“Why do you embarrass journalists the way you do?”
I get some form of this question –or a more direct condemnation– after every interview like the one I conducted Monday with The Huffington Post’s “Senior Political Economy Reporter” Zach Carter.
First, you should know I’d never heard of Carter until he decided to misrepresent what Vice President Cheney said on my show last week. (The audio and transcript of my interview with the former vice president are here.)
But if he intended to draw attention, he did –just not to his better talents, and he must have some, given that he is the “senior” political economy reporter at HuffPo.
I ask my journalist guests a few standard questions when they first appear on the show. I almost always ask about Alger Hiss because the answer provides a baseline as to the journalist’s grasp of both modern American political history and to a crucial fault-line through it. (Don’t think so? Don’t trust me. Trust President Obama’s legal guru Cass Sunstein.)
I also ask if they have read some basic texts on the war on terror, the most important of which is The Looming Tower by the New Yorker’s Lawrence Wright. It is almost journalistic malpractice to opine on any aspect of the West’s conflict with Islamist radicalism without having read Wright’s work, which won the Pulitzer Prize and which is the standard text. I’ll run through a few less well-known titles but which are familiar to my radio talk show audience and thus help signal to them whether the guest is worth listening to. They are mostly listed at what I call My Necessary Bookshelf. (I say “mostly” because I don’t list the novels of Daniel Silva, though increasingly I think they are part of the necessary course of reading to be even minimally qualified to speak of terrorism and what the world faces.)
Until colliding with Mr. Carter I had never thought to ask if a young journalist who presumed to comment on the war on terror if he or she had ever heard of A.Q. Kahn. I assumed…well, there’s the rub. I always assume that young journalists would not dare opine on the war without a basic knowledge of the existential threat at its core, and the origins of that threat.
Perhaps a college newspaper editorialist would do so, but not a “senior political economy reporter” for a major political outlet like HuffPo.
I was wrong.
And that’s why I ask the questions I do. To expose the utter ignorance at the core of so much of the left. Not their rottenness. I often say their is a difference between “rotten” and “wrong,” and I believe that. Some on the left are wild-eyed fanatics and awful people.
But most of the lefties I engage with seem perfectly pleasant if also wildly ill-informed and, yes, lazy.
It is hard work to read widely and broadly, and on both sides of the political aisle. Time consuming. Not very fun actually.
But necessary. If you intend to be taken seriously. More importantly, if you intend the country to endure. Most journalists go into the business because they are idealists of one sort or another and they love the whole “first draft of history” stuff. What journalists collectively do is crucial, because lousy reporting leads to lousy voting, the consequences we see now on full display across the globe.
Perhaps Mr. Carter and his friends think the world around them is all George W. Bush’s fault. After all, they were in high school when the towers fell, and junior high when Bill Clinton struck at the installations believed to house Saddam’s WMD.
Still, I was in high school when Nixon resigned and I know very well what he did wrong and though I admire him greatly, can explain those wrongful actions in detail.
I would not go through life ignorant of key facts, especially important facts. So many of the people writing under bylines are willing to do just the opposite today. It cannot end well when a free people are choosing leaders based upon the reporting of a class of people both biased and blind as well as wholly unaware of both or if aware, unwilling to work at getting smart enough to do their jobs well.