Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

Junk Journalism

What the MSM calls “reporting” is often just activism, careerism, and narcissism to advance the Democrat agenda.

by Victor Davis Hanson // PJ Media

Photo via PJ Media

Photo via PJ Media

Once upon a time, Dan Rather — the fallen CBS celebrity anchorman from the evening news and at 60 Minutes – was the master of “gotcha” journalism. Rather would play up his populist credentials, do ambush interviews with supposedly self-important grandees, and then pull out an unknown memo, an embarrassing quote from one’s past, or some sort of previously unexamined hypocrisy. And, presto, down went the high and mighty, as Rather grinned that he had taken down another enemy of his middle-class viewers without power and influence.

Rather became a multimillionaire celebrity himself, and forgot the very rules of ethical journalism that he so often preached to his victims. Nemesis finally — she is often a slowcoach goddess — caught up with him at 73, in the heat of the 2004 campaign and furor at the Texan-twanged, evangelical, Iraq War promoter George W. Bush. Rather’s producers got hold of faked memos purportedly proving that the commander-in-chief had once gone AWOL while serving as a twenty-something pilot with the Texas National Guard.

Rather’s story of Bush, the privileged hypocrite, made a big splash, especially in the age of Cindy Sheehan and Michael Moore. When the truth came out that the memos were not only not true but could notbe true, given their computerized format from the pre-Microsoft age, a red-faced CBS hierarchy fired a few of its marquee producers and eventually eased Rather out.

Rather sued. He denied. He blustered. He pleaded. He cajoled. He would not go away. When he was all through, he had become the sort of hapless prey caught in a web of contradictions that he once had enjoyed teasing before stinging on air. Rather’s defense was finally reduced to “the means justify the ends” argument that the memos could have been fake but his charges were still accurate.

NBC anchor Brian Williams was a less abrasive persona, but no less smug and privileged a celebrity tele-journalist. He too imploded when his Rather-like ego convinced him that Rule One of journalism — to demand the truth from others, first one must always tell the truth — no longer applied, given Williams’ omnipresence, big money, and colossal sense of self.

So Williams began making stuff up live in front of millions of listeners, as if he were the story and as if the audience were the amazed bystanders. Given his progressive faith [1], his celebrity status, and his nice-guy image, Williams apparently mythologized for quite some time without audit. His yarns were pathetic, in the sense that they characteristically placed Williams, as a self-inflated version of Forrest Gump, in a danger zone perhaps at risk of his life, but always cool, forever professional in conveying inside drama to Americans on their couches. A sort of journalist version of Hillary Clinton flying into the Balkans braving gunfire.

Like Rather, Brian Williams is now gone, at least for a while. He may be back [2], given that he made his network far more money than did Rather in his waning years. But who could ever believe his personal-voice psychodramas again?

George Stephanopoulos was a Clinton-era flack who effectively bullied would-be investigative reporters [3], did negative research, and massaged liberal journalists to convince America that Bill Clinton was not a philanderer and slave to his appetites who habitually lied to escape the serial messes he got himself — and his family and friends — into. And Stephanopoulos was good at spin apparently, in that Clinton won his election and the country ignored the various females whom he had bullied, groped, cajoled, and sometimes smeared.

Stephanopoulos wrote a memoir that served as a kind of mea culpa, as he transitioned into the limelight of New York-D.C. corridor journalism. Yet Stephanopoulos never severed his valuable Clinton connections [4], even as he went from partisan political analyst to supposedly disinterested anchor. Like Rather and Williams, his hubris got the best of him and he too ended up calling down Nemesis.

Stephanopoulos could not just question Peter Schweizer, author of an exposé on the Clinton Foundation. He had to go for the jugular, in ironic tu quoque fashion, suggesting that Schweitzer was a partisan hack and his book political mudslinging because the author had worked as a speechwriter for George W. Bush for four months.

