Where would we be without good journalism? Nowhere really. Not those of us outside the circles of power anyway. So it is a shame that this vital service has been so thoroughly colonized in the supposedly free and developed world by Court Stenographers. Not entirely, of course. But in the Twenty-First Century and the ‘rally round the flag’ effect of 9/11 it surely must be at least 75%.
‘Court Stenographer’ naturally implies the vital role that those who keep impeccable records of court processes. And indeed I mean that analogy, if unfavorably, towards the press corps of powerful nations’ capitols. Anyone who has dealt with them from a policy perspective-which I have- knows that those who cover powerful institutions largely just repeat the talking points they are given by the internal press corps of those very institutions. But Court Stenographer can also have another simultaneous meaning as well…where the court is taken to mean the court of a monarch, with the relationship such journalists being similar to that of the town crier. When I speak of Court Stenographers I am speaking of both of these things at once.
Most people, I feel, pretty much suspect this already. As Chomsky once implied, many a tinpot dictatorship would envy the slavish obsequiousness of the Beltway Press towards the DC establishment. Surely it is impressive that societies have replaced overt censorship with an ostensibly free press that merely chooses what to cover and what not to, which candidates to boost with coverage and which not to, and which opinions are deemed unacceptable for polite society and which others to promote. This is not me railing at injustice here for I am genuinely impressed. Living in a society that seems hell-bent on unlearning all power politics for the sake of the smooth balm of ideological complacency, I can’t admit to feeling much but admiration for those in the ship of state who have created and fostered this system.
This feeling does not, however, extend to many or most of the journalists themselves. Sure, plenty make huge bucks (probably) knowing what they are doing, trading favorable coverage for promotions and access and effectively serving as the royal court’s influence peddlers, but what about the more regular rank and file? While more than enough have a quite jaded and sardonic view of the process there does seem to be this grotesque culture of ‘Wow I’m Such A Brave Journalist™ Who Loves Coffee© Always Drinking So Much of It Because I Am Always Out For The Scoop© And What I Do Is Very Heroic And Woe Is Me For Being So Poorly Paid As I Perform This Vital Service To Society®’ which applies most to the very people who do the least to expand the public’s knowledge or critical thinking abilities.
How much of this is genuinely felt and how much is affectation I do not know. I do know, however, that you only get Gumshoe Reporter status in my book if the work you do actually expands knowledge, holds truth to power, and tells uncomfortable things about the society that our more sensitive and polite elites would rather not speak about. It should shake, rather than uphold, the pieties of our politicians and talking heads. So much of groupthink one hears today is really just recycled and empowered via media coverage. The same few talking points about specific public figures, good or bad, depending on consensus.
A politician or government worker who holds secrets is wise to guard them. It is part of the test of their capabilities. But the journalist who breaks a story is also being honest to their true calling. The best of all possible worlds is one where people do what they should be doing as their duty as well as possible, regardless of the clashes with others. The journalist who sells out to the political powers that be is compromising their own professional integrity just as I would have been had I, when a federal employee, broke my silence on matters which I was professionally not allowed to speak of to others.
A well-functioning society is one where the consensus we have is that we all do our jobs well. It is just a shame we have yet to figure out how to make this work. But surely the Court Stenographers do us no service…though thankfully a minority of other journalists do.