Way back in the before times, when you got news and opinion from TV, newspapers and magazines, you just accepted the authority of the source. If you were a liberal, you were required to swear oaths about the objectivity and integrity of the news media. If you were a normal person you understood that all of it was biased. Alternative sources of information, however, were thin on the ground. If you were lucky, your city still had a paper run by normal people, like the Detroit Free Press or Manchester Union Leader.
Otherwise, normal people had to read their local paper or the news magazines with an eye for the bias. Some columnists made a career out of being lefty wackos, even getting a national reputation for it. Eleanor Clift was a proto-cat lady in the 1990’s, as a barking at the moon lefty for Newsweek. The late John McLaughin would have her on as a regular, mostly because she was such a loon. In the Clinton years he nicknamed her Eleanor Rodham Clift because she was such a ridiculous Clinton rumpswab.
The thing is though, the columnists were always people who had spent a long apprenticeship in the news business. They started out as local reporters for local papers and then advanced onto bigger stories at bigger outlets. The typical newspaper columnist was a middle-aged man who had been a reporter for a couple of decades. Every city paper had a columnist who used to cover city hall, until he got bumped up to writing polemics about the people in city hall. That was his expertise.
Even the TV people had been in the business for a long time. Eleanor Clift would argue with Pat Buchanan about politics. Both had served as reporters covering campaigns, until they got columns. Their TV persona was as a columnist with expertise covering politics as a reporter for decades. They would salt their opinions with references to events they covered. That was their basis of authority. Their expertise was from long experience reporting on politics at all levels. They were professional reporters.
Whatever one wants to say for the old model of the journalism career, there was a winnowing process to filter out the extremely stupid and dishonest. The Der Spiegel scandal is mostly due to hiring a charismatic greenhorn into a prominent position, without having put him through an apprenticeship. Odds are, the people who hired him had never been local reporters or had to edit copy for a small publication. Like Claas Relotius, they popped out of good schools and the right families into elite media.
This is, of course, the problem faced by all media now. For example, this post in The Atlantic is supposed to be expert speculation about the Treasury Secretary’s maneuverings in response to the bear market. The Atlantic is a prestige publication of the ruling class that is supposed to provide informed opinion and commentary. The post, however, does not rise to the level of daydreaming. Like everything you see in the prestige media these days, it is pointless drivel written by an airhead.
The authoress is someone named Annie Lowrey. A quick search reveals she reports on politics and economic policy for The Atlantic magazine. She also went to Harvard. More important, she is married to Ezra Klein. He went to UCLA. Nepotism is nothing new in the media, but shouldn’t she be covering something for which she has some qualifications, like the Westminster Dog Show? You don’t have to know anything to report about a dog show. She just has to like dogs and being around gay men.
Of course, it raises an obvious question, how in the hell are these people getting into Harvard? It’s not hard to see why the Asians are angry about admissions. They may lack social skills, but they can do math. Ezra Klein appears to have no useful skills. If he is, as they claim, a top-1% intellect, he has yet to display a hint of it in his career as a mover and shaker in the media. His career, according to his bio, is devoid of anything that would prepare one for having an opinion anyone should consider.
It’s not just that these two have zero useful experience. It’s also that they raced ahead to take up senior positions, decades before it was normal. In the old system, Ezra Klein would have just landed a job with a major daily, covering politics. In a couple of decades, he could expect to get his own column, where he could opine about the people he covered for decades. In other words, the major media is now populated with people who know nothing useful and have not had the time to observe people who actually know things.
This is a familiar rant, of course, but the puzzle is how the mass media has evolved into a weird playground for the stupid children of rich people. One clue is the guy who runs The Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg. He is a serious guy who used to take pleasure in torturing Palestinians on behalf of his people. No kidding. His vice, however, is he likes to be surrounded by shiksas and toadies, so The Atlantic is now festooned with silly girls from good schools and young men fond of hearing Goldberg’s IDF stories.
What seems to be happening is the modern mass media selects for the ability to ingratiate oneself with the powerful. Ezra Klein has a reputation for being a world-class rumpswab, but also a ruthless courtier, who would stab his mother in the neck to gain favor with the boss. That’s how he rose so quickly in the Washington media ranks and why he is now installed in a seven figure job at a media outlet with no customers. His wife knows how to play on her boss’s vanity and inclinations.
The old joke about the new economy is you can’t have society based on everyone selling each other insurance. The modern mass media is trying to build a business model around people who wash each other’s balls. A media ball washer writes a column and the other ball washers tweet about it. The same is true when one of them writes a book. The ball washers slobber all over it, claiming it is the greatest book since the Bible. It’s no wonder that the rest of us are slowly tuning out or turning to alternative media.