When the Truth Takes a Back Seat

Sean Hannity speaks during a live taping of his show in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images)

The trouble with journalism isn’t a dilemma—the tension between doing good journalism vs. the need to make money—but a trilemma, the constituents of which are: 1) the desire to do good journalism; 2) the individual and organizational needs to make money; and 3) the individual and organizational desires to use journalism as a platform for non-journalistic endeavors, especially fighting the culture wars.

As I argued on The Dispatch Podcast, these three factors interact with each other in complex ways, and different considerations carry different weight in different organizations at different times. For example, the New York Times’ smearing of Sarah Palin (who did not win her libel suit against the newspaper but should have) did not serve any obvious short-term financial interest of the newspaper. But it did serve the newspaper’s Kulturkampf interests, i.e., doing what it can to injure the reputation of a hate-totem such as Palin, who had nothing to do with the episode in question in the editorial until the Times went out of its way to drag her into it, falsely claiming (the Times itself concedes that this is a falsehood) that there was a direct link between Palin’s campaign rhetoric and the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabby Giffords, that “the link to political incitement was clear,” when it has been documented (in the Times and elsewhere) that there is no link at all, much less a clear one.

Because we live in the dumbest timeline, I know a little something about the internal politics of journalistic outlets afflicted with politically supercharged staffs: That imbecilic episode involving me and The Atlantic was pure Kulturkampf rather than part of a business strategy—the poetic fact is that the only person who made any money out of that mess was me. (In retrospect, it probably should have been more.) In any case, there was no question of good journalism or bad journalism, or, indeed, any question of journalism at all, only the spectacle of journalists who desperately wish to do something other than journalism, which is a profession distinct from social-justice crusading.

One might argue that the Times ultimately stands to benefit from the cheap and shallow partisanship of its opinion pages (Good luck, David!) because emotionally incontinent fan-service is good for subscriptions. I myself doubt that that is a very sound long-term business position, and I suspect that the senior leadership of the Times knows as much, too: The kind of politically supercharged stunts that resulted in the exits of Bari Weiss and James Bennett tends to come from callow young people, mostly junior staffers, though not exclusively so.

Join to continue reading
Get started with a free account or join as a member for unlimited access to all of The Dispatch. Continue ALREADY HAVE AN ACCOUNT? SIGN IN