The Democratic Party: a sub of the news media

Summary: We get our news from journalists, a vital input to America. A news media tied to one party is a broken institution. James Bowman looks at the consequences.

No matter how high tech, it’s still partisan and biased.

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The Democratic Party – a wholly owned subsidiary of the news media.

By James Bowman at his website, 2 May 2019.
Posted with his generous permission.

The biggest mistake conservatives make is to suppose that Democrats control the media. In fact, the power relationship is the other way around: the media control the Democrats. That, I would argue is the legacy of Watergate. Since then, the media’s self-conceit that they brought down the Nixon presidency, though not quite true, has been true enough for them to reap the benefit and, with it, the right to lead the Democratic caucus when in opposition. That’s why the opposition has so often taken the uniquely media-friendly form of what Bill Clinton once called “the politics of personal destruction” – and Oliver North, before him, called “the criminalization of policy differences.”

The result has been that the media have also, to a greater or lesser extent, damaged or destroyed all subsequent presidencies as well – except that of President Obama, who was so far their creature as to make plausible Joe Biden’s boast that his administration was scandal-free. Of course the former vice-president is himself little more than a media sock-puppet, so he naturally adopts the media’s point of view, which is that scandal can only be what they say it is. With that power in their pocket they could make anyone scandal free, even Joe himself who doubtless looks for similar treatment to that of his former boss as a reward for being so compliant.

At any rate, he is already getting it. Just look at today’s New York Times headline: “Biden Faces Conflict of Interest Questions That Are Being Promoted by Trump and Allies.” In that sentence,“That Are Being Promoted by Trump and Allies” is what, if you are as old as I am, your English teacher used to call a “restrictive” or a “defining” relative clause – which means that the “Questions” in question are not, in the headline writer’s view (or, by implication, that of the article itself) real Questions, Questions independent of who is raising them, which would otherwise be an incidental matter. No, they are only “Trump and Allies” Questions – “Promoted” in their own interest rather than raised, as decent folks would raise them, and therefore safely to be disregarded by all right-thinking Times readers. These need only to be told that those dastardly Republicans have now stooped so low as to try to tar with scandal one belonging to the apodictically scandal-free party.

Now politicians compete with each other for headlines by lending their names and reputations to the kind of conspiracy theories and other hidden knowledge that are the media’s bread and butter, though they are utterly destructive to the process of governing. Bernie Sanders was doing it as long ago as 1976, when he “floated a conspiracy theory about the U.S. government orchestrating domestic bombings for political purposes – suggesting that government agencies were behind a string of attempted bombings across the country.” But that was when he was running for Governor of Vermont and such speculations were still mostly frowned on where the writ of the national media ran. No more.

Now the Democrats of the Senate Judiciary committee allege the most appalling crimes against Attorney General Barr to his face, in a forum supposedly devoted to congressional oversight as traditionally understood, and the media only show where such outlandish ideas come from by congratulating them for it, implicitly if not explicitly.

And, of course, even worse things continue to be said about the man who appointed him, whose toady Mr Barr is reckoned to be merely because he repeats Mr Mueller’s conclusion that the president is not guilty of the “collusion” with Russia that the media have been alleging against him for over two years. Of course the media, touched upon the point of honor as to their own truthfulness, will be duly grateful for their Democratic creatures who so vehemently defend them, even at the cost of looking like idiots – even as idiotic idiots as Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) who yesterday accused the attorney general of lying to Congress on the basis of nothing more substantial than a mendacious headline in The Washington Post.

If any Democrat may be supposed to think for herself and not to outsource her opinions to the media, it surely must be Nancy Pelosi. Mustn’t it? She it is, after all, who (according to the media) is almost single-handedly restraining the zealots of anti-Trumpery in her caucus from the potentially suicidal course of initiating impeachment proceedings against the president in spite of Mr Mueller’s failure to discover any misdemeanors, let alone high crimes, that he has been guilty of. And yet today, Mrs Pelosi took up Senator Hirono’s slander by claiming to believe that “The attorney general of the United States was not telling the truth to the Congress of the United States. That’s a crime.”

“Such an excess of stupidity, sir, is not in Nature.”
— Dr. Sanuel Johnson. Details here.

Such imbecility, as Dr Johnson would say, is not in nature. Not in Mrs Pelosi’s nature anyway, or else she could hardly have accomplished what she has in her life. No, like Senator Hirono and her fellow Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Madam Speaker is obviously playing to the media gallery. And, like them, she may be expected to be rewarded for it – if only in the muting of any criticism of her for declining, so far, to impeach President Trump. Even when, therefore, on strategic grounds the media’s imperatives encounter Democratic resistance, it is more clear than ever that the media are calling the shots.


