The Woke Media: Apologists for the State
In an earlier article, I looked at the rise of “Woke Capitalism” and the challenges that this development presents for a free society (or, to be accurate, a somewhat free society). For the time being we probably do not need to worry about the establishment of the People’s Republic of Google, but a much greater problem than left-wing business corporations has invaded our body politic: The Woke Mainstream Media.
It is one thing for Nike to discontinue a line of sneakers because the Betsy Ross flag offended someone or for PayPal to refuse to serve as a pay conduit for a conservative organization. One may decry the narrow-minded thinking from company executives, but they are private outfits that have — and should have — the privilege of refusing to do business with certain people — and if they make a bad economic choice, the company will pay financially. And, as I pointed out in the article, corporations are not governments, which really can kill and cage people who are helpless against state-sponsored predations.
Private sector Wokeness is not limited to profit-making businesses, however, as the giants of American media now are subscribing to the same hard-left political and social theories, and this development has become a much greater problem to American society and American liberty because of the symbiotic relationship between media and government. While Google’s squelching of libertarian speech within its ranks might make it unpopular with libertarians, nonetheless, the company has taken no one’s freedom away.
However, a media campaign against someone, even someone who is innocent of a crime, can result in imprisonment or worse. As one who for more than a decade has written about prosecutorial misconduct and unjustified pursuit of innocent people, I have yet to find a case in which the worst kind of prosecutorial behavior was not aided by irresponsible and dishonest journalists.
Furthermore, the rise of Woke Media presents a problem in this country, one in which the progressive news media becomes a partner with government to strip people of their rights and to impose authoritarian rule. While that is not the picture of the media that the media itself tries to present or is the dominant theme in journalism school, it is much closer to the truth than anyone tied to the media will admit. On top of that, almost all of the national media (with the exception of Fox News) is closely linked to the Democratic Party, and most journalists now being on the left. In the years of the Donald Trump presidency, that has meant that much of the media now acts in concert with the Democrats to weaken and even end his term in office.
With the upcoming movie “Richard Jewell” to be released soon, we see the spotlight on misconduct by American media outlets that helped to falsely accuse an innocent person of the infamous Olympic bombing in Atlanta in 1996. But media problems hardly begin and end with the saga of Richard Jewell.
When the New York Times calls for curtailing free speech or when its reporters actively work to promote a corrupt prosecutor in order to frame innocent people for rape, as the NYT did in the infamous Duke Lacrosse Case, when the press wrongly accused the high school boys from Covington Catholic School of harassing a Native American, which led to active death threats against the students, or when media outlets recklessly repeat false statements by government officials, as was done in the Jewell case, such transgressions are open attacks on a free society. When these things happen, a media outlet then becomes an advocate for oppressive government, which seems to openly conflict with the media’s self-declared label of “government watchdog.” As I wrote a decade ago:
Despite that fact that every student in J-school is taught that the press is a "watchdog" of government, the truth is that journalists are the lapdogs of the state. From the local police beat reporter to the top journalist at the New York Times, journalists pretty much repeat what government officials tell them. When journalists actually do pressure government, it is either for the authorities to pass laws that are stricter than what they are at the present or to demand that governments regulate businesses in a draconian fashion.
In other words, modern journalism emphasizes a vastly-expanded role of state power, which is at odds with why a supposed free press exists in the first place, and certainly at odds with the First Amendment, which has been the bedrock of free speech and freedom of the press, not to mention freedom of religion. Unfortunately, the NYT and other Woke Media outlets have not stopped with attacking the First Amendment; they also have played a major role in promoting academic fraud in history and economics. Like the Bolsheviks which the NYT lionized in its series on the 1917 Russian Revolution and its murderous afterlife (which might as well have been named “Paradise Lost,” given how the NYT gave near-uncritical support to the revolution and the growth of the USSR), the journalists and editorial writers at the “Newspaper of Record” seem hellbent on recreating a new world in which truth takes a backseat.
While ideology plays a role in establishing the left-wing narratives that American journalists seem to embrace, that is not the only reason that modern journalism is statist at its core. First, and most important, the modern media is a product of the Progressive Era in which journalists sought respectability through the Canons of Journalism issued in 1923 by the American Society of Newspaper Editors.
As was often the case during the Progressive Era, there were advocates in various lines of work seeking to “professionalize” their craft. From medicine to teaching to journalism, these advocates attempted to make their occupations more “respectable” by requiring or strongly encouraging formal education in their fields. For example, following the Flexner Report of 1910, authorities — encouraged by the American Medical Association and, of course, the progressive media — began to close medical schools (and especially those medical schools educating black doctors) to limit practice of medicine to a relatively-small number of physicians ostensibly to raise the quality of care by ensuring that only the “top students” can be practitioners.
Professional journalists sought to do the same thing with their vocation, starting journalism schools and trying to turn journalism into an academic endeavor. During the 1920s, very few journalists had college degrees and organizations like the Society of Professional journalists (formerly Sigma Delta Chi), tried both to present the profession as respectable people engaged in “muckraking” in order to “reform” America. (When I was in journalism school during the Watergate years, many students and faculty wore “Rake Muck” buttons to proclaim solidarity with every Woodward and Bernstein wannabe.)
