Jonah Goldberg: Hero worship from media is misguided
In an age when Fox News is a ratings juggernaut and Katie Couric is ratings roadkill, it seems almost antique to talk about liberal media bias. But it’s still out there, my friends. Just look at the hilarious press release masquerading as a news story in Time magazine. With a picture of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg looking like henchmen from Murder Inc., Time proclaims these politicians “The New Action Heroes.”
And why are the Munchkin Mayor and the glandular Governator so heroic? Because they’re taking care of business in a flash, as Elvis used to say (and probably still does on that Pacific island where he lives with Bruce Lee). Time’s Michael Grunwald comes close to sounding like a teenage girl talking about Justin Timberlake. Bloomberg and Schwarzenegger are doing “big things,” he tells us. “Specifically, they’re doing big things that Washington has failed to do.” Unlike politicians in the nation’s capital, where “partisanship-on-crack has made compromise almost impossible,” Schwarzenegger and Bloomberg have “got better things to do than bicker and posture.”
And what are these better things? Well, they’re both fighting global warming, natch. And Arnold’s fighting for embryo-destroying stem cell research while Bloomberg, Grunwald gushes, has implemented “America’s most draconian smoking ban and the first big-city trans-fat ban.”
It’s a bit reminiscent of that “Simpsons” episode where Homer wants to sue an all-you-can-eat restaurant for cutting him off before he was full. His grasping trial lawyer, Lionel Hutz, tells him, “Mr. Simpson, this is the most blatant case of fraudulent advertising since my suit against the film ‘The Never-Ending Story.'”
“Do you think I have a case?” Homer asks hopefully.
“Now, Homer,” Hutz replies, “I don’t use the term ‘hero’ very often. But you are the greatest hero in American history.”
The false advertising here is the never-ending story of elite journalism’s bias toward “heroes” who expand government (which is why FDR remains the greatest hero in American history to so many Washington scribes). According to the daft formulas governing elite journalism, Grunwald can’t be biased because he’s saying nice things about (nominal) Republicans. But “balance” between Republicans and Democrats was never the crux of the question when it came to media bias.
Yes, of course, elite journalists are lopsidedly liberal according to pretty much every survey done over the last 30 years. Just for a moment imagine if instead of fighting global warming, advancing embryonic stem cell research and imposing smoking bans, Schwarzenegger and Bloomberg were delivering one victory after another for conservatives and pro-lifers. Is there anyone who thinks Time magazine would hail them as “heroes”?
But, again, that misses an important point. Political journalists at major media outlets are biased in favor of a narrowly defined “progress.” They think the government’s job is to advance the great wheel of history forward. They’re like business reporters covering any other company. Businesses need to put out products. Companies have Tickle Me Elmos and G.I. Joes with the kung fu grip. Government has legislation and regulation, and when government fails to deliver its products, elite journalists claim “the system is broken.”
Even the vocabulary of media coverage is biased. Whenever government passes new legislation, we are told that America has taken a major step “forward.” When it repeals legislation, we moved “backward.” And when Washington doesn’t churn out the latest “reform,” it fails to make “progress.” Indeed, the word “reform” is itself loaded, because it means both to change shape and to improve. But the press doesn’t bother with these distinctions, so every “reform” is portrayed as an improvement.
Consider the recent failure to pass “comprehensive immigration reform.” The bill’s collapse, in the words of the Washington Post’s Dan Balz, “represents a scathing indictment of the political culture of Washington” and “another example of a polarized political system in which the center could not hold.” Fox’s Chris Wallace, in an unusual panic, asked why Washington could get the Civil Rights Acts of the 1960s passed but couldn’t get this done.
According to conventional analysis, such lamentations are entirely unbiased because they fret the failure of both Republicans and Democrats to get things done. But those aren’t the relevant parties. The real parties in question are those who think passing a bill, any bill, is its own reward and those who do not.
For those of us who think the government that governs least, governs best, times are pretty good in Washington. For those who think the best politicians are the ones who most successfully impose their will on American society, times are depressing. Which is why reporters have to go on the road to find their “action heroes” these days.
Jonah Goldberg is a nationally syndicated columnist who appears in The Union.
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