Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Judge Posner and the Zeitgeist

Richard Posner has a puff piece on behalf of this the best of all possible journalistic worlds in--you guessed it-- the New York Times Book Review, which I just got around to reading; a puff piece disguised as a review of six books on the state of American journalism, all six of which he somehow fails to address substantively, and indeed hardly mentions, in the course of the review. (Presumably he is aiming for a more honorific prize, a feature non-review in the New York Review of Books in which he can review up to a dozen books without devoting more than a sentence to any of them. But I digress, as usual.)

But he ends with the view, not surprising for a conservative federal judge basking in the warmth of lifetime tenure and comfortable (full salary) eventual retirement benefits, "maybe there isn't much to fret about." Not to mention book royalties and lecture fees, and the glowing admiration of conservative law students across the country. Hard to find fault with such a world. (You know, since I am unable to resist digression, why not outsource federal judgships to Mumbai, where bright conservatives who write good English will deliver the same opinions for 1/10th the cost?)

But, the puffery has some suspect, and indeed unsupported and bizarre, assertions. One is that "In a sample of 23 leading newspapers and newsmagazines, the liberal ones had twice the circulation of the conservative."

This claim is without attribution, so we cannot check its accuracy, nor can we know, or, in any likely universe, imagine, what leading newspapers in the United States might be considered "liberal" in the first place.

I am only guessing that he is including the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times in the ranks of "liberal" newspapers and magazines. Given the dramatic skew to the right in this country in the past 40 years, I suppose it is possible for the New York Times and the Washington Post to be described as liberal--if you ignore the evidence of recent history as well as any reasonable notion of what liberalism actually is.

I like examples. "The Nation" is liberal. On that, anyone and everyone who is not delusional must agree. Not wildly liberal. Just liberal. Back when I was a real leftist, we from the real left looked back with contempt on the accommodationist views of The Nation. In other words, the Nation believed in social justice for the downtrodden and oppressed, individual freedom, economic fairness (living wages, a social safety net, etc), and political equality, all thought to be justifiable through reason and attainable through democratic means. I don't think anyone would disagree that liberalism revolves around these principles.

Liberals have also tended to set a fairly high bar for a war to be considered a just one.

Could any mainstream newspaper, or newsmagazine, be considered liberal by these standards?

In a word, no. If you disagree, all I can say is, are you kidding? Are you smoking the same zeitgeist crack Judge Posner is?

Let's ask ourselves if Bill Clinton was a liberal. Ignore the fact that his actual views on social justice and social programs and all of the principles I just mentioned were not much different from Dwight Eisenhower's. We have to live in our own time, after all, not the ultra-left 1950s. But hey, let's agree, if only arbitrarily and for the sake of the argument, that he was a liberal, even perhaps only just barely.

Then let's ask who led the charge to destroy his presidency. It's disingenuous to talk about a vast right-wing conspiracy and pretend that the driving forces behind it were the Drudge Report, Rush Limbaugh, and the fevered imaginations of the Wall Street Journal editorialists. They were out there making gutteral efforts at cheers, and foaming at the mouth, but they weren't the big guns.

The newspapers who really set their dogs on the Clinton presidency were: The New York Times, and, The Washington Post. Remember? I do. Surely the memory hole has not sucked away everyone's brains.

It was an ongoing multi-year vendetta about--how can we best describe Whitewater?--"nothing" is the English word that best fits the bill. And a continuation of that same vendetta while descending to supermarket tabloid levels, and below, as Whitewater evaporated in the steamy accounts of the President's blow-job and his lies about his blow-job.

OK, Clinton did lie, no doubt there. In defense of Clinton's lies, a sort of old-fashioned semi-liberal, Gore Vidal, pointed out that in another era that was what gentlemen did is such circumstances. Well, times change.

But let's not forget who tried to bring down the last, and just barely at that, liberal president this country has had. An actual elected president. The New York Times and the Washington Post.

Now, bringing us up to our own day, what liberal newspaper is pursuing the current White House occupant's lies about the Iraq War, with such fierce determination and such unrelenting hostility?


An overwhelming, nationwide silence.

Having some worries about my hearing, I'd think I had gone deaf, in fact, except for corroborating evidence from blogs and the foreign press that reveals how determined have been the noise-damping and fire-suppression efforts of these so-called "liberal" newspapers, on behalf of Mr. Bush's presidency.

Now to be sure, these newspapers employ some nominal liberals to write columns a couple of times a week, whose job is to politely remonstrate with the President's insane policies, to keep the moderate readership from drifting away to blogistan. But when it comes to investigative reporting--well, they'd rather see Judith Miller in jail than reveal whose cock she sucked. Metaphorically speaking.

The fact is that newspapers are owned by rich conservatives. Everyone knows this. Judge Posner knows it. You can have 75 percent of the reporters on the police beat being liberals, or socialists, or communists, or polygamist Mormons, and it will not have the slightest effect on the news we see and hear. Because that news is filtered by a hierarchy of editors and executives whose jobs depend on not biting the hand that feeds them.

Judge Posner makes much of the fact that lots of reporters are liberals. He says very little about the political views of the people who own the newspapers. I guess that's part of his job. And, since he is writing for the New York Times, I guess that makes him a liberal.

And thus the New York Times is indeed, albeit a little recursively, liberal.


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