Media Matters

George Will Meets the Clerisy Media

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch shows liberal tolerance.

By 6.24.14

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The Clerisy Media strikes again. This time the target is longtime conservative columnist George Will, who was dispatched by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch over a column on rape. But before that? The Los Angeles Times refused to publish letters to the editor from what the paper called “climate change deniers.” The Arizona Daily Sun has done the same.

A while back it was National Public Radio firing Juan Williams for comments made on Fox News about Muslims.

Then there were the campaigns to “Drop Dobbs” from CNN because of Lou Dobbs's views on immigration, remove Rush Limbaugh because of his comments about Sandra Fluke, fire Glenn Beck from his Fox News show, and throw Pat Buchanan off of MSNBC because of a varied list of offenses. Dobbs quit and moved to Fox, Rush’s audience rallied and dropped the sponsors dropping Rush, Beck and Buchanan lost their jobs.

But let’s first focus on George Will and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Here’s the syndicated Will column that started this latest round of conservative headhunting. Will’s point was clear: the alleged “epidemic” of rape on college campuses isn’t—as illustrated by statistics from the Obama administration itself. The column began:

Colleges and universities are being educated by Washington and are finding the experience excruciating. They are learning that when they say campus victimizations are ubiquitous (“micro-aggressions,” often not discernible to the untutored eye, are everywhere), and that when they make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate. And academia’s progressivism has rendered it intellectually defenseless now that progressivism’s achievement, the regulatory state, has decided it is academia’s turn to be broken to government’s saddle.

For this latest affront, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch announced they were dropping Will’s column. Said Tony Messenger, the paper’s editor: “The column was offensive and inaccurate; we apologize for publishing it.” Messenger also said, as the backlash to the paper’s decision grew, reported here at the Wrap:

“We had a lot of readers very angry and very hurt,” Messenger said. “It caused us to go back and take a look at it, and it reinforced our previous decision that he had lost a little bit of speed off his fastball, and it caused us to make the decision a little bit more quickly than we would have otherwise.”

Speaking on CNN, Messenger said:

“A lot of the responses that were negative to our decision accused us of doing so for political correctness,” Messenger added. “That’s not the case. We believe that the column trivializes sexual assault victims.”

The other day, radio host Hugh Hewitt had Messenger on his show. In this appearance—which Messenger cut short, hanging up on his host—some interesting facts emerge about the mindset of those running the Post-Dispatch

HH: Did you, so you are agreeing there is no place where a factual inaccuracy exists in Mr. Will’s column?

TM: To the best of my knowledge, no, there is not, and we did not correct one.

HH: All right, and so the column just offended you and your folks because of the representations it made. Now I have a factual question in your years as an opinion columnist, and you’ve written opinion columns for a long time, haven’t you?

TM: Yes, I have.

HH: Have you ever written an opinion column mentioning Juanita Broaddrick or Kathleen Willey?

TM: To the best of my memory, no, but it just doesn’t ring a bell right now.

HH: Do you know who they are?

TM: No.

HH: They are the women that President Clinton assaulted, at least who alleged that President Clinton assaulted them. George Will once wrote in the Los Angeles Times that he believed President Clinton had actually raped Juanita Broaddrick, though he didn’t use her by name. The Los Angeles Times dropped that reference. They later had to apologize for that. Would you understand how I might see it was something of an odd standard to be upset about a column that I don’t find offensive when you haven’t taken up the defense of women assaulted by the president of the United States?

TM: I guess I could understand that. I don’t, this fascination of comparing everything back to Bill Clinton and how many years ago was that, and now, I’m going to recall what I did or didn’t write about that, I mean, that, to me, that sort of obfuscates the message. But yes, I can understand how some people might believe that a different standard was applied in various cases, whether it’s this case versus a case ten years ago, or a different case. People make that accusation as it relates to politics all the time. And I’m not going to offer a judgment as to whether or not that’s unfair.

So. Hugh Hewitt establishes that—really!—the editor of a paper that suddenly professes an extreme sensitivity to the issue of rape is clueless over the name of Juanita Broaddrick, one of the most famous women in the whole Clinton saga. And what exactly was the Post-Dispatch saying about Juanita Broaddrick back in the day?

On the subject of impeaching Bill Clinton for lying under oath, charges that stemmed from his sexual dalliance with Monica Lewinsky, the paper, in a February 9, 1999 editorial titled “The House Falls Short," called the impeachment a “monstrous national diversion.” Ahhh yes. It was only sex. Eleven days later, the Post-Dispatch—so sensitive are they—finally got around to a news story on Juanita Broaddrick. Here's how Broaddrick described her experience with Bill Clinton, as reported in this account from then-Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz:

In a gripping account punctuated by sobs, the Arkansas woman told “Dateline NBC” that in her Little Rock hotel room, Clinton suddenly “turned me around and started kissing me, and that was a real shock. I first pushed him away. I just told him ‘no.’ …He tries to kiss me again. He starts biting on my lip. ...And then he forced me down on the bed. I just was very frightened. I tried to get away from him. I told him ‘no.’… He wouldn't listen to me.” ...

