Is American Journalism Dead?

2013-09-27 Carney
Jay Carney: Just one of many journalists to decide it’s more liberating to cast aside the pretext of impartiality and work for The Man directly.

I think I might be fading into that fabled silent majority of American conservatives. Where I used to get into heated debates with folks in my cohort about their liberal beliefs, I mostly now just shake my head and try to get back to earning a living. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

But I still see stories, now and then, that just irritate me to no end. Here’s a collection. First, there’s all the journalists who jump back and forth between journalism and working for the Obama administration. The Washington Times gives us some numbers: “The current count of press turncoats varies from a low of 15 reported by The Daily Beast to a high of 24 as reported by The Atlantic.” Then there’s old battlehorses like Bob Woodward or, more recently, Seymour Hersh showing up as the only guys willing to go to bad against the Obama administration (short of conservative pundits, of course). Woodward is famous for covering Watergate and Hersh is famous for covering My Lai and Abu Ghraib. Now Hersh says Obama is worse than Bush and castigates the NYT for “carrying water for Obama than I ever thought they would.”

Seymour Hersh
Ordinarily truth tellers who uncover not one but *two* major cover ups of military crimes are lionized by the left, but Seymour Hersh is another one of those erstwhile heroes relegated to “crazy uncle” status for turning on President Obama.

And then, to give a specific example, here’s an obscenely bad story from CNN purporting to do some “mythbusting” about the impact of Obamacare. First, the article cites examples of where premiums on young men will double or even quadruple under Obamacare, but then it states “those comparisons are very misleading.” Why are they misleading? Well first of all, because the policies are more expensive, but you also get more coverage. This is a stupid observation to make because more expensive policies with more coverage are already available. If you opt for the $60/month plan instead of the $240/month plan it’s because you don’t want the $240/month plan. It would be like if I went to buy myself a peanut butter sandwich, was told I had to buy lobster but that it was “misleading” to say I had to spend more money because lobster is worth more money than PB&J.

Secondly, the article argues that the more expensive Obamacare plans have lower deductibles. This is true, but it’s also stupid because having a lower deductible doesn’t mean you’re going to spend less money. To have at least a pretext of being a real article and not jut outright propaganda for the administration the author should have at least mentioned some notion of expected cost. The reality is that premiums are so low for young men because they rarely access their plans. For the vast majority of people, the higher deductibles don’t matter. Once again: they are being forced to pay more money for something they manifestly don’t want and then CNN is trying to convince them that they aren’t actually paying more money.

Yes, they are.

This is not my comprehensive argument against Obamacare. That’s a huge law that neither I nor anyone else fully understands. In fact, one of the strengths of Obamacare is that it tries to force young people into the same risk pool as older, sick people and therefore spread the cost of insurance around. This is a good goal, but it is by definition a redistribution of income from the young and healthy to the old and sick. Trying to pretend otherwise is the same as trying to sell people magic beans.

No, this little rant is my explanation for why I am so scornful of arguments from my friends who support Obama and are very, very busying trying to construct a definition of reality in which the Tea Party are all lunatics and the largest expansion of government entitlements in decades is just moderate, common sense.

I’m not buying it.

I’m not buying it because the mainstream media has no credibility with me. Don’t get me wrong: neither does the right wing “alternative media”. I’m not basing my irritation on some theory I got from or heard on AM radio. I just spent the beginning of my career analyzing health insurance plans and I know how they work. And the CNN article is total garbage. And it’s coming from an establishment that has shamelessly and blatantly disregarded its sole reason for existence: which is to question those in authority and power.

I know that a lot of what the Tea Party stands for is extremist, ideological, and impractical. But I’m getting really tired of having them tarred as the only crazy people in the room. The reality is that the fundamental drive of the Tea Party is a reasonable one. It’s a belief that government has gone too far, that we’re significantly far from our roots as a nation, and that something significant needs to be done to reform the country. I find these arguments plausible but, more importantly, there’s no way forward for us as a nation if we utterly reject the good faith concerns of a large section of the American populace. Marginalizing the Tea Party is a great short-term power play for Democrats. It’s absolutely counter to the long-term interests of the American people.

The real question I see before us today is not a policy one, but a cultural one. Are we going to accept the further division of our society into warring ideological camps, one convinced that liberals are trying to scuttle the American Experiment and the other convinced that conservatives are trying to re-institute slavery repeal women’s suffrage, or are we going to have the courage to treat each other with something that is at least a reasonable facsimile for respect?

