Glenn Greenwald had quite a good post in The Guardian today addressing recent claims that the heretofore fawning members of the ‘progressive media’, or as they’re known round here, Vampire Liberals, are about to get tough on Obama. Greenwald doesn’t buy it, naturally, and covers quite a lot of very fruitful ground saying why.
In a nutshell, he believes that, by virtue of hyped-up mid-term elections and hyped up presidential campaigns, we are now in an eternal pre-election environment. Within this environment, a Lesser Evil consensus in liberal media immunizes the President and his party from actual left journalism both before and after elections. This all seems pretty indisputably true.
But then Greenwald says that even if left media goes, uncharacteristically, on the attack in Obama’s second term, it won’t make any difference politically, since Lesser Evilism essentially pledges support up front:
Once you vow unconditional, permanent loyalty to a politician and a party – once you demonstrate that you will support them no matter what they do – why would you possibly expect that they will do anything but ignore you? A rational politician, by definition, pays attention to those whose support is conditional and uncertain, not to those who loudly proclaim that it is a solemn duty to support that politician and his party under all circumstances. That’s just the basic rules governing how power works, of negotiations and politics: those who eagerly renounce all their leverage make themselves inconsequential and impotent.
I think Greenwald is both right and wrong here. Right in his concise description of how politics work and on how lesser evilism amounts to capitulation. Wrong in an apparent conflation of left media luminaries with progressives at large that essentially renders actual journalism meaningless if conducted by partisans.
Let’s say Chris Hayes (yes, him again, not sorry) magically becomes all the things brownnosing grad students on Twitter and people who get to be on his show say he is. That is, an actual ‘unabashed man of the left’. Even if his new, hard-hitting criticism comes sprinkled with avowals of support for the Democratic Party, it brings risks. First of all, Hayes’ unconditional support for Democrats, when juxtaposed with routine, principled criticism, is likely to look increasingly bizarre. It’s one thing for Daniel Ellsberg to do an idiotic pre-election ‘Impeach Obama/Re-Elect Obama’ one-off for a restricted audience. Quite another to make that kind of clowning credible on a weekly television show.
A more critical Hayes might continue to vote Democrat, and say as much, but some of his viewers may find his criticism more compelling than his endorsements, the way Chomsky’s fans increasingly do. Furthermore, a more serious critique is likely to invite a more critical audience, as well as cultivate a more critical perspective in the one it has. The ones who prefer politics as a team sport are likely to be shaken out. What’s in this for the Democrats and GE/Comcast? Precisely nothing, or rather, nothing they want.
Even putting aside the people that cut the checks and other filters that constrain journalism as a whole, Greenwald’s hypothetical just plain doesn’t compute within the context of the unending election cycle he so accurately describes. For Hayes and his colleagues to do actual journalism about Obama and the Democrats, they’d have to set aside pre-election hype almost entirely and, as Greenwald knows, the eternal election cycle precludes that.
There’s also the expected audience to consider, the one that sells MSNBC to advertisers. In the Politico piece that is Greenwald’s starting point, Hayes rather frankly admits his audience’s taste for hackery:
“There is a level at which coverage of Republican intransigence produces a visceral effect in the audience that is in some ways less conflicted and more pleasurable than critical coverage of President Obama. It just produces a different effect in the viewer.”
So we’re back to where Greenwald was before he went down this road: That either by design or circumstance, Hayes and co aren’t journalists. They’re glorified campaign operatives and panderers who do just enough journalism to convince themselves and others that they’re something else. Hence we can expect to see some self-legitimating rebuking in this brief period between the disgusting post-election gloating and the long lead-up to the mid-terms, followed by the kind of uninterrupted hackery they’ve been doling out for the past four years.
Thing is, this is by design. The unending election dog-and-pony shows and Lesser Evilism aren’t the root of these political indoctrination campaigns. They’re the cover for them. We should quit pretending that an oligarch-controlled system and the people who serve it can produce anything else.