Why pundits should stop blaming 'the media'
The media is treated like a monolithic entity — and its top critics are often card-carrying members
In his latest op-ed for The Washington Post, conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer argues that President Obama's inaugural speech, which laid out a progressive agenda for his second term, revealed that Obama has been a big-government liberal all along, not a moderate who sought bipartisan solutions to the country's greatest problems. Furthermore, Krauthammer says, Obama has long pulled the wool over the eyes of a clueless media, which is only now awakening to his true nature:
The media herd is stunned to discover that Barack Obama is a man of the left. After 699 teleprompted presidential speeches, the commentariat is still oblivious. Until Monday's inaugural address, that is. [The Washington Post]
Let's leave aside the merits of Krauthammer's argument, and focus for a moment on the notion that the media has been complicit — in this case, through its sheep-like willingness to believe anything it is told — in facilitating the image of a centrist Obama. Krauthammer speaks of the media and the commentariat as if he didn't belong to them, when in fact he is using one of the country's largest print and internet platforms to make his argument. Krauthammer is one of the most influential voices in the pundit class, and his views are projected megaphonically throughout the media ecosystem. He is also a regular guest on Fox News, which is the most popular cable news channel in America.
In other words, a very large chunk of the media, including Krauthammer, has pegged Obama as a crypto-socialist for the past four years. The notion that the media is monolithic is so anachronistic as to be laughable. The atomization of the media, which has enabled voters to choose their news as if they were ordering takeout, is a hoary old story at this point. And yet Krauthammer and others (on both sides of the political divide) continue to bang away at that drum, which in effect transforms the so-called media into something else: A bogeyman, a ghost, the stuff of paranoid fever dreams.
Of course, conservatives aren't the only ones who lambast the media as if it were some demonic overlord. Glenn Greenwald, columnist for The Guardian, has made a career of blasting members of the media for being mouthpieces of the rich and powerful — when he himself is a media giant with a devoted following. Other prominent liberals, such as Paul Krugman at The New York Times, have lamented the media's tendency to make "false equivalences," the idea being that the press bends over backwards to include bogus Republican talking points in the name of "balance." Krugman's argument, which will hop from the front page of The Huffington Post to your Facebook account, is being made from a media perch that is as powerful as any other.
The media, at this point, doesn't even exist as a coherent idea. Is it the editorial board of The New York Times? Reporters who live in Washington, D.C.? Anderson Cooper? Matt Drudge? Aren't they all just voices — some big, some small — in an increasingly raucous and fractured atmosphere that encompasses print, television, radio, and the internet? If so, ascribing blame to the media is a lazy and tired trope.