If you pay serious attention to network and cable commentators after a mass shooting, you will see something nearly as alarming as the atrocities themselves. Set aside, for a moment, the horror of the event about which they are holding forth and it will become obvious that their solemn expressions are well-rehearsed affectations that mask a morbid glee. As you lament truncated lives and traumatized survivors, these creatures count eyeballs and clicks. While you worry about the health of our society, they search for a connection to some conservative cause or politician. And the print media are just as ghoulish.
It hasn’t always been so, however. The media have long been biased, of course, and that reality has been factored in by intelligent viewers and readers. But this phenomenon is scarier. To illustrate how much the “news” media has changed in just a few decades, think back to the murders of Sharon Tate and four others by the so-called Manson family. Charles Manson claimed this horrifying slaughter was inspired by the Beatles song, “Helter Skelter.” The universal response from the press, the public, and the song’s author (Paul McCartney) was that the man was crazy. No sane adult took Manson’s claim seriously.
Yet, in our era, ostensibly serious journalists would have us believe that a massacre committed by some psychopath in El Paso was the inevitable result of something President Trump said on Twitter or the random chants of people attending one of his political rallies. This is just as crazy as Manson’s claim about “Helter Skelter,” a song written about nothing more sinister than a type of English fairground. Still, rather than adopting the rational position taken by the Fourth Estate when a mass murderer started gibbering about a Beatles tune, contributors to today’s “news” outlets make Manson seem sane:
The president says that we will fly our flags at half-mast until August 8, that’s 8/8…. The numbers 8/8 are very significant in the neo-Nazi and the white supremacy movement. Why? Because the letter “H” is the eighth letter of the alphabet, and to them, the numbers 8/8 stand for “Heil Hitler.” So we’re going to be raising the flag back up at dusk on 8/8. No one’s thinking about this.
This unique perspective was offered by MSNBC contributor Frank Figliuzzi in response to President Trump’s decision to fly American flags at half-staff as a mark of respect for the victims of the weekend shootings. Figliuzzi is a former FBI assistant director for counterintelligence, and it never seems to have occurred to him that no one is “thinking about this” because it’s a crazy conspiracy theory. But MSNBC is by no means the only media outlet peddling the claim that President Trump is a Crypto-fascist. On “The Story” Howard Kurtz discusses the “media frenzy” the shootings have produced:
There is a massive difference between criticizing President Trump for his sometimes divisive language and coming out and saying the president wants mass violence. He is outright accused as if it was an undisputed fact. Here’s the irony: some of these commentators are allowing their own anger toward Donald Trump to lead them into the kind of inflammatory rhetoric that they accuse him of spreading.
Never mind that much of what they say and write about the president is fiction, particularly where race is concerned, millions of naïve Americans actually believe these things. This is where the media are doing real harm to the social contract that holds the republic together. To state what should be obvious, even considering the deficiencies of our public school system, a “social contract” means that we live peacefully together in a society pursuant to an implied agreement that everyone will adhere to a variety of moral and political rules of behavior. Our social contract is made explicit by the U.S. Constitution.
That document provides special protection for the media because the framers believed they would provide a check on our elected officials and a guarantee of honest government. It’s unconstitutional to abridge freedom of the press because journalists, in theory, will assure that the activities of our rulers are conducted in the light of day. The problem is that the media are made up of human beings who are just as greedy and corruptible as politicians. So, what if there is better money in slander? Is there any way to stop the press from abusing its power? Thomas Jefferson, hardly an enemy of the free press, phrased it thus:
The power to [restrain slander] is fully possessed by the several State Legislatures. It was reserved to them, and was denied to the General Government, by the Constitution, according to our construction of it. While we deny that Congress have a right to control the freedom of the press, we have ever asserted the right of the States, and their exclusive right, to do so.
The reality is that the media have become a clear and present danger to the Republic. Wednesday, President Trump was met by hecklers in Dayton, where he came to meet with victims of a mass shooting perpetrated by a leftist supporter of Democrat presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren. These hecklers have been deliberately misled by most of the national media, and we only know the truth thanks to the work of a few genuine reporters. Should the states begin exercising “their exclusive right,” to curtail media malpractice within their jurisdictions and stop the damage they are doing to the social fabric of society?
We are inured to the belief that freedom of the press is sacrosanct, but neither the Democrats nor the left in general hesitate to silence any voice that fails to adhere to the party line. After decades of “news” coverage that follows the old adage, “If it bleeds it leads,” and the accompanying canard that the carnage is caused by cruel policies conceived by conservatives and Republicans, the only surprise is that there isn’t more unrest and violence than we are actually seeing. It’s time to stop the blood lust of the media from using human tragedies like El Paso and Dayton to divide society and make a few extra bucks.