by Victor Davis Hanson
If we lived in a fair and just world, most of the current media would simply go away and try something else.
The problem is not that reporters are human and therefore sometimes err. The rub is not even that they are poorly educated or rarely write well.
We also expect officials to leak one-sided stories and then the media to print them without edits. These are all things baked into the media cake and the public understands, even if it does not quite accept them.
The crisis instead is that they are now almost always wrong, and predictably wrong because they are lazy and biased – and they deny it to the point of self-delusion. The result is that, for all practical purposes, journalists no longer exist for the general public as sources of news.
More than half the country now assumes that the New York Times, Washington Post, NPR, the networks, and the cable news outlets are culpable not of merely failing to tell the truth but of being incapable of telling the truth. Even if they wished to, or had the skills to report empirically and dispassionately, they simply cannot, given their investments in the progressive agenda, and its investments in them. In other words, they are owned – creatures of that agenda.
Nowhere has the media nadir been clearer than in the case of ol’ Joe Biden from Scranton.
He may have once bragged on tape that he got a Ukrainian prosecutor fired for daring to investigate corruption that involved his own wastrel son, Hunter. He may have had a history of racially charged condescension, ranging from commentary on his future boss Barack Obama (“I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that’s a storybook, man”) to the purported predictable habits of Indian immigrants (“You cannot go to a 7-11 or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I’m not joking.”). He may have had a bad habit as a candidate of plagiarizing and spreading fairy stories.
No matter. Biden grew ever haughtier, nursed on media exemption.
During the Brett Kavanaugh debacle, we were told a Supreme Court nominee should be rejected because a middle-age woman, Christine Blasey Ford, claimed that as a teenager 36 years earlier she had been assaulted by Kavanaugh. She offered no accurate information on where and when, or even much about how, it happened. Her memory was not just spotty, but inconsistent and contradictory. The media not only blared that she was “convincing” and “to be believed” as well as “empathetic” and “obviously sincere,” but that all such women in her predicament should be believed – oblivious of the corner into which they were painting themselves.
None of Ford’s “witnesses” confirmed her story. Even her family seemed reluctant to vouch for its veracity. But her instant fame did prompt a host of imitators to come forward with even more lurid accusations. All were found unconvincing and some even were demonstrably lying, but many were initially reported as credible.
The media narrative concluded that the unbelievable Ford nonetheless was a folk hero because she alone had dared to try to abort the appointment of a conservative Supreme Court judge, empowered by the new mantra “women must be believed” – as in any accusation of male impropriety is fact.
Nemesis Meets Biden
Then Nemesis landed on Joe Biden – a former loud adherent to the view that the accused has absolute credibility in such sexual harassment charges. Biden now found himself in the role of Kavanaugh, but without the latter’s clear evidence of innocence.
A former aide, Tara Reade, came forward with far more detail, corroboration, and exact memory than did Blasey Ford. Unlike Kavanaugh, Biden had a prior, sick “handsy” habit of serially whispering into the ears of unsuspecting women – many teens and pre-teens – sniffing and blowing in their hair, and squeezing their limbs and shoulders – and continued his creepy habits given his reliance on three-decades of media exemption.
No matter. The media, as it had in the Kavanaugh case, and for most of Biden’s career, did the political calculus and found Biden too viable to wound. Translated: its own embarrassing double standards paled in comparison to preventing a disastrous Bernie Sanders from being the nominee, and to the object of defeating Donald Trump.
But hypocrisy was operative for the media only up to a point of practicality, not morality. After all, it was one thing to protect the sexual harasser Joe Biden from inquiry about sexual assault and to ignore his female victims – if Biden, the nominee, could defeat Trump. But it was quite another to shield Joe Biden, an increasingly enfeebled candidate, who might ensure Trump’s election.
So, Nemesis was not through with Biden. In fact, the goddess apparently had only just started.
For most of 2017 and 2018, the media ran with the narrative that President Trump was crazy, mentally impaired, and should be removed through the invocation of the 25th Amendment. Remember, this was the era when the voting machine farce, the attempted subversion of the Electoral College, the first impeachment vote, the Emoluments Clause gambit, Stormy, and Michael Cohen had not provided the promised magic bullets to mow Trump down. Even the ongoing coup of framing Michael Flynn, rigging FISA court warrants, and launching the Andrew Weissman witch hunt under the figurehead of Robert Mueller, was not working.
Many followed the media’s “Trump is nuts” gambit. Yale psychiatrist Bandy X. Lee came forward to insist before Congress that her new telepatient Trump was crazy. Indeed, Dr. Lee’s diagnosis was that he should be removed from office as a “danger to the species”—a remarkably unprofessional assessment since Lee had never even met Trump.
Lee was deified by the media in the way that Ford had been. She was perhaps just as off-putting but, again, usefully so. Thereby, the media also championed the controversial idea that Ivy League psychiatrists from afar can declare presidents demented enough to be removed, and all women who accuse politicians of sexual assault are de facto credible.
The FBI’s acting director Andrew McCabe and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein got caught up in the media frenzy and went so far as to envision an ad hoc sort of putsch by tapping Trump’s private conservations in hopes of proving he was non compos mentis. In response to the hysteria, Trump stooped to take the Montreal Cognitive Assessment test. He aced it.
But by 2019 the Democratic front-runner Joe Biden clearly was unable at times to remember where he was, who was in his midst, and what he was supposed to say and do. Biden even more bizarrely began attacking random questioners on the campaign trail, calling them a “liar” and “fat” and more strangely a “lying dog-faced pony soldier”—a phrase even the media has not yet deciphered.
