by Victor Davis Hanson
Some yearn for the ancient monopolistic days of network news, the adolescent years of public radio and TV, and the still reputable New York Times—when once upon a time the Left at least tried to mask their progressivism in sober and judicious liberal façades.
An avuncular Walter Cronkite, John Chancellor, Jim Lehrer, or Abe Rosenthal at least went through the motions of reporting news that was awkward or even embarrassing to the Left. Their agenda was 1960s-vintage Great Society liberalism, seen as the natural evolution from the New Deal and post-war internationalism. Edward R. Murrow, the ACLU of old, and Free Speech Movement at Berkeley—these were their liberal referents. Those days are gone.
Yet even during the Obama years, when studies showed the president had received the most slanted media honeymoon in news history, overt media bias was, at least, as hotly denied as it intensified. There were still a few ossified, quarter-hearted efforts now and then to mention the IRS scandal, the surveillance of Associated Press reporters, the various scandals embroiling the Veterans Administration, General Service Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, and the Secret Service. But even that thin pretense is over now, too.
What ended liberal dissimulation about slanted reporting is a new pride, or rather an arrogance, about bias itself. The new liberated defiance is something like, “We are biased. Damn proud of it. And what exactly do you plan on doing about it?”
Jim Rutenberg infamously announced in January 2017 his profession’s proud defiance of now ossified norms in a new age in which reporters would “throw out the textbook American journalism has been using for the better part of the past half-century.” Christiane Amanpour felt she was now released from the old chains of professed “objectivity.” “Much of the media was tying itself in knots trying to differentiate between balance, between objectivity, neutrality, and crucially, the truth,” she said just a few weeks after the 2016 election. “We cannot continue the old paradigm.” Michel Foucault could not have said it any better.
Univision’s Jorge Ramos more or less ridiculed classical journalistic training and embraced the liberation from the old bourgeois idea of “neutrality.”
Saying that reporters should abandon neutrality on certain issues and choose sides may seem at odds with everything that’s taught in journalism school. But there are times when the only way we journalists can fulfill our primary social responsibility—challenging those in power—is by leaving neutrality aside.
Or as the New York Times’ Jim Roberts in 2016 put the new “Walter Durantyism”: “Yes. The media is biased. Biased against hatred, sexism, racism, incompetence, belligerence, inequality, To [sic] name a few.”
So said them all. In Orwellian terms, Roberts’ media has now come to adore the omnipresent progressive party line: “You must love Big Brother. It is not enough to obey him: you must love him.”
When early on in the Trump Administration, the liberal Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy found that in the first 100 days all news coverage was on average 80 percent anti-Trump—93 percent negative in the case of CNN and NBC—no one seemed embarrassed.
Again, since May 2017, the bias has not merely increased but is now a badge of honor—whether it was the months of “walls or closing in” fake stories of imminent Mueller investigation indictments of the Trump family or the serial “Trump is finished” psychodramas about the Logan Act, the Emoluments Clause, and the 25th Amendment. No one in the media, to this day, after the Mueller implosion, the findings of Inspector General Michael Horowitz, and the recent releases of Russian intercepts about the Clinton gambit to fabricate a “collusion” election narrative, has ever said “We were wrong”—because they really think they were “right” in pushing even untruth, given their hatred of Trump.
Cooking the Debates
We can see the new arrogance manifested in a variety of ways. In the recent debates and town halls, the moderators were as praised by the media as they were a turn off to many in the public who were disgusted by their arrogance in making no attempt to appear fair.
The most anti-Trump Fox News figure currently is Chris Wallace. Naturally, he was deemed a perfect moderator—not so much in the old style as the token conservative, but in the new liberal hope that more at Fox, too, have come to love Big Brother.
Wallace performed as expected, directing his gotcha questions to Trump and softballs to Biden. When pre-debate observers predicted that Wallace would return to his earlier 2016 debate questioning mantra of “white supremacy”—once more selectively editing the old saw of Trump’s Charlottesville remarks to eliminate his denunciation of white supremacists and the KKK—Wallace not only met but exceeded their expectations with his “When will you stop beating your wife?” hammering.
