Norah Vincent has a new blog, and she complains straightaway that the trouble with the media is that they’re too doctrinaire! Not “ecumenical” enough. No, seriously:
Why does not a single sustainable and consistently non-doctrinaire editorial/op-ed page exist in any newspaper in this country? (The Washington Post is the closest we come.) Why is there not a single opinion journal or magazine out thereon the web or in printthat truly cant be pegged as liberal or conservativeand usually rigidly so?
Every publication has a mission, and none of them is, as one editor I know called it, ecumenical. Theyve all got an agenda, a bias, a slant, and in some cases a virtual campaign of rhetorical terror that would hark back to the days of yellow journalism, if only it were so honest.
Passing briefly over “a virtual campaign of rhetorical terror,” which is in pretty bad taste, we see a startlingly naked plea for what Harold Ickes once called “a wide-open mind.” It is not possible to approach a topic de novo, and it wouldn’t be advisable even if it were. One reasons about politics, or any other subject, by applying some general principles to the matter at hand. These go by many names, pejorative and otherwise — agenda, slant, bias, ideology, doctrine, dogma — sometimes they’re true, sometimes false, but principles are still indispensable. Now it is perfectly just to complain that certain publications — let’s say The New York Times — hide their ideology, or are so smug as to believe that they have no ideology, because everyone (who’s anyone) thinks the way they do. (Vincent aptly names this “The Echo Chamber Effect.”) This isn’t her chief gripe, however. She cites The New Republic and National Review by name. Both of these magazines have an ideology, but neither exactly skulks about in disguise. As for The New Republic, which Mickey Kaus accurately describes as “left on welfare, right on warfare,” is it rigidly liberal or rigidly conservative? How about Reason? The Atlantic? Slate even?
Vincent proceeds to claim that people who own opinion journals are actually interested only in lobbying politicians and buying votes:
Private money keeps most journals going, and not even a multi-billionaire with nothing else to spend his thrift on is going to waste millions every year on something so noble as ideas for their own sake. Thats not what his magazine is for. Its to further his ideological agenda and, if all goes according to plan, to buy hefty political influence in one of the few remaining ways that John McCain wont ever be able to get his hands on. Opinion. Real votes are being bought. Real politicians being lobbied. Thats the only thing that makes these journals worth the money their owners spend on them, I suspect.
Turns out people write opinion pieces in magazines and newspapers to persuade readers to change their, uh, opinions. And this whole sneaky process is bankrolled by the owners, who may even have “ideological agendas” of their own. Golly, I never knew.
According to Vincent, though, we readers are too stupid to change our minds anyway:
The sad truth is that most of us subscribe to magazines and newspapers because we need them to tell us what we think. Remember the voir dire process when you went to do jury duty? Did the lawyers ask you what magazines you subscribe to? If so they did it because its a thumbnail, and for my money, a remarkably reliable way, to get a sense of who you are and what you think. Most of us dont want to be challenged. Were not intellectually secure or curious enough to want to know what the other guy thinks.
Alert to my multi-billionaire readers, and you know who you are: don’t bankroll newspapers and magazines! You’re wasting your cash!
But enough. Vincent has objectivity exactly backwards. It consists in examining your principles, changing them if necessary, making them explicit, and applying them rigorously. “Balance” and “ecumenicism” are J-school bugaboos. Give me more good honest ideology, not less.