The wages of populism: Joe the Journalist

If you think I’m making too big a deal out of anti-intellectualism on the right… then check out the latest from the Pajamas Media “citizen journalist,” Joe “more-than-15-minutes-of-fame” The Plumber:

I’ll be honest with you. I don’t think journalists should be anywhere allowed war (sic). I mean, you guys report where our troops are at. You report what’s happening day to day. You make a big deal out of it. I think it’s asinine. You know, I liked back in World War I and World War II when you’d go to the theater and you’d see your troops on, you know, the screen and everyone would be real excited and happy for them. Now everyone’s got an opinion and wants to downer–and down soldiers. You know, American soldiers or Israeli soldiers.

I think media should be abolished from, uh, you know, reporting. You know, war is hell. And if you’re gonna sit there and say, “Well look at this atrocity,” well you don’t know the whole story behind it half the time, so I think the media should have no business in it.


To quote the line I’ve paraphrased before from the Russian comedian Mikhail Zhvanetsky: “Words fail. At least, printable ones.”

A very appropriate quote, actually, considering that Mr. Wurzelbacher’s musings strongly remind me of Russian Putinistas who justify censorship of unpleasant news because, heck, you don’t want to “downer” the public.

I know that media reporting on wars often leaves a lot to be desired. But … well, Bill Roggio on the Weekly Standard blog pretty much says it all:

[W]hile embedded as an independent reporter in Iraq and Afghanistan several times, I have seen journalists do some appalling things. I could probably write a book about it, but honestly I’m far more interested in the war itself. Despite what I have seen, I believe the media should have access during conflicts. Shutting the media out would entirely concede the information to al Qaeda, the Taliban, Hamas, etc. who are increasingly developing sophisticated information strategies. Yes, there is bad and slanted reporting coming out of the combat zones, but there also are good reporters out there who can get the story right. The public needs to hear these stories to understand the nature of the war.

The real irony here is that PJTV, a 21st Century, Internet-based news organization is sending a reporter–who doesn’t want reporters to report on war–to report on a war. And apparently Joe would love to return to the days when the news was influenced by the government and seen at the theater.

Precisely.

Could this be the beginning of the end of American conservatism’s fatal-attraction love affair with populism? Or am I being too optimistic again?

11 Comments

Filed under anti-intellectualism, conservatism, media

11 responses to “The wages of populism: Joe the Journalist

  1. That Fuzzy Bastard

    Yup, you’re being too optimistic. Movements follow politics far more than their leaders would like to admit. The conservative movement is joined at the hip to the Republican Party, and the Republican Party is joined at the hip to white Southerners, who are very nearly defined by their hatred of elites. Ergo, the conservative movement is trapped between its Tory love of elites, and its voters’ hatred of them. And in a fight between tradition and expedience, expedience usually wins.

  2. Cathy Young

    I don’t quite agree, Rev. I’m not denying that a lot of media people are arrogant, but I don’t think they operate on “trust.” In a competitive media market, reporters can always be fact-checked by other reporters or media critics. Inaccurate media reports can and have been effectively deconstructed.

    As for your assertion about the abysmal moral standards of most reporters, that’s a pretty sweeping statement. Care to cite any examples? Just curious.

    IMO, the true counterpart to Joe the Plumber “on the other side” is not a reporter but an actor, singer, or other celebrity who travels into a war zone (or a communist country) and emerges with vapid pronouncements on the level of “war is mean” or “the people of [insert name of left-wing dictatorship] are really passionate about the Revolution.”

    Joe the Plumber: the right’s very own Sean Penn!

    Oh, and Fuzzy Bastard: good (if sobering) point, but I do think that the populist trend in the GOP has been worsening in recent years. When your heroes evolve from William F. Buckley to Samuel Wurzelbacher, that should be an alarm bell.

  3. Revenant

    In a competitive media market, reporters can always be fact-checked by other reporters or media critics. Inaccurate media reports can and have been effectively deconstructed

    There are competing information sources in a war too, though. Even if the United States Army refuses to grant access, there are other sources — our opponents, for example.

    As for your assertion about the abysmal moral standards of most reporters, that’s a pretty sweeping statement. Care to cite any examples?

    Well, one example — and you probably disagree — is that most of the domestic news media were openly supporting Obama while claiming to be neutral and impartial. That not only makes them a pack of liars, but a pack of people who lie despite being paid to be honest.

