The Media & The Mob
There ought to be a word for this phenomenon. Earlier today, I blogged about a progressive Catholic who is appalled that conservative Catholics cite homosexual priests as a cause of the abuse scandal. What’s telling about the way she frames her complaint is her assumption that these conservatives are acting in bad faith, because obviously their claim cannot be true. It is certainly possible that homosexuality among priests is correlative with the abuse scandal, and not causative, but it is irrefutably the case that there is correlation. One hundred percent of clerical abusers are male, and 81 percent of abuse victims (1950-2002) were male, according to the John Jay Report. The recent report from German bishops offer similar figures.
But many on the Catholic Left assume this cannot be relevant, because this fact undercuts what they wish to believe about homosexuality and the priesthood. The conclusion can’t be true, because that would mean that the Bad People have a point, and us Good People are mistaken.
I sense a similar epistemological fallacy at work in this Washington Post story about GOP election strategery, post-Kavanaugh. Excerpt:
Weeks ahead of the midterm elections, Republicans have cast the Trump resistance movement as “an angry mob,” a term used by many of them to describe a faceless amalgamation of forces that they say threaten the country’s order and, they hope, energize their voters.
President Trump and the GOP firmly control Congress and the White House and have massive financial and media infrastructure behind them. But in an effort to flip the midterm elections from a referendum on the unpopular president, they are casting themselves as defenders at the barricades.
In Virginia, Rep. David Brat (R) is running against the “liberal mob,” and GOP Senate candidate Corey Stewart has decried the “mob tactics” that “tried to destroy” Kavanaugh.
“When we’re out at grocery stores or at events, we’re finding swing voters are turned off by how Kavanaugh was treated,” Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.) said. “Chasing senators down the hall, running up the stairs at the Capitol — we’ve been taken aback by how people have reacted to it. And we’re responding.”
The characterization evokes fear of an unknown and out-of-control mass of people, and it taps into grievances about the nation’s fast-moving cultural and demographic shifts that Republicans say are working against them. With its emphasis on the impact on traditional values and white voters, particularly men, it strikes the same notes as earlier Trump-fanned attention to immigrants, MS-13 gang members and African American football players protesting police treatment of young black men.
This is a straight news story, not an op-ed.
Here’s the thing: though there is no question that the GOP, like Democrats, play to the anxieties of its base — this is normal politics — there really were, and are, mobs out to get conservatives.
Conservatives didn’t just imagine the anti-Kavanaugh protesters filling the halls of Congress, harassing GOP senators. Conservatives aren’t imagining campus mobs shouting down conservatives. Republican political consultants didn’t invent the mob at Middlebury College last year that chased Charles Murray off of campus, and physically injured a (liberal) professor who was his host. Nor did the GOP conjure the Yale mob that abused the Christakises over Halloween costumes in 2016.
And on and on. More to the point, Republicans did not invent the mob-like behavior of the news media in the Kavanaugh affair. In the last 24 hours, I’ve heard from three friends — two Democrats, and one anti-Republican independent — who have written to express profound concern about this political moment, and the behavior of the liberal mob. One of the Democrats — no fan of Trump or Kavanaugh — told me that her party has lost her over all this. The independent told me he hasn’t voted GOP in 30 years, but that may change this November, because of the “malice” (his word) on the left. And the third remains a devoted Democrat, but he is agonizing over the demons now taking over his political side, and worries if they can ever be reined in.
Look, Republicans do not have clean hands here. But it is breathtaking to observe how so many in the news media appear to assume that Republicans who are looking at the world as it actually is, and drawing conclusions from it, are acting in bad faith. More from the Post story:
When Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and his wife, Heidi, were confronted by protesters at an Italian restaurant in Washington last month — as Kavanaugh’s nomination was teetering amid sexual assault allegations — the grim-faced couple quickly ducked out as activists chanted, “We believe survivors!”
But when video of the episode was uploaded and went viral, it boosted Cruz, rather than his critics.
Republican strategist Jeff Roe, who is advising Cruz’s hotly contested reelection bid, said that September day was the campaign’s biggest fundraising day of the year — and noted that the influx was unsolicited and a visceral response to the way Cruz was treated.
“Their tactics are too hot. They insult Republicans and turn off independents even more than the prospect of impeachment does,” Roe said, adding that other GOP candidates he’s advising are also taking aim at Democrats as a mob-like party.
“We’ve used it everywhere because it’s effective,” Roe said.
