Meeting the Press

By happenstance we spent much of Wednesday evening in the company of some veterans of the local news media, and not once did anyone mention the government’s latest assaults on their profession. It was a friendly social gathering, with the conversation mostly devoted to the pleasant weather we’ve been having lately and a good bit of personal gossip about colleagues and local notables who were not present, but the absence of any alarmed shop talk was conspicuous nonetheless.
More than 30 years in the news business have taught us that journalists are typically as self-interested as they are self-righteous, and they instinctively regard any perceived infringement of their occupational rights as a threat to democracy and civilization. There are valid reasons for this attitude, aside from how neatly it serves a journalist’s heroic self-image, and it has usually been a popular topic of conversation in journalistic circles. In past years news of the Department of Justice snooping through the Associated Press’ phone records, treating a cable news reporter’s efforts to question sources as a criminal conspiracy, and allegedly poking around in a network reporter’s computer, along with an administration’s longstanding disdain for an adversarial press, would have been topics of inexhaustible interest at a party such we as attended on Wednesday.
The obvious explanation for the noticeable disinterest in these outrages is that they have all occurred during the Obama administration, a cause much of the press has been passionately devoted to since it was first proposed, and we cannot think of anything more convincing. Other than ourselves, one radio guy, and one outsider who has never worked for any media, everyone present at the gathering had voted for Obama or would be embarrassed to admit they had not, and had we been rude enough to broach the subject of the recent bullying of the press we suspect they would have felt obliged to defend their man against any allegations of wrong-doing. The Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative groups for audits and harassment did come up briefly, with one reporter making a brief attempt to defend the practice before backing out of that quicksand, but the conversation quickly moved on the subject of a local celebrity’s wife’s recent weight gain.
This was in Wichita, where the conservative-to-liberal ratio was probably skewed rightward by several degrees relative to the nation at large, and most of the almighty Washington-New York-Los Angeles news media seem even more uncomfortable with the conversation. The editorialists at The New York Times have done some obligatory harrumphing about the administration’s treatment of the press, The Associated Press has been predictably peeved, there has been some rallying around at the usually hated Fox Network, and the administration’s spokespeople have lately been amusingly flustered by unaccustomed hard questions, but it has all been lacking in the outraged vigor of the recent past. Compared to the clamor that would have surely occurred if a Republican administration was responsible it has been rather quiet.
Conservatives have long pipe-dreamed about the possibility of the press turning on Obama, which would surely be a catastrophe for his presidency and an end to his legislative agenda, and the stark evidence of his hostility to a free press has fueled these hopes. A few hours and a couple of glasses of wine with a circle of reporters can dash these hopes, however, and the best that can be hoped for is that the press will be a little bit less adoring of the powers that be.

— Bud Norman

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