Yesterday was a red-letter day. I read what I have been waiting and hoping for years to read in a major media outlet. And not in just one such outlet but two, quite independently of each other! Here’s what Ryan Clancy, writing in The Wall Street Journal, had to say:
Many Americans have this quaint idea that the job of our elected leaders is to try to pass legislation that makes a tangible difference in improving people’s lives. Much of our political class and media don’t seem to agree. They prefer politics as performance art and virtue signaling and never miss an opportunity to take something an opponent said, twist it and present it in the worst possible light. Democrats talk about Republicans—and vice versa—not as fellow citizens to be debated but as enemies to be destroyed. Increasingly the same thing is happening within the parties, as purists and pragmatists battle for primacy. . . . The rule is a ritualized cycle of outrage and denunciation that never ends and makes our government and our lives worse. It’s no wonder Americans have such a low opinion of our politics and politicians.
Could it really be that the media, even if only in this admittedly exceptional corner, were finally waking up to the damage that their obsession with scandal was doing to our politics? Er, no. Probably not.
For what Mr. Clancy was writing about was not, as a disinterested observer might have expected, the endless scandal-mongering of the media against the president in the Trump era. He may have had that vaguely in mind as well, but he doesn’t say so. Instead, the author’s specific concern is with the treatment meted out to one of Mr. Trump’s would-be challengers, Joe Biden, by certain of his Democratic rivals for the 2020 presidential nomination and their supporters over his admission that he used to get along rather well, even to greet on friendly terms, certain fellow senators whom, since leaving the Senate, the media have identified as having been among the “enemies to be destroyed” in our public life.
Nor does Mr. Clancy mention the fact that he once wrote speeches for Mr. Biden. His argument is a powerful one, but not nearly so powerful as it would have been if he had been writing about a politician he opposed rather than one he agreed with—since the latter case makes it sound just a bit too much like special pleading. The same is true of the other example mentioned above, which comes from an editorial in London’s Daily Telegraph:
What we’re experiencing in Britain right now isn’t a political conversation, just partisan groups shouting at each other, refusing to listen and assuming the absolute worst of the other side. It’s part of a trend across the West, where polarisation and identity politics have replaced the old liberal consensus . . .
Unfortunately, the occasion of these remarks was a particularly absurd scandal involving Boris Johnson, a politician of whom the Telegraph has been more supportive than almost anyone else in the British media and who, in spite of the scandal, looks likely to become Britain’s next prime minister in a month’s time. He is also the last hope for Brexit, of which the Telegraph is likewise generally supportive, and that makes him a prime target of scandal-mongers in the rest of the media, which is mostly hostile to the Brexiteers.
It might just be worth briefly retailing the latest Boris scandal. It seems that he spilled some wine on his girlfriend’s sofa while staying in her London apartment. This led to what the British call a stand-up row with raised voices on both sides. Now the woman in question, Carrie Symonds, has some neighbors who are numbered among the legion of Boris-haters—almost as thick on the ground there as Trump-haters are here. These neighbors, feigning concern for Ms. Symonds’s safety, not only called the police but managed to record the raised voices—could they really have been raised to that extent?—and then sent the recording to The Guardian newspaper, the house organ of both the I-hate-Boris and the I-hate-Brexit clubs.
As you can imagine, the furor in the national press was not limited to The Guardian. Under current media rules—or, rather, lack of rules—this blatant invasion of privacy was a big, big story. As it involved sex (Mr. Johnson is also divorcing his wife), the police, and putative (though, of course, not actual) violence, it was even bigger than Mr. Biden’s long-ago friendship with Senators Eastland and Talmadge and even more ripe with opportunities for self-righteous media folk to pronounce on the scandalous one’s unfitness for leadership—while accusing anyone inclined to protest about such treatment of regarding domestic violence lightly. The disingenuousness of such a charge ought to be obvious, but then there are a lot of things that ought to be obvious but aren’t, beginning with the media’s bad faith in promoting scandal only against those whom they dislike for other reasons.