Yellow-bellied journalism

Mark Judge Journalist and filmmaker
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The problem with the mainstream media is not that they are liberals. It’s that they are cowards. They simply will not engage with any thought that threatens their worldview.

It’s important to remember that it wasn’t always this way. There once was a time when liberal journalists had the guts to engage, and engage deeply, with the ideas of those who disagreed with them. Edward R. Murrow had Joseph McCarthy on his show. Dick Cavett moderated a debate between William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal. And in my favorite example, John Lennon (maybe not technically a journalist, but close enough) entertained the conservative cartoonist Al Capp during a bed-in for peace (that is to say, Lennon’s bed-in, not Capp’s).

The most honorable of these journalists were willing to have their prejudices shaken, and they also had the integrity to absorb the arguments of those they disagreed with. Some were even educated. H.L. Mencken, probably the greatest journalist of the 20th century, was an iconoclast who didn’t like religion, moralists, politicians or killjoys. But his dismantling of his enemies were so effective because he knew the arguments of his foes; indeed, Mencken often knew his subjects better than those who were supposedly experts. In 1920, Mencken wrote a piece, “The Restoration of Beauty,” about the rise and fall of beauty in Christianity. “The Christians of the Apostolic Age were almost exactly like the Holy Rollers—men quite without taste or imagination, whoopers and shouters, low vulgarians.” They knew nothing about beauty until after the early church fathers had passed away. Mencken:

Well Christmas, as we now have it, was almost unknown in Christendom until the 11th century, when the relics of St. Nicholas of Myra, originally the patron of pawnbrokers, were brought from the east to Italy. All this time the Universal Church was already torn by controversies and menaced by schisms, and the shadow of the Reformation was plainly discernible in the West. Religions, in fact, like castles, sunsets and women, never reach their maximum beauty until they are touched with decay.

Mencken was as critical of the Catholic Church as Maureen Dowd, Andrew Sullivan, or Frank Rich, but almost 100 years later it is Mencken’s criticism that still bites deeper. Mencken had actually educated himself about the thing he was criticizing. Indeed, he wrote an entire book on the subject—“Treatise of the Gods.” In another example, in 1919 Mencken completely disemboweled socialist philosopher Thorstein Veblen—but not before reading the man’s work. Veblen used a lot of academic verbiage, and simple struggling through it was a challenge. “I shrunk supinely from the appalling job,” Mencken wrote, “of rereading the whole cannon of the singularly laborious and muggy, the incomparably tangled and unintelligible works of Prof. Veblen.” Mencken read all of Veblen’s works. These days, Washingtonians Chris Matthews, Maureen Dowd and Andrew Sullivan can’t be bothered to spend $1.25 on bus fare to the National Mall to see the tea partiers and make up their own minds about them. And seriously, does anyone have any doubt what Frank Rich is going to be for or against? Can he actually be bothered to call a priest or read a theology book before commenting on the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church?

In the new May issue of First Things magazine, theologian David B. Hart offers a blistering defenestration of the new atheists—Christopher Hitchens, A.C. Grayling, Richard Dawkins, etc. Hart’s problem is not that these people are atheists, but rather that their arguments are weak and lazy. Hart keeps waiting for another Nietzsche; instead he gets the sterno-fueled tantrums of Christopher Hitchens. Referring to the book “50 Voices of Disbelief: Why We are Atheists,” Hart writes: “Simple probability, surely, would seem to dictate that a collection of essays by fifty fairly intelligent and zealous atheists would contain at least one logically compelling, deeply informed, morally profound, or conceptually arresting argument for not believing in God.” No such luck. In fact, “the quality of the essays is inversely proportionate to the air of authority their authors affect.” The absolute nadir of this phenomenon was when Ana Marie Cox, most popular girl in Liberal Journalist High, dismissed Sarah Palin’s book “Going Rogue” in the Washington Post—then admitted she had not read it.

Earlier in this column I referenced the fact that John Lennon had once invited the conservative cartoonist Al Capp to a bed-in. Capp showed up, and now, more than 40 years after the fact, it still remains riveting viewing. The meeting quickly becomes a debate, and a great one. Both men score points, and both are funny and intellectually agile. Seeing it I was reminded of why I am a conservative—and also why I love John Lennon. I’m a conservative because of certain core principles, and the courage—indeed, desire—to argue for those principles even in a hostile environment. And I love John Lennon because he was willing to be challenged by those ideas. In that way he had more guts than Katie Couric, The New York Times and Keith Olbermann.

Mark Judge is the author of A Tremor of Bliss: Sex, Catholicism and Rock and Roll, forthcoming from Doubleday. His YouTube page can be found here –http://www.youtube.com/user/MarkGauvreau.