Entry from May 29, 2015

That George Stephanopoulos happened to have $75,000 in spare change lying around to donate to the Clinton Foundation was ultimately owing to his association with the Clintons in the first place. He was just "giving back" by way of a monetary thank you to the celebrity presidential couple who have, perhaps inadvertently, done so much to make him a celebrity himself. That he is a celebrity is well-attested by the seven-year, $105 million contract he signed with ABC News last year. Such a sum, it is hardly necessary to point out, is not a journalist’s salary. Yet Heather Riley, a spokeswoman for ABC, e-mailed Paul Farhi of The Washington Post to ask: "Did you ask every other journalist that moderated panels for [the Clinton Global Initiative] if they disclosed this to their audiences? Only seems fair if you’re posing that question to us."

Ms Riley has doubtless forgotten that Mr Stephanopoulos is being paid as a celebrity, not as a journalist. But then, since practically every journalist — or at least every TV journalist — regards him or herself as at least a potential celebrity, I guess it is an easy mistake to make. It shows, however, that the problem goes a lot deeper than George Stephanopoulos. Mr Farhi of the Post goes on to note that

CGI lists a number of TV anchors, correspondents and commentators as "Notable Past Members," including Christiane Amanpour and Anderson Cooper of CNN; columnists Thomas Friedman and Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times; Matt Lauer and Tom Brokaw of NBC; Greta Van Susteren of Fox News; Katie Couric (then of CBS); and Judy Woodruff of "PBS Newshour."

Can there be anyone on that list whose views are not more or less identical with those of the Clintons? Or of Mr Stephanopoulos? Or who is not hoping that Mrs Clinton is elected president? And they are all, too, at least on the same scale of celebrity and wealth as George. Mr Lauer of "Today," on $20 million a year from NBC, is paid even more than he is. Mornings are where the money is now.

In other words, it’s not just that Mr Stephanopoulos, like all the other celebrities, is predisposed to take it easy on his fellow-celebrities, the Clintons — or to take it very hard indeed on anyone, like Peter Schweizer, who so far forgets his own place as to treat them as if they were no better than Republicans. They all recognize that their own celebrity-status depends on their paying due deference (as well as money, where appropriate) to their fellow-celebrities whose apparent immunity from scandal is both a result of that deference and a cause of it. This goes way beyond any question of media bias. Bias is for the little people. At the top of the media tree where politics is all mixed up with celebrity, it is simply taken for granted that one’s peers will conform to the celebrity consensus — also known as "the right side of history." It’s a condition of belonging. The media’s bias may change or soften, but if their almost monolithic willingness to give the Clintons break after break ever breaks itself, it won’t be a celebrity journalist who wields the hammer.


And, speaking of bias: over at the Brookings Institution in Washington, they have been having yet another discussion of the media’s perennial complaint about their own lack of attention to anything but the "horse-race" aspect of political reporting. James Klurfeld of Brookings traces this obsession back to Theodore H. White’s Making of the President series in the 1960s. "White’s books on presidential campaigns," he writes, "have led to coverage that is dominated by analysis of political tactics at the expense of an examination of the more fundamental issues in a campaign."

True enough, perhaps, though admiration for White (or his commercial success) can’t explain the persistence of the tendency half a century and more after he wrote. Mr Klurfeld does not mention the biggest reason why examination of the "fundamental issues" — or, indeed, any issues — is bad form nowadays. It is the media’s need to keep up the false front of unbiased objectivity, since it is more difficult to disguise one’s biases when discussing substantive matters than it is when limiting oneself to an account of strategy or tactics. In any case, the issues are not really issues anymore, in the sense of being matters about which reasonable people may differ. For the left, as for the celebrities to whom the media are always ready to defer, there is only the truth and what the racists, bigots and morons on the other side believe. That’s what they mean by being on the wrong side of history — an idea as Marxist as the dictatorship of the proletariat.

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