“We are not going to judge you on your outward appearance,” says Gretchen Carlson of the Miss America Pageant—excuse me, “Competition.” It sounds like a joke, or perhaps a Buddhist koan: when is a beauty pageant not a beauty pageant? When it doesn’t judge you on your outward appearance. Not so long ago, the media would have treated this like a joke—because it is a joke—but now The New York Times merely nods with approval at what it sees as yet another advance for “women,” which is their word for “feminism.” As anyone who has read a newspaper in the last two or three years knows, in the re-tooling of the industry to produce propaganda instead of news, any lingering sense of irony, or even of the absurd, has disappeared. Up until now, one might have hoped for the damage to be limited to the explicitly political, but we now have to accept that everything is political, and nothing more so than “the objectification of women,” formerly known as the recognition by both sexes of female beauty.
It’s just one illustration of the extent to which nothing is too absurd to be promulgated by the media with a straight face and not only no hint of irony but no fear that anyone whose opinion matters—in other words, anyone on the right side of things politically—will be so ill-mannered as to point out the absurdity. Just look at Tuesday’s column by that ornament of the Times’s op-ed page, Nobel Prize–winning Paul Krugman, writing on what he claims to think “the bad faith that pervades conservative discourse”:
And yes, I do mean “conservative.” There are dishonest individuals of every political persuasion, but if you’re looking for systematic gaslighting, insistence that up is down and black is white, you’ll find it disproportionately on one side of the political spectrum. And the trouble many have in accepting that asymmetry is an important reason for the mess we’re in.
But how can I say that the media refuses to acknowledge conservative bad faith? While some journalists remain squeamish about actually using the word “lie,” and there’s still a tendency for headlines to repeat false talking points (which are only revealed to be false in the body of the article), readers do get a generally accurate picture of the extent to which dishonesty prevails within the Trump administration.
It seems to me, however, that the media makes Donald Trump’s lies seem more exceptional—and more of a break with previous practice—than they really are. Trump’s seven-lies-a-day habit and his constant claims of being victimized by people who accurately report the facts are only a continuation of something that has been going on in the conservative movement for years.
Obviously—it must be obvious even to The New York Times—Professor Krugman’s is not an argument; not an exercise of reason or analysis, just his usual cheerleading for the progressive side in the political wars. But it is also an attempt to take the media’s long-term project of branding President Trump as a liar and extend it to all conservatives, ex, as it were, officio. They’re all liars! Didn’t you just know it?
In any other context, such a statement would be grounds for a prima facie diagnosis of insanity. Yes, that’s right, Paul. The nasty conservatives are all liars, and you’re the only one in the scandalously timid and mealy-mouthed media who dares to speak the truth. Now let’s go with the nice men in the white coats who’ve got a new kimono with extra-long sleeves for you to try on. Yet to the editors and, presumably, the readers of the Times, it is axiomatic that conservatives are the ones who are detached from reality. In what looks to me like a clear case of projection, Mr. Krugman goes on to observe that “Conservatives don’t want to see ideas evaluated on their merits, regardless of politics; they want ideas convenient to their side to receive (at least) equal time regardless of their intellectual quality.”
By “intellectual quality,” here he pretty obviously means “something I agree with,” since he has already foreclosed the possibility that “conservatives,” or those with whom he disagrees, could have anything to say worth listening to, being liars as well as fools. If anyone at The New York Times who does agree with Professor Krugman recognizes the absurdity of the paper’s publishing as an analyst of politics (or anything else) someone who identifies his own views and only his own views with “intellectual quality,” he or she can apparently be relied upon to remain as quiet about it as anyone who sees but wouldn’t dream of mentioning the absurdity in a beauty contest which rejects the idea of judging “outward appearance.” The fear of giving any aid or comfort, let alone the slightest credit, to the hated “conservatives” makes the whole media culture as arrogant and lacking in self-awareness as Paul Krugman.