Journalists “find a renewed sense of mission,” reports The New York Times.
That’s nice. There is some truth to this. And it’s not fake news.
With the election of Donald Trump to the presidency, journalism, in a typical pattern of self-congratulatory excess, has dusted off an old cliche to announce that it is once again “speaking truth to power.”
Behold. That which was lost has now been found.
But it isn’t exactly like setting out on a long and frightening sea voyage to find an undiscovered country, is it? Because finding a renewed sense of anything suggests that you might have misplaced the darn thing in the first place.
Losing your mission might even be worse than losing your car keys, stomping about the house and desperately demanding answers of your kids, the dog, only to realize, sheepishly, that the stupid keys are right there in your stupid hand. Yes, I’ve done this.
And finding your mission again might be like another cliche, that of the adult finding a beloved childhood toy in a bedroom closet in his parents’ home. It’s right there in the dark, in a box, a stuffed animal perhaps (mine was Morgan the stuffed dog) or a fire truck, a princess doll, anything that could fit into another sequel of the “Toy Story” franchise.
There are happy tears at such times of lost toys, even in the dark of a theater sitting next to your children, or in the silence of my old bedroom with a faded White Sox pennant on the wall and a dusty Morgan in my lap.
But this business of finding a renewed sense of journalistic mission poses an awkward, unanswered question.
Just where was that sense of mission for the past eight years?
You know where it was. It was in polite hibernation, on its back, with President Barack Obama in the White House.
When he was elected, there were happy newsroom tears of real joy for America’s first black liberal president. It wasn’t contrived emotion. It was real, and there was much bonding over a sense of accomplishment.
But there is a cost to powerful emotional connections with a politician. Love of a president can blind, but so can hatred of a president. And in the land of the blind, things tend to get lost, like journalistic mission.
Now Trump is president, and news consumers can plainly see the old mojo is back, with absolute vengeance. There are eager fact checks and story after story to counter Trump’s loud and vulgar bragging, his use of alternative facts, his bald lies. Trump is an extremely bad liar.
But all politicians lie, and the best ones lie seamlessly to those who adore them, and expect to be defended. Think of some of the things we heard from the previous White House occupant:
If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. The IRS wasn’t used to target conservative groups. The Americans who died at Benghazi were killed as the result of a video. The first I learned of Hillary’s unsecured home-brew email server was from watching the news.
Now journalists are at the barricades once again, like those idealistic students of Paris in “Les Miserables,” protecting us against the orange-haired barbarian they so very much despise.
And they also seek to protect America against his populist army, that forgotten working class that sent him to Washington and that frighten them so very much.
Trump despises his media critics, and in his raging narcissism, shrieks that what we call the establishment media is “the enemy of the American people,” and this only encourages them to hunker down even deeper into their Left vs. Trump bunker.
Yes, the criers of Beltway news are on the political left. But that’s like saying rain is wet. Where’s the surprise in this?
Modern American liberal journalism might not believe religion has a place in the public square, but it has a deep abiding faith, in government to accomplish the good. And there is the danger.
Because if journalists were truly intent on speaking truth to power, they wouldn’t be defending the unelected rulers of America:
The unelected and unaccountable federal bureaucracy is true power. The federal governmental leviathan is the faceless vanguard of the status quo. It is the vast hiding place of our modern American Kemalists, who are at once the servants of empire and its quiet rulers, and they will not relinquish power easily.
Trump was sent to Washington by the majority of the states and by his voters — those folks repeatedly mocked and ridiculed as deplorables by Beltway journalism — to break that status quo.
And the bureaucracy fights back, offering crippling news leaks and resistance against the White House — even classified intelligence leaks from the Deep State — in exchange for journalistic protection.
On the popular MSNBC “Morning Joe” program, co-host Mika Brzezinski responded to whether Trump’s attacks on the status quo were the fulfillment of campaign promises.
“Well, and I think that the dangerous, you know, edges here are that he is trying to undermine the media,” Brzezinski said, “trying to make up his own facts. And it could be that while unemployment and the economy worsens, he could have undermined the messaging so much that he can actually control exactly what people think. And that is the — that is our job.”
Later, she tweeted out that her comments were purposely misinterpreted, but I listened to it again and again and it was quite clear to me.
Controlling what people think isn’t a mere job. It’s a mission.
And now it’s been renewed.
John Kass is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Readers may send him email at firstname.lastname@example.org