Traditional media would do well to stop playing the role of protectors of bureaucracy and start understanding why the public for whom they claim to write isn’t so trusting of them anymore.
A few left-over’s from the glory days of the partnership of traditional media and politics still don’t seem to realize the train has left the station. A few are trying their damnedest to convince themselves and others that they are both part of the old partnership, yet also fully in tune with the new mindset towards a more transparent and viral creative sharing of information.
What these old hats are having a hard time coming to grips with is that the general public has wised-up to the fact that what was once referred to as the Fourth Estate long ago morphed into little more than the Fourth Branch of government. The public knows now more clearly than ever that much of the media has been in on the schemes. Members of the media wanted so desperately to be a part of the club that they assisted wherever they could in the consolidation of power. Too many were happy to do what was asked of them by the powerful, so long as they were made to feel like they too were ‘insiders’. And when the time came, more than a few joined the ranks of government.
The workaday peons who dare rock the boat and live, work and vote in a way that refuses to adhere to the narrative are labeled as racists, simpletons or just plain ignorant–outliers unworthy of notice and only considered in a negative light. That is no different now than before. What is different today more than ever is that the public no longer recognizes the self-appointed labelers in the media as anything but the shell of the characters they have claimed to be.
So many of the actions of those who still perform as contributing commentators in newspapers and for traditional media belie the hope that if they ignore the obvious so too will everyone else. After all, there are still challengers here in flyover country not yet addicted to the circus of distractions. Work calls for the keyboard Quixote’s.
“Admiration doesn’t equate to blind allegiance as if every utterance were a gospel truth, nor does it mean that what was true of the political environment in times past is necessarily true today. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist nor a degree in administration to see that much of what seemed like a good idea to some politicians in governments past has been shown to be anything but.”
One such article by Charlie Mitchell a couple of weeks ago tried to hold on to the defunct premise of the traditional media as the gatekeeper and translator of political news and commentary for the masses. Ryan Walters did a stellar job of presenting an opposing view that likely sent more than a few bubble-dwellers in search of coloring books at nearby safe spaces; a fortuitous turn of events since many of them work on college campuses these days.
If presented in the right context–maybe as a great tragedy that hearkens back to some poor characters dedication to a lost cause–such a naked attempt as Mitchell’s political spin disguised so poorly as unbiased media commentary could otherwise be presented as a tear-jerker of award-winning caliber. It’s no secret that many who fancied themselves as a character reincarnate from some golden age of the days of newspapers got lost in the great shift from traditional media to social media of the past few years.
The tragic byline practically writes itself: “The talent of a bygone era, but alas, he was born too late.”
Pass the tissue.
There were bound to be those on the bubble during this shift, those who on the one hand weren’t yet relegated to a concise spot on the historical timeline, unable to foresee the coming change. However, it’s obvious a great number were just a bit too comfortable to recognize the shift occurring under their feet. Many in the media have gone on acting as if nothing of the sort ever happened. As such, they don’t present very sympathetic characters for a romantic version of events; coming across as either downright snotty and angry over their lot, or as mentally compartmentalized and confused as to what is actually going on around them.
In Mississippi we have the aforementioned Mitchell, who took a job at the University of Mississippi’s Meek School of Journalism in 2010. This was just after a rocky 5-year period for the newspaper business. Prior to this, Mitchell’s newspaper career spanned 45 years at the Vicksburg Post.
“Political writers who position themselves through omission, as someone who sits outside of the intellectually lowbrow antics of head-to-head politics that are the reality of day to day government aren’t telling the whole truth.”
From 2005 through 2009 the newspaper business hemorrhaged ad dollars, losing nationally over that time close to 50-percent of reported revenue. Over 13,000 journalists from 2007 to 2009 lost their jobs. As citizen journalism began its exponential growth, newsrooms across the country reduced full-time staff to levels lower than they had been since the 1970’s.
Despite heading to Oxford in 2010, Mitchell has maintained a syndicated column with a one line bio that simply lists him as “a journalist” along with what appears to be a personal yahoo.com email account.
Call me a little crazy, but with a 45-year career behind him and a sweet title of Associate Dean at a state university doesn’t it seem a little strange that neither get mentioned in a one line bio?
Similarly, former Clarion Ledger Perspective Editor Sid Salter joined his alma mater of Mississippi State in early 2011 after decades in the newspaper business. He is now the Chief Communications Officer and Director of the Office of Public Affairs at MSU.
The page on MSU’s website says of Salter that,
“he leads a team of marketing and communications professionals in producing print, broadcast, and new media content designed to advance MSU’s reputation as a nationally prominent research university.”
