- The American Conservative - http://www.theamericanconservative.com -

Against Frogs & Russkies

Steve Sailer and one of his readers notice something interesting [1]. Sailer’s reader writes:

NOTA said…

The anti-Russia PR campaign in the prestige media reminds me a great deal of the anti-France campaign around and right after the Iraq invasion. Remember cheese eating surrender monkeys, freedom fries, and “rifle for sale, never fired, only dropped once?”

The pattern here appears to be that countries that resist our foreign policy adventures then become a kind of acceptable target in various bits of our media. I’m sure this isn’t overtly coordinated anywhere, but media people are presumably pretty good at inferring which way the wind is blowing….


Sailer responds, saying that this is a “major change” in his lifetime. Back in the day, the prestige media could be counted on to take the side of America’s enemies. Sailer:

But having been 9 years old in 1968 and 28 in 1987, it’s been pretty surprising for me that the American media has pretty much gone back to the way it was in 1942-1967 when the press looked to the government for what line to take on foreign policy. But that’s probably the natural state of affairs and what needs explanation is the skeptical, oppositional perspective that I grew up assuming was the automatic order of things.

Instead, the natural state of affairs is that people who are good with words write the kind of things that people with large budgets want them to write.

I think that’s at best a partial explanation. I was once discussing media coverage of same-sex marriage with a friend in the national media. He supports SSM, but conceded that in his newsroom, there was a wide range of opinion on economics, foreign policy, and politics. But the two issues on which no dissent was tolerated, or even thought possible, were abortion and same-sex marriage. Insofar as that attitude is characteristic of the media — and I believe it is, certainly at the national level — then yes, it’s unlikely that the people who receive paychecks from media outlets will write things opposing abortion or SSM.

Is it really the case that this dynamic works on foreign policy coverage? Maybe, but I don’t think it’s as crude. Rather, I think journalists today — elite journalists, at least — absorb the biases of the ruling class far more readily than they used to do. This is why the national media are obsessed with all things gay, but relatively uninterested in questions of poverty and inequality. Journalists working at the top level far too often come to sympathize with the class they cover. They see these people all the time. They went to the same universities. They have the same aspirations for themselves and their children. They send their kids to the same schools. They read the same things. And so forth. American journalists like to flatter themselves that they are nonconformist adversaries to the Establishment, but this is just silly. Living inside this class and cultural bubble, it’s not surprising that they would find it much easier to accept the Establishment view of the world. Sailer portrays it as a commercial exchange, but it ain’t prostitution if you’re giving it away.

47 Comments (Open | Close)

47 Comments To "Against Frogs & Russkies"

#1 Comment By mrscracker On February 13, 2014 @ 12:53 pm

My grandma remembered during WWI that hamburger was renamed “Salisbury Steak” & sauerkraut:”Liberty Cabbage.” She said you had to ask for them by those names at the store while we were fighting Germany.

#2 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On February 13, 2014 @ 1:00 pm


Couple points.

1) The *mainstream* media never was particularly anti-US in the Cold War, and they were definitely not pro-communist of any variety. I say this as someone on the far left of US opinion as far as foreign policy goes. New York Times coverage of the Sandinistas, for example, was always pretty hostile, as was their treatment of Cuba.

2) I have heard it said that as journalism has become a tougher profession to enter (more demand for unpaid internships, fancy degrees etc) it’s become increasingly an upper middle class profession rather than a working class one. maybe journalists are simply reflecting the priorities of their class. (Working class people are much more economically left leaning and much more pro life than upper middle class ones).

#3 Comment By Ryan Booth On February 13, 2014 @ 1:01 pm

“Remember cheese eating surrender monkeys, freedom fries, and “rifle for sale, never fired, only dropped once?’”

As though most of the media made such comments. The press did not back the Iraq Waar. Those remarks were largely from GOP politicians, with a few of them from conservative commentators. Sailor’s memory is defective.

#4 Comment By EngineerScotty On February 13, 2014 @ 1:01 pm


This is incredibly, incredibly sloppy on multiple levels.

Who, precisely, is the “media”? (Let alone, the “prestige media”?) When did “the media” take the side of the North Vietnamese or the Viet Cong (a completely different proposition than doubting the case for American involvement in Indochina)? Sailer seems to be broadly conflating several things:

* Institutional media, including network news (nowadays mostly irrelevant), cable news (nonexistent during Vietnam), the two national papers of record (the NYT and the Washington Post, both of which are ignored by most Americans), other major city newspapers (many of which today are teetering on bankruptcy, and which do very little original reporting on foreign policy.

