Summer Sale Extended! Get unlimited digital access for 13 weeks for $13.
Op-Eds
News Opinion Op-Eds

Who's to blame for America's nasty politics? Tom Brokaw.

You know who I blame for the terrible tone in American politics? Tom Brokaw.

No, not the man himself, but what he represents.

Since Dan Rather famously beclowned himself, Mr. Brokaw stands as the last of the respected "voice of God" news anchors (CBS News executive Don Hewitt's phrase). These were the oracles who simply declared what was news and what wasn't. Walter Cronkite, the prize of the breed, used to end his newscasts, "And that's the way it is" -- as if he were speaking not just with journalistic but also epistemological and ontological authority.

You can still find this sort of hubris on the masthead of the New York Times, which proclaims "All the news that's fit to print" -- a claim that would be subjected to truth-in-labeling laws were it not for the First Amendment.

Mr. Brokaw, an honorable and industrious man, is now playing the role of elder statesman while touting his new book, "The Time of Our Lives." In it, he writes: "Slashing rhetoric and outrageous characterizations have long been part of the American national political dialogue ... but modern means of communications are now so pervasive and penetrating they might as well be part of the air we breathe, and therefore they require tempered remarks from all sides. Otherwise, the air just becomes more and more toxic until it is suffocating."

There's much wisdom here. But blaming the new media environment for what ails us is an awfully convenient alibi. It suggests that the old media, of which Mr. Brokaw was a master of the universe, played no part in losing the trust of so many Americans.

For starters, when the mainstream media complains about the national "tone," it almost invariably means the tone to their right. After the tragic Gabrielle Giffords shooting, the mainstream media reported, and liberal pundits raced to insist, that Republican rhetoric -- particularly, a pictogram on Sarah Palin's Facebook page -- inspired the suspect. The evidence disproving all of that is voluminous; the record of apologies and retractions from those who reported it is comparably scant.

At the same time, Democratic rhetoric has grown ever more extreme. Vice President Joe Biden said pro-"tea party" Republicans in Congress acted "like terrorists." House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has said Republicans want to "end life as we know it."

More recently, Mr. Biden has insisted that the GOP's refusal to pass the White House's jobs bill would cause a surge in rapes, sexual assaults and other crimes across the country. Perhaps he's right, because the legislation has failed (at the hands of Democrats and Republicans alike), and such offenses at Occupy Wall Street protests have risen (that's why they've built a women-only tent at Zuccotti Park). But you wouldn't necessarily know that from watching the nightly news.

When tea partiers angrily shouted down their congressmen at some town halls around the country, then-Speaker of the House Pelosi and then-Majority Leader Steny Hoyer wrote in an op-ed article in USA Today that such behavior is "simply un-American." The mainstream media, which during the George W. Bush years often imagined and certainly trumpeted alleged GOP assaults on the patriotism of Democrats, yawned in response.

Meanwhile, violence, extreme rhetoric and wanton lawlessness have been prevalent in the Occupy Wall Street movement, but the coverage remains largely positive. And any politician who suggests these protests are "simply un-American" risks getting worse than a yawn from the media. The "Today" show even ran a segment on how the protests offered "civics lessons" for children.

All too often it seems like the supposedly evenhanded media cherry-picks positive examples from the left and negative ones from the right. And even when they do cover ideologically inconvenient news, the passion and hysteria are nearly always reserved for the threat from the right.

Mr. Brokaw and his heirs don't understand that such double standards breed precisely the rhetoric they find so toxic. Because the new media Mr.  Brokaw laments allows conservatives to see how much important news the old media didn't deem fit to print, they learn not to trust or respect those who wag their fingers rightward about civility -- or anything else.

Jonah Goldberg is a syndicated columnist. His email is JonahsColumn@aol.com.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
  • Less testing, more learning

    Less testing, more learning

    As our kids embark on another school year, they will experience and enjoy many of the same memorable projects and lessons we once learned. Parents and educators are excited to spark their curiosity and teach the important critical thinking skills that will help students grow and succeed.

  • Is Hillary 'likable enough'?

    Is Hillary 'likable enough'?

    Seven years ago, 2008 Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, in a New Hampshire primary debate, was asked about her personal appeal. Her prime opponent, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, cheekily interjected: "You're likable enough, Hillary."

  • China's slowdown is good news for the U.S.

    China's slowdown is good news for the U.S.

    U.S. stocks have endured a lot of turmoil, but recent shocks have made apparent important facts about China and the shifting global economy long ignored by many analysts and investors. Those bode well for America and the bull market should soon resume.

  • The path forward for city schools

    The path forward for city schools

    It's the first day of school in Baltimore, and I'm feeling the excitement and optimism I always feel on this day of the year. But in my decades as a teacher, administrator and superintendent, I have never felt more urgency and concern on a first day than I do today.

  • Baltimore needs school choice

    Baltimore needs school choice

    Nearly a half-century after local and national uprisings around the passing of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., what is the one aspect of the urban condition in Baltimore that has changed too little but can transform a person's life and livelihood, and ultimately his or her community?

  • The tragedy after Hurricane Katrina

    The tragedy after Hurricane Katrina

    After the storm waters of Hurricane Katrina subsided, devastation remained: unsafe and waterlogged structures, with moldy, crumbling walls; unsalvageable fridges and soggy couches; indoor rivulets of mud. Local economies collapsed. A million people were displaced. Thousands of residents lost everything...

Comments
Loading
84°