Editor’s note

For another example of the rot Bowman describes, see this excerpt from Matt Taibbi’s new book, Hate Inc.: Why Today’s Media Makes Us Despise One Another, coming out soon.

Bowman describes the decay of a vital American institution.
It is happening across our society.
For a broader explanation, see A new, dark picture of America’s future.

James Bowman

About James Bowman

Bowman is a Resident Scholar at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

He has worked as a freelance journalist, serving as American editor of the Times Literary Supplement of London from 1991 to 2002, as movie critic of The American Spectator since 1990 and as media critic of The New Criterion since 1993. He has also been a weekly movie reviewer for The New York Sun since the newspaper’s re-foundation in 2002. He has also contributed to a wide range of other major papers.

Mr. Bowman is perhaps best known for his book, Honor: A History, and his essay “The Lost Sense of Honor” in The Public Interest.

See his collected articles at his website, including his film reviews going back to 1994.

For More Information

Ideas! For shopping ideas, see my recommended books and films at Amazon.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about Info & disinfo; new media & old, about ways to reform America, and especially these …

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Honor: A History
Available at Amazon.

About Bowman’s great book.

Honor: A History.

By James Bowman (2006).

I strongly recommend reading this book about a lost but vital element from our culture. A sense of honor was a strength of the West from its earliest days. Now we have lost it. From the publisher…

“The importance of honor is present in the earliest records of civilization. Today, while it may still be an essential concept in Islamic cultures, in the West, honor has been disparaged and dismissed as obsolete.

“In this lively and authoritative book, James Bowman traces the curious and fascinating history of this ideal, from the Middle Ages through the Enlightenment and to the killing fields of World War I and the despair of Vietnam. Bowman reminds us that the fate of honor and the fate of morality and even manners are deeply interrelated.”

24 thoughts on “The Democratic Party: a sub of the news media”

  1. Mr Kummer,
    This is not anywhere near the kind of high standard of care and thoughtfulness that I had come to expect of you. To put a simple finger on it, Mr Mueller’s 400 page report was rich with evidence of misdemeanors and more, and I am sure you saw that. Mr. Bowman’s characterization of the Democratic Party as a subsidiary of the media is lazy. Both parties are messes, confused, without important leadership, and baffled by the world confronting all of us. Until recently, I have thought of you as one of the cooler heads, one of the adults in the crowd. This piece makes me doubt that assessment.
    Chauncey Bell

    1. Chris Morris

      Chaucey. You did note that the opinion piece was written by James Bowman, didn’t you? It is an opinion piece and by their very nature, they tend to be provocative. Because what you wrote implies it was written by Mr Kummer. You mention the real author in the third sentence then seem to change the subject of your complaint back to the Editor again.

      1. Thank you Chris. I understood that Kummer was showing Bowman’s comment. The way he showed it brought the interpretation to me that he thinks that the proposition that the media owns the democratic party was a comment that we should take as a direction for thinking carefully. I find that this bedfellow does not reflect well on Kummer.
        I appreciate the mood of your response.

    2. Chauncey,

      “Both parties are messes, confused, without important leadership, and baffled by the world confronting all of us”

      Yep. Hundreds of posts here show exactly that, but in different forms in each party (they’re not clones). This one looks at the Democrats.

      Nowhere does it say the GOP are wonderful, which appears to be your assumption.

      1. Thank you for your reply Larry; I am honored. I did not think you were saying the GOP were wonderful. I agree that you are speaking in an important area where there is a great deal of confusion. For me the article brought a complicated accusation, not insight into the Democrats. What struck me was that Mr Bowman, unlike for example the work of Martin van Creveld, who you regularly cite, and whose work I respect, is conflating different kinds of identities and narratives, and in conflating them brings an invitation to vilification and confusion. This kind of conflation is a major element in the rhetoric of irony and political satire. I think for example of Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal, where he proposed to end Irish hunger by starting to eat the babies that were the source of the growth in population. An enterprise (as in a subsidiary) is a long way from the abstraction we call an industry (as in the media). And in any event as Thomas added, there is little question that if we were to generalize about the “owner” of the media, it would be primarily those who are our wealthiest fellow citizens. I assume Mr Bowman is not singling out the owner of the Washington Post as the “owner” of the media that owns the Democratic party. For better or for worse, I found Mr Bowman’s article a confused voice inviting confusion and worse. If I have given offense to you in the good work you have been doing for many years, I apologize.

    3. I read every word of Mueller’s report and did not notice one example of a “…report…rich with evidence of misdemeanors and more…”.