* Social media, which utterly did not exist during Vietnam, and which was in its infancy ten years ago. (Much of the anti-Russia snarking seems to flow through here).

* Talk radio and other semi-participary media forms. Much of the “freedom fries” nonsense came from right-wing radio gasbags, from Limbaugh on down.

At any rate–where does your friend in the national media work? Is he in the editorial department, the news department, elsewhere within a journalistic endeavor–or is he in non-journalistic media?

It’s worth pointing out that many of us liberals have similar complaints on economic issues–the “elite media” doesn’t take seriously leftist positions on economic issues, certainly nothing to the left of “maybe we should have a social safety net”. Unions are broadly portrayed in the media as parasites, protectionist economic policy is also treated as something which is beyond the pale, deficit hysteria is paramount, and even the idea of raising taxes (even if on the rich) is regarded as foolish nonsense. And the positions just mentioned all lie within the capitalist system; actual socialists (let alone Marxists) are even further marginalized and ignored.

And of course, it wasn’t long ago that the media consensus held that gays were all perverts and sickos, and not to be trusted in any position of authority (especially where children were concerned). The notion of gay civil rights, let alone gay marriage, was often considered laughable. Was that fair?

#5 Comment By psc On February 13, 2014 @ 1:02 pm

What about all that righteous blather regarding “speaking truth to power.” Glenn Greenwald is one of the few nowadays that “punches up” rather than “kicks down”.

#6 Comment By charles cosimano On February 13, 2014 @ 1:17 pm

Maybe they have just come their senses and realize that inequality is a good thing. Of course the jokes about the French, in addition to being based on firm reality, are not new. In the 80’s there was a line, “The European delegates, easily recognizable by the yellow stripe down their backs…”

And the Russians do have it coming.

#7 Comment By VikingLS On February 13, 2014 @ 1:24 pm

@Engineer Scotty
“It’s worth pointing out that many of us liberals have similar complaints on economic issues”

You know what, may it’s not worth pointing that out since this post doesn’t remotely imply that the media is actually liberal across the board.

DO you have to see every issue in terms of of the liberals vs conservatives meme? Some of us really don’t live there anymore.

#8 Comment By VikingLS On February 13, 2014 @ 1:25 pm

“And the Russians do have it coming.”

Perhaps, but not from us.

#9 Comment By Fulton On February 13, 2014 @ 1:29 pm

My impression of American media is that it is inherently biased towards support for the status quo, whatever that is perceived to be, because for a lot of journalists the job is about “access” to the power players and then reporting what those power players say. So, it ends up that partisan conservative and liberal activists have mirror image complaints about media bias, since they both in their own ways want to change the status quo and most American journalism is inherently slanted in a manner that skews against them.

#10 Comment By Myron Hudson On February 13, 2014 @ 1:35 pm

Interesting. Jingoism did indeed make a remarkable comeback in the run-up to the Iraq war, and in the early days.

As for the French: they knew it was bogus but would have participated anyway for their share of the profiteering, but that all went to Haliburton in no-bid contracts.

Anyway, I believe that the current coverage of Russia is part of the same machinery: a war industry, a corrupt establishment and a significant sector of the press as the loudspeaker for their propaganda. This, coupled with the dumbing-down of the population to accept their information in the form of slogans and sound bites. And, the nearly incestuous relationship between beltway pols and beltway pundits. The echo chamber.

#11 Comment By Labropotes On February 13, 2014 @ 1:37 pm

I wonder what the MSM would say about China if it seemed to threaten Israel. Russia and France get whacked when they interfere with AIPAC’s plans to use America as an appliance.

#12 Comment By EngineerScotty On February 13, 2014 @ 1:38 pm

You know what, may it’s not worth pointing that out since this post doesn’t remotely imply that the media is actually liberal across the board.

Fair enough, but I hear enough of conspiracy theories about the “evil liberal media” (not from Rod) that the response is nearly automatic. 🙂

DO you have to see every issue in terms of of the liberals vs conservatives meme? Some of us really don’t live there anymore.


The media–writ large–doesn’t have a clear partisan bias. For one thing, the editorial positions of (say) FOX News, vs the New York Times, vs Politico, vs the various think-tank rags out there, all differ.

For another, if there is a “media elite”–and there a good case that an economically-conservative, socially-liberal corpus exists that has significant influence on major media outlets–it doesn’t have a clear partisan lean.

