Mark Steyn On American Press Reaping What They’ve Sown
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HH: Thursday, and we begin the hour when we are lucky with the Columnist To the World, Mark Steyn. Hello, Mark, how are you?
MS: Hey, good to be with you, Hugh.
HH: Mark, I am going to have Nick Lemann on this hour, and Nick, of course, the departing dean of the Columbia School of Journalism. I’m going to ask him, as I asked Michael Shear on Monday and Jonathan Alter on Tuesday, and Al Hunt yesterday. What do they make of the Obama administration’s treatment of journalists? What do you, Mark Steyn, think of it?
MS: Well, I think this is what happens when you basically decide to be courtiers rather than reporters. Obama has a contempt for the profession. Eric Holder, his thug enforcer at the Department of so-called Justice, also has a contempt for the profession. And you can’t blame them for that when you look at what they did, the media did for Obama in 2007-2008, the idea that this, that would command any respect with a fellow whose poodle you’re volunteering to be, is completely absurd. So in a sense, I feel the media brought this upon themselves. It’s a very great loss for America, because the press is basically the one industry whose freedom is specifically guaranteed in the Constitution, and because they basically tossed that out of the window themselves, they’re now reaping a whirlwind from Eric Holder’s Justice Department.
HH: Mark Steyn, the best work done thus far, in my opinion, has been done by Carol Platt Liebau at Townhall.com, of course, former managing editor of the Harvard Law Review, so she’s digging into the guts of the IRS report, and Eliana Johnson over at National Review Online, again put out the scoop today that Lois Lerner’s been put on administrative lead. Don’t the big name journalists get tired of getting lapped by new journalists working on online sites, even though they’re good, like Townhall and National Review?
MS: I don’t think they actually do. I think they look on, in a sense, they look on themselves as dowager duchesses who find themselves traveling on public transport, and don’t want to catch the eye of the riff raff. When you listen to the way the grandees talk, and really, the guy you’re having on from Columbia Journalism School, is a big part of the problem here, this idea of an elite guild mentality in American journalism is why America’s newspapers are the least readable in the English-speaking world, and I define that category widely. I’d far rather read Pakistani newspapers than the average, boring American mono daily. When you look at the Chicago Tribune or the Los Angeles Times, these newspapers are disgraces to great cities. Some of the great cities in the world, and they have boring newspapers that drain all the life out of them every morning. And simply put, these, what, Columbia Journalism School elevates ethics over curiosity. And when you elevate this sort of bogus, pseudo-ethical attitude over good, old-fashioned, hard-nosed curiosity, you end up with the situation we’re in where that idiot who hosts the CBS Evening News picks up a big award for standing up and giving a speech bemoaning all the stories he and his guys keep getting wrong.
HH: And it’s curiosity paralyzed by political correctness. Here is an observation I made today, Mark. I know more about the butcher of the soldier in London less than 24 hours after it happened than I knew about Major Hasan a week, or even a month, after Major Hasan went on his rampage at Fort Hood, because the British press is relentless on this.
MS: Well, it’s the most competitive market in the world. And by the way, when I say the London papers, London is the most competitive market in the world. In a sense, that’s a kind of pre-internet observation about the print edition. Do you know what the most-read newspaper website in the United States is?
MS: It’s the Daily Mail…
HH: Ah, yes, yes.
MS: …which is a British newspaper, but actually publishes a sort of disguised American edition where you can, where it creates a kind of home page. If you log on from a U.S. computer, you get a kind of American-oriented front page. And those guys have been fascinating on Benghazi, they’ve been fascinating on the IRS thing. The idea that somehow, for some reason you have to go to the Daily Mail in London, Lord Rothermere’s newspaper, I used to work for its sister newspaper, the Evening Standard, a newspaper headquarted on High Street, Kensington, run by a British viscount to find out what’s happening in the United States, that’s where, you ought to ask that Columbia Journalism School guy that. Why is that the situation American newspapers are in? Even with the internet, even without new delivery…the delivery system is not the issue. The product is the issue.