The nursing home operator, previously known as Jane Doe No. 5, told [NBC reporter Lisa] Myers that she felt “violated” but finally stopped resisting Clinton's sexual advances because “it was a real panicky situation.” She said that “he was just a vicious, awful person.”

Pressed by Myers as to whether she was raped, Broaddrick said she had been. “It was not consensual,” she insisted. As for her feelings now toward the president, Broaddrick said: “My hatred for him is overwhelming.”

And what did the Post-Dispatch have to say? According to the paper’s archives it ran a story about another paper’s reporter who did the work on the story—that being the Wall Street Journal’s Dorothy Rabinowitz. On February 20, 1999, the Post-Dispatch, in a news story by its senior writer Harry Levins, said in part: 

The Wall Street Journal devoted almost half of Friday’s editorial page to an interview with a woman who says that when President Bill Clinton was attorney general of Arkansas, he had forcible sexual intercourse with her.

The allegation has been floating around since Clinton first ran for president in 1992. But until Friday, no mainstream newspaper or television network would touch it. ...

The Post-Dispatch has no independent corroboration of the woman’s allegation, and the White House has made no comment. ...

Rabinowitz says that when several wavering Republicans in the House read her complete statement, they decided to vote to impeach.

What are we really seeing here in this witch-hunt against George Will? Yes, the typical liberal double standard to be sure. But there’s more. Weeks before the St. Louis Post-Dispatch episode, Joel Kotkin, a presidential fellow in urban futures at Chapman University and a contributing editor to City Journal, wrote a prescient piece at the Daily Beast titled “Watch What You Say, The New Liberal Power Elite Won’t Tolerate Dissent":

In ways not seen since at least the McCarthy era, Americans are finding themselves increasingly constrained by a rising class — what I call the progressive Clerisy — that accepts no dissent from its basic tenets. Like the First Estate in pre-revolutionary France, the Clerisy increasingly exercises its power to constrain dissenting views, whether on politics, social attitudes or science.

An alliance of upper level bureaucrats and cultural elites, the Clerisy, for all their concerns about inequality, have thrived, unlike most Americans, in recent years. They also enjoy strong relations with the power structure in Washington, Silicon Valley, Hollywood and Wall Street.

As the modern clerisy has seen its own power grow, even while the middle class shrinks, it has used its influence to enforce a prescribed set of acceptable ideas. On everything from gender and sexual preference to climate change, those who dissent from the official pieties risk punishment.” ...

Today’s Clerisy attempts to distill today’s distinctly secular “truths” — on issues ranging from the nature of justice, race and gender to the environment — and decide what is acceptable and that which is not. Those who dissent from the accepted point of view can expect their work to be simply ignored, or in some cases vilified. 

This is exactly what happened to George Will. He dared to dissent from the clerisy media’s party line, and he was fired. This is what was going on with the Los Angeles Times, the Arizona Daily Sun, and their respective decisions to ban so-called climate deniers from their pages. The Daily Sun’s editor, Randy Wilson, justified the decision in part by writing:

A local newspaper, however, needs to reflect its community in the conversations it hosts. But in the case of Flagstaff, a university town with an environmental IQ far above average, there aren’t many climate change deniers willing to stick their heads up and take the inevitable flak.

As a point of personal privilege let me say this: Recently I was invited to give a speech in Colorado to the Leadership Program of the Rockies. The cast included a terrific group of conservatives, including National Review’s Jonah Goldberg, Heritage’s Steve Moore, David Horowitz, Reagan biographer Steven Hayward, Fox’s Judge Jeanine Pirro, Matt Kibbe of Freedom Works, and others. But without question the star was George Will. Roaming the stage for almost an hour, Will gave a direct, witty, highly informed speech without a note in his hand. He was not simply a professional; he was, to use the baseball analogy Messenger injected, at the top of his game.

The real problem with George Will’s column was not the column but the clerisy media that runs the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Will threw a blazing fast ball, and the Post-Dispatch deliberately dropped it.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch isn’t about speaking truth to power. It is about protecting its own—the power of the clerisy.

The paper announced it would replace Will with Michael Gerson, the former Bush aide turned columnist. Gerson will do what he will do. But it would seem as a matter of principle that he should politely tell the Post-Dispatch something other than “yes.” "Thanks but no thanks” would be the polite version of what comes to mind.

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About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.