Thirty-four years ago, I was behind the scenes in Springfield on election night, working on a feature profile of Jim Edgar, who was then running for Illinois Secretary of State.
Ever genial, Jim took me with him to the hotel suite where the Republican campaign operatives — clean-cut young men in dark suits and ties — were gathered, watching CBS election returns on a sofa.
Standing behind, I was surprised and unsettled to hear them hurl one acidic vulgarity after another at Dan Rather on the TV screen. Rather was simply reading election returns, nothing more. They hated him with a passion because he was a journalist.
And those young GOP operatives were the philosophical forebears of the treacherous cabal in the Bush-Cheney White House and today’s fully unhinged Republican Party.
What infuriated them about Rather, finally, was that they couldn’t control what he said. They longed to command, or at least intimidate and silence, every public voice in the country.
Then and now, what they’re really opposed to isn’t “the liberal news media.” It’s journalism itself.
How happy they’d have been, that night, to know that their party was destined to crush much of professional journalism.
The blustering radio jackass Rush Limbaugh showed the way, and then Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch set up their lying propaganda channel, Fox News, to subvert and supplant actual journalism. Greedy for ratings and/or cowering before criticism, other news outlets like CNN and NPR would follow Fox’s lead by airing unchallenged right-wing lies. And with that rocket fuel in its belly, the GOP would produce, in 2016, its ultimate presidential candidate: a constantly lying, serially bankrupt, racist, sexist “reality TV” real estate con artist who endorses violence and torture and flirts with nuclear war.
All this sprang directly from the attitude I heard expressed by those Republicans in that hotel suite in 1982.
This particular type of right winger has always believed that accurate information should be secretly hoarded so he can make piles of money off of it — usually at someone else’s expense — or wielded under the table in some illicit power grab. They’re the sort of people who — for obvious reasons — regard criminal laws against corporate theft and fraud as “excessive government regulation.”
Case in point: These are the kind of people who were behind the “flipping” of Initial Public Offerings on worthless internet company stock. After hyping the stock, they sold it within hours, once it had doubled or tripled in price, leaving the dupes who bought it holding the bag.
A little later they worked the trick again, and their derivative and credit default swap Wall Street frauds actually collapsed the world economy.
The idea of sharing accurate information with the public is laughable to them. The information they prefer that the public see is propaganda, tailored to manipulate the unwashed into serving their interests — interests so shady and antithetical to the public good that they never dare state them openly.
They hire bleached blonde bimbos with short skirts to pitch the propaganda to another tier of Republicans who are much more numerous but much less intelligent.
Uneducated and unable and/or unwilling to understand the subtle checks and balances of the traditional America system, the knuckle draggers in this group want judges who will enforce what they believe the Constitution says, even though they’ve never bothered to read it. They think suspects in custody should be tortured, just like in those steroid-soaked movies they love to watch, and that unarmed black citizens should be shot on sight by police.
They have their own reasons for hating journalism. They don’t like hearing facts that disprove their simple-minded religious dogmas, undermine their racial prejudices or challenge their bloodthirsty militarism. When they lose their jobs and their rights, they blame mouthy women, uppity blacks and what they call the liberal news media — never the corporate plutocrats who are actually ruling the country.
They are sheep that bite.
At the polar opposite of those values stand the ideals of American journalism, which is supposed to be dedicated to the publication of accurate, verified and relevant facts, without fear or favor.
Because the corporate news media rarely lives up to those values now, we’re in the mess we’re in. But to the extent that any real journalism reemerges, it must remain the mortal enemy of right-wing extremists. They always react to it with that familiar reptilian hiss, like Dracula recoiling from the touch of clear sunlight.