      Mr. Bell, would you kindly cite one misdemeanor?

      1. Chad,

        Mueller’s report describes quite a few incidents that might be considering lying under circumstances that might be a crime. He seldom goes into detail or provide supporting evidence.

  2. I am curious to know what Mr. Bowman’s explanation might be for the proliferation of conservative talk radio over the past 30+ years, and the ascendancy of Fox News’ conservative prime time political commentary over the past 20+ years–both in the context of the dramatic consolidation and increasing concentration of corporate media ownership, also over the past 30+ years.

    1. Thomas,

      Good question. I assume it is a reaction to the increasing partisanship of the mainstream media.

      “both in the context of the dramatic consolidation and increasing concentration of corporate media ownership, also over the past 30+ years.”

      That’s a subject worth exploring. That does not appear to have affected the increasing partisanship – favoring the Dems – of the mainstream media.

      1. I have a different impression. Why would a shrinking oligopoly of huge for-profit media conglomorates supposedly be inclined to have a primarily liberal instead of conservative political/economic bias, as so many people seem to presume? Superficial logic could lead one to conclude they should lean conservative instead because their profitability depends on maintenance of, and loyalty to, the free market system.

        I think a better explanation–as suggested by Neil Postman in “Amusing Ourselves to Death” in 1985–is that politics and journalism have increasingly been merged into just another profitable form of show business. And what is better for ratings than a perpetual political food fight, which also keeps the masses perpetually divided and conquered, and thereby impotent as a potential threat to the Demo-publican ruling class.

      2. Thomas,

        “Why” is often the most important and difficult question to answer. But is fallacious to assume that the “media conglomerate” are a unitary entity – and have “a reason” for acting.

        They are composed for a large body of people, living in the major cities of the developed world. Their executives act for many reasons, boosting corporate profits is just one of them. And often not the most important.

        I’ve known a fair number of senior executives – in the brokerage and investment banking industries, in Silicon Valley tech companies, and in some non-profits. None of them acted in the far-sighted strategic, even machiavellian, way implied by Postman.

        Much more likely – albeit still speculative – is that they are responding in similar ways to something in their environment that they have in common: us, their audience (advertisers are their customers). Perhap we are the ones that want entertainment, so — as companies must in free markets – they provide what we want. For more about this, see Politics in modern America: A users’ guide for journalists and reformers.

        But this is America, and few will accept that analysis. Our new national motto should be It’s not my fault. We should put it on the dollar bill, since “Out of many, one” no longer applies.

      3. I don’t think they literally and consciously have to collude in order to have the effect I described. I think it can be the result of their collective pursuit of their perceived individual self-interests, and all still have a prime directive dictated by their fiduciary responsibility.

        As for them simply responding to consumer demand, I think this ignores the ways in which businesses don’t simply “find” needs and fill them, they actively create perceived “needs”–especially in the entertainment industry– and then try to generate addiction to them, again driven by fiduciary responsibility.

        And after decades of such mass psychological conditioning, it is no surprise to me if most Americans think “it is not my fault”–which also may help explain Trump’s appeal. I know of no one more than Trump who chronically claims that everything and everyone he disagrees with or dislikes is “unfair.” Bowman’s analysis above seems completely unaware of all of this–or at least completely silent about it.

      4. Thomas,

        “they actively create perceived “needs”–especially in the entertainment industry– and then try to generate addiction to them, again driven by fiduciary responsibility.”

        As I said, there is no limit to the lengths Americans will go to avoid responsibility for their actions. “They made me do it!” It is the thinking of peons. But don’t worry, a nation of peons always gets rulers.

        As Allan Bloom said in Closing of the American Mind:

        “Weber points us toward Nietzsche as the common source for serious thinkers of the twentieth century. He also tells us what the single fundamental issue is: the relation between reason, or science, and the human good. When he speaks of happiness and the last man, he does not mean that the last man is unhappy, but that his happiness is nauseating.

        “An experience of profound contempt is necessary in order to grasp our situation, and our capacity for contempt is vanishing.”

      5. The relevance of the Bloom quote in this context is not obvious to me but, in any case, I think it can be argued that just the opposite is currently true–i.e. that “contempt”, at least for “the other,” is at a cyclical high in America at the moment, but is misdirected as I described in my first comment. It is in the self interest of the Demopubican ruling class to keep the rest of us blaming each other for our problems, IMO.

        In this sense, it seems irrelevant to me whether or not “the media”–however Bowman defines it–controls the Dems or other other way around. I think this obviously ignores the influence of conservative talk radio and Fox “News”, not to mention social media, which has simply poured gasoline on the pre-existing fire described by Postman and others, IMO.

