There’s a song on “Freak Out,” the 1966 Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention album, called “You’re Probably Wondering Why I’m Here.” That tune ran through my mind as I thought about what to say to readers in my first column as a staffer for the John Locke Foundation.
So, why am I here? Certainly, being ushered out the door with other senior management of The Herald-Sun in Durham a half-hour after the paper was bought by the Paxton Media Group on Jan. 3 had something to do with it. But my move away from the mainstream media, or MSM as bloggers like to call it, began long before January.
My journey from lefty liberal reporter-editor to conservative critic of the MSM began in the early ‘90s, when three trips to the Soviet Union and Russia opened my eyes to the evils of a command economy. Later, the hysterical reaction of the media to the 1994 Republican “takeover” of Congress made me view my profession in a profoundly different way.
That intemperate media reaction and the daily demagogic press briefings of Democratic Reps. Richard Gephardt and David Bonior, then the minority leader and minority whip, respectively, caused me to ask a simple question: Why did these people think the world was coming to an end simply because one of our major national political parties had triumphed to control Congress for the first time in 40 years? Their reaction seemed unhealthy and even dangerous to me.
I began to see the media — and the world — in a different way. I became what the Center for the Study of Popular Culture’s David Horowitz calls a Second Thoughter. The scales had fallen from my eyes. Suddenly I could see the bias and agenda-pushing that before had escaped me. But what was now so obvious to me and much of the American public was not so obvious to most of my media colleagues. Most MSM types are like fish that don’t know they’re wet. They don’t see it at all, and they look at you blankly when to try to explain the concept of “dry.”
Over the last 10 years I fought the head-butting battle against bias in journalism in general (on the occasional panel at a university or a press gathering) and at my newspaper in particular.
At The Herald-Sun we decided we would no longer identify groups or individuals as “conservative” while leaving leftists and liberal groups undescribed. We began calling The Associated Press in New York and demanding corrections whenever we saw an obviously biased story (a quite frequent occurrence, by the way). We monitored our own stories for bias, not only in wording, but in the initial story choices by editors.
We asked why local anti-abortion or public prayer events went uncovered while pro-choice and other liberal-left events were always on the calendar for coverage. “They never call us,” my editors would say. It didn’t occur to them that they didn’t call because they were habitually ignored in the past. We put an end to that.
During this period I became increasingly disenchanted with the profession I had entered so enthusiastically in 1972. Daily newspaper journalism as practiced 30 years ago is not the same as practiced today, and that’s not a good thing. I no longer wanted to be part of a profession that had abandoned long-held journalistic standards and practices in favor of the dubious tenets of victimology and political correctness.
For several years I had been contemplating a change. I no longer respected the MSM and was uncomfortable being a part of it. So, if you’re wondering why a person who actually listened to the Mothers of Invention in the ‘60s is here writing this column, that’s why.
In this new and liberating role I look forward to doing whatever I can to help spread an understanding of limited government, free markets, and individual freedom, concepts that mainstream journalism not only doesn’t value but doesn’t seem to understand.
Jon Ham is vice president for communications for the John Locke Foundation and publisher of Carolina Journal.