That paradox was a bridge too far — given that Stephanopoulos had been no mere speechwriter or a four-month employee, but a recent donor to his old employer’s pay-for-play family foundation. The closer that Hillary Clinton got to announcing her bid for the presidency, the more, it seems, Stephanopoulos started giving money to the Clintons’ foundation and participating in their “charity.” He said he wanted to promote AIDS relief and save the trees, but there were plenty of foundations that did both without raking off 90% of their income for administration and travel or paying Chelsea over a half-million dollars to hang around.

The Clintons and Stephanopoulos were birds of a liberal feather. Hillary and Bill raked in $30 million in speaking fees in just the last 16 months (about $62,500 per day). Their left-wing politics supposedly gave them immunity from the obvious conclusion that they were con artists who had created a huge family racket (Chelsea gets $600,000 a year to help run it; Sidney Blumenthal got $10,000 a month in consulting fees) to shake down corporate grandees and foreign governments.

The motive seems unapologetic greed: the savvy dealmakers could donate to a former president’s and likely future president’s shell organization that hired their former, out-of-work flacks, provided the Clintons with free jet travel, and still funneled 10% of the cash to charities as progressive cover — as they looked for insider concessions like cell phone contracts or uranium acquisitions. To the extent one added to the pot through half-million-dollar fees directly to Bill for a few minutes of lecturing, there might be even more grants of most favorable-person status.

Stephanopoulos donated with time and money to all that, again only when it seemed wise to reinvest in Hillary as she hit the 2016 campaign circuit — when blue-chip access makes or breaks celebrity journalists. Like the Clintons, Stephanopoulos is a man of the left who likes to be paid in supposed right-wing fashion for his journalistic caring: $105 million for seven years at ABC, or $41,000 a day — for the next 2,555 days.

Unlike Williams and Rather, Stephanopoulos still works. But how could he ever interview a presidential contender given the doubts about his motives, whether corrupt or reformed? When he interviews Hillary, what will he ask: “Did my $75,000 get through OK?”

Add up all junk journalism — the Rolling Stone’s serial lies about false rape stories from Sabrina Erdely, the Jayson Blair myths, the New Republic stable of fabricators, the Fareed Zakaria plagiarism [5] — and one can see why the public distrusts the news in general and those who provide in particular.

The problem with current reporting is not the bogeymen of the free-for-all internet, where there are no laws in the arena, but the blue-chip grandees who suffer the additional wage of hypocrisy.

Titles and associations, not character or talent, created a sense of entitlement that so often leads to overreach. Not all, but most of our junk journalists are progressives, given the creed that sometimes a memo, a story, an angle might have to be stretched a bit too far for the noble aim of helping the people, or for assuaging one’s own guilt of becoming well-off and celebrity-conscious from muckraking journalism.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

On a minor endnote, not long ago journalist Kate Linthicum from the L.A. Times called me for “comment” on the California drought and “immigration.”

I avoid the L.A. Times. In 2006 their former San Joaquin Valley reporter, Mark Arax, called me to “comment” on a “civil war” in the San Joaquin Valley between an alliance of Jewish neocons and Christian zealots who were supposedly pushing the Iraq War down the throats of the proverbial people, who did the dying.

His Jewish angle was borderline anti-Semitism. I told him there were few Jews in the Valley to begin with, and most Christians were apolitical, albeit the Valley was a far more conservative place than elsewhere in California and anti-war protests were rare. From that, Arax wrote that I had told him “great nations needed to wage war to remain great,” and that I wanted “a call for war against Islam.”

He offered no citations for those quotes, and never returned my calls. I offered the correction to his fabrications here [6].

Linthicum had seen a column in which I mentioned a number of causes of the drought dilemma: (1) lack of rain and snow; (2) failure to finish the envisioned California Water Project; (3) unwise release of reservoir water to the ocean for various green causes; (4) much greater California population today than during the last major drought, in part due to immigration (one in four current Californian residents was born in a foreign country). After five minutes of conversation, it was clear that she was interested only in point four, or rather a likely suggestion that I was scapegoating immigrants for water shortages.

