The problem is particularly acute in America
I’ve learned so much from Twitter, about subjects I was quite ignorant about before; the world of Byzantium for example, or the beautiful history of early skyscrapers.
Most of all, though, I’ve learned how much worse American journalists are than our own commentariat — something I wasn’t really aware of before social media. I just assumed that the country’s newspapers were quite dull; you had to get to paragraph 32 of a New York Times article to actually understand what the story was about. Which is why I thought that its journalists didn’t share the sub-clinical levels of narcissism and sociopathy found in the UK variant. Oh, was I wrong.
One reason American journalists are so insufferable is because they are, by and large, quite extreme. People with terrible personalities do tend to latch onto quite extreme ideologies, or extreme ideologies give people the green light to behave appallingly. This has been borne out by yet another study, although one using an unusual method, reiterating the blindingly obvious: that American journalists are much more Left-wing than the public at large.
The ideology of journalists — as measured by who they follow on Twitter. Huge tilt to the Left, as expected. Far to the Left of the average Twitter user. https://t.co/kbT5rIsm2L pdf pic.twitter.com/OxkpVlc6nX
— Whyvert (@whyvert) March 18, 2021
In Britain, more than half of journalists identify as being on the Left and just under a quarter on the Right, and a similar pattern is found in several western countries.
Journalists have often tended to be on the Left – some of the most feared murderers of the French Revolution were hacks – but there has definitely been an acceleration. In the 1960s the trend was about 2 to 1, but by the 2000s as little as 7% identified as conservative, compared to 33% of the US public, a figure repeated in a report a decade later.
Rather unsurprisingly, polls show American trust in the media declining, a trend that accelerated in 2008 when swathes of Americans came to believe journalists were conspiring to get Obama elected. I don’t think Donald Trump’s open hostility to journalists did him any harm, nor do I think it will harm the prospects of any future populist.
The danger is that journalism covers a variety of roles, from the people whose job it is to uncover corruption and hold politicians to account, to people employed to offer their opinions; in recent years the line between the two has become increasingly blurred, which poses obvious problems. That is because journalists perform the role of a clerisy, equivalent to a priesthood; all societies need a commentariat, but the problem is that traditionally priesthoods were constrained by hierarchies which prevented charismatic but unbalanced preachers from pushing too dangerous an idea; in more recent times, the pre-digital journalistic establishment played a similar restraining role.
Where there is no clear hierarchy, there is instead ruthless competition to acquire the most edgy, high-status opinion, all in an industry with declining wages and high-cost urban living. The result is Fisherian runaway progressivism, with competitors displaying the opinion equivalents of peacock’s feathers — impressive to look but grotesquely exaggerated.