The daily forty-five

God bless Mollie Hemingway, who had the patience to list forty-five irreproachably relevant journalistic angles on the Planned Parenthood baby organ harvest story — in case some major gliberal media outfit, with the budget to gather news directly, should decide to cover it. She delivers at the outset the gorgeous conceit that, maybe they just don’t have any ideas. Whereas, in the compared Confederate flag story, they have so many; and follow up on each, no matter how ludicrous and gratuitous; and blow a nothing (“psycho had Confederate flag on his web page”) into a national rage, with real consequences. (If gentle reader is lost, go to Mollie, here.)

Through the decades of my own — admittedly firsthand — experience of modern media, I acquired a certain phlegm. Nothing my colleagues did, could surprise me. While I could characterize the typical graduate of a journalism school as a devil in human flesh, I found that this was not always juste.

Instead, a profound stupidity — both moral and intellectual — was the decisive factor in the overwhelming majority of reporting decisions. I found the average newspaper or broadcast editor is actually less intelligent than the average reader or viewer; but that he compensates by specialization. He lives in a bubble: a society of his own, wherein he does not fear being contradicted. He can easily shut out anything that might tease his brain. He develops an instinct for ignoring any potential source of moral or intellectual substance.

He follows the movements of his peers. For reasons perhaps invisible to the observer who is not a fish, the entire school of fish turns promptly. Or when invisibly threatened, they disappear, simultaneously, into the reeds. Too, they are cold-blooded, like fish. And none of them believe in the existence of water.

It is forty-five years (and some months) since I was present in the newsroom of the Globe and Mail, as a “copy boy,” in the moment when the managing editor changed the hiring policy. Previously it had been, “we will never hire a graduate from a journalism school.” Now it became, “we will only hire people with academic credentials.”

Which is to say, graduates from journalism schools.

Some decades later, … I had a curious conversation with an administrator at a certain university in Waco, Texas. He asked my advice on the management of the university’s journalism school. He had been impressed by some talk I had given; and it seemed to me, from the questions he was asking — “What would you do if?” questions — that he was proposing to offer me the job of that school’s retiring “head.” (Except, the man did not know he was retiring, yet.) This administrator was dreaming of a major overhaul; of creating America’s very first, and therefore leading, “conservative” journalism school.

I told him it was a dumb idea. For once the school had that reputation, no one who graduated from it would be employable. That, journalism schools are a big business like any other, and profit comes from supplying the market with an absolutely standardized product. There might, as today, be falling prices for this commodity (warm bodies to fill newsrooms), but those still buying want the same old thing. The watchword is “reliable.” Anything resembling curiosity in a graduate, or other indication of independent mind, would lead directly to a costly scandal.

Now, it is true that there is Fox News, the New York Post, and the Wall Street Journal. Rupert Murdoch discovered that he could become even richer by supplying news and entertainment to what Charles Krauthammer mordantly called the “niche market” — of half the USA. These were the “conservatives” who despised the monopoly “liberal” coverage of … everything that fits in the category of “news and entertainment.” Give the rednecks something to watch and read. And supersize that with an order of “tits’n’bums,” and a deep draught of patriotic kool-aid.

In fact, I told my Waco man, that his scheme might work if he got Murdoch interested. But that would involve hiring a Murdoch flunkie, not some royalist, religious nutjob from the Far North.

But really, it still wouldn’t make any difference. For in order to flourish, in the mass market, the media of the Right must become the mirror of the media of the Left. That is to say, they must be thoughtless and knee-jerk; they must be morally and intellectually obtuse. For nothing else works in a mass market.

To its credit, I noticed the other day, Fox News briefly led with the Planned Parenthood body-parts-for-sale story, thus bringing it to the attention of some millions of people who might not otherwise have noticed. But those will be millions who, even if they puke, cannot do anything about it. For it is just “news,” confirming their (perfectly reasonable) prejudices. They already know themselves to be numerous and powerless — for if you can’t stop abortion, how do you stop this? (Republican congressmen, ditto.)

There is a deeper glibness, that embraces both Left and Right, and cannot be overcome by glib media. For short, I call this “democracy.”

Like Pope Francis, I like to invoke the Devil. We may not share many policy prescriptions, but on that point we’re as one. In my pathetically humble opinion, the glib society is easily ruled by the Devil. This includes demonic characters in high offices, and running departments and agencies (such as Planned Parenthood) all down the line. But that is incidental to what I mean. It is just a staffing issue. There will always be people advancing their careers, by seeking management positions in, say, Auschwitz.

Even if you replace, say, Barack Obama with, say, Donald Trump, you do not defeat evil. At best, you give it a chance to kick with the other cloven hoof.

Really, there is no choice, but to infect once again the entire civilization with a Christian conception of what is and isn’t “news.” One in which, for example, abortion in any form, and prior to any sale of baby body parts, would be, quite simply, a crime story.