Susan Page, the vice-presidential debate moderator, also as predicted, adopted the same unbalanced tactic with Vice President Pence and Senator Kamala Harris (D-Calif.). She is currently writing a likely favorable biography of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)—apparently no more worrisome a fact than had a debate moderator from American Greatness announced that she was currently at work on a hagiography of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
No wonder Trump said “No!” to a town-hall zoomed remote second debate—the medium in which Candy Crowley had hijacked the 2012 debate and joined with Barack Obama and her preselected questioners to advance her own agenda.
The now-canceled second debate moderator Steven Scully, of course, was a former Biden intern. He had tweeted a request to the unhinged, arch-Trump hater Anthony Scaramucci, seeking advice on how to best respond to Trump’s prescient accusations of his bias.
When that request was inadvertently publicly posted on Twitter rather than in an intended private chat, Scully did not just lie by claiming, after Carlos Danger, that he had been “hacked” and never had done such a thing. He also then kept silent in the expectation that the media class, in Joy Reid fashion, would swarm to his defense, prior to any formal investigation of his improbable charges of computer malfeasance. And they did so on spec, from Chris Wallace to C-Span and the federal debate commission itself. Scully is now seen by the Left not as a prevaricator, but as a tragic hero. The subtext of his fall is not that he was biased, but that he was oafishly so. Thereby in his legitimate activist and righteous hatred of Trump, Scully rendered his prejudice politically ineffective.
The two town halls proved that they could have been easily combined into a second debate. Both were live and conducted quite safely. But health concerns were not the criteria that got the town hall debate canceled. Rather, it was legitimate fear for Biden’s ability to appear again on a live stage with an aggressive Trump.
Both separate town halls followed predictable scripts without worry that they were embarrassing themselves. Former key Clinton aide George Stephanopoulos asked questions as if he were conducting an obsequious PBS profile. Savannah Guthrie, the spouse of a former Al Gore campaign traveling chief of staff, Democratic activist, and current liberal lobbyist, Michael Feldman, sought to showboat her left-wing bona fides (given that Guthrie had been criticized by the Left for the crime of appearing on stage with Trump). From the outset she assumed the role of the missing Biden, and heatedly debated Trump—but with the twist of knowing all the questions in advance and adjudicating how much time each would have in answering. All this was considered not just fine, but absolutely necessary by the Left–a fact known in advance by the careerist Guthrie.
Big Tech’s Censorship
In the old days of the early 21st century, Silicon Valley and other tech giants went through the motions that they were more interested in providing social media access, online buying, and internet services than massaging them all to indoctrinate the public. Even during the Obama years, they protested vehemently suggestions that they had given campaign cash inordinately to leftist candidates, or were beginning to massage internet search results or asymmetrically blocking conservative users.
Not now. Big Tech has offered no coherent defense of its censorship of the Hunter Biden laptop scandal, or even appeared to worry about the hypocrisy that they had gladly let Trump’s illegally obtained and published tax returns fly through the cyberworld, in the manner that Christopher Steele’s leaked and made-up hoax was freely promulgated online during the late critical days of the 2016 campaign.
Now Twitter, without much worry, just shrugs that it blocks even conservatives in government from posting. White House public health and coronavirus advisor Dr. Scott Atlas routinely is censored and shut down by Twitter for referencing scientific studies that have found in a cost-benefit analysis no arguments for lockdowns and blanket mask-wearing by the public.
Facebook couldn’t care less that it has been taken to task for its systematic bias in censoring social media content. Their collective attitude toward government insistence that they not censor oppositional views seems to be something like, “When we were a multibillion-dollar industry, we feared you. Now that we are a multitrillion-dollar business, we despise you.”
Recently Amazon’s many “platforms” temporarily banned access to documentarians Shelby and Eli Steeles’ new film “What Killed Michael Brown?”
Amazon apparently was protecting its high standards so that it can continue to sell and show serious documentaries like “Tickled” (From the show’s description: “The less you know about David Farrier’s descent into the strange world of ‘competitive endurance tickling’ before watching his 2016 documentary, the better. Suffice it to say that the answer to who’s making videos of young men tickling each other while restrained is simultaneously shocking and exactly what you think it is.”)
Yet Amazon considered exploration of what really happened at Ferguson not to meet such high “content quality expectations.” It defiantly added just three days before the documentary was to be shown on Amazon platforms that it would not “be accepting resubmission of this title and this decision may not be appealed.” So there!
