YOUR HUMBLE MEDIA critic came in for some media criticism over the summer. Its source: Kelly McBride, a senior faculty member at the Poynter Institute, the nonprofit journalism school that owns the Tampa Bay Times. McBride wrote on the institute’s website: “The Wall Street Journal…ran an opinion piece by editorial board member James Taranto, who argued that efforts to stop sexual assault in the military show ‘signs of becoming an effort to criminalize male sexuality’ and is [sic] a ‘war on men.’ Taranto’s view was torn asunder by critics here and here.”
The first “here” linked to a post on the feminist website Jezebel.com. The item’s author, Katie Baker, wrote: “I’m not interested in engaging with Taranto, because he’s a cockroach.” The second went to a response to my piece by Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, whom I had faulted for placing a “permanent hold” on the promotion of General Susan Helms. The general had reversed the court-martial sexual assault conviction of an officer under her command, and McCaskill aimed to retaliate.
Out of the mouth of a babe: a shrewd insight into the media. Monica Lewinsky said she wanted to be an assistant producer in TV, or an assistant account executive in PR, or else do "anything at George magazine." The "wish list" she gave Vernon Jordan made no distinctions. Monica had decided that what qualified her for the one job qualified her for either of the others, and she wanted to enjoy a "comfortable living" in New York. As it happened, Jordan never quite came through for her, although there was nothing wrong with her appraisal. If she could make it in PR, she could make it in TV, and if that didn't work, she could always try a glossy magazine. Obviously she had learned a thing or two in the White House. She knew the difference between the press and the media.
IT WAS an appeal to his political base from a Democratic president mired in scandal. “Journalists should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs,” Barack Obama said in a May 23 speech at the National Defense University. “And that’s why I’ve called on Congress to pass a media shield law to guard against government overreach.”
The president added that “I’ve raised these issues with the attorney general, who shares my concerns.” That was rich. The next day it was revealed that Eric Holder had personally signed off on the decision to seek a search warrant for the personal emails of Fox News reporter James Rosen. In 2012, Holder’s department also subpoenaed phone logs for 20 phone numbers, including personal ones, of Associated Press reporters as part of a national security leak investigation. (Holder told Congress he had recused himself from that decision.)
But it would be a mistake for Congress to respond to the Obama overreaches by expanding the power of the press. To understand why, consider how the mainstream media are themselves implicated in those scandals.
When the Democratic Senate killed every one of President Obama’s gun-control proposals on April 17, the next day’s New York Times featured two revealing stories. The first was a front-page “news analysis” by reporter Jennifer Steinhauer, which carried the headline “Gun Control Effort Had No Real Chance, Despite Pleas.”
I could have told them that months earlier. Even if the Senate had passed a bill, it would have had to get through the Republican-controlled House. But the effort’s futility was apparently news to Steinhauer, who for days had been filing suspenseful reports with headlines like “Centerpiece of Gun Bill Remains in Doubt,” “Threat to Block Debate on Guns Appears to Fade in Senate,” and even, on the day of the vote, “Senate Sets Flurry of Crucial Votes on Gun Measures.” How could they have been crucial if the outcome was predetermined?
Most striking, though, was this passage:
At a moment when the national conversation about how best to stem the menace of guns in the wrong hands seemed to have shifted, it turned out that the political dynamic had not.
It turns out you can deny evolution and get published on the New York Times op-ed page. Dan Slater did just that, in a January piece called “Darwin Was Wrong About Dating.” Slater, author of a book about online dating, set out to debunk one aspect of a subspecialty known as evolutionary psychology, which, among other things, seeks to use Darwinism to explain behavioral differences between men and women.
Evolutionary psychology suggests that differences in sexual behavior, which we tend to understand in moral or cultural terms, are biologically rooted. Since the male makes the lesser investment in reproduction, men are driven to favor quantity over quality. They are especially attracted to youth and beauty because these are signs of fertility. One man can reproduce with many women, so there is no evolutionary need to be selective. The most efficient way to pass on a genetic legacy is to father as many children by as many women as possible.
PRIOR TO ELECTION DAY, I had been planning a triumphal column explaining how Mitt Romney’s victory vindicated the Taranto Principle, but events intervened. Here instead is a circumspect column explaining how Barack Obama’s victory vindicated the Taranto Principle.
The Taranto Principle, named after yours truly by Spectator editor R. Emmett Tyrrell, posits that the liberal media’s uncritical coverage often disserves liberal politicians by making them complacent, thus encouraging bad or foolish behavior. The classic example is from 2004, when journalists failed to question John Kerry’s self-presentation as a war hero. Along came the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, and Kerry was undone by a scandal for which an adversarial press would have left him prepared. (See “Kerry’s Quagmire,” TAS, July/August 2005.)