I’ve recently had my attention drawn to this piece by CBS News’s Will Rahn, which appeared on November 10. It’s impressive in many ways, most particularly in its heartfelt mea culpa for the torrent of press arrogance about the recently concluded election. However, I found one segment of it to provide extra food for thought:
Journalists increasingly don’t even believe in the possibility of reasoned disagreement, and as such ascribe cynical motives to those who think about things a different way. We see this in the ongoing veneration of “facts,” the ones peddled by explainer websites and data journalists who believe themselves to be curiously post-ideological.
This explanation for press smugness is actually a premise. It might not be accurate in all cases.
As Rahn says above, a journalist who believes himself to be “absolutely correct” on some political issue would naturally tend to dismiss those who differ with him. He might be tempted to call them stupid or, if he were feeling a trifle generous, perhaps misinformed. Alternately, if he were the sort to ascribe dark motives to those who disagree with him, he might do so in such a case. But what about the journalist who knows an insufficient amount about the issue to have an opinion of significance, and is aware of it? Given that he knows he cannot justify holding a firm opinion, how would we explain his denigration of those who “differ with him?”
What comes to mind immediately is the utilitarian value to the journalist of “borrowing” a firm position, specifically because it’s fiercely promoted by someone else – someone important to him. A few candidates:
- His wife;
- The editors of his news outlet;
- Important political figures who’ve granted him access;
- A candidate for office who has promised him an appointment in the event of victory.
The sort of prose such a journalist would emit on the issue in question would be just as dismissive and just as demeaning of those who “differ with him,” even though they’re really not differing with him, but with that important figure he hopes to placate or propitiate. Thus can a journalist find a reason for prostituting himself at the expense of the public he claims to serve.
It’s a sad thing to find oneself ready to disbelieve in the sincerity of others. It’s even worse when those others supposedly work to “keep us informed.” But sometimes there are good and sufficient reasons, which is why the greater part of the reading public rates the “news media” as less trustworthy than the average three card Monte hustler.