For the last few months, America’s media attention has careened from one controversy to another. In a series of previously ignored video clips, Jonathan Gruber, the architect and intellectual godfather of Obamacare, showed his searing contempt for the intelligence and judgment of Americans. The grand jury decision not to indict Darren Wilson in the shooting of Mike Brown led to long, violent nights of looting and destruction in Ferguson, Missouri and elsewhere. It girl Lena Dunham’s allegations that she was raped by “the campus Republican” while a student at Oberlin looks like a slander case in the making. Official Washington lost its mind for a week in pursuit of a low-level congressional staffer who posted a mildly critical remark about the First Daughters. Rolling Stone’s infamous UVA gang rape story has imploded, and what looked like a story of horrible sexual violence now looks more and more like a complete fabrication.
In each of these stories, two deep and consequential fault lines are evident. These fault lines aren’t about the usual left-right or elite-populist divides. They’re not solely about race or gender. They’re more fundamental — and more dangerous to the nation.
First, the once-honored and vital role of objective journalism in our society is at a crisis point. Members of the media know how reckless, sloppy, and partisan many in their field have become, but like a gambler going all-in, they keep tempting Americans to call their bluff.
The media wonders why a growing number of Americans no longer trust what they see in the news, but it’s not a mystery. The media’s customers have been burned over and over by bias, and by reporters with an agenda or an axe to grind. They’ve searched for news and information, only to be forced to piece it together on their own when the Official Media decides they’re going to ignore a story. Importantly, they’re exhausted by the constant lectures (disguised as news stories) that they’re ignorant racists, fatties, and hayseeds living in Free Market Jesus Paradise and killing the planet with their SUVs and their Walmart fashion sense.
Many reporters and editors loathe how aware people have become of the journalistic process. They can barely conceal their anger at having the public (largely conservatives) challenge what, when, and how they cover the news. Their sins of commission have been understood for decades, with a heavy thumb on the left side of the scale for either cultural, institutional, or ideological reasons. Lately though, the media’s sins of omission are more deadly to their reputation and future — and being called on them has the press in a white-hot fury.
When the media was a kind of hermetic priesthood, they controlled what Americans read and saw. If the Washington Post or the New York Times didn’t cover a story, you could bet it wasn’t going to be on the evening news. If they didn’t cover a story real people were interested in, they could put it down to news judgment. There was no effective recourse and nowhere else to get to the story. They know their business model is under existential threat, but they’ve practically declared war on the majority of their potential customers.
Today, the emergent conservative media isn’t winning ratings and running great stories to spite the legacy media; they’re running great stories because they’re news. The ratings follow. The legacy media largely produces a product they and their friends want. “Another gushing Hillary article? Can’t WAIT!” “Gosh, what Americans really need is another story on how we’re destroying the Earth and how global warming will kill our kids.” “Is Obama a great President, or the greatest President?” Legacy reporters and editors desperately miss that power to mediate the national dialogue. Even the younger ones (looking at you, JournoList and Vox) still dream of a world where they decide the national media agenda.
The second, and more dangerous fault line on display in each one of these stories is the Left’s desire for separate standards and systems across every domain, from the judicial system to public behavior to acceptable speech. It isn’t just the old liberal hypocrisy. It’s more explicit now. Obamacare fanboys want you to ignore Gruber’s admission that the entire rickety construct is built on lies and deception, because their heart is in the right place. “So what if we lied? We fooled you hicks, and what are you going to do about it, impeach the President?” The lie not only isn’t punished; it’s praised.
The racial-industrial complex of activists and opportunists who ignore young black men gunned down in Chicago’s streets move like locusts over Ferguson, pick at the carcass of Mike Brown, and demand a new system where justice depends on how the community feels, and not the facts in the case. In their world, Darren Wilson’s guilt isn’t decided by a grand jury; it’s decided by a mob. To them, he is a criminal guilty of a racist hate crime, and the evidence simply doesn’t matter. They know what they feel and want, the law be damned.
In Ferguson, black-owned stores are burned by black protesters, and it’s covered like a carnival. In St. Louis, Bosnians were assaulted and killed by groups of black teenagers, but we’re told those killings don’t count; hate crimes only flow in one direction. We’re assured one racist boob at a Tea Party rally defines every conservative, but “Burn this bitch down!” in Ferguson is just righteous anger. Tea Party rallies are dangerous, secessionist rebellion. Actual communist agitators organizing shutdowns across American cities are the heartbeat of democracy.
The social-justice complex wants a separate system of show trials, secret evidence, and stacked tribunals where any young man in college can be found guilty of the most heinous crimes of sexual violence without legal process and without the chance to clear his name. Like the Duke Lacrosse case, the men of UVA’s fraternities have had their reputations stained and scarred, but the left demands no penalty for false accusers.
Celebrities want a separate standard, and the media seems willing to grant it to them. Lena Dunham accuses a man of raping her in college, providing such granular detail that finding his name is a matter of a quick Google search, but wants to be free of responsibility for slandering “Barry” because she’s an “unreliable narrator.” After all, she’s a celebrity, a cultural icon, and a darling of New York’s and Washington’s smart young things.
Sabrina Rubin Erdely and Rolling Stone want you to believe “Jackie’s” claims to have been brutally gang-raped without confirmation, evidence, or even the most cursory due diligence. Even as the story falls apart, advocates like Zerlina Maxwell and Amanda Marcotte have shifted to the shopworn “fake but accurate” defense and accuse anyone who dares question the story as a “rape apologist.” That the accusations aren’t real doesn’t matter; they’re useful.
“Jackie” will skate into a Sandra Fluke-style media darling status, but UVA’s young men will have their resumes flagged with, “Oh, he was at UVA in 2013? Pass on that one.” Liberal writers and advocates say all rape claims must be believed without question, lest we discourage other victims from coming forward. The notable exception are victims of rape and sexual assault at the hands of Bill Clinton, Ted Kennedy, Hollywood producers, and any other prominent Democrat. In those cases, the women are just gold-digging trailer-park attention whores.
It isn’t just a double standard for behavior: it’s the evolution from the media covering what’s newsworthy to a combination of ideological cherry-picking and outright click-whoring. Elizabeth Lauten’s Facebook post on the Obama daughters produces screams of outrage and tens of thousands of media hits. Reporters flood the zone, tearing through her high school history, rifling through her trash, and mindlessly repeating charges demanding her immediate termination, all while relegating to page B14 the story of a senior Democrat staffer who pled down charges he drugged and raped at least two women.
The left’s desire for separate legal and social standards is a mortal danger to this country. The moment we have two standards is the moment we’ve abandoned the constitutional and moral grounding of this country. So far, conservatives have largely just grunted, “no” and hoped the madness will pass. It seems unlikely, and the reason traces back to the media’s problem: the political fantasy of the Left is being granted legitimacy by a media unwilling to stop picking sides and playing favorites.
The fault lines in the Republic are real. On one side, the social justice warriors are screaming for the end of a nation where one standard applies to all. On the other, it seems their cheerleaders and enablers are willing to play along until the earthquake comes.