Actually, we agree (somewhat) on this.

That said, the line of argument that “the media” is being unfairly mean to Russia, and its all because of teh gays, is a bit weak. There are many factors at play here–a big one is that Vladimir Putin is a bit of a blowhard who has simply been begging to be knocked off his perch, and many reporters are more than happy to oblige–so the posture being taken here is more than a bit of weak sauce.

#13 Comment By SteveM On February 13, 2014 @ 1:50 pm

One current example that reinforces Rod’s observations is the immigration debate and H-1B STEM workers.

The MSM has fully bought into the Cony Capitalist mantra that there is a severe STEM worker shortage that can only be alleviated by opening the H-1B floodgates:


STEM technologists working in the trenches surface Dr. Lowe’s obvious arguments time and again, yet they are completely ignored by the journalistic elites.

And here’s the kicker. The journalists ignore the obvious arguments because they themselves are immune to H-1B replacement. And they’d rather hob nob with Bill Gates and Eric Schmidt, (both calling for wide open immigration) and dance to the tune that the high tech Power Elites play than engage in honest hard ball journalism.

Excepting the rare Glenn Greenwald or Tim Carney, journalists are indeed usually part of the problem.

#14 Comment By Aaron Gross On February 13, 2014 @ 1:59 pm

Skeptical, oppositional coverage? I wonder how someone like Noam Chomsky would answer that characterization.

I remember Cold War coverage differently than Sailer does. The media were to the right of many in the governing elite, like George McGovern. The media always sided with one faction of the governing elite.

And regarding 1967, the media hated Nixon long, long before he was elected president.

#15 Comment By md On February 13, 2014 @ 2:06 pm

“American journalists like to flatter themselves that they are nonconformist adversaries to the Establishment, but this is just silly.”

Publications such as NYT, WP, and New Yorker, TV networks, cable news networks and a bevy of webzines such as Politico, the Atlantic, the New Republic are an integral and indispensable part of the Establishment. They are, much more so than government censors, the enforcers of the boundaries of the “acceptable” thought and discourse. Many of their high-profile journalists, commentators and columnists are ‘in the revolving door’ with the government. To think of them as “nonconformist adversaries to the Establishment” is not only silly, but plain wrong and misleading.

#16 Comment By collin On February 13, 2014 @ 2:28 pm

This is the Olympics where every story is overblown. Seriously how more updates can we have of Bob Costa eye? (The Pinko gets Pinkeye!) And unfortunately Sochi has numerous mishaps like warm weather, yellow water, the last ring not forming and athletes breaking down hotel doors. I know it has been a little excessive but I believe it would have this bad even if Putin loved gay people and was not designing a ‘corporate takeover’ of the Ukraine.

Anyway, I don’t we can do much about the Ukraine but Putin making the bailout contingent on rejecting increased trade EU trade is still as wrong policy as our sanctions on Iran.

#17 Comment By William Dalton On February 13, 2014 @ 2:40 pm

Having grown up in the 60’s, when I definitely felt myself in a minority among my intellectual peers in supporting the Vietnam War, I was relishing the opportunity to be among the majority, to be on the “winning side”, when I concluded to oppose the Iraq War before it even begun. I was sorely disappointed. All those arguments I had heard and discarded in the Vietnam Era(“this is a civil war – we have no business being in it”, “it’s a hopeless case – most Vietnamese don’t want our ‘liberation'”, “our bombing campaign is a war crime!”) suddenly seemed so much more reasonable when applied to the context of the Middle East theater of conflict in the “War on Terror”. Why was I not hearing more in the media recount them?

I believe Steve Sailer is right. The opposition of America’s opinion makers to American war-making was an aberration in the Vietnam era, far from the norm. I think the major factor making a difference is that America’s elite then (and still now) was far more sympathetic to communism, in theory if not in practice, than it ever was to Nazism, fascism, or now to Islamic fundamentalism. They were more likely to see the countries in which we were engaged in conduct as being oppressed by our military engagements than in being liberated, although now, as then, the suffering endured by those in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, etc., as a result of our invasions and bombings were just as great, and the goal of “liberation” just as hopeless as in Vietnam and Cambodia. People are simply more likely to excuse bad conduct if they see it as vital to achieving a necessary end than they are if they don’t see the objective as being necessary or even positive.

