Eunuchs of the fourth estate: Sarah Palin and the press

Mark Judge Journalist and filmmaker
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When did the media become a bunch of girly men?

The latest dispatch from Sarah Palin’s Magical Mystery Tour reveals that our tough media are a bunch of pansies who get the vapors when a bus goes ten miles over the speed limit. Politico recently reported that Sarah Palin’s bus is “a rolling menace.” The evidence? Palin’s bus went 52 mph in a 35 mph zone. That’s, um, 17 mph over the limit. Also, they “flew right past a flashing sign informing them they were going 45 mph in a 35 mph zone.” They also ran a couple red lights as they were pulling into New York. Oh, and they did 70 on I-95. Journalists, reports Politico, describe the experience as “harrowing.”

This is a joke, right? My 80-year-old mother, when her neuropathy isn’t acting up, does 70 on I-95.

Over the last few decades, there has been a slow sea change in the media. In the old days of Hemingway, Mencken, Halberstam and Hunter Thompson, journalists were people who risked their lives. They drank too much. They were beaten up by life as part of their jobs. They sped and ran red lights. Hunter Thompson got his ass kicked by the Hell’s Angels, whom he was covering. Thompson made a joke that apparently didn’t go over too well — if memory serves, the Angels wanted a piece of the royalties from Thompson’s book, and Thompson told them to forget it. He woke up in his car beaten to a pulp. And say what you will about Ted Koppel — his sanctimony, his atrocious prose, his appalling salary — but the truth is that Ted was in Vietnam. He was with the soldiers on the ground. I can’t imagine Koppel reporting about the “harrowing” experience of GIs going ten miles over the speed limit.

Indeed, the Politico charge against Palin is so ludicrous, so pathetically unmanly, so downright feeble, that I’m tempted to think it’s a joke. But maybe not. Watergate changed journalism — since then, upper-class, Ivy League graduates have flocked to the profession. Increasingly, the job became filled by people who, to quote the immortal Marine R. Lee Ermey, couldn’t sound off like they had a pair. Increasingly, I noticed journalists getting gushing praise for the mildest sign of guts. Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone reported that the boys on the bus were agape when he actually played catch with candidate John Kerry in 2004 — “Look, Taibbi is tossing a football to the candidate! Amazing!” More recently, Luke Russert was praised as a grand and fearless inquisitor for asking a question anyone off the street would — “Congressman Weiner, is that your package in the picture that was sent to a 21-year-old woman?” One thing’s for sure: if that picture is of Weiner, he’s too much man to be a journalist.

Sarah Palin has torn the mask off of the media. The terrible, fearless press pack is filled with babies. And it has nothing to do with sex. I was born and raised in Washington, and learned early to admire Katherine Graham, the bold and legendary publisher of The Washington Post. Today some of the toughest journalists around are women: people like Ann Coulter, who routinely deals with death threats, Michelle Malkin, who has been to Iraq, and Laura Logan, who has been incredibly brave after suffering a violent assault in Egypt. But these folks are rare in journalism these days. Today the field is a cavalcade of the wussified: the GQ softness of Brian Williams, the emotive gush of Ann Curry, the crybaby hysteria of Chris Matthews. (Hardball? No, someone could get hurt!) Does a real man get a tingle up his leg?

Of course, the media could do a few things to help themselves cowboy up. They could hire more military folks to work for them. They could spend more time in war zones with the men and women who protect our freedom. They could, please God, put a moratorium on giving themselves self-aggrandizing awards every year. And they could think twice about filing silly stories about a tour bus running a red light in Manhattan — as well as refraining from the self-congratulatory aftermath, wherein they praise themselves for the “unforgettable” and “terrifying” experience of following Sarah Palin’s bus.

One of my favorite books is “Byline: Ernest Hemingway.” It’s a collection of Hemingway’s magazine and newspaper writing. One dispatch from the Spanish Civil War begins like this:

They say you never hear the one that hits you. That’s true of bullets, because, if you hear them, they are already past. But your correspondent heard the last shell that hit this hotel. He heard it start from the battery, then come with an incoming whistling roar like a subway train to crash against the cornice and shower the room with broken glass and plaster. And while the glass still tinkled down and you listened for the next one to start, you realized that now finally you were back in Madrid.

Oh, for such composure today.

Mark Judge is the author of A Tremor of Bliss: Sex, Catholicism, and Rock ‘n’ Roll.