The fourth estate, journalism, is racing to receivership unless we can rescue it from its rapacious self. The hubris hasn’t always been this bad, this blatant, or this biased, yet it worsens daily.
In the town I grew up in, Nashville, Tennessee, there were two newspapers in the 1950s and 1960s, one for the morning, the other in the evening, and three television stations that carried the news.
I delivered both newspapers at one point in my teenage years, dragging myself out of bed before school at five in the morning (often unsuccessfully, I might add). The morning paper, owned by a well-known Democrat operative, ran a left-leaning paper with an obvious secular outlook. The other paper leaned right with a more spiritual Weltanschauung. The television stations were only mildly biased, if at all. The political bias of both papers proved mostly mild, too (although the morning paper hardly ever disclosed any of President Kennedy’s philandering). I doubt many who watched or subscribed were unaware of the obliqueness of the outlets.
Most towns during those decades had similar papers, depending on the region of the country. And I suppose that readers knew this and accepted this status quo, knowing that the outlets balanced themselves out, more or less.
That this is no longer true is easily seen by the 2016 and 2020 elections. After every major mainstream paper campaigned for Hillary Clinton, hiding her faults and accentuating her credentials, the outcome of the elections proved untenable for the left. In some ways, they blamed themselves for not campaigning unabashedly for Hillary, and Lord knows she blamed everyone but herself for her loss. The left determined then that this would not happen again.
After Trump won in 2016, every mainstream journalist went after him. They trumped up British ex-spy Christopher Steele and his bogus dossier. They sat at the clay feet of the mendacious Adam Schiff and gave him every platform to bring his every bogus claim forward. Meanwhile, every move made by Trump or anyone close to him received unending scrutiny though virtually every claim proved untrue.
When Trump made us energy independent, the mainstream press hectored us about climate change. When Trump brought back manufacturing, the mainstream press focused on minimum wage. When Trump placed all foreign enemies at our feet, the mainstream media cried imminent war. Trump, they said, had no clue about the Wuhan virus and was killing all of us while showcasing cases and deaths daily. And finally, when Trump secured our borders, the mainstream press could only see children in cages that they somehow missed under Obama.
When the 2020 elections rolled around, our mainstream press, which Tocqueville praised as one of our unprecedented inventions as a watchdog for the people, would not be outdone. They reported every fiber of potential scandal against Trump and ignored any hint of wrongdoing against Biden. They would not report on Biden’s platform (granted, he didn’t really have one), would not investigate Hunter Biden, and laughed at any soupcon inflection about voter fraud (Molly Hemingway’s “Rigged” has proved more than ample evidence they ignored this story entirely).
Once in office, Biden, though he proved inept at every turn once in office, Biden could do no wrong in the eyes of the mainstream press. Our now sequacious press, more lapdog than watchdog, yawned when Biden declared the virus not a federal issue. Although Biden claimed that he had a plan from “day one,” the press remained nonplussed that the death toll under Biden exceeded that toll under Trump.
The mainstream press has left alone Biden’s claim that he is the foreign relations expert par excellence, as war with China, Iran, and Russia appear imminent. Our news sleuths are uninterested that we now beg OPEC for oil, that Hunter Biden still roams free, and inflation will cost most Americans about $3500 this year alone. Meanwhile, the vice-president has never visited our southern border and does not know the impact of inflation. Yet these remarkable stories, if covered at all, are last on the agenda and below the fold while yet another mythopoeic story about January 6 hoaxes adorn page one.
The point is not that Biden and Harris are the most inept pair in a 50-year memory, though there is that. The point is we cannot count on these once watchdogs to report the truth about our government. Like Mary McCarthy’s jibe about Lillian Hellman, “every word [they now] write is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the.’
Some will argue that there are other outlets, and we no longer need them. But that solves nothing. The misprisions of our mainstream media force the populace to sink farther and farther into avenues that report only what they want to hear. We need a nonpartisan press that will challenge our leaders to govern better. We have inherited one that wants only a government of their design. It’s the 2022 version of the Emperor’s New Clothes: they report on sartorial splendor when all we see is the ugly naked truth.
Mark Y. Herring is professor emeritus, dean of library services from Winthrop University. Herring spent 42 years as dean or director in academic libraries in Tennessee, Oklahoma, and South Carolina. He was most recently appointed by Governor Henry McMaster to the South Carolina State Library Board. He resides with his wife, Carol, in Rock Hill.