It is also important to remember that the domestic conflict over the Vietnam War was as much a part of America’s culture wars as is the cause of gay sex today. George Wallace got as much, if not more, mileage campaigning against commie-loving war protesters as he did the Communist conspiracy of race mixing. That, after all, is how he won the Wisconsin primary in which his campaign was killed by a would-be assassin’s bullet.

#18 Comment By Mr. Patrick On February 13, 2014 @ 2:50 pm

“American journalists like to flatter themselves that they are nonconformist adversaries to the Establishment, but this is just silly. Living inside this class and cultural bubble, it’s not surprising that they would find it much easier to accept the Establishment view of the world”

Maybe so, but look: If Vladimir Putin is the counterculture, I’m headed out to get a buzzcut and a pocket protector.

#19 Comment By Elijah On February 13, 2014 @ 2:54 pm

Thank you, Mr. Cosimano. Just a brief look at the failures of the French bureaucracy – I mean military – since, oh, 1870 or so ought to dispel a lot of this.

The whole Russia thing – Cosimano is right. They have it coming.

#20 Comment By ck On February 13, 2014 @ 2:58 pm

“And the Russians do have it coming.”

“We all have it comin’ kid.” -Clint Eastwood

#21 Comment By Joe the Plutocrat On February 13, 2014 @ 3:07 pm

what more needs to be said? if you consider Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, and Rush Limbaugh; along with Krauthhammer, Kristol, et al to be “elite” journalists.

#22 Comment By Will in Mississippi On February 13, 2014 @ 3:09 pm

Rod, I think what you’re capturing is that there are tremendous incentives to avoid disagreeing on certain topics. Most in elite circles would not disagree and those who do see no gain in expressing dissent. The dissenters probably focus on other things anyway, so airing their position against the consensus involves taking an additional step,

It’s not just the elite media, but the elite and often not so elite academy. An acceptable range of opinion is taken for granted and stepping outside it really surprises people. So it’s probably a good idea to keep those thoughts private. Not a formula for open inquiry, though.

#23 Comment By Myron Hudson On February 13, 2014 @ 3:11 pm

“We all got it coming, kid.”

Clint Eastwood, in “Unforgiven”.

#24 Comment By Lancelot Lamar On February 13, 2014 @ 3:11 pm

It is extremely galling to me for people to proudly claim they are “progressives” or of the left because of their posturing on gay rights and abortions, while all the while reinforcing the rule, power, and privileges of their own elite class.

I had a friend in college who was a proud liberal, a secular leftist, and then went to work on Wall Street and is now at Citibank. I’m sure he still claims that he is a “progressive” because of his favoring gay rights and abortion and hating the religious right, but all he does and has ever done is work to make the 1%–of which he is a part now–richer, more powerful, and more privileged.

I am with those on this blog who see social and sexual politics as fig leaves for rich bastards who can reinforce their class power and privilege as much as they want and still fancy themselves “liberals.” They can still feel smug and self-righteous and so much better than those losers who have doubts about the homosexual revolution and abortion on demand. This describes most establishment journalists, who may not be as rich, but think of themselves as part of the in-group in society, the right people who think the right things.

#25 Comment By Turmarion On February 13, 2014 @ 3:23 pm

Before the 60’s or 70’s, most newspaper reporters got into the business straight out of high school and worked their way up. They were thus more likely to be of blue-collar origins. Since the 70’s or so, the usual route has been through journalism programs in college. I suspect that is one significant difference in journalists then and now.

#26 Comment By JRolicker On February 13, 2014 @ 3:30 pm

You have the neo-cons on one side and the libertines and SSM promoters on the other side. And they both have the same antipathy toward traditional Christianity. They have the same reaction to the cross as Dracula. Russia is the last Christian country. The gold medal-winning pairs figure skaters last night skated to “Jesus Christ Superstar” and the male skater, who was wearing an Orthodox cross, made the sign of the cross as part of the routine.

#27 Comment By charles cosimano On February 13, 2014 @ 4:00 pm

“Perhaps, but not from us.”

Of course from us. We have the best comics.

#28 Comment By Leo H On February 13, 2014 @ 4:19 pm

It has always bothered our so-called “prestige” journalists, some right-wing, most left-wing that the French and the Russians generally don’t give a rat’s hindparts what Americans think about them. The other day Mayor DiBlasio took time off from mishandling New York’s weather emergencies to conflab with P-Riot. (Granted I thought the Russians were too lenient with these mere criminals, but Putin can be sentimental) Now how serious do you take a nation that worries about the name of fried potato strips or the artistic merit of exhibitionist vandals? Clue: not very. The Socialists are going to be routed in France next election and American liberals can probably then also learn to hate France, its popular resistance to same-sex “marriage” (sic), President Marine Le Pen….well, whatever. By the way, Mr. Dreher, keep up the references to Steven Sailer. The discomfort this dissident elicits from the hive and its worker PC bees is warming on an otherwise snowed out day.