I went through the four causes again. I added that I was not scapegoating immigrants, but noted the irony of policies that encouraged open borders yet no commensurate investments in infrastructure needed for population growth. For example, the paradoxes of welcoming immigrants to California while not improving highways, building more reservoirs, canals, and dams, or promoting more job-creating manufacturing, agricultural, oil, and mineral industries to handle them.

I reminded her that I knew what her preconceived narrative was, and I wanted no part of it. I referred her to quotes from the National Review article she was drawing from. (“A record one in four current Californians was not born in the United States, according to the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California. Whatever one’s view on immigration, it is ironic to encourage millions of newcomers to settle in the state without first making commensurately liberal investments for them in water supplies and infrastructure. Sharp rises in population still would not have mattered much had state authorities just followed their forbearers’ advice to continually increase water storage.”)

She denied an agenda, and to ensure her fides, promised to email the quotes she would use to run it by me for approval.

When she hung up, I concluded four things: 1) She knew nothing about California climate, weather, water policy, the California Water Project, agriculture, immigration, or even demographic statistics; 2) she saw a muddled story line in a sort of nativist scapegoating of poor immigrants; 3) she was not telling the truth when she promised to email me her use or non-use of quotes before publication.

The story came out with the quote:

In an article in the National Review, Stanford academic Victor Davis Hanson argued that while California’s current dry spell is not novel, “What is new is that the state has never had 40 million residents during a drought — well over 10 million more than during the last dry spell in the early 1990s.”

That bit supposedly summed up my long essay and Linthicum’s over 30 minutes of interviewing.

Turn on Brian Williams, read the L.A. Times’ lead stories, catch NPR on the radio, and it is often just liberal activism, careerism, and narcissism on the part of an elite who believes that their own activism exempts them from the contradictions of their own lives, as if privilege is not privilege if you crusade 9 to 5 on behalf of the unprivileged.


 

URLs in this post:

[1] progressive faith: http://pjmedia.com/eddriscoll/2010/08/24/no-one-understands-this-nascar-nation-more-than-brian-williams/

[2] He may be back: http://pjmedia.com/eddriscoll/2015/02/11/brian-williams-resurface/

[3] bullied would-be investigative reporters: http://pjmedia.com/eddriscoll/2015/05/16/stephanopoulos-democrat-operative-posing-as-objective-journalist/

[4] never severed his valuable Clinton connections: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/05/17/abc-colleague-george-stephanopoulos-really-isn-t-a-journalist.html

[5] Fareed Zakaria plagiarism: https://ourbadmedia.wordpress.com/2014/09/16/fareed-zakaria-never-stopped-plagiarizing-how-dozens-of-episodes-of-his-cnn-show-ripped-others-off/

[6] the correction to his fabrications here: http://victorhanson.com/wordpress/?p=4137

Copyright © 2015 Works and Days. All rights reserved.

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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.

13 Thoughts on “Junk Journalism

  1. David P on June 3, 2015 at 6:02 am said:

    Most of us Conservatives know what you are talking about and understand everything the MSM and Left say and do is all spin and lies. The big challenge is the Liberal and especial the far Left, along with all the young people coming out of colleges.

    The first two I can understand as they have a unrealistic view of people and the world. It’s the young that really needs to be educated before they hit college so they at least have a chance when they come out to have the ability to understand that they need to do some research and not believe everything they hear.

    I was no different when I was young, what saved me was my stubbornness and desire to read for myself and not believe everything that I came across, especially in the MSM.

  2. As for Kate Linthicum’s behavior? Rude. Is she afraid telling the truth may become a habit? Lies dehumanize.

    • zygote314 on June 8, 2015 at 2:37 pm said:

      Her behavior was utterly disgraceful. She deliberately omitted most of the sound reasons VDH cited as to the causes of the California drought. This, of course, was done under the guise of “professional journalism” in order to distort his views and reduce his scholarly assessment of the problem to some caricature of bitter intolerance. Shame on the LA Times.

