Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

Journalism, R. I. P.

By definition, progressives cannot be guilty of bias.

By Victor Davis Hanson // National Review Online

For a variety of historical and cultural reasons, most of those who work in the media are progressives. They believe that government must undertake to fix an array of social maladies, such as income inequality, perceived racial and gender disparities, and the general dangerous superstitions, bad habits, and cultural baggage of those of less education than reporters, investigative journalists, and Internet and television commentators.

Yet sometimes simply reporting on society’s perceived ills does not offer quite a rich enough landscape in which to save humanity. And sometimes reality offers examples that confound the progressive ideology.

Therefore, journalists often fabricate stories and justify their cons as necessary means to achieve their higher aims. The falsifications range from the absurd to the existential, as we’ve seen with the editing of 911 tapes and photoshopping of pictures of George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin case. The syndrome includes the organizing of a private and secretive liberal political guild like JournoList and the slaps on the wrist dealt to progressive mythographers and plagiarists such as Fareed Zakaria and Maureen Dowd.

The media spent far more time recently obsessed with the shooting death of a gorilla who seemed to threaten a toddler than it did the Memorial Day–weekend shootings of 64 in inner-city Chicago — despite the fact that Barack Obama had been a community organizer in Chicago, and one might think his résumé would bring attention to what has become regular weekend mass slaughter.

The one story offered a therapeutic opportunity to lament the system’s needless execution of a gentle expression of nature; the other story led to an elemental dead-end in the attempt to explain why young African Americans in the most liberal cities of the most liberal states habitually shoot one another at rates exceeding the violence in war zones of Afghanistan — and to the complete nonchalance of most media outlets.

In most cases, in initial accounts of crimes, the media omit detailed descriptions of those suspected of rape, assault, and murder, given that they feel full disclosure might perpetuate harmful stereotypes of disproportionate crime rates among young minority males. But there is one notable exception. At colleges, public-relations offices issue the most systematic and detailed ethnic and racial alerts about suspected campus assailants in flash e-mails to students and faculty — without much worry about whether these initial descriptions later prove accurate. Campus authorities have apparently decided that the safety of their students and their university’s reputation for security trump political correctness — in a way that is not true for the general public.

Recently, at an anti-Trump rally in San Diego, a Telemundo cameraman instructed protesters how to hold the Mexican flag to get the preferred video angle. On the other end of the journalistic spectrum, the iconic Katie Couric just released a documentary, Under the Gun, that was edited in an intellectually dishonest fashion to make it appear that clueless gun owners were stumped by a penetrating question from the narcissistic Couric — the documentary version of the disgraced Dan Rather’s fake-but-accurate National Guard memos, which were mythologized by Hollywood into the joke of a movie titled “Truth.” Couric now joins Rather, Brian Williams, Candy Crowley, and Jayson Blair in the pantheon of fallen fabulists and political operatives.

In the aftermath of Ben Rhodes’s disclosures about misleading the country on the Iranian deal, the State Department just admitted that someone (whom it mysteriously could not identify) had edited out of its taped archives an admission from a spokeswoman that the State Department had misled the press over the negotiations. That airbrushing was reminiscent of the White House’s recent Trotskyized video that cut out visiting French president François Hollande’s reference to “Islamist terrorism.” Is there a White House Ministry of Truth that each day searches government videos to edit out anything that does not fit the narrative that the United States is under no threat from radical Islam?

Media outlets regularly castigate such right-wing villains as Scooter Libby, Dinesh D’Souza, and Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, and hope that they will be subjected to trumped-up criminal charges and perhaps even jailed — even as those outlets excuse or ignore the criminal behavior of Lois Lerner or Hillary and Bill Clinton on the unspoken premise that the former harm progressive causes, and therefore their civil rights are expendable, while the latter are socially and culturally progressive, and thus their ideology must trump their miscreant behavior.

Take the worst examples of Donald Trump’s most recent embarrassing behavior. His Trump University, like many other such transient for-profit institutions, allegedly played fast and loose with the truth in search of lucre. And the media are certainly right to fixate on all those who may have been misled by and suffered from Trump’s selfish profiteering. But the media fail at their own standards of vetting presidential candidates about profiting off higher education when they have largely ignored the far bigger con of Hillary Clinton price-gouging cash-strapped public universities like UCLA for $300,000 for 30 minutes of chatting — a per-minute rate of profit no doubt greater than Trump’s personal returns. Even worse is the con of “Honorary Chancellor” Bill Clinton garnering a reported $16 million between 2010 and 2015 from the for-profit Laureate International Universities, whose U.S. campuses have been plagued by financial controversies. During that period, Bill Clinton was perhaps the highest-salaried university “president” or “chancellor” in the world (and likely in the history of higher education) — and perhaps the only disbarred college chancellor in America. But to the media, all that is a non-story.