Salter, like Mitchell, also maintains a syndicated column in newspapers across the state. And like Mitchell, Salter frequently writes critically of ongoing politics and proposal of policies. Salter’s time at the Clarion Ledger allows him to color his commentary with some historical insights into the public and private back-and-forth over the years in the halls of state Capitol. It is often entertaining to read his references to political maneuverings of the past.
Salter, like Mitchell, has also been critical of the promotion of specific reform policies that, when viewed through the lens of his role at his new employer in Starkville, take on a wholly different context.
Nevertheless, Salter’s bio on his syndicated column makes no mention of his affiliation with MSU or his job to “advance MSU’s reputation,” like Mitchell’s gig at the taxpayer funded state institution of Ole Miss.
“Grassroots challengers to the status quo of government and the wielding of political power and favoritism will always be characterized as know-nothing, angry barbarians storming the gates by those who refuse to look critically at the outcomes of government instituted and taxpayer funded programs. Especially if the programs financially support the ones doing the looking.”
Ryan Walters commentary did a good job of showing the holes in Mitchell’s attempts to oversimplify and summarily dismiss any support of Trump for President as know-nothing anger. In Mitchell’s estimation this is the equivalent of what drove supporters of Chris McDaniel in 2014 in his hard fought campaign to unseat career appropriator Thad Cochran. Never mind that Cochran, as Walters ably points out, had a 90-percent approval rating prior to McDaniel’s announcement that he was running for the office of U.S. Senate.
So, when exactly did these McDaniel voters–187,000 strong, the largest number ever before to vote for a Republican–become the know-nothing angry mob of Mitchell’s description?
As Walters easily shows, it’s when they saw Cochran’s votes, and when the glossy advertisements and flowery references to his years of public service and dedication gave way to the details of his 42-year voting record.
Those pesky little details.
Both of the syndicated columnist mentioned so far, Salter and Mitchell, are worthy of our respect. Please don’t get me wrong here. I admire both men for their dedication to their craft and their accomplishments in their chosen field. But, admiration doesn’t equate to blind allegiance as if every utterance were a gospel truth, nor does it mean that what was true of the political environment in times past is necessarily true today.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist nor a degree in administration to see that much of what seemed like a good idea to some politicians in governments past has been shown to be anything but. Good intentions or not, Medicaid patients today are still more likely to have bad health outcomes than people with no insurance at all. That’s a fact easily proven by dozens of studies and reams of collected data. And it’s still a fact, whether more federal money is injected into Mississippi or not. The same can be said of education dollars, transportation dollars, and a vast number of things the federal government has shown no ability to do well, let alone perform efficiently.
“Government programs treated as if they are beyond challenge are held up alongside examples of poverty and a lack of education as if the first automatically solves the other two, but rarely do we hear how these programs have performed, and that most actually result in outcomes that worsen the problems they are designed to resolve.”
Bill Crawford, another syndicated opinion writer with a past personal affiliation with government and politics, alludes to this in two articles published over the past two months. In one such commentary, he declared the need for federal money in Mississippi as our state’s lifeline. In another written only a month later, he attacked federal involvement as inefficient and standing in the way of Mississippians ability to help ourselves.
Crawford sounds torn between two opposing positions, for that we should at least give him credit for publicly recognizing the conundrum Mississippi faces. Does this mean in his view that maybe all these angry know-nothing’s Mitchell references may be on to something after all? And regardless of Crawford’s vacillations, what are readers of his column to make of his background to inform them of such things? Apparently it matters very little to his publishers.
Crawford’s bio line after each article?
“Bill Crawford is a syndicated columnist from Meridian (firstname.lastname@example.org)”
That’s it. No mention of the fact that he is a past member of the Republican State Executive Committee, that he is a former state legislator, or that he has worked extensively in “economic development”. No mention that he is a past deputy director of the Mississippi Development Authority under Governor Haley Barbour, or that he served on the Governor’s Task Force on Contracting and Procurement for the Mississippi Department of Corrections from 2014-2015. (That would be the same Dept. of Corrections, by the way, that is currently embroiled in a controversy over former state director Chris Epps taking of bribes in exchange for rewarding contracts to vendors who provided services to the department.)
And no mention that Barbour appointed Crawford in 2006 to oversee a $15 million grant from the federal government via the Dept. of Labor for “workforce and economic development,” nor that he is the founding president of the Montgomery Institute, a registered 501(c)3 non-profit that boasts partnerships that have raised over $17 million in support of its programs from several entities including among them:
- The U.S. Department of Labor
- The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
- The U.S. Department of Education
- The U.S. Department of Agriculture – Rural Development
- The Appalachian Regional Commission
- The Mississippi Development Authority and;
- The Mississippi Department of Employment Security
Knowledge of the inside game and how government has worked and why it doesn’t work is an important part of any researched article that communicates an opinion. But let’s face it, knowledge of how government has worked, and continues to work FOR THE BENEFIT of those who are communicating the opinion is pretty important, too. Waxing poetic about what is needed from government and why it is needed suddenly takes on a whole new perspective when viewed with that in mind.