#29 Comment By Patrick Bardamu On February 13, 2014 @ 4:33 pm

Well if we accept the stereotype of the “elite media” as liberal then I think its obvious why they would have it out for Russia: Russia (its government and a majority of its people) are either hostile or indifferent on the social issues our journalists obsess over. A large country whose President gives speeches that defend what we have come to call traditional values isn’t going to get a lot of praise from American journalists, regardless of its foreign policy.

I don’t really think most liberals support some kind of active and anti-Russian foreign policy. Few people seem to other than the “Let’s pretend the Cold War didn’t end” wing of the Republican party. I very much doubt journalists are writing negative stories about Russia because they want to take America’s side in some kind of geopolitical struggle. Russia would be an “acceptable target” even if Russia adopted some kind of insular and less threatening foreign policy. Not that Russia’s foreign policy is as muscular as some people make it out to be, but even if it were less so, many American journalists would gladly write articles about how awful it is.

Maybe I just don’t read enough media coverage about foreign policy. Are mainstream journalists beating up on Russia over its foreign policy a lot? I remember most of them taking Georgia’s side after the unpleasantness with Russia in 2008, but since the Olympics started I have only noticed negative coverage of Russia’s social policies and problems related to the Olympics. Of course, the first set of issues are the reason they were so eager to jump on Russia for the second and seem less willing to give sympathy to Russian victims of suicide bombings.

#30 Comment By Dave On February 13, 2014 @ 4:38 pm

Why would national media giants focus on income inequality? What percentage of their viewership wants to hear about that? It’s not like the poors who can barely afford to feed their families working 2 jobs are going to be tuning into Fox News or MSNBC any time soon. The national media corporations are about business and there’s no money in alienating your target audience.

#31 Comment By mm On February 13, 2014 @ 5:17 pm

the revolving door applies to the media & Democratic paryt apparatchiks/allies-look at the Sunday news shows over the last 2 decades-Chris Matthews, Tim Russert, Stephanopoulus, Cokie Roberts the list goes on & on. Reminds me of the quip about Sid Blumenthal wanting to work for the Clinton administrations- I believe Stephy said “why should we pay him he works for us for free already”.

#32 Comment By Andy On February 13, 2014 @ 5:24 pm

Do you really think journalists live in a bubble to any greater extent than anyone else? I agree that people who live in similar places with similar occupations and incomes will likely be simliar in other ways, including perhaps opinions on specific political issues. I don’t think this means they live in a bubble, any more than rural Christians live in a bubble, or any other group with a lot in common.

To say someone is in a bubble implies that they are unaware that there are people with differing opinions out there. I think journalists by the nature of their job are actually more likely than just about any other profession to engage with people who lead very different lives than them.

#33 Comment By JonF On February 13, 2014 @ 5:50 pm

Re: But that’s probably the natural state of affairs and what needs explanation is the skeptical, oppositional perspective that I grew up assuming was the automatic order of things.

One word is needed to explain it: Vietnam.

And this changeover happened some time back. Certainly during the First Gulf War, although a few grumpy voices were heard in the peanut gallery, the media was back to cheerleading. It took several years of fiascos in Iraq to overcome that impulse in 2003-2008.

#34 Comment By Fran Macadam On February 13, 2014 @ 7:23 pm

“Sailer portrays it as a commercial exchange, but it ain’t prostitution if you’re giving it away.”

Right, like marrying only for money, or being a groupie. Real high-minded stuff.

“Remember cheese eating surrender monkeys, freedom fries …?”

Walter Jones, the Republican congressman for North Carolina, repents of having invented “Freedom Fries” to pillory France’s failure to support the pre-emptive Iraq War. His Mea Culpa, widely reported, is because he is now a staunch anti-interventionist critical both of the one he wished he’d never voted for, Iraq, and all the others we’re currently bogged down in, lied into every one of them.

The reality is that self-indulgence is the order of the day, whether in celebration of homosexual “marriage” as a lifestyle preference with precedence over nature or in bombing the hell out of populations and the natural environment by destructive technologies inimicable to life half a world away. The operative nihilistic philosophy of power is complete lack of self-restraint or any objective standard for behavior private or public.

