Ignoring History

April 4th, 2016 · 2 Comments · journalism

By Arthur Alpert

“The Journal is complicit is helping shrink women’s access to health services (and putting roadblocks in front of life-saving stem cell research) and appears to be doing so purposefully by putting on appearances of thoroughly covering an issue, while withholding critical information.”

That was how Denise Tessier summed up her persuasive analysis here (March 24) of the Albuquerque Journal’s recent coverage of women’s health care, including abortion services.

And as I read it, I couldn’t help but wonder how does that happen? How do people who present themselves as journalists perpetrate what Denise so brilliantly described.

Oh, it would be easy to call them names and leave it at that, but that’s what they do – make moral judgments rather than try to understand. Besides, the folks we call bad or evil almost never think of themselves that way. We humans have a great capacity for messing up with excellent intentions.

So why do they do what they do?

I suspect it begins with that species of ignorance we call lack of self-knowledge.

The top of the Journal hierarchy, for that’s who I am writing about, must not know, for example, Faulkner’s oft-quoted:

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

(I’ve always assumed he said it at the Nobel ceremony. Wrong! Turns out it’s from his “Requiem for a Nun”.)

Not knowing that we live in history helps the editors ignore history, at least the parts that contradict its editorial agenda, or rewrite the past so that it buoys the Journal’s agenda.

Victor Davis Hanson is best at this chore but the daily buys the work of several other syndicated columnists (most egregiously Krauthammer, Thomas, Will and Goldberg) who themselves ignore history or adapt it to their narrow purposes.

So, for example, it would be futile to consult the Journal’s syndicated columns in search of the history of the Political Right globally or in the US.

It’s not there. The Journal never examines it. This makes a strange kind of sense, because the Journal is that Political Right. Refusing to look in the mirror may be essential to preserving ignorance.

I singled out Hanson above. He’s useful for understanding the Journal and not just for the intellectual acrobatics that once enabled him to recruit George Orwell to the ranks of the right. (Orwell was a lifelong socialist who abhorred Stalinism.)

No, what’s essential is Hanson’s amnesia (and the Journal’s) on the struggles and failures of our democratic Republic from the Founders (whose admirable Constitution diminished slaves and women), through the 19th century (including the crimes of Manifest Destiny, and Jim Crow) and into the 20th (Gilded Age, Great Depression, tolerance for fascism) and, these days, the realization by Americans across the political spectrum that democracy is fading.

What I’ve touched on is not the sum total of American history, of course, but it exists. And since “the past isn’t even past,” a newspaper that rejects it handicaps itself when dealing with the issues of the day.

And here comes Donald Trump, incorporating so much American history in his persona and campaign, a chance for the Journal to fly right. To bring history and analysis to bear on his campaign and that of his opponents, I mean, while fact-checking candidates and identifying their bankrollers.

This is what the Washington Post and N.Y. Times have essayed. It’s part of the definition of a professional newspaper.

And sadly, our statewide daily has chosen another tack. In fact, the Journal isn’t reporting on Trump, it’s campaigning against him!

Is it a newspaper or a rump political party?

And why do they object to the Donald? I’ve no answer, just questions. Do they object to Trump’s opposition to “free trade?” His acceptance of Medicare and Medicaid? Do they oppose Trump in solidarity with their allies, the Koch brothers? Is it fear that he will lose badly?

Or is it that Mr. Trump is shouting at the top of his lungs the hate, racism and authoritarianism the Journal has whispered low for the last several years?

Search me.

What’s clear is that the Journal – still lacking a wall between management’s politics and its news operation – is lambasting Trump as vigorously as it is Hillary Clinton.

Not in the editorials, mind you, but in the news and opinion pages.

Simultaneously, except for some early sniping at Jeb!, they’ve not published a bad word about Trump’s opponents. What’s that about?

Journalism, it is not.

Still, because the Journal itself remains authoritarian, not totalitarian, little points of light emerge.

Last Mon, March 28th, John Stuart Mill made an appearance in a comic strip I love for its puns, “Pearls Before Swine”.

“I thought the answer to speech we didn’t like,” said the cartoonist, “was more speech, not banning the speaker.”

J.S. Mill, the 19th century political theorist, thought truth was likely to emerge from free and open debate.

That’s not a bad premise for a newspaper. Somebody should pass it along to Journal management. Ah, but Mill was himself a product of the Enlightenment, which the Journal has yet to grasp.

What’s called the Age of Reason broke out in the 18th century, you remember. People began to question state and religious absolutism. Reason challenged faith.

Thus was modern journalism born, based on doubt leading to questions leading to knowledge and, then, more questions.

At the Journal, though, the decision-makers atop the Journal hierarchy – lacking self-knowledge – know the answers, the Truth, with a capital T. And they believe it’s their job to persuade us.

Yes, Orthodoxy and the ancien regime live on at Journal Center.

This reminder Faulkner was right when he said the past “isn’t even past,” may also explain the Journal’s pseudo-coverage that Denise found irresponsible. Its mission is to tell the rabble what to think.

That’s my surmise, anyway. What do you think?

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2 Comments so far ↓

  • Ron Zuercher

    You may have already read this book, “Dark Money” by Jane Mayer, but it is certainly an eye opener and so well researched and documented that she hasn’t been sued by the Koch brothers, yet.

    I knew I was naive, but not this naive about how big money buys the system, maybe even the Journal included.

  • Emanuele Corso

    I think, to answer your question, is we are at an interesting (“May you live in interesting times.”) moment in our history as a country or, even better, as a society. The Democratic party is now, in a philosophical shift, becoming more like Republicans in the days of yore. The Republicans for their part have devolved into a TeaParty lite. In both cases they are in a race to the bottom. This may very well be a good thing, in fact, that will see us with at least one new viable party if not two. And, what I am finding most interesting is how the NYT is squandering its reputation by under reporting Sanders and even calling into question his viability as a serious candidate in favor of their fellow New Yorker. As to Brooklynites our favorite son is Sanders.

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