“Knowledge of the inside game and how government has worked and why it doesn’t work is an important part of any researched article that communicates an opinion. But let’s face it, knowledge of how government has worked, and continues to work FOR THE BENEFIT of those who are communicating the opinion is pretty important, too.”
Political writers who position themselves through omission, as someone who sits outside of the intellectually lowbrow antics of head-to-head politics that are the reality of day to day government aren’t telling the whole truth.
Even setting this aside, many of these writers start fully invested, not just intellectually but financially, in the idea that government programs work as planned. But the truth is the vast body of evidence shows that most of these government schemes, in fact, don’t work. Ignoring these numerous failures, and the unforeseen circumstances that are almost always a result of programs that are outside the scope of governments constitutional responsibility, is as much a part of the full complexity of the narrative as communicating the potential for engrained bias that exists in the writers account.
Grassroots challengers to the status quo of government and the wielding of political power and favoritism will always be characterized as know-nothing, angry barbarians storming the gates by those who refuse to look critically at the outcomes of government instituted and taxpayer funded programs. Especially if the programs and the politicians who support them financially support the ones doing the looking.
It’s much easier to label people as angry–“makers vs. takers” as Mitchell puts it–than to delve into the complexities of how culture and politics rub against one another to smooth the pathways toward a particular societal experience or failure. That is the case whether the experiences or failures are a result of government and politics or a result of humanities voluntary attempts.
It’s much easier for elitist to label a log-truck driver supporting Trump as an ignoramus than to delve into his life deep enough to see why he feels that way. It’s far more advantageous to the Charlie Mitchell’s of the world to pin the motive of racism on the lady cleaning houses rather than to honestly seek out why she thinks Mississippi’s state flag should remain flying until such time there is a vote that makes it no longer the official state flag.
It’s a whole lot less taxing on those narrating on behalf of academia, unions and quasi-governmental non-profits to describe the hundreds of thousands of Mississippians–construction workers, farmers, retail shop owners and service industry employees and employers–as too stupid to comprehend why our state should expend millions more dollars annually on so many separate and fully functioning educational institutions rather than to question, as working people who live by a budget are apt to do, why in the world many of these institutions functions haven’t been consolidated already.
It’s so much easier to use the constantly morphing and increasingly meaningless term “economic development” to advocate for hundreds of millions of future state dollars towards the construction of a bevy of museums, and to provide tax loopholes to large corporations than to get into the murky details of whether such spending has ever really accomplished anything, and whether taxpayers or even their children or grandchildren are likely to see a return on the “investment”.
Government programs treated as if they are beyond challenge are held up alongside examples of poverty and a lack of education as if the first automatically solves the other two, but rarely do we hear how these programs perform, and that most actually result in making the problems they are designed to resolve even worse.
Meanwhile, as the old saying goes, the lesson will continue until the lesson is learned, and our government stacks failure on top of failure on top of failure.
In this way these stalwarts of the Fourth Branch are no different than the bureaucrats who man the posts within government agencies, some of whom it turns out are actually the same people. As such, they represent little more than a dedication to the status quo of ineffectiveness and inefficiency.
Being a cultural conservative means looking to tradition first. The lessons of the innumerable cases of trial and error that have come before us is far greater than any human logic of the age. Still, as generations come and generations go many of these traditions must and do change, institutions face new challenges, and societies shift in focus as new innovations are discovered and acted upon. As we look to the truths revealed from traditions past we also look to new and more efficient ways to communicate those truths and implement those lessons, to become better people; better stewards and better neighbors.
This is a fact that hasn’t changed in millennia. People intuitively understand this even if they don’t always act in accordance with that understanding.
These old-hats from media past would do well to stop playing the role of protectors of bureaucracy and start understanding the public for whom they claim to write isn’t so trusting of them anymore. While at it they could probably stand to recognize and take a little responsibility for the role they played in contributing to the loss of trust to begin with.
Yet, as seen by Mitchell’s commentary on Trump and McDaniel supporters, what we see is more simplification, more unrelenting demonization, and continued rationalization of government and politics as usual.
Salter and Crawford for their part both spilled a great deal of ink over the McDaniel-Cochran race while it was underway, more so than Mitchell in my unscientific estimation (You CAN read my bio to see why I may have a little specialized insight into that).
Salter and Crawford wrote extensively about the policies and supposed risks surrounding the outcome of the 2014 Republican primary election, never once eluding to the fact that their livelihoods and work in government were possibly on the line.
Not once did they bother to present themselves as anything but unbiased observers, or as their one-line biographies claimed then and still claim today, they were then and remain now nothing more than “syndicated columnists”.