United by these two particularly unhinged causes, today’s self-satisfied want it all.

They’ve managed to yoke both extreme ends of the putative culture wars:

“Make love AND war.”

#35 Comment By Fran Macadam On February 13, 2014 @ 7:27 pm

“The [mainstream] press did not back the Iraq Waar. Those remarks were largely from GOP politicians, with a few of them from conservative commentators. Sailor’s memory is defective.”

No, no, no.

Bill Keller, executive editor of the New York Times, recently explained why he and virtually all of his liberal media associates backed the Iraq War uncritically. GOP? My gosh, even Al Gore said he was glad Bush was President instead of him, in the rush to embrace that war.

#36 Comment By Escher On February 13, 2014 @ 7:34 pm

Modern journalists are prostitutes, trading access to news makers (White house briefings, embedding with the troops) for favorable coverage.

#37 Comment By dominic1955 On February 13, 2014 @ 8:33 pm

“rifle for sale, never fired, only dropped once?”

That’s an old one. Its been applied to practically any “odd” surplus rifle by overly patriotic and ignorant dealers, from little known countries (i.e. Belgian and Dutch) or once big world players that got their asses handed to them (France and Italy).

#38 Comment By JonF On February 13, 2014 @ 8:59 pm

Re: Russia is the last Christian country.

Ugh. maybe if you mean medieval-style “Christian” which includes corrupt hierarchs in bed with equally corrupt rulers.
And for goodness sake how Christian is country suffering an epidemic of drunkenness, and a high rate of HIV infection spread by a small army of prostitutes and drug addicts?

#39 Comment By Leo H On February 13, 2014 @ 9:45 pm

For all this huffing(ton) and puffing about Sochi, the American Super Bowl remains the most grotesque spectacle on Earth, the solar system and probably this galaxy. The pathetic Broncos cost me serious money and I was therefore too drunk by half time to savor the nitwit musical interlude. I’m sure it stunk. As for JonF’s reference to “medieval-style” Christianity, God could only bless the nation that could have that level of higher culture again.

#40 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On February 13, 2014 @ 10:05 pm

Re: Russia is the last Christian country.


I’m not particularly anti-Putin, and I think Russia does more good than ill on the world stage, but if you want to pick a large country as the standard-bearer of Christendom, Brazil is a better bet than Russia. Unlike Russia, most Brazilians are actually practicing Christians (though no longer as Catholic as they were in the past), and Brazil’s economy as of last year is a hair bigger than Russia’s.

In general, Latin America is probably the most ‘Christian’ major region of the world today.

Re: and a high rate of HIV infection spread by a small army of prostitutes and drug addicts?

I was actually shocked to see the numbers, but Russia has the highest HIV rate of any major country outside of Africa and parts of the Anglophone Caribbean. Latin American HIV infection is actually remarkably low, considering that it’s a fairly sexually open region.

#41 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On February 13, 2014 @ 10:08 pm

Aaron Gross is right (though I was in elementary school for the tail end of the Cold War). The mainstream media was much less left-wing than a lot of the Right would have us believe.

Sailer’s bit about the procommunist media is of course right-wing bull, but he does have a good point about the intellectual and moral vacuity of our press nowadays.

Lancelot Lamar and Turmarion are right, I think.

#42 Comment By Emilio On February 13, 2014 @ 10:26 pm

There is a mainstream media business, run by the elites, whose presentations are sometimes filled with foolishness and falsehoods. However, the mainstream media doesn’t push boundaries and unpopular views, instead it largely supplies goods based on public demand. Most of that demand involves neatly packaged stories that reflect not moral exploration but moral reinforcement, something akin to Aesop’s fables, as well as a good dose of titillation for entertainment and relaxation. Hence the absence of complex stories about lasting poverty, which is a difficult tale requiring moral exploration.

Gay rights has now become a tale of moral reinforcement that can be presented in the mainstream with the same simplicity as crime. The presenters can thus find the space to act self-righteously towards the opposition. Who’s dumb enough to be a contrarian on crime? Hence, condescension rains down on conservative opposition to gay rights. But are the presenters of mainstream news the only type of elite? Do they have a real monopoly?