      I wonder if VDH ever wrote the Editor and, if need be, the Publisher to demand that his full text be printed? I know I have sent at least one article he had written on the drought to my in-laws in SF. They were amazed at what he wrote, as the MSM simply won’t report the truth.

  3. Rich on June 3, 2015 at 7:10 am said:

    I am happy to share with you an e-mail I sent to Investor’s Business Daily on May 4, 2015 which seems to me to be quite relevant to your wonderful piece above.

    “I was clear that the only way Hillary could get out of her e-mail troubles was for her to release them all; or, violate a subpoena issued by the Benghazi House Committee chairman Trey Gowdy by destroying them.

    Therefore, it is clear to me that by her taking the latter action, she not only destroyed her credibility as a trustworthy servant while serving in her post as Secretary of State, but destroyed any chance she might have had of reaching the highest office in our land as well.”

  4. Of course, the bible’s OT and NT mention folk who having eyes, can’t see; having ears cannot hear. It is totally fascinating how the Progtarded worldview blames the “Tragic-Liberty” worldview for its ameliorations.

    What shall we then say?

    Halt all education money for K-12 and university which are “Progtard-Brain-Suicide” worldview dribble?

    Consider… VOTE IN 2016… HILLARY FOR PRISONMENT (Either she goes to jail, or the entire country.)

  5. Excellent commentary. I yearn for the days of unbiased journalism…sadly non-existent in this day and age. The Christian Science Monitor has become my best source for an attempt of no bias.

  6. Les Davaz on June 3, 2015 at 11:48 am said:

    What framework should we put such conduct under? Sloppy journalism? OK, let’s go with that. It was one thing when this was confined to matters of opinion, things like politics and government. Then the abuse of revisionist history began in the 60’s , and now we have junk science and even junkier economic “thought” propounded by these knaves who either hold degrees in journalism, English, foreign language or religion, if they hold them at all. Thus, the likes of Amity Schlaes is hailed as an historian and economic thought driver because some people feel good about what she writes. Christine Romans is a business “expert”, and so on.

    • zygote314 on June 6, 2015 at 8:06 pm said:

      I liked both of Amity Shlaes’ well researched books The Forgotten Man and Coolidge.

      I agree with your general observation concerning how the Left has hijacked our education system since the 60’s in order to impose their revisionist view of history. However, I don’t think Shlaes’ work is the problem.

  7. dear friends:

    you simply do not understand democrats. they are not democrats in the old american idiom.

    they are marxist leninists. hard core leftist progressives who would happily be shooting people in basements, and eliminating kulaks, if only the kulaks were not bristling with guns.

    they despise bourgeoisie values, and silly notions like honesty, integrity, self discipline and truth. they simply use them to embarrass those who do hold those values, if not a little imperfectly.

    you cannot embarrass a left marxist, even a disciple of marcuse and alinsky if they’ve not the stomach for lenin and stalin. you cannot expect the left to reform if these things are exposed. wiener’s weiner, or is it weiner’s wiener, is being rehabilitated. so is rather. brian williams will be back on the air. they will still be lying, but “contrite.” bullshit. they are not contrite, because they care not one damned whit for what you value. hillary runs for president, her campaign funded by a huge $2.5 billion illegal charity. bill basks with babes in the same hot tub as a convicted pedophile sex offender. and, the beat goes on.