One is left wondering whether a content-conscious Amazon will now pull the misogynist “Bang Gang” and “Night Call Nurse” from its online film catalog.
Tainted Popular Culture
The new defiance and the glee that comes from open bias have now saturated our culture, as if the liberated Left in today’s globalized market has no need of half the U.S. population—the supposed loser, unwoke half.
The NBA intensifies both its worship of the Chinese Communist Party and its utter disdain for American democratic culture. When revenues crash from eroding viewership and public criticism of collaboration with a government that institutionalized concentration camps, democracy destruction, and state-sponsored racism and murder, the woke players fire back in defense of China, with “So what?” certainty.
Liberal writers used to warn us of “dark money,” as in the anti-Trump Koch family donations to libertarian causes. Now there is no such thing as money being “dark.” The Left is proud that most of the Fortune 400’s top-20 multibillionaires are generous progressive-giving leftists, and that George Soros and Michael Bloomberg promise to infuse tens of millions of dollars not just to fortify leftist candidates, but to massage the rules of voting itself by reexamining voter eligibilities and methods of voting to enhance progressive agendas.
Pollsters used to highlight moderate liberal leads to jack up enthusiasm. But in the final few days of a race, they began offering more realistic numbers to ensure that if the vote went south, they would not go down with the ship.
Not now. At a time when the Zogby, Trafalgar, Democracy Institute, or Rasmussen polls show Trump’s favorability climbing, and the race tightening in the last three weeks, we are to believe YouGov, Reuters, or Politico that the president fights a 10-15 percent negative favorability gap. Perhaps. But one wonders why, in the context of 2016, we never saw a symmetrical split, half of the polls believing Trump would lose sizably in the Electoral College, and half winning by a substantial number.
Given the similarly asymmetrical record of the Senate in grilling and voting on Supreme Court picks, one would have thought after the Kavanaugh hearing, which cost Democrats a chance to take back the Senate, the Left would have tried to appear respectful and professional in questioning the brilliant, learned, personable, and charismatic Amy Coney Barrett. Such an expectation was not absurd, given that in just a few weeks they bragged that they would recapture the Senate in a way they had failed in 2016 and 2018.
Left unsaid was the tic of the Left to destroy not just the nomination chances of a Robert Bork, Clarence Thomas, and Brett Kavanaugh, but their very characters and careers—while assuming that an Elena Kagan or Sonya Sotomayor deserved overwhelming bipartisan support given they were progressive and enlightened.
Forget the Old Rules
But in the climate of the new defiance, the Left now believes that even the appearance of fairness and empirical objectivity is proof of weakness or lack of revolutionary bona fides and fervor. So they did their best to smear Barrett as a veritable Medieval Catholic monarchist, an unthinking clone of the late but still very much hated Antonin Scalia, a wacko cultist, a veritable murderer who would bring back-alley abortions and cancel health care to those in the throes of cancer.
Behind all this unabashed venom lies a reasonable strategy. There is a long history of conservative and Republican-appointed justices who eventually acquiesce, and, with hands over ears, cry that they cannot take such social ostracism any more. In the manner of Harry Blackmun, William Brennan, Lewis Powell, David Souter, John Paul Stevens, Potter Stewart, and Earl Warren, many Republican appointees eventually come to accept, and learn to love, the Left.
Add the examples of the dishonest, discredited but very much alive “1619 Project,” or the unapologetic admission of discrimination against Asian-American university applicants, and we can sense not so much a brave new defiance, but a more calculated insolence that the Left is at last soon going to dominate and alter politics as they have the major American cultural and social institutions. They see their efforts bending in a preordained historical arc that ends with ultimate progressive justice—and retributions. And in that context there is no longer any need to play by the rules of fairness, or even to say that such rules need to exist or indeed ever existed.
On November 3, we will see whether they are justifiably arrogant or suicidal.
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Victor Davis Hanson is an American military historian, columnist, former classics professor, and scholar of ancient warfare. He was a professor of classics at California State University, Fresno, and is currently the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He has been a visiting professor at Hillsdale College since 2004.
Photo “Democrats” by Steve Baker CC BY-ND 2.0.