Gay rights wasn’t manufactured by the mass media elites any more than art is manufactured in Hallmark card factories. It was/is a serious boundary pushing effort. Due to the genuine freedom of expression we allow rebels and dissidents, it has emerged with success from the marketplace of ideas. At this time in the West we are probably watching it reach critical mass. But the broad-demand suppliers of mass media had nothing to do with it. It was the result of boundary pushers from all over society who cater to narrow demands, seeking to broaden them. My opinion is that artists played the indispensable role more so than dissident journalists.

There is always hope for the opposition if a free market lets the best ideas eventually win. Nonetheless, since no market is perfectly free, monopolies can and do form, and doing so they create distortions and stifle competition. So the media elite monopoly charge must be taken seriously, as long as it doesn’t conflate the mass media with state power. And to my eyes, RD sometimes conflates the two much more than warranted.

The state isn’t preventing dissident conservatives from creating art or speech or journalism in support of their views. The minority view will always risk violations, but they are surely no greater than what Oscar Wilde faced. The mass media elite monopoly charge is inaccurate, because the mass media is always just supplying the majority’s demand, and state power reliably guarantees the airing of views by dissident elites.

#43 Comment By Michael Guarino On February 13, 2014 @ 11:56 pm

I think there are a number of things at play in the strange conformism within the media (ignore EngineerScotty’s remarks that the media is not homogenous, it is essentially homogenous on some nontrivial issues, which is what Rod was initially mentioning).

First, most of an article’s reception is on Twitter or social media generally, which while a great platform for creating a rich graph of recommendations from insightful journalists to interesting articles, is not the best way to engage in discussion. Nuanced analysis is easily swamped by thousands of trollish snarky comments, and certainly the noncomformist articles will generate many times more of those. Of course, there is also no way to control this like you can with a comment board. This is not forcing journalists to bow to the party line on the Ukraine certainly, but you can understand why a journalist would prefer a different topic than deal with the abuse.

Piggy-backing on this point, a huge amount of outrage is generated by people essentially griping over word choice (remember that Grantland piece about Dr. V and all the people complaining about what the pronoun choice meant for the article, while ignoring the fact that using a LGBT approved version would have prematurely given away the reveal of the story?). We have established an arcane system of coded language to navigate social issues, and oftentimes to avoid backlash you have to submit to its internal logic, which definitely points in one way (while oftentimes being extremely dehumanizing in a sense). Brendan Dougherty and Freddie deBoer had a great bloggingheads about this, here is the link if anyone is interested [3].

Another feature that needs to be mentioned is that morality is very much a status game these days, and just about anyone who goes to a decent college will be exposed to that. The easiest way to verify this is ask an admission officer at a fairly prestigious school if they would accept an Eagle Scout over an environmental activist ceteris paribus. My guess is they accept the activist almost every time. It is difficult for me to marshall evidence for this, but you can definitely see how a young, ambitious journalist would be baited by the opportunity to be knighted in service of the cause du jour. This could also be represented by the accelerating distance between the college-educated and everyone else. The tendency to intermediate every detail in intricate, useless jargon and metaphor is not going to help this (can you expect someone without a college degree to be able to or really want to play that game?).

Finally, I am unsure whether journalists are really well-prepared to take a contrarian line these days. In general, they have degrees in journalism, history, political science, or english, none of which strike me as flourishing areas within academia. The struggles of english departments is pretty well-known, and history departments do not fair much better. Political science probably gets more grant money, but the curricula in the programs are usually deliberately soft. Very few students have the kind of stats education a post-grad would be expected to have. I doubt that a school of journalism would help either. It would provide nice investigative skills, but on any issue that required the slightest bit of interpretation, my journalism majors seem only able to intelligently discuss them if they correspond to journalistic ethics in some way. Honestly, broader skills than those of a reporter are needed for this. In other words, journalism might be suffering a talent deficit. Naturally, persuasively arguing against the party line takes guts and skill.

That is my view of the situation, and I am sure it is not complete. I should note that, except maybe for the last part, but not really, this does not just apply to journalists.

#44 Comment By Jamie Estevez On February 14, 2014 @ 1:53 am

Unfortunately Rod I think US-Russian relations are a lot worse now than US-French relations have ever been. If we’re not on a Cold War footing with Russia right now I don’t know what you would call it. Anti-Russian bias in the media (both left and right)is at a level that I don’t even believe existed during the Cold War. Worse is US government actions in, and around Russia toward Russia. Did you know that as soon as the member’s of the feminist punk band P.R. (it’s non offensive abbreviated name) were released from prison after desecrating an Orthodox Cathedral they were invited to the US embassy in Moscow where an American (most likely of the feminist ideology, maybe even a lesbian)diplomat hailed them as “Brave Heroes” for desecrating a place sacred to Orthodox Christians. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

#45 Comment By VikingLS On February 14, 2014 @ 10:49 am


“Fair enough, but I hear enough of conspiracy theories about the “evil liberal media” (not from Rod) that the response is nearly automatic. :)”

Well then you need to untrain yourself to respond arguments based on the arguments you’re accustomed to hearing and (dare I say it) maybe consider whether you maintain loyalty towards you “side” and remain objective.