Biden boasted about beating Trump up behind the gym and well before that spun ever weirder tall tales about one “Corn Pop”—a supposed inner-city thug that the brave young Joe Biden had confronted, with a chain no less! In Biden’s world, young African-American youth wished to stroke his golden hairy, tanned legs, and he added, “I love kids jumping on my lap.” At other times, he recounted defending the honor of his sister by slamming a rude stranger’s face into a restaurant counter.
Biden’s apparent cognitive disabilities were not helped by his extended layoff due to the viral shutdown. Instead of resting, he appeared even more lost, sending out bizarre video interviews from his basement in which he could not form coherent sentences and lost his place in teleprompted and scripted responses. The media, as in the matters of sexual harassment, kept quiet.
The Walls Are Closing In On the Media
Then suddenly the media concluded Biden really was embarrassing, not as a sexual assaulter, but as an incompetent candidate. He was no longer the last man standing as a savior from the Bernie Sanders debacle, but himself also a liability that might wreck the Democratic party in November.
Being a media hypocrite was one thing, but being one for the sake of a losing cause was quite another. And so finally the media began gingerly exploring Joe’s defenses against Reade’s charges of a long-ago sexual assault – in a guarded manner opposite from its earlier blanket condemnation of Kavanagh.
So far Dr. Lee has not re-emerged to call for a befuddled Biden’s removal in a fashion that is apparently once again unprofessional for psychiatrists to do. No reporters have asked Biden to take the Montreal test, much less to match his score with the supposedly impaired Trump.
The walls really are closing in on a vanishing media. We are learning now from recently released documents that almost everything the media told us about “Russian collusion” and “the Mueller investigation” was completely wrong, and knowingly false.
Christopher Steele, before he was deified by the media, was an incompetent partisan who more or less hired himself out to Hillary Clinton, who hid her hire by three firewalls. Steele either made up his dossier or cobbled it together from Russian disinformation sources who apparently found Steele a handy joke.
When recently asked by a British court to produce his notes and research documents, he admitted he could not. Like his boss, Hillary Clinton, who “bleached” away her subpoenaed emails and smashed her hard drives, or similar to the fashion in which the FBI apparently erased the text messages of Lisa Page and Peter Strzok, Steele years ago simply deleted his incriminating source “evidence,” even as he was later assuring the world that he had “meticulously documented” his phony dossier.
Was there one “fact” that the media reported during this entire collusion saga that proved true? We know now the FBI deceived FISA court judges and, in some cases, doctored written evidence to surveil U.S. citizens.
The media had variously characterized Flynn as a nut or a traitor and printed as fact self-serving leaks from the FBI that found reporters and columnists who were, conveniently, ideologically akin to themselves and thus useful idiots. Flynn was guilty of nothing more than seeing through the anemic anti-terrorist policies of Barack Obama and not being shy about it – a mortal sin and apparently one deserving of a set-up felony charge.
Fired former FBI director and serial prevaricator James Comey was lionized as a victim of Trump’s tantrums. In truth, we now know from released documents that Comey ignored evidence that Michael Flynn had done nothing to warrant an investigation. Instead, he sent his agents into the White House to mislead and deceive Flynn and, in their own words, in hopes of getting him fired or indicted. Comey’s Nemesis is that his vanity and greed have led him to television where his nonstop gab and braggadocio will probably help to make a prosecutor’s case against him.
Some of the latest revelations from newly released documents were known to Robert Mueller’s dream team—the all-stars who, the media gushed, would soon make mincemeat of Trump’s country lawyers, in the way that Harvard-swift House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) would embarrass former dairy farmer Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.). Mueller folded in March 2019, but for strange reasons much of the incriminating information that he bumped into about government abuse only now has appeared.
In the end, Mueller proved the embarrassment, his legal team leaking bloviators rather than hunter-killer team lawyers as advertised. Mueller’s legacy was that he finally fired Lisa Page and Peter Strzok, albeit reluctantly and to the end hiding the circumstances of their embarrassing departures from the team.
Despite the media narratives, it could not hide the reality that Schiff’s memo was disingenuous, while Nunes’s was factual. Schiff, who monitored the communications of some of his own colleagues in the House, now is fighting to prevent the release of witness testimonies that will likely show the media leaks of what they had said are not, in fact, what they said. In other words, the civil liberties media more or less have condoned surveilling American citizens through false warrants, FBI grandees who stage perjury ambushes, and the destruction of subpoenaed evidence.
The Learn-Nothing and Forget-Nothing Media
After the Mueller implosion, the learning-nothing/forgetting-nothing media moved on to the non-“anonymous” whistleblower, the Vindman brothers, impeachment, the “Trump lied and thousands died” coronavirus, and the lockdown-forever narrative.
To understand the media coverage of the greatest economic self-inflicted wound in American history is simple: as long the virus remains active, Trump is cast as culpable for the spread of the epidemic by not locking down the country earlier and longer; once the virus disappears, Trump caused the ensuing depression by locking down the country too early and far too long.
Every story until Election Day will serve those two master media themes. After Journolist, the John Podesta email archive, the serial CNN fables, the daily White House correspondents circus, and Trump Derangement Syndrome, no one can believe the news anymore—to the extent Americans still read and watch it.
Reporters are journalists in the sense that Hollywood still believes it has actors and real scripts, or China still poses as an important contributor to the international community, or the World Health Organization assumes it is a go-to global health resource, or the FBI Washington hierarchy is a protector of American freedom, or John Brennan and James Clapper are distinguished senior “wise men,” or Barack Obama oversaw the most scandal-free administration in history.
All these were once useful lies but now lies to such a degree that they have even lost their usefulness.
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Victor Davis Hanson is an American military historian, columnist, former classics professor, and scholar of ancient warfare. He was a professor of classics at California State University, Fresno, and is currently the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He has been a visiting professor at Hillsdale College since 2004, and is the author most recently of The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict was Fought and Won (Basic Books).