In 1902, syndicated political satirist Finley Peter Dunne (1867-1936), in the voice of his fictional Irish character “Mr. Dooley”, sarcastically observed the following about the inflated and increasingly illegitimate social power of the muckraking newspaper industry (which was that era’s “mass media”):
“The newspaper does everything for us. It runs the police force and the banks, commands the militia, controls the legislature, baptizes the young, marries the foolish, comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable, buries the dead, and roasts them afterward.”
In Dunne’s list of newspaper arrogances, the cleverest bit of wordplay was “comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.” Oft-repeated, that portion stuck, while the rest of the list – and its sarcastic context – receded from the discourse. To top it off, the journalists of the day formed an enduring and popular paraphrase of Dunne’s observation this way: “The job of newspapers is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” Amazing metamorphosis, huh? Completely opposite of what he originally meant.
It’s no coincidence this message makeover happened during the dawning of the American Progressive Movement. The clever phrase fit perfectly into their redistributive ideology – in this case they were preaching about “redistribution of comfort.” Ironically, this hijacking of Dunne’s original sarcasm by the Progressive’s socialist agenda happened just as Dunne himself was rejecting Progressivism and becoming a Teddy Roosevelt Republican.
The journalism majors educated in the vast majority of America’s liberal arts universities, to this very day, have been taught Dunne’s purloined quote by their activist professors, as if “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable” is each journalist’s prime directive. If you know a journalism major, ask them. Perhaps they’ll say they didn’t drink that Kool-Aid, but I’m confident they’ll confirm it is overtly peddled by the exalted faculty of most journalism schools.
Why do I recall this bit of history now, in December 2012?
Disappointed conservative voters are holding a running post mortem discussion about the 2012 campaign, trying to pinpoint how the voters could have been duped so easily — again. How many of these water cooler and coffee shop pundits have you heard in the last 6 weeks? Perhaps you’re even one of them, saying things like “The Republicans’ message should have been better. All they had to say was (fill in the blank) and the voters would have understood their philosophy better and voted differently.”
Just one problem. There are “Gatekeepers” standing between the politicians’ mouths and the voters’ ears. The Gatekeepers are the mass media establishment, and these Gatekeepers are not impartial – they lean distinctly left. Why? Because much like politicians and educators, journalists are a self-selected population that choose their particular profession because they yearn to interact with and positively impact their community. The more ambitious among them strive to have a substantial positive influence on the larger society. OK, fine…that’s admirable. But that personality trait also predisposes most journalists to being easily seduced by the big government…big solution…master plan…”New Deal”…”Great Society”…”Hopey Changey” mentality. Collectively, they have a stranglehold on the information content that reaches the pop-media consumers. The Gatekeepers don’t report the news objectively; they hand pick it and color it in the rosey hues of their Great Society vision.
Generally predisposed to social activism, and encouraged by that famous “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” mantra, these reporters, editors, producers, and publishers who dominate the establishment mass media enthusiastically throw themselves into their careers, following their natural instincts and passions. They select their reporting topics and angles (rejecting others), choose who to interview (and who not to), choose what questions and follow-ups to ask (and what not to), choose what background research to include (and what not to), and choose which finished material to include in the final cut (and which not to).
As a consumer of the products of this massive “Content Industry”, do you really think you’re getting a straight story from any single source, with no spin and no cherry-picking? ABSOLUTELY NOT! Just like “Jumbo Shrimp”, the term “Journalistic Objectivity” is an oxymoron. And you’re a moron if you don’t seek several diverse sources of info before you form any firm opinion…especially an opinion that shapes how you will vote. But the vast majority of pop-culture voters just swallow what they hear from their favorite network nightly news talking head, or what they hypnotically read in the New York Times – you know, the newspaper that claims to carry “All the News That’s Fit to Print”.
So at the water cooler or the coffee counter, before bragging that you know exactly what the Republicans should have said to the voters, keep the media Gatekeepers in mind. Unfortunately, the more effective our conservative messaging gets, the more the establishment mass media Gatekeepers will use their illegitimate power to distort or block it from reaching the zombie voters whose political knowledge is skin-deep.
Bottom Line: If we really want to solve the conservative messaging problem, we better focus just as much on the delivery problem.
One last point: The Gatekeepers are such a reliable propaganda channel for the Democrats, I have heard liberals calling for government subsidies for struggling newspapers like the New York Times. They want a “newspaper bailout” to offset the red ink on the balance sheets of some major newspapers trying in vain to stay competitive in the Internet era. LIBERTY DANGER FLAG!! It’s bad enough the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (parent of PBS and NPR) receives influential funding from the government – along with a knowing wink from Democrats in Congress. For goodness sake, let’s not further spread the influence of government-sponsored opinion manipulation to newspapers too!