    The way the media plays up disasters, military setbacks, recessions, and other bad news for the sake of advertising dollars is also, in my opinion, indicative of poor moral character. Decent folk don’t earn a living by needlessly scaring other people and encouraging irrational fears.

    I would also point to the behavior of CNN (which knowingly broadcast fascist propaganda in order to maintain “access” to the Hussein regime) or Geraldo Rivera (who gave away troop movements to score ratings), or 60 Minutes and 20/20’s repeated faking of news stories, or… well, you get the idea.

    Maybe it isn’t something “the average reporter” is guilty of, but it certainly seems to be something most of the reporters I can actually name are guilty of.

  4. mabman

    OK, I can’t stay out of this one any longer –

    As far as the media’s “bias” towards Obama goes, it should be remembered that John McCain was a media darling for years. The press ate up his “maverick” image, right up to the point in June where Steve Schmidt and his fellow GOP political geniuses decided that starting brush wars with the media was necessary to hold onto the party base. McCain’s plummeting popularity wasn’t the result of a media conspiracy; it was the inevitable outcome of a monumentally stupid campaign strategy.

    You may not like coverage of disasters and military setbacks, but like it or not, those are news events, and any news agency that didn’t “play these up” would be the recipient of a lot of heated comments from people demanding to know why they weren’t learning more about them. As for the recession, how the hell can you make this “sound worse” than it already is? Is watching Wall St. the housing and retail sectors collapse really that common an occurrence? There’s nothing irrational about wondering what we’re doing fighting endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or worrying about whether you’ll still have a job in 6 months, or what the government is doing to preserve your vanishing 401(k)- the media may be far from perfect in how they cover these issues, but they’re issues that must be covered.

    As for alleged treasonous behavior, somehow I doubt that the Pentagon would have taken the pains it did to embed reporters with combat units in Iraq if they thought that those reporters would make a habit of revealing confidential information. There’s been a lot of crappy coverage of the Iraq War, but there’s also been a lot of good-to-outstanding reporting as well, and capable commanders such as David Petraeus have received generally favorable treatment in the press.

    What it all boils down to is an age-old human emotional reaction – when someone tells you what you want to hear, he’s great; if he tells you what you don’t want to hear, he’s a bum and a liar. There are certainly losers and egomaniacs aplenty in the journalistic ranks – Geraldo’s a prime example, as are the partisan shills used by both political parties – but the damage they do pales in comparison to what a government unconstrained by critical review or public scrutiny is capable of. Given a choice between an imperfect media and an uncontrolled government, I’ll opt for the former every time.

  5. Revenant

    As far as the media’s “bias” towards Obama goes, it should be remembered that John McCain was a media darling for years

    Sure, when he was regularly bashing the Bush administration.

    As for the recession, how the hell can you make this “sound worse” than it already is?

    I see you’ve drunk the “we’re in the second Great Depression” Kool-Aid. I’m certainly not going to try reasoning you out of a position you didn’t reason yourself into.

    As for alleged treasonous behavior

    I didn’t allege treasonous behavior. If you’re referring to what I said about CNN and Geraldo Rivera, those were (a) objective facts and (b) not treasonous, as Iraq was at war with the US during the period in which CNN was shilling for them.

    the damage they do pales in comparison to what a government unconstrained by critical review or public scrutiny is capable of.

    The media aids and abets the unconstrained expansion of government power by demanding a government response to every “crisis” they manufacture in the name of higher ratings. The notion that they’re a check on abusive government power is a giant pile of bullshit. The media doesn’t do a fucking thing to constraint the government. If they thought telling us “abolishing free elections will help protect your children” would improve their ratings they’d do it without a second’s hesitation.

  6. Revenant

    that should be “Iraq was NOT at war with the US” in my previous post.

  7. Cathy Young

    First of all: Rev, you know I’m happy to see you back on my blog, but please remember that I (still) expect commenters to observe certain minimal rules of civility when posting on this blog. This is a very interesting discussion and I’d hate to see it go up in flames.

    Secondly: as you may know, I have criticized the media quite a bit, among other things for unthinkingly passing along wildly inflated claims from advocacy groups (such as “battering by men causes more injuries to women than auto accidents, stranger rapes and muggings combined”). However, it is also worth noting that eventually, those claims were debunked by the media themselves. So were the faked stories that you mention. And, as I recall, the fact that CNN sometimes aired Iraqi propaganda in order to be allowed to maintain a presence in Iraq was also revealed by CNN itself after Saddam was deposed.

