I listened to Cooke’s passioned rant on the recent Mad Dogs and Englishmen podcast with Kevin Williamson on the drive back from Hilton Head this morning. His passion translates will into his words.
From Charlie Cooke at National Review, Bad Press:
“Accountability” doesn’t mean “always running a retraction when you get it wrong.” At some point it means learning and adapting and changing one’s approach. It is not an accident that all of the press’s mistakes go in one political or narrative direction. It is not happenstance that none of the major figures seem capable of playing “wait and see” when the subject is this presidency. And it is not foreordained that they must reflexively appeal to generalities when a member of the guild steps forcefully onto the nearest rake. Ronald Reagan liked to quip that a government department represented the closest thing to eternal life we are likely to see on this earth. In close second is a bad journalist with the right opinions, for he will be treated as if he were the very embodiment of liberty.
That, certainly, is how they regard themselves. “The last person to rule America who didn’t believe in the First Amendment was King George III,” wrote MSNBC’s Kasie Hunt, back in June — which is true only if you discount that the colonists actually enjoyed robust speech protections relative to their English cousins; if you are insensible of the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, the pro-slavery “gag” rules that bound the House of Representatives from 1835 to 1844, the Civil War, the Espionage Act of 1917, the Sedition Act of 1918, New York Times Co. v. United States, Woodrow Wilson, Charles Schenck, or Eugene Debs; and, most crucially, if you remain wholly incapable of distinguishing between criticism and restriction.
Donald Trump, at whom Hunt’s quip was aimed, does indeed have instincts toward the First Amendment of which he and his acolytes should be ashamed; he does indeed have a tenuous relationship with the truth; and he does indeed wear a skin so thin as to border on the translucent. But he has not — ever — “attacked the free press”; he has not prevented, or attempted to prevent, the publication of a single printed word; and he has made no attempt whatsoever to change the law that he might do so. Rather, he has repeatedly — and often stupidly — criticized the press corps. The difference between these two actions is the difference between a bad art critic’s savaging a painting in print and a bad art critic’s savaging a painting with a chainsaw. One is the exercise of liberty; the other, vandalism and intimidation.