It was quite unacceptable for Donald Trump to attack a federal judge for releasing documents relating to lawsuits against Trump University. Trump attacked the judge both personally and on the basis that his Mexican-American heritage supposedly ensured his bias against the illegal-immigration lightning rod Trump. Trump should back off. No legal system can long endure when parties to a suit brazenly attack the integrity of the court and defame a sitting judge.

But by the same token the media ignored another aspect of the controversy. It is also unacceptable for a United States District Court judge to remain a member of La Raza Lawyers of San Diego, as Gonzalo Curiel has done. For all that group’s protestation about the origins, meaning, and recent philological history of the name La Raza, the term really means “the race.” It echoes a separatist and racially chauvinistic agenda dating from the 1960s, and a longer racist and anti-Semitic pedigree dating back to Francisco Franco’s fascist Spain and Benito Mussolini’s Axis Italy.

Go to the legal group’s website to learn through its contorted and defensive reasoning why “la raza” does not mean “the race” — and thus learn precisely why it most certainly does denote a particular race: “La Raza Cósmica.” The website explains that the term “the ‘cosmic people,’ was developed to reflect not purity but the mixture inherent in the Hispanic people.” That inane statement would be analogous to a white group known as “The Race” claiming that it did not denote a particular Anglo-Saxon racial essence, but simply referred to the mixture inherent in the “European people.”

If the website’s claim were true, there are three or four good nouns in Spanish for “people” well apart from raza. (And why does the group use “people” in English when there is a precise and cognate word for it in Spanish, “pueblo,” that goes unused?) In fact, la raza is a favorite term of Latino elites precisely because of its 1960s racialist pedigree and its edgy connotation of ethnic solidarity. Any white judge who was a member of something called “The Race Lawyers Association,” and who was hearing a case involving a well-known proponent of illegal immigration, would have been disqualified. Either we are a 21st-century post-racial “cosmic” people or we are not. If not, then the likes of a primal Donald Trump simply mirror-image the behavior of the more sophisticated race-obsessed among us.

If the media are rightly shocked over Trump’s reference to a judge’s ethnic heritage, they certainly were mostly deaf to pre-Trump racial sloganeering. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor made the term “Latina” a standard referent in her speeches. At one point she claimed: “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would, more often than not, reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.” That racist and sexist declaration never bothered the media, though it might suggest that the stereotyping Sotomayor apparently feels that “wise Latinas” ipsis factis have had richer experiences than “white males.” Does she feel that wise Latina attorneys who come before her are innately more reliable than white male lawyers?

It is unfortunate that the uncouth Trump would see justices in racial categories — in the fashion of the current president of the United States, Barack Obama. President Obama remarked of his recent Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, “Yeah, he’s a white guy, but he’s a really outstanding jurist. Sorry.” No one in the media batted an eye about the president’s racialist use of “but.” The conjunction suggested that being a “white guy” is now inherently a negative that can be partially offset by credentials — but only partially, given that it still requires the apologetic “sorry.” As for attacking judges for their decisions, the president did just that in a State of the Union address.

Trump is the media’s nemesis. He is a good example to America of why it lost trust in today’s journalism. By his crassness and crudity — and the media’s reaction to it — Trump reminds us that it is not so much crudity, fables, plagiarism, and mythologies per se that bother journalists, but rather these things when they are not used to further and reflect progressive agendas. Taste and class do matter to journalists: Cheryl Mills deceiving and obstructing the pursuit of justice in the Hillary Clinton e-mail scandals is considered no big deal, while we are supposed to be shocked at the fly-by-night deceptions of Trump U.

The public can decide how the “better conclusion” of a “wise Latina” or “Yeah, he’s a white guy” compares to Trump’s improper reference to the Mexican-American pedigree of Judge Curiel, a member of the San Diego La Raza Lawyers. But for the media, the fact that progressives in calm tones give voice to racialism is not news in a way it certainly is when vulgar conservatives bark out the same.

The age of Obama did not create the bias of the media, but it is characterized by the abandonment of all shame at that bias. Indeed, bias no longer exists as a journalistic notion. It has been replaced by the concept of social awareness or progressive solidarity establishing what is true and worthy of being reported.

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About Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture.

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