When I was just starting out as a reporter, I’d admire the many fine quotes about liberty and the responsibilities of journalism carved into the walls of the old Tribune Tower.
It was like reading the stern admonitions of the Anglo-Saxon gods.
And there was one that I read to myself every morning on the way to the newsroom.
“Where there is a free press the governors must live in constant awe of the opinions of the governed,” Lord Macaulay
Yet those who will govern Washington — President-elect Joe Biden and former President Barack Obama’s crew that Biden is installing into his administration, save Rahm Emanuel — are not in constant awe of the press.
When your loyal dog wags its tail, are you in awe? Or do you think about giving it a biscuit?
The Biden-Obama team, about to be in power again, must certainly be in awe of how easy it has been to turn Beltway journalists into partisan political operatives eager to serve.
That’s the only reasonable takeaway from the fallout of the scandal of the Hunter Biden story.
First, the ridicule and dismissal of those preelection stories in the New York Post about Hunter Biden and his questionable business dealings in Ukraine and China that were downplayed by what we now call “corporate media,” which was continuously fawning over Joe Biden as a candidate.
And then the suppression and censorship of the Post stories by Twitter and Facebook, including Twitter suspending the Post’s account and blocking links to the stories, with the Lords of Big Tech — the wealthiest and most powerful people in the world — also in support of Joe Biden’s candidacy.
Now that Joe Biden has safely been elected the 46th president, the Hunter Biden storyline is safely resurrected.
If the Post stories had been aired and circulated freely, if the Beltway media hadn’t ignored and ridiculed them, if Big Tech hadn’t temporarily suppressed them, would this have helped President Donald Trump?
Perhaps. But Trump was his own worst enemy. His bombast turned off half the country long ago. Either way, the story should not have been twisted and portrayed as a partisan fever dream.
Somehow, as if by magic, dozens of “intelligence experts” — including some who lied for years about the Russia-Trump collusion fantasy — implied that the New York Post series looked like Russian disinformation.
And this, too, was eagerly parroted by media pundits.
“This is a classic example of the right-wing media machine,” CNN media critic, the liberal (aren’t they all?) Brian Stelter was quoted as saying in a CNN story about, (what else?) whataboutism.
Others joined in, from The New York Times to Politico and MSNBC. “60 Minutes” said it wasn’t a story.
But now that Joe Biden is safe and president-elect?
Now it has legs.
Now they’re hungry for it, from that email NBC News reported on in which Hunter Biden’s business partner said he hadn’t disclosed $400,000 in income from a Ukrainian natural gas company, to speculation about whether a special prosecutor is required to get to the bottom of it.
How did Beltway journalists become Democratic Party lap dogs? Did it begin with the childlike adoration of the Chicago guy, Barack Obama, fawned over by journalists?
Or did it start years ago, with future journalists immersing themselves in the waters of identity politics at universities to become social justice warriors inside American newsrooms?
After the Electoral College certified his victory the other day, President-elect Joe Biden told America that he wanted to begin a national healing.
“Now it is time to turn the page, to unite, to heal,” he said. “The flame of democracy was lit in this nation a long time ago. And we now know that nothing — not even a pandemic or an abuse of power — can extinguish that flame.”
These are fine words, and Biden is good at delivering them.
But where are the bards who will sing the songs of Biden’s new torchbearers?
It’s awfully hard to sing with a broken back. And that’s just what the media have done to themselves in the eyes of millions of Americans. They have broken their credibility.
It comes at precisely the wrong time, as a divided nation ripped by political tribal anger and weakened by a debilitating pandemic loses whatever trust it had in the news.
Not all of journalism is broken. Not all journalists hunt down ideological heretics.
Every day, in cities and towns across America, reporters cover the news. They go into neighborhoods you wouldn’t visit, at great risk to themselves.
They cover bond court, the federal courts, the city councils; they write about victims of violence, the kids in the schools, and they faithfully report what happened.
But Washington Beltway journalists — in print and on cable television — are a different class, half servants, half palace guard.
They attend white-tie dinners, dancing and singing show tune parodies for the enjoyment of the political lords. They’re thrilled to perform.
Of all the great quotes about journalism carved into the walls of the old Tribune Tower, there was one that wasn’t there.
But perhaps it should have been:
“The power of the press is very great, but not so great as the power to suppress,” Lord Northcliffe
Listen to “The Chicago Way” podcast with John Kass and Jeff Carlin — at www.wgnradio.com/category/wgn-plus/thechicagoway.
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