There’s nothing stupider in political discourse than the game left and right play in trying to catch each other out for being hypocritical, or inconsistent, or unfair. I’m talking about the kind of J’Accuse! assertions that the ones asserting them think are devastating, but are persuasive to no one but the already brainwashed. These facile, leap-to-judgment “arguments,” generally found on social media, sort of make me feel ashamed to be a human in the 21st century.
I find it doubly irritating when news media are being unjustly accused of the above sins (this is from the right 90 percent of the time). But that’s me; your mileage may vary. (Sorry, Bryan — you hadn’t used that today, so I grabbed it.)
This is not even an extreme example, but it’s one at hand, so I share it:
Readers of the print edition of the Washington Post found not a word this morning about the charges brought last night against Jessie Smollett. The news broke about 8 p.m. Because democracy dies in darkness.
— Brit Hume (@brithume) February 21, 2019
I had a number of thoughts in quick succession about this when it appeared the other day:
- Who reads the print version of The Washington Post? I don’t. I can’t even get the print edition where I live, but I prefer the iPad app anyway.
- Maybe Hume isn’t being a jerk. Maybe he’s really decrying the death — or at least rapid decline — of print. It actually is a real problem that things that happen fairly early in the evening do not make it into the print version. Back when I was in charge of the paper at night, here and in Wichita, I’d be putting breaking news into the paper at 1 a.m. and later. With the super-early press times now, I have seen things that did indeed break as early as 8 fail to make it into The State. No skin off this reader’s nose, but it means folks like my parents who depend on the dead-tree version get the breaking news two days later. Anyway, in this generous interpretation, Hume’s “Democracy Dies in Darkness” crack was a lament that things that happen after sundown aren’t in the next day’s paper.
- Nah, that’s probably not what he meant, I decide after looking at some of his other Tweets.
- In any case, there was way more than I was interested in reading about this absurd (according to the cops) affair — in The Post, and elsewhere. In the online editions, I mean — the place where news organizations focus most of their effort and attention these days.
- And I gotta tell ya, Brit — the first I remember hearing about this incident, there was already doubt being cast on this guy’s story. Maybe that’s because that’s when the story got big in the biased news media you decry. (Another cause was that I’d never heard of this “Jussie” person before that coverage.) Maybe I did half-hear something about it before that, but not consciously. Having spent decades of my life having to very quickly pick the real news out from the boring background, I long ago learned to filter out “dog bites man” stuff. “TV actor you never heard of attacked” is a headline that puts me to sleep by the third word. “Cops: Actor faked attack for the publicity” is a hed that might make me read a graf or two, and maybe shake my once at the foolishness in this world before moving on.
- Oh, wait — is this about the fact that some of the overexcited Democratic presidential hopefuls leaped to express sympathy for this guy before facts were known? Well, they made fools of themselves, didn’t they (but with kind intentions, apparently)? But that’s on them. They are not The Washington Post, and The Washington Post is not them, despite the fantasies of those who see the world in binary either-or, us-vs.-them terms. No connection.
Personally, I like what the NYT‘s David Leonhardt said about cases such as this, two days before Hume’s Tweet:
Ms. Harris said in response to the question about her use of the ‘modern day lynching’ phrase,” as Katharine Seelye of The Times reported. “After a moment, she said, ‘I think the facts are still unfolding and I’m very concerned’ about the initial allegation by Mr. Smollett. She said ‘there should be an investigation’ and declined to comment further until it was complete.”
Her final instinct there was the best one. Making sweeping pronouncements about unverified criminal allegations isn’t a good idea — not now, not three weeks ago. It’s especially problematic with matters involving race, gender and sexuality, which ignite particular political passions.
Everyone — and definitely anyone running for president — should know by now that it’s O.K. to wait before weighing in on a hot topic. As the most recent Democratic president famously said, “I like to know what I’m talking about before I speak.”…
Good advice, that.