WASHINGTON -- So we hear this week that President George W. Bush is taking delight in the spread of the "alternative press" (read conservatives on the internet, in talk radio, in print, and at Fox) and the gentle detumesence of "mainstream media" (read liberal media, or more precisely, Democratic media). Well I join him in his satisfaction.
I have spent much of my life with journalists, beginning in competitive swimming and moving on to politics and culture. Usually, even in covering sports, the journalists have been liberal Democrats. I recall a Sports Illustrated writer who used to come out to Indiana to cover my world-champion teammates on the Indiana University swimming team. He was a very agreeable fellow, but two decades later he ended up as campaign press secretary during Al Gore's first run for the White House. Well, that is the way things have been in American journalism. From journalism one drifts into Democratic politics. From Democratic politics one drifts into journalism, often TV journalism. Think of Chris Matthews, Tim Russert and George Stephanopoulos.
Some of these journalists are very dreary duds. But others are lively. The best are energetic, curious, often intelligent, occasionally well-read. Yet I have often sensed something off-putting about them. It is as though they were members of one of those weird California cults. They seem friendly enough. On occasion they are feverishly friendly, but then one senses something else, a secretiveness, a smugness, and in many instances, a peculiar conformity. Journalists are forever breaking into dry discourses on their "journalistic ethics."
I find that odd. Why are they so sensitive about their ethics? Is it because their ethics are so elusive? Most of the time when I find myself in a journalistic controversy I do come away with the conviction that the ethics of the mainstream journalist -- the liberal, Democratic journalist -- are, well, rubbery. Consider a controversy I found myself in last month. I chaired a panel at the Conservative Political Action Conference, featuring a debate between former Justice Department official Viet Dinh and former congressman Bob Barr on government surveillance. It was an intelligent give-and-take. Conservatives are divided on this issue, revealing again that there is variety of opinion among conservatives, a variety of opinion one rarely encounters among liberals. I judged the audience pretty much equally divided, as did Barr and Dinh.