    The media can be a pretty effective self-regulating mechanism, even if the checks don’t always work at once. “The media,” may I remind you, include people like John Stossel — and yours truly. Also, I absolutely agree that there is a need for media watchdogs who are outside “the establishment.” And I assure you I don’t care if some of them are plumbers by trade and media watchdogs by avocation, as long as they have something useful and intelligent to say.

    By the way, if media coverage of bad news inevitably leads to demand for more government (and I assume that you mean mainstream television and newspapers, not, say, talk radio which has always slanted toward the anti-government side), why did opposition to big government grow steadily in the late ’70s (resulting in the election of Ronald Reagan) and 1980s — before the alternative media were a major force?

    The media aren’t, of course, a perfect check on the government, but they’re the only one there is. Other checks such as opposition parties and citizen groups can be easily choked off or reduced to irrelevancy in the absence of a free media. Putin’s Russia is a goood example. Actually, I hate to say this, and please don’t take it as a personal insult, but your comments in this thread strongly remind me of the posts I see on Russian blogs and forums from people who defend censorship.

    Finally, was Obama a media darling? Sure he was, but I don’t believe any important negative information about him was withheld from the voters. Given Obama’s appointments and his decisions so far, isn’t it overwhelmingly obvious that the “Obama is a dangerous radical” meme was … shall we say … inaccurate?

  8. Revenant

    I (still) expect commenters to observe certain minimal rules of civility

    My apologies.

    However, it is also worth noting that eventually, those claims were debunked by the media themselves.

    I’m not sure I agree there. I bet you could easily find a lot of people who still believe those “debunked stories — firstly because the debunkings never, EVER get as much airplay as the initial scaremongering, and secondly because people people react more strongly to perceived danger than they do to reassurance. For example, say NBC airs a story: “do cotton swabs cause breast cancer? A new study says yes”. They ignore, as they virtually always do, that individual studies are nearly meaningless as science. A year or so later, when the study has been debunked, they do something REALLY unusual and air a story on how the scientific consensus is that cotton swabs aren’t carcinogenic. The net effect of that is STILL extremely bad. Some people hear the first story and not the second. Others hear both, but most people are scientific illiterates and will parse that as “some studies say they cause cancer, other’s don’t — there might be a risk”. Even those who accept the second study still spent a year worrying over nothing.

    This sort of thing happens on a daily basis. I am not convinced that the net effect of the news media is, as it is currently practiced, beneficial to society. I’m all for freedom of the press, but as it was originally meant: complete freedom for all citizens to publish their thoughts and observations, but no special rights for professional journalists above and beyond those enjoyed by private citizens.

    And, as I recall, the fact that CNN sometimes aired Iraqi propaganda in order to be allowed to maintain a presence in Iraq was also revealed by CNN itself after Saddam was deposed.

    Isn’t that just another way of saying the colluded with a fascist regime until doing so was no longer actually possible because the regime had ceased to exist? If we hadn’t invaded Iraq and Hussein was still in power over there, they’d still be supporting his regime. Cripes, at least Leni Riefenstahl didn’t actually know for a fact that she was helping out a mass-murdering nut.

    Here’s some more food for thought: why’d CNN have to confess? Where was the 60 Minutes special report on CNN’s corruption? Were they too busy forging memos to do a little honest reporting on something as curious as CNN maintaining a presence in a country the press routinely got kicked out of? I tend to suspect that it was a matter of not wanting to show viewers how the sausage is made.

    “The media,” may I remind you, include people like John Stossel — and yours truly.

    Well I didn’t say ALL journalists were scum. But I think the good apples are in the minority. 🙂

    why did opposition to big government grow steadily in the late ’70s (resulting in the election of Ronald Reagan) and 1980s — before the alternative media were a major force?

    First of all, I’m of the opinion that the supposed victory of “small government” in the 80s is largely a myth. The government kept growing larger during that decade, too, even if regulation relaxed. Yes, Reagan favored small government, but he was one of three branches of government and the other two weren’t in agreement with him.