The Canons of Journalism stressed that newspapers (which in 1923 were by far the most dominant form of mass media) should be “independent” in their coverage, not being tied to political parties or political movements. Whether or not the press ever held to such lofty standards is debatable, as the media always seemed to take the side of state power, be it the promotion of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, U.S. victory in World War II, or the Kennedy-Johnson years in power.
For example, President Lyndon Johnson in his 1964 presidential campaign against Sen. Barry Goldwater, used the CIA to infiltrate the opposition and engaged in numerous political dirty tricks, yet the media was happy to aid the president in large part because much of Goldwater’s campaign centered around reducing the role of state power in the ordinary lives of people. (While Goldwater also advocated aggressive war against North Vietnam — the press painting him as an unstable cowboy ready to irresponsibly unleash nukes at any time – it was Johnson who escalated the war, which ultimately proved to be his undoing.)
At least the media turned on Johnson after he no longer could hide the lies about the Vietnam War and the war became unpopular. One senses today that the Woke Media won’t even question politicians that they favor. For example, there has been much news coverage about the policy in which immigration authorities separate children from their parents when picked up at the country’s southern border, a policy that the press tends to tie to President Trump.
However, Trump was continuing the policy that first was set by the Obama administration. The New York Post recently wrote about how Reuters, a news agency, and a French news agency suddenly killed stories they had earlier published “exposing” the high rate of child detention in the country. However, to their surprise, they were quoting numbers that generated from the Obama administration, not that of Donald Trump. The Post writes:
So the United States has “the world’s highest rate of children in detention.” Is this worth reporting? Maybe, maybe not. Nevertheless, Agence France-Presse, or AFP, and Reuters did report it, attributing the information to a “United Nations study” on migrant children detained at the US-Mexico border.
Then the two agencies retracted the story. Deleted, withdrew, demolished.
In other words, since the offending actions occurred during the Obama years, they didn’t happen at all. While that seems to be an extreme case, one senses that the Trump phenomenon has pushed the American media into a much more partisan mode than ever before, which is even more stark given the media’s reluctance to be critical of the Obama administration.
The hard-left move of much of the U.S. media can be seen in comparing coverage of events over the past few decades. In the Jewell case, the FBI leaked material to friendly reporters to implicate Richard Jewell in the Olympic bombing, and there was the usual feeding frenzy early in the case. The frenzy wore itself out, however, when it became clear via pure logistics that Jewell could not have done what the FBI had claimed. In their defense, media figures said that they were just following the FBI’s lead, which was true.
However, perhaps it should logically have followed that maybe, just maybe, the FBI is full of untrustworthy and incompetent, dishonest, and vindictive employees that have not earned the trust that journalists had given them. Perhaps, just perhaps, government is not full of brilliant and deducting G-Men that are worthy of the heroic treatment the media often gives them. (One excellent exception is James Bovard, who has been an independent warrior exposing government malfeasance — and has been the bane of politicians from both parties.)
But at least the media listened to reason in the Jewell case and ultimately turned in their coverage. A decade later in the infamous Duke Lacrosse Case, most of the U.S. media was craven from the start. By then, the infamous “narratives” that now drive political thinking were in full force. The media latched onto the dual themes of racism and sexual assault and even when the earliest evidence cast serious doubt on the truth of the story, American journalists continued to run in one direction until they fell over the cliff and earned a well-deserved rebuke from American Journalism Review.
(In noting the deterioration in thinking with the elite factions of the media, the Columbia Journalism Review never did an assessment of the Duke case, despite the obvious media failures and breakdowns. And while CJR did provide an assessment for Rolling Stone in the wake its disastrous story, “A Rape on Campus,” which turned out to be wholly fiction, the publication stuck to the original sexual assault narratives which drove the whole thing in the first place.)
The Covington Boys story, which dominated the media for several days in January 2019, is an account of how “Wokeness” has so infected the major media that even when the truth was right in front of them, American journalists ran with the left-wing narratives instead. Besides making life a living hell for the Covington students and their families, the elite U.S. media from the New York Times to the Washington Post to CNN proved themselves nearly incapable of being able to separate facts from narratives and created their own fiction of white racist teenage boys in MAGA caps terrorizing and disrespecting minorities. While even a cursory glance at the original video of the so-called incident was enough to make an honest person question the popular story, elite American journalists were unwilling to do even that small task.
What makes things even worse is that the NYT’s editorial page now is being used as a conduit to promote questionable historical narratives, promote huge confiscatory taxation schemes, and a very dark history of American capitalism that claims that capitalism here entirely owes its existence to the worst aspects of black chattel slavery. Yes, these are opinion pieces that ostensibly represent independent thought from intellectuals, political figures, and academic leaders, but when these writers are dishonest or terribly misleading, a newspaper as influential as the NYT should not be promoting them.
Because so many American journalists today are squarely joined to the radical left, one wonders what is going to happen to journalism here in the next decade. The so-called watchdogs of state power today are advocating for government to grab authority that would end many aspects of historical American liberty. The next step seems to be the media becoming the TASS of a future Democratic Party administration, and if we reach that stage, it is doubtful we ever can roll back those levels of state power, and we will see Woke journalism not being a barrier to state-sponsored oppression, but rather its enabler.