WASHINGTON, D.C. -- There exists at this very moment a carefully
held secret in the American media that has thus far escaped notice by even
the most vigilant media watchdog groups. Not even the Joan Shorenstein
Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy has gotten wind of it.
The media's secret has nothing to do with its members' political
leanings, though since the time of Vice President Spiro T. Agnew -- he of
unhappy memory -- the conservatives have accused the media of left-wingery,
and more recently the left wing has had the chutzpah to accuse such media
tabernacles as The New York Times and the major networks of right-wingery.
No, the media's secret is as hidden from public eye as the
National Organization for Women's grisly initiation rights or the Vast
Right-Wing Conspiracy's command post. OK, OK that was a joke. The Vast
Right-Wing Conspiracy has no command post (now that it has the White House),
and the ladies of NOW only have a secret handshake.
The media's heretofore unmentioned secret is no joke. At the
expense of being ejected from the press corps and barred forever from
Washington's National Press Club, I shall reveal our secret. It is this:
Almost all American journalists hate every one of their colleagues; and they
do not much like their colleagues' friends or relatives, either.
There are only a few exceptions to this condition. One is Walter
Cronkite. I witnessed his benevolent presence not long ago at the White
House Correspondents' Dinner, and he obviously likes many of his fellow
journalists. Of course, he is in retirement and rarely has to spend any time
with them. Possibly there are a few other exceptions to journalists'
irritable temperament syndrome, but most journalists really do hate each
Do you recall Chris Matthews' recent outburst against Ted
Koppel's "Nightline"? And just the other day, the learned Bryant Gumbel
expressed very snooty disesteem for the fabulous Katie Kouric. Nor was
Matthews' assault on Koppel all that unique. Koppel's close call with David
Letterman evoked sentiments from his colleagues that, read judiciously,
betrayed sheerest joy at his misery. The newspaper columnists are even more
contemptuous of their fellow writers and of the English language in general.
If the members of the National Football League harbored as much
hatred for their fellow football savages as the journalists harbor for their
fellow journalists, no football game would begin without a thorough weapons
The other day, while on his tour of foreign parts, our debonair
president hissed derision at NBC News correspondent David Gregory's cliched
exaggeration of Europe's disrelish for him. He said, "So you go to a protest
and I drive through the streets of Berlin, seeing hundreds of people lining
the road waving ... " and mocked Gregory's use of French in addressing an
insolent question to French President Jacques Chirac.
In ventilating this impatience, George II was merely exhibiting
the American politicians' historic contempt for the press. Not one of his
predecessors really liked the press, except perhaps for Warren Harding; who
considered the journalists his equals, and with good reason. Yet, most
American journalists took delicious satisfaction in Gregory's humiliation.
They enjoy seeing a competitor chastised. They know he deserves it.
The typical American journalist thinks of himself or herself as
a genius. They think of their fellows as mediocrities and live in fear that
one day the mediocrities will do them in. Hence they wriggle and squirm to
one-up each other. They lift each others' best work. They pretend that no
one else in the press corps has anything to say that is intelligent or
useful and -- especially in their commentary, their columns and their
op-eds -- they pop off with no reference to any other living writer. They
Not all journalism suffers from this self-absorption and
self-contempt. The Canadian and especially the British press are alive with
intramural controversy, one journalist taking issue with the remarks of
another, one paper rushing to the support or the condemnation of another.
There are plenty of personalities within the British press. When they write
commentary, they remark on each other. It makes their writing interesting.
It makes their controversies vivid and genuine.
This brings to mind another secret of the American media. Their
journalists hate controversy. It is the rare American journalist who will
say something unexpected or prematurely accurate. Instead, the American
press travels as a herd, but it is not a happy herd. Its bovine
practitioners hate each other.