Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

Status Quo Blues

by Victor Davis Hanson// National Review

 

The public is turning away from the institutions that used to unite Americans — the NFL, mainstream news, late-night TV, movies . . .

 

The familiar cultural order of the last half-century is crumbling — partly because of larger forces beyond its control, partly from self-inflicted wounds, and partly because of the chaos following the election of the outsider Donald Trump.

 

NFL, Go to Hell?

In the early 1950s, the National Football League was small, poor, and not America’s pastime. It may soon become that way again — if it is lucky.

 

Since Colin Kaepernick opened the lid of the NFL’s Pandora’s box, the demons just keep flying out. The result is decreased viewership and attendance and the tarnishing of a multibillion-dollar brand.

 

To save their NFL investment, some networks now try to avoid airing the pre-game national anthem altogether. The alternative is to show dozens of confused and pampered multimillionaire athletes kneeling in defiance. The cameras only selectively scan the stadium crowd and detour around empty seats. ESPN talking heads glance sideways at one another in hopes that colleagues will cool their accustomed virtue-signaling social-justice rants that are as hypocritical as they are incoherent — rants that cost them viewers and maybe their own jobs.

 

The NFL in truth was living on borrowed time — a strangely anachronistic gladiatorial spectacle exempt from the nitpicking of a therapeutic society. Not anymore.

 

The rich white owners are in no need of antitrust exemptions or public subsidies. But they might require a diversity officer to make the franchises look more like America.

 

The players claim racism while also assuming that they are excused from the traditional liberal antidotes to disproportionate racial representation. Weirdly, the athletes apparently think that a league in which 75 percent of the players are African-American reflects a time-honored commitment to merit. That might be true, but it is a logic that has never done Asian-American students much good when fighting de facto quotas that limit their merit-based representation at marquee universities.

 

The NFL is becoming as violent as boxing or martial arts, but with thousands, not hundreds, of athletes suffering head trauma. Participation is falling off in its de facto farm and minor leagues in high schools and colleges, on the theory that a smack in the head might end up later as a tremor in the hand.

 

The old idea that Americans set aside their Sundays for friendly get-togethers, free of weekly political spats and depressing news, has been ruined by the constant editorializing of the players.

Yet they are unable to articulate a consistent gripe other than confusing the First Amendment rights with workplace rules that all Americans abide by. If the League successfully mandates that its paid employees cannot express their gratitude by wearing a small decal on their helmets to honor the dead of 9/11 or slain policemen, then certainly the NFL can also ask its employees to stand for the national anthem.

 

In sum, there are so many things wrong with the NFL that far from being a national pariah, Colin Kaepernick is likely to be sainted for convincing the nation that we had plenty of reasons beyond his own self-indulgent narcissism not to watch professional football at all.

 

‘They Literally Know Nothing’

Journalism is also dying. Newspapers cannot compete with online news. Online news cannot find a way to fully support traditional reporting. Bloggers and autodidacts fill the void. And they do it for little or no money. Yet often readers cannot tell the difference in work or ethics between a Columbia journalism grad and a guy in his basement.

 

Reading itself is perhaps becoming passé. Podcasts, film clips, emoticons, and emojis are the new pictographs of an increasingly illiterate public.

 

A recent Pew survey showed that only 5 percent of news coverage was positive to Donald Trump, proof of what journalists such as Jim Rutenberg of the New York Times and CNN’s Christiane Amanpour stated was desirable — and a reflection of what Glenn Thrush of the New York Times and Dana Milbank of the Washington Post thought was natural campaigning.

 

More than half the country no longer watches network news or reads the major daily papers, given that they often spout only talking points meant to advance progressive agendas.

 

But bias was only one symptom of a multifaceted fatal disease. Ben Rhodes, a former alter-ego deputy national-security adviser to Barack Obama, once confessed, in an on-the-record interview with the New York Times in 2016, that he had easily manipulated journalists about the Iran deal by feeding them propaganda. He dismissed reporters as young wannabes who “literally know nothing.” For once Rhodes, brother of the president of CBS News, was right: Reporters were easy to sway because they were biased and — even more important — because they were incompetent.

 

While reporters have been wildly — and falsely — reporting that Donald Trump bragged to his inner circle that he wanted a new force of 10,000 nukes, they remains clueless about the great events of our age.

 

Suddenly after 30 years of serial quid pro quo harassment, sexual assault, and rape, Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein is no longer a progressive Malibu deity. Overnight he became a modern ogre or at least a gross reincarnation of a schizophrenic sexual predator like Harry Cohn or Louis Mayer. What changed in 24 hours — other than that he became a dashed Humpty Dumpty that could not be glued back again?

