The Media Have Turned Into Bottomed-Out Drunks
Is rehab still an option?
Our media has hit rock bottom. They have become like drunks who go on a two-week bender and wake up in a ditch in a town they don’t recognize. Their only hope is to slowly claw their way back to a life where they are not shunned, distrusted and avoided.
The implosion of the press over the last several years has been the final act in a story that resembles the stories that recovering addicts tell.
The Story Arc of Addiction
Anyone who has spent any time in Twelve Step programs knows the general outline of the addict’s tale. There is part one — the person grows up as a regular person, that is to say a human being with the same joys and challenges as everyone else.
Then there is the magical first encounter with booze. The world flashes into a euphoric, bedazzling place, absent any pain or suffering. There is the attempt to maintain this state of being, of sustaining and recapturing that magic. This can go on for decades. Then comes the downfall. Booze is no longer a want, but a need. The poor drunk can’t function normally without it. Accidents happen, relationships and marriages are shattered, health suffers.
Finally there is an embarrassing or catastrophic event that makes reality impossible to ignore. The drinker has lost control and will not survive without serious, honest self-examination, and prayer. If he’s honest, the drunk can admit his mistakes and start to recover.
Will the Media Admit They Have a Problem? That Life Is Unmanageable?
There is an analogy to this story in the history of the American media over the last 50 years. For most of the 20th century, the press was liberal but also skillful and responsible. Communists like Walter Duranty balanced out by better reporters like Edward R. Murrow and Walter Lippmann. Mistakes were made, but there was a code of honor, a core integrity that made it necessary to issue corrections and make every effort to represent people accurately and humanely.
Then came the first drink — Watergate. The 1970s scandal that drove Richard Nixon from office was a great party. The atmosphere in the media and on the left was glamorous, filling writers with a sense of intoxicated invincibility. Read Batya Ungar-Sargon’s new book Bad News: How Woke Media Is Undermining Democracy. She recounts how journalists went from working-class Joes who covered foreign wars or boxing bouts to elites who attended the Ivy League and congregated at cocktail parties in Georgetown and Manhattan. Being a journalist was suddenly sexy.
For the past 50 years, the press has been trying to replicate the buzz from Watergate. Journalism is no longer a way to convey news from your community to the masses. It’s a means to destroy someone powerful and become a celebrity. Just as an alcoholic will start to cut ethical corners and need more and more booze for less and less effect, reporters post-Watergate became sloppy and even disinterested in facts. There was Stephen Glass, the UVA rape hoax, and New York Times fantasist Jayson Blair. Mistakes and lies became more and more common.
Trump Broke Them
For the media, the arrival of Donald Trump represented the mad final lap in end-stage addiction. That’s where the drug has completely taken over the user’s body and soul. The moments of bliss are harder and harder to capture despite the oceans of booze put to the task. Still, there is no stopping now. Just the idea of impeachment or removal from office was enough to blow through any and all guardrails, like presenting a boozehound a glittering bottle of Johnny Walker Blue.
The Russia dossier, a sordid collection of lies about the president that was created by Hillary Clinton and her bootleggers, was pure backwoods grain alcohol. The kind of stuff that could make you go blind. It didn’t matter. To reporters there was still that sweet, distant memory of Watergate. That first high which cracked open the sky five decades ago. Like Gatsby gazing at the distant green light across the river, there had to be a way to recapture that magic. Even if it meant reckless shortcuts, ethical compromises and outright lies. When President Trump nominated a respected judge for the Supreme Court, the media accused the nominee, without evidence, of gang rape. There could be no coming back from that.
Waking Up in a Turkish Jail
Now the final catastrophe has happened. The Russia dossier, a political dirty trick whose intent was to bring down a president — and which was promoted nonstop by the media — has blown up like a rickety country still. Far beyond simply irritating or annoying others, which was part of its job for decades, the press is now considered capable of genuine evil. Like the fellow barflies who are shaken into a reluctant moralism when the drunk at the corner starts slapping his wife, even The Washington Post and The New York Times are trying to cut off the more reckless reporters who created the dossier debacle. Last call, lads!
Still, like all drunks who have found themselves in such a spot, the press has a way out. It’s sometimes said by sober people that “you don’t have to relearn the basics if you never forget the basics.”
Fairness. Accuracy. Integrity. It ain’t sexy, and it ain’t glamorous.
On the other hand, it does prevent you from blacking out and waking up in bed next to Igor Danchenko.
Mark Judge is a writer and filmmaker in Washington, D.C.