‘Cause here is my warning to liberals who feel like you guys are sitting on the mainstream pulse of America: you’re not. Crowing about the way Mitt Romney’s plan was repudiated in 2012 is short-sided and willfully blind. Yes, he lost the election. And yes, elections have consequences. But one election does not clearly dictate the inexorable future of the country. Democrats lost big in 2010 and stand to possibly lose in 2014. The fact that a large, coherent class of upper-middle class intellectuals who all read the same sources happen to think that they see things clearly does not make it so. The widespread discontent from the right  needs to be treated with authentic respect rather than arrogant disdain. (Also, if the right would please stop accusing the left of being traitors, that’d be nice.)

I hate politics with a passion, and the more I study it the less I think it matters. People matter. Culture matters. And that’s where we need to make a change.

14 thoughts on “Is American Journalism Dead?”

  1. But antidemocratic political behavior does not deserve respect and does deserve disdain, no matter how strong the belief of the actors that something significant needs to be done to reform the country. That is, at least, as long as these actors still want to operate within the rules and bounds of our established system of self-government.

    Most polling after the Newton massacre had a majority of Americans supporting new gun control measures. Do you want to live in a system where president Obama responded to Newton by vetoing, to the point that the government shuts down, every post-shooting bill missing an amendment on universal background checks? How about a system where, unless the marginal tax rate on millionaires is raised to 70%, Obama instructs the Treasury to stop servicing the nation’s debt and enter into default?

    At what point is it not a matter of respecting that “the other side” feels very passionate about this or that, and instead a matter of respecting that this passion isn’t sufficiently legitimizing over and above an election? Even if it’s just one election, but especially if it’s five elections over eight years with a supreme court ruling on top?

    Where is the line at which the plank gets addressed before moving on or back to the speck?

  2. First: The idea that you dismiss an action only because it’s “antidemocratic” is absurd. There’s more to good government than democracy.

    Second, the problem with your counterexamples is that reliance on “democracy = better, always” is unambiguously fallacious. What really matters is a question of proportionality. The Tea Party is animated by a belief that debt and expansive government powers are an existential threat to the United States as we know it. To proceed with analogies that implicitly dismiss this point is mere question begging. By assuming that their fears are irrational you are attempting to win the debate without having the debate.

    Even if it’s just one election, but especially if it’s five elections over eight years with a supreme court ruling on top?

    Let me be quite clear: your reasoning is so bad that it’s actually counter-productive. According to your logic, if we have 5 elections over 8 years and a supreme court ruling then… what? Game over? You have got to be kidding me, Galen. You really can’t imagine a period in our history when you might have found it worthwhile to stand up and shut down government despite something that had been settled for 8 years by a SCOTUS decision? Or, you know, fight a war over it?

    I’m substantially more suspicious having seen someone as smart as you advance an argument as blatantly poor as this one. But, just for fun, here’s another interesting perspective on the issue:

    Mr. President, I rise today to talk about America’s debt problem. The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. government can’t pay its own bills.”… “Increasing America’s debt weakens us domestically and internationally. Leadership means that ‘the buck stops here.’ Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better. I therefore intend to oppose the effort to increase America’s debt limit.

    I’m sure you know that that was Obama addressing then-President Bush in 2006. He voted against raising the debt ceiling ’cause he viewed debt as a terrible problem then. But now anyone who talks about voting against raising the debt ceiling is attacking the full faith and credit of the United States. I’m sure you have a very fascinating and convoluted argument for why President Obama was not attacking the full faith and credit of the United States then and House Republicans are today, but–as with my cynicism for mainstream journalists generally–I’m not buying it.

  3. Let’s leave aside irrelevant fact-checker style flip-flops and gotchas. While it’s not exactly something I prefer, I do understand that politicians routinely score cheap political points off of election-year bills that are in no real danger of failing, Sometimes, 7 years later in holding different political office in a different branch of government, these same politicians may even adopt new and different positions that contradict their previous statements on the issue. Like I said, not something I necessarily prefer, but it doesn’t leave me clutching my pearls.

    The thing is, we seem to fundamentally agree on the core issues here. I do think you’re confusing the sense in which I’m using the term ‘democratic’ (read: representative government functioning within the framework of our constitution) with some other, unrelated fear of yours about self-governance that I’m not exactly clear on (tyranny of the majority?). However, if the point you were trying to make is that in doing what’s best for the country, sometimes our elected representatives should act in ways that contravene popular opinion, then I’m on board (see Obamacare for a great example of this!).

    And I absolutely can imagine a scenario in which unconstitutional attempts at nullification by a revanchist minority lacking sufficient legitimate political power to achieve their ends ARE indeed worth fighting. Fighting with violence, even. I don’t know that it matters so much if these attempts come in the form of direct, compact theory-based invalidation, or indirectly in violating the 14th amendment, but it is “game over” in the sense that you don’t get to turn the table over just because you’re really, really, really sad and mad and scared about losing.

