Having spent the greater time of my life making a living in it, I can tell you these are grand times for the news business or what’s left of it. The news is always bad for someone or other and at times for everyone. This is meat and drink for the journalist. Good news doesn’t sell because it is usually dull except for those lucky enough to make it–the lottery winner, the lost hiker who is found, the athletic conqueror and the followers if it is a team sport, even the new parents who return to obscurity after the blessed event unless they are celebrities or related to one, in which case the tabloids dog them through life unless there are career reverses, in which case obscurity claims them as well. But good news has the duration of a firefly while bad news has a long life–months and even years. The people who will turn out to howl at the sky on the first anniversary of Trump’s election are just one example. They wept openly when the results were in. Not satisfied with his victory, the other side, its appetite for revenge ravenous, calls for Hillary’s trial and imprisonment, her disgrace being inadequate for what they perceive as her monstrous crimes. A segment of her own constituency despises her for putting the fix in during the primaries and then losing, “unexpectedly,” after the news trade had jubilantly spread the news she had the election locked up.
Like a chef in a kitchen, the journalist can mix any number of ingredients into the soufflé of bad news that make the day’s papers, the evening network news, or cable, which regurgitates it 24/7 with a spicing of invective tossed in by news personalities whose specialty that is. To name just a few at hand, there is North Korea led by a seeming madman; climate change; racial conflict; the rise of the machines which will leave all but the privileged without work, a circumstance that has already turned many to hopelessness and drug addiction; the disturbing timidity of college students who require safe places when upset by micro-aggressions all but invisible to a healthy mind; the antifas (rebranded anarchists); the gross disparities in wealth, which seem to be embarrassing even some of its possessors, though not enough; the slow devolution of the European Union back to nation states despite their centuries-long history of war and mass murders in that form; China feeling its oats as an emerging superpower and Japan planning to rearm against this threat; economists already asking one another when the present bubble of prosperity will burst; Hollywood’s beastly depravity being exposed, as it is from time to time with no lasting result, and with pedophilia likely to be the next focus; the realization that the two-party system, which has created a class every bit as permanent as the administrative state itself, and which doesn’t seem to get anything done but self-enrichment; super germs that create incurable infections; Islamic fanatics as willing to die for their religion as unquestioningly as the kamikaze pilots and barbaric soldiery of the late empire and emperor; illegal immigration leading to the creation of walls… well, I could go on and on and so could you. In ordinary times, the journalist would gorge on this feast and be satisfied that he or she–increasingly she–was performing a vital public service. But the days when journalists merely observed events and provided what we called the first draft of history are over. Now the journalist is no longer an observer but a participant in events, hoping to shape them through the way they select their stories, write and edit them, and choose their placement. The uniformity of opinion found in the news business has often been remarked on. Some might find in it a conspiracy when in fact it is only the result of group thinking of the sort you find among social workers or in another form in police forces, where the distancing cynicism about human nature once shared by journalists still exists to restrain zeal. Today’s news gatherers are ardent progressives, impassioned believers in causes that bring to mind the spirit of Communists in the ‘Thirties. At that time, with capitalism prostrate, nearly everyone in the intellectual classes (which, stretching a point, included journalists) sympathized with the Soviet Union as it strove to haul a medieval society into the Twentieth Century no matter how many millions had to die. Eggs had to be broken or the omelet couldn’t be made, that was both explanation and justification. The New York Times correspondent declined to report the deliberate famine Moscow created in Ukraine and no doubt many other crimes of the regime, and was rewarded with a Pulitzer Prize for his body of work. At that time, many if not most newspapers had conservative ownerships, but the bosses who were raking in fabulous wealth couldn’t be everywhere or inspect every article, and sly journos, who after all were members of the working class, managed to insinuate a progressive point of view into the product. I worked with an editorial writer who boasted that he presented the publisher’s occasional thoughts on the issues of the day in language so dull as to be unreadable. Being a dull man himself, the publisher didn’t notice. Today there are no conservative newspapers to speak of and only FOX is available to express that point of view, less forcibly since the crash and burn of boorish Bill O’Reilly, the right’s approximation of the barely sane Keith Olbermann, who was cast into the darkness not for his opinions or for bothering women with unwanted attentions, but because he was so unpleasant that everyone he came in contact with ended up hating his guts. FOX’s cable audience, however, is miniscule compared to the mighty networks, which are strongly liberal in orientation, not to mention the noisy choirs at MSNBC and CNN that gave up even the pretense of objectivity at some point. Objectivity was the ostensible goal of journalism in the past, but that fantasy was abandoned long ago. Now the media boast of their partisanship. “Democracy Dies in Darkness” the Washington Post proclaims in its new slogan. It offered me a month of free readership, but I canceled after two days because it read like a reverse of the wall poster days when Mao led the country in The Great Leap Forward. Instead of extolling The Great Steersman as the Chinese media were required to do under the penalty of being sent to the countryside to suppress weeds with hoes or to bring in the harvest, the Post was stuffed with stories hating on Trump. Or Mr. Wiggy Piggy to use one of the many names the left has for the president.
But my point is not the present prostitution of the press, but the amazing persistence of this kind of bad news that is found in declining empires over the past three thousand years. They last on average 250 years, or ten generations, before they collapse. The United States is 234 years old, so it would seem we’re right on track.
Up next, as they say in TV news, is what happened back then happening now? Hint: the worship of celebrities is a tell-tale symptom of social degradation and civilizational collapse. Seriously, you guys.