A chastened press is a good thing, I suppose, but I sometimes miss the days of unreflective arrogance.
It was almost all Sarah Palin in this past Sunday’s New York Times Week in Review opinion section. But the pieces weren’t simply about Palin and the Republicans. They were about covering Palin and the Republicans. They searched the mirror for pimples. If you’d prefer another anatomical metaphor, they navel-gazed.
The lead story in the section was “Target Practice: Media Bashing 101,” by Mark Leibovich. He began, “Sarah Palin’s national opening last week was judged an unqualified success by the media elite, even though much of her debut speech Wednesday night was devoted to whacking the media elite.” The very phrase “media elite” represents a serious concession to the forces of darkness. Leibovich mused: “The media-mashing game has changed considerably over the years, just as the media itself has.” Damn right — it’s let itself get mashable.
Then there was public editor Clark Hoyt’s piece of analysis, “The Scrutiny of Sarah Palin.” Was the news media “on a mission to destroy” Palin, as John McCain’s chief stategist had told the Washington Post? More to the point, had the Times advanced that mission with its story claiming McCain barely glanced at Palin’s dossier before choosing her to run with him? “An absolute work of fiction,” said the strategist. So Hoyt sorted it all out and sided with the Times, which he doesn’t always do, and I reflected that once upon a time when there were no public editors a presidential candidate’s chief strategist would have known better than to complain and if he had the Times would not have deigned to respond.
(Don’t write in questioning whether there actually was such a time. If not, there should have been.)
In a long essay, “Palin and McCain’s Shotgun Marriage.” Frank Rich digressed to cite the same Times article Hoyt was writing about. He told us that “McCain operatives and some of their press surrogates” had tried to discredit the article, but “the Times had it right.” And retired pundit William Safire was dusted off by the Times to pose this question, “In light of public opinion of most opinion journalists being down around that of Congress, is it smart politics to bash the news media?” His answer — probably yes. “By slamming back furiously today,” Safire wrote, “some of those mainstreaming or blogging in the news media just might be helping to make their critics’ point.”
Better the media suffer in silence? Is that what Safire thinks? There was a day when they’d have been too cool to care.