HH: How do they manage to find a jihadist who will go on? It’s a Brit newspaper guy, a Brit IT reporter feeding into CNN, who found a jihadist who’s unapologetic about killing the soldier. We’ve never, I’ve just never seen anything like that on American TV, unless it’s picked up from a British reporter working in London. How can they do it, and we don’t go right to the essence of the story?
MS: Well, I think there’s a greater appetite. Political correctness has infected Britain, too. You see it in that appalling statement that the Prime Minister gave, and you see it in the appalling coverage of the BBC, for example, which mentions salient facts like Allah u Ahkbar fairly deep into the coverage. But among newspapers, there’s still a sense that there’s a market for this angle or that angle, and that competitiveness gives them, I think, an edge when it comes to stories like this. I mean, I would be very surprised, I mean, for a start, the stories are slightly different. I mean, this guy, he didn’t just decapitate a British soldier, Drummer Rigby, in the streets of London in broad daylight. He stood there for 20 minutes until the police eventually showed up, crowing to the crowd about what he’d done. So in a sense, the triumphalism is baked in the pie, and is one of the most disturbing aspects of the story. But by the same token, I don’t think most British mid-market or tabloid newspapers would be receptive to all that eunuch coverage of the Tsarnaev brothers in Boston, where you get these bleating pieces about oh, the American dream gone tragically wrong, and why aren’t we doing more to embrace immigrants and make them welcome. I think that at a certain level, and that kind of panzified, self-neutered approach to writing, is something Columbia Journalism School is very much responsible for, and there is a lot less of that in Fleet Street, simply because it’s so competitive, you can’t get away with writing that bad.
HH: And Mark Steyn, I’ll bet you that most of my listeners, or most people who don’t listen to this show, do not know that a jihadist tried to kill an FBI agent yesterday with a knife, who’s implicated and was going to confess to the triple murder that the Tsarnaev brother was involved in. I’ll bet you they don’t know that.
MS: No, I know, because there’s a sense in which the story is presented as other than what it is. So the idea that the Tsarnaevs are somehow the stars of the story, these two cute, little Chechen Dagestani brothers who seemed so normal and American, they went to the high school prom in their tuxedo and everything, and in fact, that kind of, I mean, this isn’t anything new. I mean, it predates, in a sense, the jihad and everything. When you look at the O.J. coverage, for example, this is going back almost 20 years now, the New York Times and the Boston Globe were full of these sort of effete think pieces about what happens when an iconic racial figure goes wrong, and it was guys like National Enquirer who had done all the hard work about the bloody glove and all the rest of it. At a certain point, when it’s a story like this, as you say, about the guy attacking the FBI guy, the Tsarnaev brothers are implicated in the killing of three Jews in Boston, you want fact-based journalism. You want guys out in the street actually writing about this stuff honestly, without, as I said, self-castrating by putting it through the politically correct filter.
HH: Last question, and one I know I will ask Nick Lemann. The White House Counsel was briefed on the IRS scandal, says that she told the chief of staff, and they didn’t tell the President. Do you find that, I’m going to ask him if he finds that believable. Do you find it believable, Mark Steyn?
MS: No, I don’t find that believable, but I think, and essentially the press are asking us to believe that over on one side of the room is a figure called the president of the United States, and over on the other side of the room is this dark, sinister, shadowy entity called the government of the United States. And they have absolutely nothing to do with each other, that the President is as out of it as late period Ottoman sultans of the 1870s onward. This is completely ridiculous, but again, again, until Obama demonstrated his contempt for them by tapping their own phones, the press had no interest in actually laughing out loud at that narrative.
HH: Yeah, Bertie Wooster in the Oval Office. Mark Steyn, thank you as always, www.steynonline.com, America, for all things Steyn.
End of interview.