New York Times columnist David Brooks managed to get away from the GOP Senators trying to place their hands on his inner thigh at dinner long enough to pen a column shaming a real journalist for having the audacity to break the etiquette rules that govern the precious relationship between elite media personalities and those in power. His target this time is freelance journalist Michael Hastings, whose profile in Rolling Stone of Gen. Stanley McChrystal and his inner circle brought down McChrystal almost instantly.
What offended Brooks was that Hastings had the audacity to report--for public consumption (gasp!)--the "kvetching" that powerful figures like McChrystal apparently engage in with their friends in the corporate media. "The most interesting part of my job is that I get to observe powerful people at close quarters," Brooks writes. "The system is basically set up to maximize kvetching."
Hastings, who clearly skipped out on one too many classes at the Joe Klein/David Brooks/Peggy Noonan School for Caviar Correspondents, committed the mortal sin of making "the kvetching the center of his magazine profile." Brooks declares: "By putting the kvetching in the magazine, the reporter essentially took run-of-the-mill complaining and turned it into a direct challenge to presidential authority. He took a successful general and made it impossible for President Obama to retain him."
That Hastings exposed what McChrystal and his boys really think of Obama and civilian leaders or that he uncovered disturbing views held by McChrystal regarding loss of life in Afghanistan--in other words, information that the public and civilian leaders probably should have--goes unmentioned by Brooks. What Hastings did was to act too much like a journalist and not enough like an ass-kissing kvetcher. Professor Brooks breaks it down like this for young Hastings: "Military people are especially prone to these sorts of outbursts. In public, they pay lavish deference to civilian masters who issue orders from the comfort of home. Among themselves, they blow off steam, sometimes in the crudest possible terms. Those of us in the press corps have to figure out how to treat this torrent of private kvetching."
So much of what is wrong with journalism today can be gleaned from a simple RSS subscription to David Brooks's columns. In his world, those who have access to the powerful guard their darkest secrets--not their affairs or infidelities or alcohol problems, but the kinds of views McChrystal and his aides expressed in Hastings' article, the kind of conduct they condone and order in US wars. In a responsible society, one with a vibrant and independent press, the job of journalists should be to hold those in power accountable. Part of the job of journalists is to do precisely what Hastings did--catch powerful figures in their true element, not simply portray their crafted public personas and loyally transcribe their prepared public statements. "McChrystal, like everyone else, kvetched," Brooks writes. "And having apparently missed the last 50 years of cultural history, he did so on the record, in front of a reporter."
To Brooks, Hastings's conduct was a part of the decay of the private, sacred relationship between the press and the powerful. During World War II, Brooks writes, "Reporters suppressed private information."
Then, during Vietnam, all hell broke loose, according to Brooks: "[A]n ethos of exposure swept the culture. The assumption among many journalists was that the establishment may seem upstanding, but there is a secret corruption deep down. It became the task of journalism to expose the underbelly of public life, to hunt for impurity, assuming that the dark hidden lives of public officials were more important than the official performances."
Fast forward to today. Oh, don't get Lord Brooks started on today. "Now you have outlets, shows and Web sites whose only real interest is the kvetching and inside baseball," Brooks complains. "In other words, over the course of 50 years, what had once been considered the least important part of government became the most important."
The irony of what Brooks is saying is that it is he who is the ultimate inside baseball junkie, the king of kvetching with the powerful. He is the gatekeeper for the stupid, undeserving public who wouldn't be able to handle the truth if they knew it. In our infotainment society where the kids from Jersey Shore are "reality" and the deaths of innocent Afghans and Iraqis are, at best, statistics, David Brooks fits in perfectly.