    Players can keep playing the game by continuing to try and win elections on the issue at hand, or hoping a right wing supreme court will hear their case yet again, etc. And they can even, if they think it’s worth it and will help win elections on the issue, blow up norms and shutdown the government. As someone who is invested in such players losing because I think they have bad ideas and terrible policy preferences, I welcome that circular firing squad. But when and if a constitutional debt crisis is forced, I hope you’ll spend some time thinking about what, if any, operant limits might be worthwhile for conservatives beyond demanding respect from liberals.

  4. >>But antidemocratic political behavior does not deserve respect and does deserve disdain, no matter how strong the belief of the actors that something significant needs to be done to reform the country.<<
    If the Congress doesn't have the power of the purse, it has nothing, which is why Harry Reid doesn't usually say the Republicans are doing something evil, he says they're doing something pointless, because they don't have the votes. Clinton saying that the Republicans are betraying their oaths is silly as well — Obama decided to not enforce DOMA which was then overturned by SCOTUS based on standing (?!), and his administration has made similar moves with immigration. So, yeah, the Republicans are playing within the rules. If the government shuts down (which I hope it doesn't for personal reasons), they'll still be playing within the rules. (It is common though for either side to accuse the other of breaking the rules, like Agnew/Nixon vs. Clinton, or Clarence Thomas vs. Clinton. Or how filibusters were a pillar of good government in 2006, but undemocratic in 2013, and vice versa with recess appointments). Fun question for another post NG: which will have a worse impact on the economy — a government shutdown or implementation of Obamacare?

  5. “So, yeah, the Republicans are playing within the rules.”

    Sure, shutdowns are within the rules. And, yes, shutdowns do happen here and there over this or that issue (welfare expansion and Contra funding in the 80s, a balanced budget amendment in the 90s, etc). But the letter and the spirit of the law, as with our system of governance, are not one and the same. We are witnessing an escalation, following a pattern of escalations, that everyone should be concerned about. And I think this concern is (or least should be) paramount to bad feelings over a perceived lack of respect by political opponents or the media. This is a vigorous and conscious bending of our political norms, even if on the surface it seems old hat .

    Nathaniel made the point, and I agree with it, though not in the way he meant it: this *is* about proportionality. Reliance on lazy “both sides do it” comparisons, such as 2006 vs. 2008-2013 filibustering, is elision absent historical context. As I said earlier, shutdowns are legal, and constitutional. This is true even of shutdowns where the demand of a minority of a 16 seat House majority becomes near total enactment of a loser’s presidential platform. But the substance and effect of this window shifting are unique and are, at best, unknown, and at worse ushering in an era where it’s perfectly normal for a minority of a 16 seat House majority to demand near total enactment of a loser’s presidential platform.

    Like I say, it’s terrible politics so on the one hand I’m delighted to see Republicans of the non-reform, non-thinking variety eat their young and poison the well with the colleagues. I really hope it hastens a reckoning on the right since losing elections doesn’t seem to do the trick for that crowd. But the stake raising on the new normal of budget impasses is real. It’s not costless and it’s not politics as usual even if there have been contentious appropriations lapses in the pass.

    Take the fallout of this foolish short term play by republicans who can’t control themselves, multiply it by being unconstitutional, and sprinkle global economic collapse on top. That’s about where things stand with the real chance that an uncontrollable caucus forces us into default for the first time ever. Clearly that’s a bit different than grandstanding about spending during a vote that, while close, wasn’t in any danger of failing. This is what post-civil war 1860s Democrats could only dream of, and it seems like conservatives are willing to final force the crisis and test this constitutionally.

    This is where we are now. And it really does pale in comparison to not feeling like the media spends equal time calling out craziness on both sides of the aisle.

  6. You know, the shutdown could have been avoided if the Senate had passed the House budget and the president had signed it. Who is “out of control” here?

  7. True. The senate and president *could* have placed preeminence on an intercene civil war raging between factional conservatives and republicans over the legitimacy of compromise itself. And doing so *would* certainly help the arguments advancing false equivalency that this fight exists on the same moral plane as, say, opposing the Fugitive Slave Act or the President upholding his independent oath to preserve, protect, and defend the constitution in not defending DOMA (a la Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Truman all refusing to defend separate-but-equal laws in schools and hospitals).

    But the above was never going to happen. For good reason! And the above is what distinguishes this shutdown -and, without question, unconstitutional ransoming of the debt ceiling- from other, prior partial shutdowns.

  8. Pointing out the stark contrast between President Obama’s clearly articulated position in a speech he gave 7 years ago and his current position is not “irrelevant fact-checker style flip-flops and gotchas.” I have this silly and antiquated notion that when people give speeches and articulate principles the content of that communication has lasting significance. Quaint, I know, but there it is.

