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Mayor Muriel Bowser of Washington, DC, was left with egg on her face this week when it emerged that she’d violated her own scientifically dubious mask order hours after it took effect. The Washington Examiner published photos of Bowser officiating at a wedding where guests, including the mayor, weren’t wearing their ritual purity garments. So naturally the prestige press chimed in to blame . . . the Examiner.
A headline from the liberal Washingtonian magazine blared: “The Washington Examiner Writer Who Published Photos of Mayor Bowser Maskless at a Wedding Over the Weekend Was Not Invited to the Wedding.”
You don’t say. I thought this was the whole point of journalism: sharing facts and information that the high and mighty don’t want ordinary people to know, so the public can hold power accountable.
So much for all that “Schoolhouse Rock” mythology. Now the prevalent view, at least when one of our two major parties is concerned, is that journalism is essentially p.r. The administration in Washington gets to decide which “conservative outlets” are guilty of publishing “irresponsible content,” as a White House communications director recently put it.
Meanwhile, no matter how much bearing their conduct has on their public duties, Democratic politicians are supposed to enjoy the same privacy rights once afforded to the Average Joe. (I say “once,” because it has been common for years for reporters to drag private citizens into the spotlight, issuing hysterical threats for such enormities as having shared pro-wrestling memes.)
This attitude toward journalism is dangerous. And it is already affecting our democratic process.
Last fall, a month before the election, this paper published an exposé about Hunter Biden’s foreign business activities, which included arranging meetings between a shady Ukrainian energy firm that paid Hunter at least $50,000 a month with his father, Joe, at the time the second most powerful man in the world.
The Post’s sourcing was excellent, and all of the story’s particulars would check out. Yet the piece wasn’t widely discussed in other publications, and it almost certainly didn’t reach the wide audience it might otherwise have enjoyed online.
This was in large part because Facebook and Twitter used their monopoly power to prevent it from being shared. Twitter suspended The Post’s account on the ground that the Hunter Files material was “unauthorized” for release. No kidding.
In any prior election cycle, it is difficult to imagine the rest of the media ignoring such a scoop. After all, we were only a few months removed from an impeachment inquiry that was ultimately bound up in the question of what, if any, influence the former vice president had wielded on behalf of his adult son’s business. Instead of sharing the facts and letting the public decide, though, mainstream-media hacks either dismissed the story out of hand using McCarthyite rhetoric about Russian disinformation, or else they pretended it did not exist.
There’s no need to view the past through rose-tinted glasses. Journalists weren’t entirely objective 30 years ago. Their biases frequently colored their judgment (remember Rathergate?) and their assessment of what was or wasn’t newsworthy. But even unabashedly partisan reporters, such as The Washington Post’s legendary Robert Novak, delighted in making trouble for the political parties they generally supported.
They were right to do so. Journalists’ greatest error in the post-Watergate era was taking themselves too seriously as the sacred guardians of democracy. We are now seeing the opposite. Today people in the media are expected to be totally incurious about things that are obviously in the public interest.
Reporting the misdeeds of our leaders isn’t some accidental quirk. It is part of how our system is supposed to work. Maybe it’s a bad system, and we would all be happier shrugging our shoulders at the rumors of the faraway emperor’s latest follies. But it is the system we have.
Which is why I say even if reports about Bowser’s hypocrisy don’t do her in, who cares if you can’t throw the you-know-whats out; you can at least laugh at them.
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