Entry from July 23, 2010

One thing, at least, we have learned from the sorry saga of the now-discontinued “JournoList” — which, according to Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic, has lately been trimmed down to its presumably more trustworthy members and renamed the “Cabalist” — is the extent to which the Internet is the cultural equivalent of the id of Freudian psychology. All our deepest, darkest and most shameful secrets go there to hide from more decorous public view, only to reveal themselves when our guard is down, when we are shielded (as we imagine) from real life and all its inconvenient “judgmentalism” and we suppose we can indulge our taste for what Freud called “true psychic reality.” Journalists, required by their “professional” conceit to be all ego and superego, must be particularly susceptible to what the rest of us regard as the dubious charms of a total immersion in those disreputable passions that constantly bubble beneath the surface of their conscious self-presentation as “objective” and “non-partisan.” As more and more of the media migrate to the web, I predict that we can expect to see fewer and fewer inhibitions on these passions too.

At any rate this must be the explanation for Mr Spencer Ackerman’s violent fantasies in more than one note to his JournoList colleagues: “Let’s just throw [Michael] Ledeen against a wall. Or, pace Dr. Alterman, throw him through a plate glass window. I’ll bet a little spot of violence would shut him right the f— up, as with most bullies.” By the way, I know Michael Ledeen, and unless Mr Ackerman is approximately the size of Shaquille O”Neal, he might find the actual performance of this fantastical operation more difficult than he imagines. Likewise, Sarah Spitz of National Public Radio wrote on the list of how the imaginary sight of Rush Limbaugh having a heart attack led her to the further delicious fantasy of herself as she would “laugh loudly like a maniac and watch his eyes bug out.”

Interestingly, she adds that “I never knew I had this much hate in me, but he deserves it.” Deserves? The heart attack, presumably — though I wonder if she ever has a similar reflection on the question of desert in relation to the speculative circumstance of her own death? — but also to have herself standing by and laughing at him “like a maniac” for having it. This sounds to me like the cry of an almost unbearable emotional repression, groaning and stumbling under the weight of journalistic respectability and desperate to find an outlet. It should therefore serve as a reminder that journalists spend their lives pretending to be something they are not. In fact, it’s worse than that. They spend their lives pretending to be something that they know that everybody knows they’re not — which is non-partisan, objective, disinterested reporters of The Truth. Tucker Carlson, who exposed the e-mails in his Daily Caller, writes that “these are political hacks, and I think they should stop calling themselves journalists. It discredits the rest of us.” But does he really imagine that “the rest of us” who call ourselves journalists have much more credit to lose?

Besides, there is no chance of their doing this, or even of feeling any shame about carrying on as if nothing had happened. So far as I have been able to see, all the Journolisters who are also journalists continue to insist that the whole thing is a non-story and no reflection at all on their journalistic integrity. Even you or I might crack under the strain if we were similarly so ill-advised as to live such an odious lie for the sake of making a handsome living. Something’s got to give. Obviously, they have to be careful about venting their frustrations in public or they might eventually have themselves to admit the pretense, so they require something like this surreptitious list-serve on which they can let their hair down and — I was about to write “say what they really think,” but that would be too much to expect of them. On the contrary, the violent fantasies and imaginary deaths, along with the grand political strategies they project onto this subliminal screen are really just the emotional reaction to so much emotional repression in their professional lives.

American progressivism has always been a sort of masquerade. The word itself is a masquerade, a euphemism designed to appeal to Americans’ belief in the future on behalf of one sort or another of lefty atavism. “Progressive,” like “liberal” before it, is designed to disguise their utopian longings to return to an imagined version of our cooperative, egalitarian tribal past. That’s why, although I’d like to agree with Jay Cost of RealClearPolitics that the JournoList is “yet another mile-marker on this country’s return to a partisan press,” I’m afraid it’s unlikely to be true. As avowed partisans of what they actually believe, they would be perennial losers in a center-right country like the U.S. Only by continuing to pretend, at whatever emotional and psychological cost to themselves, to what Mr Cost quite rightly calls “the epistemologically ridiculous ‘God’s eye view’” do they stand any chance at all of success in their poisonous ambitions for the rest of us.


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