David Brooks Sez: No Complaining

I know a lot of us Prog bloggers like to pick on David Brooks, but as I’m sure I’ve mentioned in the past, I generally like the guy. Not because I agree with his politics, but mostly because he’s more about defending ideas – however indefensible – than defending politicians. Unlike the William Kristols of the world, he’s willing to be honest when politicians screw up, and I like that.

But his latest offering in the NYT blogs, which I got via TPM, is really inexcusable. And it cannot go unanswered because, rather than simply a dumbass comment of his alone, it is a sign of a larger issue. The gist of his argument (he pretends to make three points, but there’s really only one) is here:

No Whining About the Media – Campaign Stops – 2008 Elections – Opinion – New York Times Blog

I understand the complaints, but I thought the questions were excellent. The journalist’s job is to make politicians uncomfortable, to explore evasions, contradictions and vulnerabilities. Almost every question tonight did that. The candidates each looked foolish at times, but that’s their own fault.

We may not like it, but issues like Jeremiah Wright, flag lapels and the Tuzla airport will be important in the fall. Remember how George H.W. Bush toured flag factories to expose Michael Dukakis. It’s legitimate to see how the candidates will respond to these sorts of symbolic issues.

He starts by clearly pointing out that he – as, we may presume, a great many in the main stream media – misunderstands his role as a journalist. It is not, as he states, to make politicians uncomfortable. It is to expose the truth, even when that truth is bland, does not generate immediate ratings or readership and does not require skewering politicians.

He claims that Jeremiah Wright “will be” an important issue in the fall, never mind that there is nothing to suggest any real public interest. He claims that the offense is felt merely by “Democrats,” as if voters on both sides of the isle aught not to want more from their journalism.

Note that, in fact, he does not mention the voters even once in his entire piece. He is not speaking about what the voters aught to know. He is not suggesting that an informed public needs to understand how Barack Obama feels about small town voters or what happened in Bosnia when Hillary Clinton was there. Rather, he is speaking about what the media selfishly wants to report. When he says that such issues “will be” important issues, he merely speaks the minds of the collective media delusion.

I would not claim David Brooks speaks for the majority of journalists in this country. I do think that his words reflect a certain intellectual incest that happens within a cadre of professionals who speak to each other, write about each other, and never leave their walled gardens long enough to find out what people really think. Some may agree with his sentiments, some may disagree, but no other arguments are let into the discussion. Before long, the collective wisdom of the group bears a nine-headed baby like the one the American people were subjected to last night.

If you want to know how truly awful the whole affair is, consider this. In preparing for yesterday evening’s debate, Charley Gibson and George Stephanopoulos must of needs compared their questions. They would have to have come up with an order in which to ask them and in fact, other people such as producers and directors were doubtlessly involved. Yet clearly, if anyone ever objected in that all-important, formative preparation time, that objection did not make itself known to the rest of us.

And elsewhere, in what the journalistic community assumes must be unrelated news, CNN viewers tell Lou Dobbs, “Yes, ya douche. We’re fucking bitter.”

By Tommy Belknap

Owner, developer, editor of DragonFlyEye.Net, Tom Belknap is also a freelance journalist for The 585 lifestyle magazine. He lives in the Rochester area with his wife and son.