        Are Americans capable of understanding how they have been divided and conquered, instead of mirroring Trump by saying nothing is their fault? I think so, but it certainly is not going to be from reading Bowman’s piece above, IMO, which strikes me as just another contribution to the food fight, rather than some novel and useful insight that will reduce polarization.

      6. Thomas,

        “The relevance of the Bloom quote in this context is not obvious to me”

        Perhaps you don’t want to see it, which is my point. It says that to reform America we need dissatisfaction with what we’ve become, not the endless search of people to blame – as you do about the news media corps.

        “that “contempt”, at least for “the other,” is at a cyclical high in America at the moment”

        Yes, that’s my point. We are master class at blaming others.

        “Demopubican ruling class to keep the rest of us blaming each other for our problems”

        Can you describe our problems without reference to others making us doing things? We’re not puppets. We have agency.

        “controls the Dems or other other way around. I think this obviously ignores the influence of conservative talk radio and Fox “News”, ”

        Do you seriously believe that Fox News and conservative talk radio have any influence governing the Democratic Party, let alone comparable to the influence of the mainstream media?

        “Are Americans capable of understanding how they have been divided and conquered”

        You always describe us as passive objects. If so, perhaps we are best governed by others.

        “which strikes me as just another contribution to the food fight, rather than some novel and useful insight that will reduce polarization.”

        I think you are looking at Bowman’s article as if it was a mirror, and seeing only what you already believe.

    2. It seems as if you think Americans can exercise their agency in a vacuum, as if they do or should possess some form of a priori understanding of what our problems are, their sources, and what the solutions should be, and therefore should be immune to the zeitgeist which shapes their thinking and behavior–or lack of it–and everything that shapes the zeitgeist. But rather than engage in more circular argumentation, I will just agree to disagree this time.

  3. Media consolidation seems to look like competition betwixt geopolitical power centers but maybe is just information and profit carving out deals in the red light districts. Of course only the backstage operators that film, run wires, and paint the actors would know that older score.
    The talking heads bark and the caravan moves at close to C.

  4. Isaac Gaston

    I am twenty one now, and I have literally watched the news stations become increasingly open about their progandizing. It is truly a sight to behold.
    Al Jaazera is Qatar propaganda, Russian Tube is Russian, Fox is right wing populist, CNN is corporate democrat, NBC is the intelligence community, and MSNBC is just an embarrassment now. It shows just how stupid people have become.

    1. Isaac,

      That is the normal state of news. In 1700, Jonathan Swift (of Gulliver’s Travels) was a top-level political operator. He would read several papers every day, piecing together the stories for a picture of events. Which is what we do today, for the same reason. The consensus news media, with ethical standards, existing for a brief moment in time.

      See this great scene from His Girl Friday (1940), showing how reporters for different papers (with different political slants) describe the same event. Start at 47:20.

      1. Isaac Gaston

        Great movie. Much better than the bland doggerel of today’s cinemas. I truly am, on the inside, an eighty year old man.
        Jonathan Swift would have a field day in today’s invirons.

  5. The Man Who Laughs

    I shan’t argue with Professor Bowman’s interpretation, although with regards to the Democrats and the media, I am not sure who controls whom. I will say that I’ve been interviewed by the press three times, and I have yet to be quoted correctly. With the TV reporter it was misleading editing, the interview was dishonest from the get go, but in one case, with a newspaper, the guy just basically made stuff up. I talked to him about it later (I knew him socially), and he said he was coming up on deadline and didn’t have time to call and ask me what I’d actually said. (He hadn’t been taking notes at the time)

    Bias there certainly is, and it’s bad enough to make me wonder if we can really run a Republic under these conditions, but part of the problem is the low caliber of people journalism attracts these days.

    On an unrelated note, I recently scored a first edition copy of War Bugs by Charles MacArthur. It’s a memoir of the author’s service as an artilleryman in World War I. He later went on to work as a newspaper reporter. That man could write. Honestly, I doubt most of today’s journalists could have gotten hired back then.

    1. The Man,

      “Bias there certainly is, and it’s bad enough to make me wonder if we can really run a Republic under these conditions”

      The exact same observations were made about the press in Jonathan Swifts day (circa 1700) – and every generation since.

      “but part of the problem is the low caliber of people journalism attracts these days.”

      This is America in a nutshell. We are unwilling to pay much – or anything – for news coverage. But we still expect the highest quality product, worthy of our awesomeness. We get quality doctors because we pay them. If doctors had to live on advertising, imagine the quality of service you would receive.

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