“The media–writ large–doesn’t have a clear partisan bias. For one thing, the editorial positions of (say) FOX News, vs the New York Times, vs Politico, vs the various think-tank rags out there, all differ.”

Once you get beyond the US/UK borders the partisan biases don’t matter very much. The New York Times, Fox News, The Guardian, The BBC, would all pretty much be in agreement with each other (and with you) regarding Putin, Iran, China etc.

You’d have to go to either truly alternate media (possibly Current) or foreign (but non-British) media such as Al Jazeera and Russia Today to get a truly different perspective. (Note I am not saying more objective, I’m saying different.)

“There are many factors at play here–a big one is that Vladimir Putin is a bit of a blowhard”

A politician who is a bit of a blowhard? Wow. THe last president we had who wasn’t a blowhard was George HW Bush (and he would have been if he knew how to be one.) The problem with Putin isn’t that he’s a blowhard. I regard him as a necessary evil and I’d still have to say the problem with Putin is that he’s a corrupt low grade fascist who occasionally indulges in ridiculous PR stunts aimed at impressing the rubes.

“who has simply been begging to be knocked off his perch, and many reporters are more than happy to oblige”

Which is something that commentators get to try, but America journalists are supposed to be objective. (This is not the tradition in much of the world, Russia included, but it is supposed to be ours)

Even Russians I know (including the one I live with) who liven in the USA and like the USA are getting fed up with the insulting tone of US Journalists covering the Olympics. Now you can argue that maybe they’ll realize that Putin’s an embarrassment and wise up and knock him off of his perch, but I think it’s a lot more likely that they’re going to come out of it think that Americans are sanctimonious hypocritical jerks.

I was also thinking about the Freedom Fries incident. The French tried to prevent us from fighting an unprovoked war which set off another ongoing civil war. The response from many Americans at the time was to put Boycott France stickers on their cars. 11 years later nobody’s putting “oops, France was right” stickers on their cars. We flatter ourselves wildly if we think, particularly with our recent history, Russians are eager to take moral lessons from us.

#46 Comment By J On February 14, 2014 @ 4:12 pm

Living inside this class and cultural bubble, it’s not surprising that they would find it much easier to accept the Establishment view of the world. Sailer portrays it as a commercial exchange, but it ain’t prostitution if you’re giving it away.

That’s not it. It’s simpler- people exposed to a lot of running information about how the world is and how it works and responsible for representing this in a consistent and responsible way all, sooner or later, reach the same conclusions about the reality of the general sociopolitical order in which we live.

It’s secular liberals and secular pragmatists on top. Religionists and secular conservatives in the middle. And Marxists and tribalists at the bottom.

There are a bunch of places in which this superficially doesn’t appear to be the case, but is. And there are places where this really isn’t the operative order, but most are severely dysfunctional.

There are all kinds of opinions about this reality. But given these three forms or modes as equally available choices of environment, people in fact largely choose the secular liberal/pragmatic. Those who can’t/don’t they seem to give a surprising lot of their time and attention to displays of the secular liberal/pragmatic way of life anyway.

Then there’s the other prong, which is whether there are good reasons to want this order different on a global scale. Within one’s own little platoons is one thing, with local needs and conditions and deficiencies so widely differing. On a global scale it’s another. Would even optimally revised versions of Islam, or fascisms, or Communisms, or Roman Catholicism, really be answers to the global condition of the present era? Or is it best that they serve as secondary/tertiary macroscopic schemes, as they do now? It seems to me there’s a level of consensus about this.

#47 Comment By Falconer On February 15, 2014 @ 8:19 am

what more needs to be said? if you consider Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, and Rush Limbaugh; along with Krauthhammer, Kristol, et al to be “elite” journalists

Actually I do, on any given week of the year they reach millions of Americans. They have been given access to a megaphone that permits them to spread their manure across the land.

Now “Journalist” is another question, they wouldn’t recognize a story if it bit them in the ass, but that’s not their job. They are Propagandists.