    Your shotgun approach to dismissing this contradiction is rhetorically dizzying, but worth revisiting:

    – I do understand that politicians routinely score cheap political points (everybody does it)
    – off of election-year bills that are in no real danger of failing (it’s just words)
    – Sometimes, 7 years later (it was a long time ago)
    – in holding different political office in a different branch of government (principles are fluid with respect to office)
    – Like I said, not something I necessarily prefer, but it doesn’t leave me clutching my pearls (it’s no big deal)

    The large quantity and poor poor quality of these rationalizations speak volumes.

    I used the word “principles” frequently because what differentiates this from mere gotcha politics is that it isn’t a superficial appearance of a change based on taking some random procedural vote out of context of a wider negotiation or compromise. President Obama gave his rationale clearly and formally in the speech. It’s not his vote that matters, it’s the rationale he gave for that vote.

    Your use of excuses that I would expect from my children to dismiss this serious repudiation of prior principles demonstrates a depth of cynicism for the political process and/or repudiation for human communication that are deeply disturbing. I’m sure you think I’m overreacting, but I have to wonder what basis you would have for that evaluation. How does one recover a sense of non-ironic seriousness in the aftermath of having repudiated the basic function of formal communication? If words are really so disposable, why do you keep typing yours?

  9. Okay, so, with the president having admitted his 2006 vote was a political vote, what, exactly is that you want? A personal apology on national television? Acceding to conservative hostage taking and a repeal of Obamacare? Self-impeachment on the House floor?

    You’re confusing your personal umbrage, and the degree to which you care that this whole issue doesn’t revolve around Obama’s 2006 vote, with my observation that this kind of shit happens. How said shit applies to questions of proportionality and the situation at hand as the country moves through a shutdown and, possibly, into default and a constitutional crisis, seems more pressing a topic than how mad we should be at Obama. In my humble opinion, at least.

    Or maybe the issue is that you think I’m not personally sufficiently offended? Perhaps I’m as outraged as you are but a realist in that I understand our current system doesn’t allow for anything else, and in fact incentivizes it? Maybe it’s these structural incentives for which I save my ire? Anyway, like I said, this focus seems kind of pointless at the moment.

  10. Yes, that would be one that falls out outside the category of “most.” What you want is variations in support or opposition to the proposed controls, not gun control writ large (I used the term as short hand).

  11. “What you want is variations in support or opposition to the proposed controls, not gun control writ large (I used the term as short hand).”

    Do you have any examples?

  12. Okay, so, with the president having admitted his 2006 vote was a political vote, what, exactly is that you want?

    Two things, one less realistic than the other.

    1. An acknowledgment on your part that the vote is not the issue. The rationale provided in the speech is.

    2. American citizens less tolerant of bullshit from politicians because they happen to be on their side.

    You give lip-service to the idea that you’re secretly outrage, but even that token can’t be doled out without caveats.

    How said shit applies to questions of proportionality and the situation at hand… seems more pressing a topic than how mad we should be at Obama

    It doesn’t have to be either/or.

  13. Here’s an example of the kind of straightforward, widely known and understood, and wildly popular type of legislative component I was referring to:

    Don’t bother finding me some link from the Daily Caller “debunking” those numbers because the polls are skewed or because people don’t also support banning all handguns or mass confiscation and thus “gun control” isn’t really popular, etc…. Recognizing that while there’s stuff to quibble about on the margins, my example stands, so just posit for the sake of argument that it’s at least possible there is support for gun control measures that extend beyond what conservatives are willing to pass at the moment (nothing).

    So then, based on the above polling, radical outliers are thwarting the will of the people in not legislating an end to a very unpopular program (or in this case, lack of a program in a universal background check system). You’d all be screaming absolute bloody murder if Obama threatened to veto everything, to the point of shutdown and/or default, lest the Congress delivered him a bill on universal background checks. Hell, retributive right wing violence would be all but guaranteed. And all of it would be justified by way of a casual emotional costume change. Suddenly norms and our system of democracy would matter far more than the tyranny of majorities and pluralities, we’d be talking impeachment, and it would be so plain that exposing fault lines that have ruined all presidential democracies before ours make for far to high a price, no matter the politics.

    So here I sit, truly baffled by this Kremlinology over intent and effect of a a seven year-old vote and speech on a bill that was allowed to pass despite republicans not having 60 votes, with no demands or threat of filibuster coming from Democrats. Meanwhile, an immediate economic, and potentially long term systematic governance meltdown are chugging along at full steam. Bizarre stuff.

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