incitement that could push a fair percentage of these scribbling Leftists to do something really dangerous.

Mickey is right to alert other concerned and committed liberals like himself to the frightening emergence of Left Wing Hate and the Mighty Casio that fans the flames of its rage. It behooves the love-drunk flower children of the Right and the complacent apathetic center to wake up before it’s too late.

Lives are at stake here, folks.

As they always are. (MWO stands for “rabid watchdog” “Media Whores Online“, shuttered in 2004, before Bush’s re-election, sadly for this reader.) What strikes a contemporay is how much of Atrios’s trademark light irony has come true. “Trump is getting away with it” (as Bush did, more than did; “Michelle Obama defends friendship with George W. Bush: ‘Our values are the same’”). “Journalists are given derisive nicknames and readers are asked to write faultfinding e-mails,” or rather, today, tweets. And of course there really is such a thing as “Left Wing Hate” (for some definition of “left,” I admit).

Which brings me briefly to Matt Taibbi’s “The American Press Is Destroying Itself” — well worth a read in full — upon which the dogs immediately piled (“a fair percentage of them are simply incapable of controlling themselves”). I really, really don’t want to go through the detail of who said what to whom. (The excellent and funny TrueAnon devotes a podcast to it.) Doing that would be like recounting an episode of office politics where everybody was trying to get HR to intervene on their side and fire the other guy (that being a pretty good working definition of power relations in identity politics, come to think of it). Here is one of the more “mindlessly deranged” (MWO) responses:

Now, I respect Nathan J. Robinson, exactly as Robinson respects Taibbi, but Taibbi’s piece is not “evidence-free.” It is, in fact, heavily linked. To be fair, the essence of dog-piling is speed. One likes to get in first. But “FOX” [hate circuit kicks in; knee jerks]. Really?

Fortunately, Taibbi’s Twitter feed seems to have died down to its baseline level of haters and trolls, which is a mercy. What concerns me, however, is that the media critique has gotten a lot more complicated. Back in the day, it was sufficient to categorize the venue: Rassmussen was a Republican pollster, for example. Then, perhaps around the time that the New York Times’ Judy Miller took dictation from Bush administration sources on WMDs to feed their case for war, it became evident that one must look to the “reporter” as well. Then, at some point between Benghazi and RussiaGate, it became evident that collective delusion could seize certain factions of the political class, and that this would be reflected “the narrative,” as we like to say. And now, the media critique must also — it would seem — take into account a reporters’ complex and ever-shifting merits and demerits on topics of the day or week (particularly those of concern to identitarian enforcers, with whom Taibbi fell afoul, not to mention political campaigns with “sides.”)

In the days when “Rasmussen was a Republican shop,” it was easy to apply a discount to media work product. The process of discounting becomes a lot more complicated and dynamic when venue, reporter, current collective delusion, and, as of now, whoever’s being knifed for being “contrarian” all need to be factored in. And of course, at least in politics, there’s one more player:

(Ellsberg, like, Seymour Hersh and Thomas Frank, has been drummed out of town.)

So. on top of everything else, we’ve got the… intelligence community[1] manipulating everything.

Who is “free,” here? What’s a poor media critic to do?

ADDENDUM

I was so anxious to get to the intelligence community, I skipped over the Democrats. Nobody got excited over this part of Taibbi’s piece, doubtless because it’s so obviously true:

The instinct to shield audiences from views or facts deemed politically uncomfortable has been in evidence since Trump became a national phenomenon. We saw it when reporters told audiences Hillary Clinton’s small crowds were a “wholly intentional” campaign decision. I listened to colleagues that summer of 2016 talk about ignoring poll results, or anecdotes about Hillary’s troubled campaign, on the grounds that doing otherwise might “help Trump” (or, worse, be perceived that way).

Anyone believe that’s not happening now?

NOTE

[1] What the heck is the correct pejorative for a member of the intelligence commumity? I’m not going to the mat for “spook,” obviously.

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