Entry from June 29, 2006

Attacks by President Bush and others on the New York Times represent a political opportunity too good to pass up, but they don’t really have much to do with The New York Times. After all, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post all ran similar stories to the one in the Times about the government’s secret data-mining for terrorist connections in bank records. True, the New York Times has been more consistently and more stridently anti-Bush than the other papers, so it’s easier to cast its behavior as politically motivated. But singling it out may be owing more to the “New York” part of its name than anything else. To much of the rest of America, the name of the city hints of social, financial and media elites who are uncomfortable with military men and patriotic display and who are therefore out of touch with the country’s heartland “values.”

All the same, it’s no news to most people — and certainly not to the administration or conservatives — that the media’s patriotism leaves something to be desired. There was the infamous moment back in the 1980s when the late Peter Jennings of ABC News and Mike Wallace of “60 Minutes” were both asked what they would do if they found themselves, in their role as journalists, accompanying an enemy unit while it planned an ambush of American troops. Jennings, after much thought, rather supposed that he’d try to warn the Americans, but Mike Wallace took him to task for it. “You”re a reporter,” he said. “Granted you’re an American” — though in fact Jennings was Canadian. “I’m a little bit at a loss to understand why, because you’re an American, you would not have covered that story.” When pressed as to the existence of some “higher duty” than just covering a story, Wallace emphatically denied it. “No, you don’t have a higher duty. No, no. You’re a reporter!”

Whereupon Jennings changed his mind, saying that Wallace was right. He said that he had “chickened out” and forgotten his journalistic obligation to remain “detached.”

Nowadays, I’d guess that there are more élite journalists than ever who would be as bold as Mike Wallace in making what most Americans would regard as such a shameful admission. They not only don’t have a higher duty than being a reporter, they can’t have a higher duty. For them, being a journalist means being something infinitely higher and better than just an American. It means that they see themselves as being above parties and even nations. It means that, in their own conceit, they speak for all mankind and, indeed, the planet. That’s why, although they would never dream of turning to advocacy when it comes to their country and its “narrow” national interests — that’s where “detachment” is sacrosanct — they will shamelessly and credulously shill for any international agency going, no matter how corrupt, or environmental activists, no matter how dubious their various causes. If you looked at the polling graphs of Americans’ distrust of the media, I think you’d find that it has grown as the numbers of such world-saviors among their ranks has increased.

So, no surprise then in the New York Times’s (or any other paper’s) cavalier disregard of the nation’s security. But then Bush isn’t really attacking the New York Times. What he’s doing is daring the Democrats to attack the New York Times. And in refusing to do so, the Democrats have presented him with a golden opportunity to attack them without ever mentioning them — and to attack them in a way that may prove fatal to their hopes of retaking Congress in November. For their silence reminds wavering voters who may not like the Republicans but who don’t quite trust the Democrats on matters of defense and national security — which current polls are suggesting is a plurality if not a majority of voters — of the Democrats’ alliance with the media and anti-war activists dating back to the Vietnam era. This is something that Democrats have never quite been able to live down, and now Bush is able forcefully to remind us of it while reinforcing the GOP’s own brand as the party of strong defense and national security, which is the one thing that seems to have survived the party’s recent psephological meltdown.

In other words, by pointing us towards the Democrats’ apparent concurrence of views with the New York Times as to whether exposing the government’s secrets or fighting terrorism is more important, the President is reminding Americans that the Democrats are not themselves a plausible party of government. Moreover, they really don’t want to be a party of government. They are enjoying far too much the role, which they now share with the media, of criticizing the government without ever having to offer any coherent plan as to what they themselves would do in its place. By declining a Sister Souljah-type opportunity to repudiate the media’s irresponsibility, the Democrats have helped to nail down their stereotype with way too many Americans that they can’t be trusted with national security.

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