 

Does anyone believe that the media did not know about Weinstein and the larger culture of sexual intimidation and coercion that fuels Hollywood? Or were there too few in Hollywood who could charge that Weinstein did things that they never would?

 

Either journalists were too afraid to cross such a progressive icon, or too inept to recognize the lethal ripples from this buffoonish Trimalchio who plunged into the Hollywood muck three decades ago. Or perhaps they were simply too lazy to investigate thousands of rumors and stories and run them through responsible journalistic audits and checks in order to produce an honest account of a criminal sociopath.

 

As Ben Rhodes also said, reporters are an echo chamber, largely due to slothful ignorance. Have one talking head call Mike Pence’s walkout from an NFL a “stunt” and within 30 minutes the next 60 will simply parrot the same noun, without any effort to amplify, reject, or modify the borrowed boilerplate.

 

In truth, we don’t count on the traditional media for much of anything anymore. For some reason, it cannot apprise the public of anything fundamental about the most horrific shooting in American history, at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival on the Las Vegas Strip. After more than two weeks, journalists still have not found out much about the motive of the shooter Steven Paddock — or how Paddock assembled a vast arsenal and elaborately planned to commit mass murder without anyone else knowing.

 

Online news pages like those of Google and Facebook lazily ran with wild stories of conspiracies and terrorist plots, all unconfirmed and unsourced — while the basic facts about why and how Paddock shot so many were all but ignored.

 

The media do little preemptive reporting. One day, North Korea is issuing its usual boring threats, and the next day it is said to have nuclear missiles capable of taking out Portland or San Francisco. Do such weapons appear out of nowhere? Were there any prior investigations in 2015 and 2016 when these nuclear missiles might have become first deployable?

 

If North Korea within 48 hours can be reported as having a nuclear intercontinental missile, can we expect that a far more adept Japan or South Korea already has the same capability? Don’t trust the media to tell us; they are exhausted to the point of irrelevancy after spending over a year chasing the Holy Grail of Trump-Russian collusion.

 

The reporting on the northern California fires in the Napa wine country was equally unreliable. Without much fanfare, huge flames appeared out of nowhere and became the most destructive and lethal fires in California history. Yet for nearly a week, the death and destruction hardly made the news. No one knew even the approximate number of the missing and dead, why exactly so many fires broke out where they did, and whether the state response to the disaster was effective. If the media could ignore the blatant perversities of Harvey Weinstein for 30 years, another day or two of delay would have made no difference — if they could have instead given the nation an account of lethal fires and rampant devastation.

 

The Mock Heroics of Late-Night Television

Late-night talk shows and comedy are also a declining enterprise. Most working people no longer stay up late at night to watch television. If they do, they expect entertainment, not a final dose of day-long political indoctrination to disrupt their sleep.

 

If the NFL ruined Sunday relaxation, so too Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Seth Meyers, John Oliver, Trevor Noah, and the rest have done the same to late-night television. The rub is not just that nearly a dozen performers have fragmented the static old audience that Johnny Carson and Dick Cavett, or Jay Leno and David Letterman once split.

 

Instead, the different stations, times, faces, and voices now all blend into one dull, predictable sameness. Pick any issue and the hosts’ views are lockstep. Expect entertainment, and you will at some point get not only politics but also lectures about how you are under-informed but, listen up, because the face on TV will improve your moral lot.

 

Even when the hosts pose as social-justice warriors on the barricades, they are quite timid and ordinary: Donald Trump and his family deserve easy obscenities while Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were off-limits.

 

Harvey Weinstein is exempt due to the progressive (but still medieval) practice of exemption and indulgence: If Weinstein gives to good causes in the abstract, then he has purchased the right to indulge without audit in bad concrete behavior. When Weinstein was caught — in the Larry Summers fashion of trying to save his job at Harvard by creating a multimillion-dollar feminist fund — his first move was to seek an offset by promising to fight the NRA, and his second move was to create a multimillion-dollar feminist fund.

 

The public is turning the channel on what used to be the markers of its weekly existence.

 

Slowly and by hit and miss, Americans are learning that they do not need to go to a theater to see another Harvey Weinstein movie; or watch network news or read traditional journalism; or, on NFL Sunday, see more zillionaires in their luxury boxes above grow giddy as their employees below score, only to see a showboating player kneel on all fours to mimic a urinating dog, which is apparently less offensive than standing for the national anthem.

 

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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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