by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Jonah Goldberg‘s latest National Review Online column places at least some of the blame for today’s “terrible tone” in American politics on Tom Brokaw. Not Brokaw personally, mind you, but the type of mainstream media attitude he represents.
Brokaw, an honorable and industrious man, is now playing the role of elder statesman while touting his new book, The Time of Our Lives. In it, he writes: “Slashing rhetoric and outrageous characterizations have long been part of the American national political dialogue . . . but modern means of communications are now so pervasive and penetrating they might as well be part of the air we breathe, and therefore they require tempered remarks from all sides. Otherwise, the air just becomes more and more toxic until it is suffocating.”
There’s much wisdom here. But blaming the new media environment for what ails us is an awfully convenient alibi. It suggests that the old media, of which Brokaw was a master of the universe, played no part in losing the trust of so many Americans.
For starters, when the mainstream media complains about the national “tone,” it almost invariably means the tone to their right. After the tragic Gabrielle Giffords shooting, the mainstream media reported, and liberal pundits raced to insist, that Republican rhetoric — particularly, a pictogram on Sarah Palin’s Facebook page — inspired the suspect. The evidence disproving all of that is voluminous; the record of apologies and retractions from those who reported it is comparatively scant.
At the same time, Democratic rhetoric has grown ever more extreme. Vice President Joe Biden said pro-tea-party Republicans in Congress acted “like terrorists.” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has said Republicans want to “end life as we know it.” …
… All too often it seems as if the supposedly evenhanded media cherry-picks positive examples from the left and negative ones from the right. And even when they do cover ideologically inconvenient news, the passion and hysteria are nearly always reserved for the threat from the right.
Brokaw and his heirs don’t understand that such double standards breed precisely the rhetoric they find so toxic. Because the new media Brokaw laments allows conservatives to see how much important news the old media didn’t deem fit to print, they learn not to trust or respect those who wag their fingers rightward about civility — or anything else.