Here's the thing: I really feel bad for John Cloud, the poor schlub who wrote the Time cover story of hag Coulter. I really do. I just read his sadsack interview in CJR and Eric Alterman's complete takedown of the boob. And I feel bad for him. He looks like a nice enough guy, and it's obvious that he just doesn't get it. He's in over his head, and doesn't understand what the big hubbub is about. He wrote a fluff piece about a very controversial person, and he sees it as par for the course. He really doesn't think he was supposed to fact-check her and thought it would be interesting to say that he disagrees with her detractors and to focus on her better side. And I'm quite positive that he really does believe that it's liberal bias that's blinding us and throwing us into this rage.
To him, he was just doing his job and he really doesn't understand why everyone's upset. And it's not that he's a right-winger who really believes what he wrote. He obviously doesn't. It's that he didn't think he was supposed to write what he believes. He was just telling a story.
And that's the problem. Not just with Nobody John Cloud, but with the media in its entirety! They are no longer journalists. Not in any real sense. They are entertainers. John Cloud is an entertainment writer who wrote about a controversial entertainer. To him, he wasn't writing about a serious pundit who discusses serious matters and needs to be handled objectively. It was just for fun. For him, this is no different than if he wrote a story on Bill Hicks or Andrew Dice Clay (yes, I am out of touch with modern pop culture, so work with me here). He knew he was writing on a controversial subject, but it really didn't occur to him that he was supposed to treat it seriously. It was just another sensationalistic story written to sell advertisements.
Life's a Joke
And that's our problem. The media treats everything like a joke or a game. Not all of them and not all the time, but in general. You find your angle, you quote a few people, you get in some snappy prose, and you're done. They feel no "Watchdog" responsibilities. They're not after "the Truth". They just have a really fun job which lets them travel and talk to important and interesting people and write about what they saw and who they spoke with.
That's what this is about. They don't see themselves as public servants, performing an important function for society. They see themselves as an elite club with no other duties than what they owe themselves and their media conglomerate. No more are the Woodward and Bernstein's knocking tirelessly on door after door, hounding down the truth. No. They've been replaced by Eighth Graders doing their best to fulfill their latest homework assignment.
Cloud wasn't trying to write an informative article to tell America who Coulter is. He was writing an interesting one which would say things that you hadn't read elsewhere. He even admitted as much in his CJR interview saying:
"Now, I had a choice of, do I want to, in my article, list every single Ann Coulter mistake ever made, even ones that have been corrected by the publisher -- which is, by the way, what almost every other journalist who has written about her has done -- or do I want to say something fresh and interesting about her?"
And that just about says it all, doesn't it. Not the strawman of "correcting every mistake", but about the need to say something fresh and interesting. He doesn't care about telling the truth. He doesn't care if what "almost every other journalist" is true or not. That's not his concern. He just wants to tell us something new; something interesting. To him, that's the point of journalism. Not to inform, but to entertain.
And why does he think that? Because that's what he's been taught. John Cloud didn't invent this kind of journalism. It's the culture he lives in, and is a direct descendent of the free market system. No longer are media outlets responsible for what they write; they have handed over that power to the God of Popular Demand. A story's importance is no longer what the editor or reporter believes it is. It's what they believe the consumers want. And they envision their role as no different of that of a Hollywood producer or television screenwriter: giving the people what they want.
So blame not John Cloud. Continue to assail him, but do so only as a warning to all others to not cross that line; of blurring entertainment with the hardcore pornographic punditry. And may this also serve as a warning to the media itself, to cease this assault on better judgment and objectivism. And to cease pimping false claims which interest America. America may clamor for controversy and sensationalism, but it is not for them to decide what is newsworthy. That is the responsibility of the media itself; and if they cannot fulfill that responsibility, they must be replaced by those who can.
The media must be forced to reclaim its responsibilities for its coverage, or suffer the consequences. To ignore the clamoring of America's masses for more and more entertainment; and to once again fulfill it's democratic duty as informer and educator of the masses. And if nothing else, we can achieve this by harnessing the one force still respected by our lightweight elite: popular demand. Make your presence known. Our Democracy demands it.