In Response to Dana Zimbleman’s “Cowards in the Shadows”
One thing I learned in Vietnam is that it is easy to point out someone else’s fear when the bullets are not aimed at you. In “Cowards in the Shadows,” Dana Zimbleman attacks the media, unnamed sources, and the hysterical left. While she makes some valid points, she ignores some pertinent facts that undermine her argument. She makes liberal use (pun intended) of rhetorical tricks known as logical fallacies. Ad hominum arguments, broad generalizations, and emotional language are all used to build a case instead of just relying on facts. Exhibit A is her parroting the term “corrupt national media.”And, yes I am striving for irony by using the word “parroting.”
I will grant that there is some genuine hysteria on the left and in some parts of the media. It happens every time there is a significant change in the power structure. For example, both before and after the Kennedy election, there was widespread media speculation about the Pope making decisions for the White House. More recently, we had the right’s claims that Obama was a Kenyan Muslim, married to a lesbian, who was turning empty Walmarts in Texas into jails to warehouse gun owners and their guns. And those were just some of the less outrageous claims. Considering that the media are supposed to be Obama’s lap dogs, how did all of those claims get national coverage? And more importantly, how is conservative paranoia about Obama different from liberal angst about Trump?
Yes, the media is biased. But the media is not some monolithic liberal conglomerate. Media biases come from all over the political spectrum, and conservatives are well represented. FOX News is the most widely watched TV news, is admittedly pro Trump, and was the major news source for most Trump voters according to media studies. Mark Levine and Rush are the two most listened to radio programs in the country. And yes, Trump plays the media. They give him the 24/7 publicity he seeks, and he gives them headlines that boost their bottom line. To the extent that media is corrupt, it is in the pursuit of profit. But what should we replace a capitalistic media with? State-run media? Furthermore, retired journalists, columnists, and commentators do not represent the bulk of the media. Plus, columnists and commentators are supposed to stir up trouble with speculative thinking; that’s how they get paid. The market, as Eric Stephenson alludes to in his recent article, will always drive news coverage.
The saving grace of a free press is that sooner or later, there is more profit in exposing government malfeasance than in ignoring it, or even worse, covering it up. But the press should not engage in simple speculation even though it has proven to be a good business model for much of the new media. The scandals that Zimbleman mentioned, such as Benghazi, all got plenty of coverage in the press. And though I agree that the press was not as hard on Obama as they should have been (blatant racism in my opinion), they weren’t his cheerleaders either. As an example, buried in the multimillion dollar Congressional reports (there were eight investigations) on Benghazi is the nugget that Republicans cut the State department’s requests for additional security as part of their national budgetary hostage deal. How much coverage did the so-called liberal media give that info? And the reason they didn’t is there was no money in it. The audience was tired of hearing about Benghazi.
We don’t know what will come out of the investigation into Trump’s dealings with Russia. We don’t even know if there will be a vigorous investigation. But Zimbleman’s use of the word “alleged” is dismissive of the facts we have at hand. There is no disputing that the Russians hacked the DNC and released information damaging to Clinton. How does this become “alleged” Russian interference? We also have Trump’s own admission and later retraction that he had significant contact and business deals with Russia. In which case was Trump giving us alternative facts? In addition, we have official statements from the FBI and the Russians about contact between the Trump campaign and Russia. It’s true that we don’t know what exactly happened in those contacts. And yes, it would be nice if someone “stepped out of the shadows” and gave us more concrete information. But who do we expect to jeopardize their careers and families in order to give it to us? Would you throw away your career, pension, and family to expose a vindictive president’s wrongdoing?
Mark Felt, aka Deep Throat, exposed himself and his family to danger by assisting Woodward and Bernstein in developing their Watergate stories. In a painfully long process, however, the truth about Nixon’s crimes eventually came out. He even publicly stated his belief that anything he did was legal just by the fact that he did it. I trust the same will happen in this case. If there is actionable evidence of wrongdoing by Trump or his people, it will find daylight. History is a marathon, not a sprint.
But it is Zimbleman’s constant misuse of language in general and her attack on Senator McCain specifically that I object to the most. Dismissing Trump’s comment about traditional media being an enemy of the people, as “something really mean,” is both tone deaf and ignorant of the political ploys used by dictators throughout history. I’m not agreeing with those who call Trump a potential dictator, but the “enemy of the people” remark is historically the kind of phrase dictator wannabes use. To not understand why journalists from both the right and left find that remark disturbing is to ignore the suicidal deaths of democracies in other times and places. And the most chilling part of the remark, which I have not seen tagged for discussion anywhere, is Trump equating himself with the American people. This is a primary tactic of populist demagogues.
Zimbleman’s emasculating comparison of John McCain to the Dixie Chicks is both distasteful and plain rude. For all of his flaws, McCain is a true American hero. He is a man who suffers debilitating physical pain every day of his life due to his unwillingness to forgo his duty to his country and his fellow servicemen. He is a man of honor who has defended his political rivals as well as attacked his own party when he felt it necessary. And for the record, McCain was not the only government official who was in possession of the golden shower memo. He also wasn’t the first, last, or only person to give it to the FBI. Besides, what should he have done with the memo–given it to Amy Goodman? If it will help, Zimbleman should think of John McCain like an elderly relative. You may not agree with what he says or does, but he has earned the right to say it without being disrespected.
More facts and fewer rhetorical shortcuts would make her article and its contribution to our ongoing national debate much better. Lord knows there’s room for it.