  8. Neil Okrent on June 4, 2015 at 1:55 am said:

    Outstanding article, Professor Hanson, your points are well-made. However in my opinion NPR is worse than the LA Times, if only because it receives federal subsidies, and it and the various NPR stations are non-profits. NPR’s distortions and biases are both transparent and infuriating. There are many crucial news stories they diminish, or hide, by omission. Their preferred “knowledgable sources” are often from organizations created by George Soros. And as far as their “non-profit” status goes, the two main LA-area stations each charge about $750 per 15-second spot advertisement. Also, NPR has many big corporate underwriters. Does anyone think NPR is going to run a story critical of one of their underwriters? Several individual broadcasters working for NPR receive whopping paychecks. And once an individual gets a show, no matter how outrageous and prejudiced they are, they are in like Flynn. Am I the only one who finds it odd that Terry Gross has been on the air for more than 20 years? She is not the only one, either. NPR is about as “non-profit” as the National Football League. It is long past time for NPR’s non-profit status to be revoked, and for their federal grant monies from the CPB to be removed.

  9. zygote314 on June 6, 2015 at 10:02 pm said:

    My wife and I have nearly opposite political views. I’m conservative; she’s liberal. We love and respect each other despite our differences, and are careful not to convince or convert the other to their point of view. On the weekends when we garden and relax, NPR is usually blaring on the radio. This is also true when driving. Some of the programming, such as Warren Olney’s To The Point, is not too bad I suppose, but other shows in which the Social Justice philosophy is preached ad nauseum are a bit hard to put up with. Issues like immigration are couched in terms sympathetic to the illegal alien’s “struggle” against a brutish society who won’t reward him for breaking our laws with Green Cards and Amnesty; or shows that promote global warming theory as settled science; or the endless handwringing every time an Eric Garner is shot by the Police which always ignores the 6,000 black males who were shot and killed by other black males. Thank God for alternative media like NRO and victorhanson.com.

    I remember back in the ’80s a book by Neil Postman titled Amusing Ourselves to Death. It was written pre-internet so it’s a bit dated, nevertheless, Postman’s thesis of an informed democracy threatened by the entertainment driven age of TV is still relevant today. He believed that reading your news involved a more active didactic mental process to the passive absorption of watching news on TV. In the book’s final chapter, The Huxleyan Warning, Postman juxtaposes Orwell’s totalitarian vision of the future to Huxley’s more subtle vision. In Huxley’s Brave New World there are no guard towers or a Ministry of Truth to repress the masses, just people giggling and laughing while oblivious to the dystopia they are living in.

    When Brian Williams deliberately distorts the news in order to entertain his viewers with his fantastic fables, or George Stephanopoulos pretends to be a disinterested and objective news anchor, and not a Democrat shill, or Dan Rather tries to perpetrate a vicious hoax against a perceived ideological enemy the MSM undermines our Republic and fails to be the watchdog of truth that the American public depend on.

  10. Dan Morris on June 7, 2015 at 8:59 am said:

    It’s so ironic how NPR and PBS both receive huge amounts of money from the descendents of highly successful capitalists. These descendants inherited their money. The founders of their corporations grew through competition in the capitalist market and usually employed hundreds of thousands of people around the world. The Ford Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, etc. and other similar foundations have by and large been hijacked by the hard left. The creators of these fortunes are likely spinning in their graves at the, “news” and “information” spun daily by these Progressive propaganda mills.

  11. buybuydandavis on June 12, 2015 at 8:40 pm said:

    “Turn on Brian Williams, read the L.A. Times’ lead stories, catch NPR on the radio, and it is often just liberal activism, ”

    Most media is simply propaganda from the Progressive Theocracy.

    Brian Williams and his problems make for a good demonstration of the archtype. It’s not that he was ever deliberately lying, but that “correspondence to reality” simply does not motivate him when he speaks.

    Being so accustomed to a career to Progressive propaganda, where the only criteria is what is ideologically useful, it’s not surprising that he wouldn’t keep a story straight over time. That’s why he drifted to the Progressive Theocracy in the first place – his detachment to reality, and attachment to power, are the defining characteristics of Progressives. The mapping to reality is tenuous, gradually overpowered by the the mapping to the socially useful.

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