Journalists and their liberal friends have spent a few days expressing how deeply alarmed they are by new reports of a guerrilla-style ideological campaign by Trump-aligned conservatives, the goal of which is to embarrass and discredit members of the news media by mining and publicizing their 'problematic' social media posts. In which the purveyors of weaponized outrage will be made to experience the unpleasantness of weaponized outrage:
NEW FRONT IN THE WAR ON THE PRESS: TRUMP allies say they have archived embarrassing posts by hundreds of employees of @nytimes, @washingtonpost, @CNN & others.— Kenneth P. Vogel (@kenvogel) August 25, 2019
The TRUMP allies plan to disseminate the posts in response to coverage they consider unfair. https://t.co/UqKvjyxd6w
A loose network of conservative operatives allied with the White House is pursuing what they say will be an aggressive operation to discredit news organizations deemed hostile to President Trump by publicizing damaging information about journalists. It is the latest step in a long-running effort by Mr. Trump and his allies to undercut the influence of legitimate news reporting. Four people familiar with the operation described how it works, asserting that it has compiled dossiers of potentially embarrassing social media posts and other public statements by hundreds of people who work at some of the country’s most prominent news organizations.
The publisher of the New York Times is framing this an assault on the free press, with the paper attempting to draw a distinction between journalists using such tactics and against other, and others using such tactics against journalists: "Using journalistic techniques to target journalists and news organizations as retribution for -- or as a warning not to pursue -- coverage critical of the president is fundamentally different from the well-established role of the news media in scrutinizing people in positions of power." Leave journalistic techniques to the professionals, and don't you dare turn them against us. It's a weak argument, especially considering the many examples of the mainstream media stampeding toward stories that often (coincidentally!) seem to serve and advance certain partisan narratives and agendas.
Think of CNN's doxxing threats against the guy who made a dumb meme about body slamming the network's logo. Think of the Daily Beast tracking down and identifying a random day laborer from the Bronx because he created a video of Nancy Pelosi intended to make her appear drunk. Think of the bogus pile-on against the Covington kids. Think of the obsessive news cycles about a low-level GOP Hill staffer who wrote something rude about the Obama daughters on her private Facebook page (this contrast is striking). Think of the young stars -- in sports and entertainment -- raked over the coals for their years-old bad tweets published as tweens. The notion that the press has deployed oppo research-style tactics in order to afflict powerful leaders exclusively is fanciful, as is the idea that the news media itself doesn't qualify as an accountability-worthy, extremely powerful entity.
Now, do I think it's a healthy proposition to compile dossiers of thought crimes and problematic conduct against journalists, especially as a means of exacting revenge for unfavorable coverage? Absolutely not. It's a clear intimidation tactic, and it's very gross. I've also been very consistent in my opposition to outrage culture and competing scalp-collection competitions -- co-authoring a whole book on the subject. But it's quite a spectacle to watch the media whine, as if they're a protected class, about their own methods being weaponized against them. They're supposed to be the weaponizers, after all. Also, their self-absorbed "protected class" mentality has glaring ideological exceptions. Even the Times piece acknowledges that Media Matters, a relentless attack dog funded by the far Left, 'helped pioneer' seek-and-destroy tactics against right-leaning media figures. They've done so for years, with nary a peep from their press allies.
One of the Times reporters who co-wrote the story excerpted above tried to argue on MSNBC earlier in the week that Media Matters is still what different because they tend to target high-profile people with the biggest platforms and megaphones. But that's just not true. They've had a file on me for years, and I'm hardly Sean Hannity. Sure, they prioritize their demonization campaigns, often aimed at advertisers, but their sad scriveners toil away, churning out outrage against conservative journalists and commentators of all stripes. Has this years-long practice constituted an "escalation" of an "ongoing campaign against the free press," as the Times' publisher labeled the new pro-Trump effort? Or are the rules different for people in the media who don't share the Times newsroom's the hive-mind liberalism? As is often the case, Allahpundit nails it here:
The press has legitimized social-media spelunking to embarrass people whose social and political views are far less culturally influential than editorial staff at the New York Times...Calling out reporters for their social-media posts isn’t an attack on the free press, it’s the same sort of “accountability” lefties practice against Fox News routinely. If right-wing operatives uncover a bunch of racist/sexist/prejudiced public statements by staff at a newspaper that purports to be a watchdog for those same sins in other powerful people, then it’s not the operatives who’ll be guilty of undermining public faith in journalism. It’s the Times’s own employees. Even if the NYT is right in insinuating that Trump or his cronies are behind this, hoping to lash out at the Fake News Media, public statements remain fair game...Does anyone at the Times ever actually get fired for their outre utterances or behavior? Glenn Thrush, Sarah Jeong, and Weisman are all still on staff, aren’t they? Once again, the rules of accountability are different for members of the media clergy than they are for others.
Spiraling, soulless "gotchas" among America's various tribes is now a way of life, ushered in by many in the media. They helped create this beast, and now they want to be exempt from its bite. Good luck with that. On the brighter side, might this equal opportunity destructive drudgery force the Left to reconsider the whole game?
When you deprive mobs of their coercive power, you diminish the appeal of forming them in the first place. Abandoning hyper-sensitive "perceptions"-driven decisions about people's livelihoods and reputations would certainly be an across-the-board improvement. Alas, the Times literally just proved -- twice -- that the perceptions mob can, in fact, call the shots at its newspaper. But only if the mob is comprised of irate critics from the correct ideological persuasion, of course. I'll leave you with this reference to a very recent episode that seems relevant to the conversation:
Can’t help but wonder how many media folks & lefties who defended Joaquin Castro’s nasty little harassment hit list by shrugging, “hey, it’s public information” will find these tactics terrible, damaging etc.— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) August 25, 2019
Meanwhile, I maintain my anti-outrage-mob stance. https://t.co/oYze7sNcNV