The incestuous world of D.C./New York journalism is in shock. Slate, the redundant liberal website owned by The Washington Post, has laid off four writers. This comes after The Post announced another disastrous quarter, with a 13 percent loss in online revenues.
There has been widespread howling in the media about the layoffs; journalists are particularly lathered at the dismissal of Jack Shafer, the liberal media critic for Slate. But Shafer is an example of why The Post is flailing. The media simply will not confront the fact that liberal bias has affected their business. They would rather die than change.
In 2010, Newsmax, a conservative outlet, reported revenues in excess of $50 million. The Wall Street Journal, with its conservative editorial page, is one of the few newspapers treading water. The Daily Caller, which leans right but is open to anything that is interesting and entertaining, exceeded all of its traffic expectations after its launch almost two years ago. Do I need to mention Fox News?
But, bien sur, this has absolutely nothing to do with the collapse of the mainstream media. Supporters of Slate and Jack Shafer have been blogging about the outrage over his dismissal, and they all circle back to Shafer’s supposed “fearlessness.” The American Journalism Review used the term in its headline. Erik Wemple, formerly the editor of the failed TBD.com and now at The Washington Post (how do these people keep failing upwards?), genuflected before Shafer, noting that Shafer is “a favorite of anyone who values original, uncorrupted thinking on how journalists and news outlets operate.” Wemple, like Shafer, is a former editor of The Washington City Paper, as is New York Times writer David Carr, who also praised Shafer. (These guys — and many of their wives, who are also journalists at liberal publications — all know each other; reading their tweets is like listening in on a high school party line).
Shafer, like the rest of Slate’s editors, is too biased to hire conservatives. On a matter that would have required genuine courage, Shafer had none.
Which is not to say he didn’t come close. In 2003, Shafer wrote a piece about the history of press bias in 20th-centuryAmerica. He concluded with a confusing passage:
Just because you can excavate a political component from any accusation of press bias doesn’t mean all press criticism is partisan or motivated by self-interest. Clearly, unadulterated bias contaminates many stories and can even infect the entire Washington press corps from time to time. But because most charges of bias are never distant from somebody’s active political agenda, no discussion about press bias — specific or general — should begin without this extended throat clearing.
The first sentence opens the door to a genuine insight. Shafer seems to be admitting that the politics of a person making an accusation of bias should not matter if that accusation is grounded in facts and human reason. He then backs off at the end of the paragraph, hinting that the biases of the bias-hunters are themselves dangerous. He then calls for media critics to announce their biases.
But this is what conservative media critics have been doing for years. Brent Bozell at The Media Research Center freely admits he is right-wing. As does Andrew Breitbart. As do I. Yet we also believe that we can ground our arguments in facts, statistics and human reason — and therefore convince others who may not share our political beliefs.
And we’re not afraid to engage the other side. Fox seems to not only welcome but relish liberals who come on the network to fence with their commentators. As a reader, who do you trust — Stephen Hayes of The Weekly Standard, who openly admits his opinions, or Jacob Weisberg of Slate, who plays Mr. Immaculate Objective Observer while worshipping at the altar of Obama?
For decades, Slate and The Washington Post — and The New York Times, and CBS, and NBC, etc. — have blackballed conservatives. They have not hired our writers, engaged in our ideas or reported on us fairly. To admit this obvious injustice would require real courage, which is why when it comes to cajones, Bernard Goldberg drinks Jack Shafer’s milkshake.
Shafer, and Slate, had an opportunity to save themselves. In 2008, Shafer wrote a piece called “The Liberal Media and How to Stop it.” In it, he revealed that an inner-office poll had shown that 55 of the 57 Slate employees had voted for Obama. How, Shafer mused, had this happened? Well, when Shafer was editing alternative weeklies, “Year after year, the best applicants were almost exclusively liberal.” Well, there you go. The best journalists are liberal because the best journalists are liberal. And forget trying to do anything about it. As Shafer put it:
I can’t solve the Slate Obamavalanche conundrum. But that doesn’t mean I’d support an affirmative action program for conservatives just because they think they’re underrepresented. Screw that. Conservatives put their minds to filling the ranks of the commentariat, and they did OK there. If they want to fill more mainstream reporter and editor jobs, let them tug harder on their bootstraps.
This is the moment when Slate could have done something to save itself — or at least stay relevant — because at the time Shafer wrote those words a lot of us were pulling hard on our bootstraps. I had published a couple books and won an award for a piece I did for The Washington City Paper — a piece published when Shafer was the editor of that paper — when in the late 1990s I contacted Slate to ask about freelancing. Shafer replied that he had no interest in what he called my “hot shit copy.” Affirmative action or not, conservatives were not welcome. To claim that there were just none of us, that the only thing a Slate editor could do was toss his hands up at the dazzling superiority of all those lefty applicants, is pusillanimous horse shit.
Imagine for a second that in 2008 Shafer and Slate had thought differently. Imagine if they had tapped a conservative or libertarian for an editor’s job — say, Tucker Carlson or Newsmax’s Christopher Ruddy, who claimed he could make Newsweek profitable in 18 months — the same Newsweek that is now considered a joke. Or Michelle Malkin, who launched Hotair.com, now one of the most successful political sites on the Web. Had Shafer had the guts to ignore his own posturing, he might not be out of a job.
What happened to Shafer and Slate, and what is happening to The Post and the rest of the dinosaur media, reminds me of that immortal Alec Baldwin scene in the movie “Glengarry Glen Ross.” Baldwin is a salesman sent to motivate a group of losers, who in my metaphor represent members of the old media who are simply unwilling to hire conservatives, even though doing so would make their outlets profitable (Fact: Michelle Malkin could quadruple Rachel Maddow’s ratings in six months).
“They are sitting out there waiting to give you their money,” Baldwin says with a brilliant and hilarious combination of testosterone and bemusement. “Are you willing to take it? Are you man enough?”
Mark Judge is the author of A Tremor of Bliss: Sex, Catholicism, and Rock ‘n’ Roll.