I don’t want to overinterpret the Post story. It really does report straight news, about how Democrat protests are being used by Republicans to appeal to their own voters. What gets to me is the sense in the framing that this is somehow dirty pool. The Kavanaugh drama made it crystal clear to many of us conservatives — including people like me, who are no fans of Donald Trump — that the mob exists, and that the media are part of it.
Michael Gerson, who is the embodiment of Never Trump conservatism, writes about how the media seriously undermined its own credibility in the Kavanaugh affair. Gerson points out that the New York Times published a massive, deeply reported investigation of Donald Trump’s financial history … and it also published an “exposé” of Brett Kavanaugh’s participation in a bar fight in college. Writes Gerson:
Let me state this as clearly as I can. It is President Trump’s fondest goal to make his supporters conflate the first sort of story with the second sort of story. And he hopes this for a specific reason: to discredit special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report when it is eventually covered in the media. Trump not only wants to argue for his version of the truth; he also wants to undermine alternative sources of truth. And this requires him to maintain that the press is “the enemy of the people.”
Trump’s claim of a partisan press was strengthened when the New Yorker published an accusation of first-degree penis exposure by Kavanaugh that no one else cited in the article could directly confirm. The New York Times, to its credit, had initially held off on publishing this unsupported allegation. Meanwhile, the New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow concluded of the accuser, “This is not the behavior of someone who is fabricating something.” This judgment substituted for journalistic principles such as the need for multiple sources and corroborating evidence.
Honestly, I doubt most in the media are capable of perceiving themselves as dishonest brokers. One of the most important studies I ever read was an analysis from nearly two decades ago, from two political scientists at Baruch College, if memory serves. I can’t find a link for it, but I’ll eagerly post one if somebody can find it. The professors found that the major US media had done a very good job of cataloguing and explaining the rise of religious conservatism within the Republican Party. But they found that the media had done a terrible job of reporting on the simultaneous rise of secular liberalism in the Democratic Party.
What accounted for the disparity? The political scientists theorize that because the elite news media are overwhelmingly liberal, those journalists (reporters, editors, producers) were unaware of their own biases. They missed the steady transformation of the Democratic Party into one where secular liberalism dominated because for them, secular liberalism was normal. Because Democrats were becoming more like journalists, journalists failed to see what was happening right in front of their eyes.
The same dynamic was at work in the Kavanaugh mess. Relatedly, I believe that the mainstream media genuinely does not understand how unnerving it is to many normal people — not just partisan Republicans, but to a wide range of people — to see these deranged mobs in action, and to observe how far they are willing to go to achieve their goals.
Yes, for sure, it suits the partisan goals of Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, and the GOP leadership to point to the left-wing mobs and say, “They exist, and they’re coming for you.”
But in point of fact, they do, and they are. They may not come banging on your door, screeching like the nuts outside the Supreme Court when Kavanaugh was being sworn in (see above), but they’re going to come.
It could be something like Robby Soave’s terrifying account of a college student who faced a Title IX inquiry after a light make-out session — no sex, just making out — turned into a nightmare of false accusations, which he only overcame after a harrowing investigation and $12,000 in legal fees. Or it could be some other accusation. That’s all it takes — an accusation.
Longtime readers will remember that three years ago, a reader told me his elderly mother, who spent years in a communist prison as a dissident, told him that the spirit overtaking our culture today reminds her of the years when communism came to her country.
Thinking that must be an exaggeration, I relayed that observation to a friend in the UK who defected with his wife in the 1960s from a communist country. He said that it was absolutely true. I asked him to explain that conclusion, because it made no sense to me. He said that it has to do with the willingness of people to try to destroy their opponents. With righteous mobs, aided and abetted by the media. Ideological hysteria. This was how the communist behaved. And these aging former dissidents, who don’t know each other, see the same thing happening in the liberal West.
When the Social Justice Warriors are banging on doors braying for Social Justice by any means necessary, don’t be surprised when people notice, and act on what they see and hear.
UPDATE: Look, stop it with the whataboutism. I’ve had a couple of you say, “But whatabout the right-wing mobs in 2010?!” etc. I hate mobs. All mobs. If you want to criticize this post from the left, I welcome that — but I’m not going to publish whataboutism. One of you tried to make a comment accusing me of not caring about a particular mob years ago — when in fact I spoke out against it. No whatabout comments will be published on this thread. Stifle it, Edith.