    But to the extent that the public did become disillusioned with “big government” in the 70s I would say that it was more due to the fact that was more due to 13 years of Johnson and Nixon — both enthusiastic evangelists for having the government solve our every problem, and both chased out of office by mobs with torches and pitchforks. Reagan was talking about something new and different. He also had the advantage of being charismatic and a trained actor, which gave him a real edge dealing with a hostile Democratic press.

    The media aren’t, of course, a perfect check on the government, but they’re the only one there is.

    They have the potential to be a check on the government if the government tried doing something really, really bad and it would make a good story. Right now, though, I think they enhance abuses of government power more than they hinder them.

    But they are not, in any case, the only check on the government by any means. They aren’t even the only informational check — freedom of the press and freedom of speech are much broader than that.

    Finally, was Obama a media darling? Sure he was, but I don’t believe any important negative information about him was withheld from the voters.

    Well, if you calibrate the Importance Meter against, say, the media’s treatment of McCain* or, especially, Palin, and use the positive and negative information they felt obligated to publicize about those two — I think it would have to be said that there was an excess of positive information and an almost complete lack of negative information about Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

    Take the Times’ big story on Vicki Iseman, for example. Paragraph after paragraph of innuendo and coy hints of a sexual affair with John McCain — but nowhere in the article is any evidence, or even testimony, presented to support the notion that there was something sexual, unethical, or illegal going on. This gets a big story in the Times? It doesn’t even rise to the level of “printing a rumor”, because there wasn’t even a rumor to print. The *Enquirer* would be reluctant to run a story that thin.

    I also suspect that the number of people who think Sarah Palin claimed she could see Russia from her house dwarfs the number of people who know Obama really DID refer to how “typical white people” have a reaction to seeing black people on the street. What do you think would have been the result of John McCain speaking of “typical black people” in a negative way, I wonder. 🙂

    Given Obama’s appointments and his decisions so far, isn’t it overwhelmingly obvious that the “Obama is a dangerous radical” meme was … shall we say … inaccurate?

    If you’re talking about his ties to terrorists and black supremacists, I always thought of that as more of a “Obama lacks good moral character” meme than a “he’s a dangerous radical” meme. The people I heard repeating the “Obama’s a terrorist” meme were almost entirely Democrats accusing people like me of spreading it. I saw, and still see, Obama as being like Eric Alterman and other ivory tower lefties — it isn’t that he’d blow up a carload of Jews, he just doesn’t see what’s so bad about the people who do that sort of thing. So far has hasn’t done anything to change my mind about that.

    He IS promoting some truly terrifying expansions of government power and spending, though, all in the name of fighting the “crisis”. So I wouldn’t rule out him being a radical just yet, even if he cleans up nicely. If we end up with massive nationalization of industry (and we’re at least halfway there with the banks) that’ll represent the sharpest turn to the Left since FDR.

  9. Cathy Young

    Thanks for the apology, Rev. 🙂 The Obama argument is a bit too far afield, but I will say I agree with Steve Chapman that McCain’s association with G. Gordon Liddy is not much better than Obama’s association with Bill Ayers (and no one in the media made a big deal of that, or of Palin’s ties to an African pastor who conducts literal witch-hunts).

  10. Revenant

    Cathy,

    I don’t think your parallels are very intellectually honest. Palin apparently met the pastor in question once or twice, and quite probably didn’t know about his activities back in Africa. How exactly is that a parallel to Obama’s decades-long membership in a racist Christian sect led by a guy so nutty Obama had to disavow him the minute white people started hearing him on the news? Come on. Maybe the media was too busy peddling the phony “Palin said we’re on a mission from God” story to mention her African encounter. 🙂

    As for G. Gordon Liddy, I’ll concede the guy is a nut. But I don’t see how anything he ever did even compares to Ayers building a bomb specifically intended to murder hundreds of innocent people. The fact that his co-conspirators actually blew themselves up instead doesn’t change the fact that Ayers is an unrepentant criminal who attempted mass-murderer of Americans. Would we say “eh, bin Laden’s not so bad” if his attacks had been bungled by incompetent terrorists? Eh, some of us probably would.

  11. Rev, I believe there are records of Palin being present when the Reverend’s witch-hunting exploits were being described, but I’m not sure about that.

    As for Liddy, I believe there is documented evidence of Liddy wanting to murder people (including Jack Anderson) except that he wouldn’t get a green light from Nixon.

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