The National Review's Robert Costa. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
Back in 2009, Tucker Carlson gave a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference, in which he told the crowd that what the right needed was more real journalism. He even pointed out that, as much as they hate the New York Times, that paper has people who do actual reporting and care about accurately relaying facts, and conservatives ought to try the same thing. He was booed resoundingly. Then Carlson founded the Daily Caller, which is kind of like giving a speech to a group of overweight people about the importance of cooking moderately sized meals filled with vegetables at home, then saying, "Let's go to McDonald's—Big Macs are on me!"
Conservatives aren't wrong when they say most journalists are liberals. That isn't because of a conspiracy to keep out conservatives, any more than the fact that most stock brokers are conservatives is a result of a Wall Street conspiracy to keep out liberals. It's primarily because of the kind of people who are attracted to that kind of work. Journalists tend to be comfortable with ambiguity, suspicious of powerful institutions, and many other things conservatives aren't. Acknowledging that most reporters are liberals isn't the same thing as saying the news has a liberal bias, however. In any case, it's unusual to see a conservative reporter win universal praise for his reporting, if for no other reason than that there aren't that many conservatives who do straight journalism. Which brings us to Robert Costa, the National Review reporter who became the undisputed media star of the government shutdown. Everyone who's anyone found themselves following Costa on Twitter, reading his blog posts, and using him to figure out what was really going on. People started writing profiles of him. He got invited to an off-the-record session with the President. How did Costa do it?
The new Crossfire, just as interesting as you'd expect.
Back in 2004, Jon Stewart went on the CNN show Crossfire and begged the hosts to "stop hurting America." The clip became an early viral video (this was before YouTube), and it was like the young boy shouting that the emperor has no clothes. Evidently, people at the network looked around at each other and said, "He's right. This is just awful. We have to cancel this show so we can look ourselves in the mirror again." Within weeks it was off the air.
I'm not saying that in the entire two decades of its previous incarnation, Crossfire was uniformly pernicious. But by the end it had reached a truly ghastly low, with Tucker Carlson and James Carville shouting over each other while a studio audience whooped and hollered in the background. Why anyone voluntarily subjected themselves to watching it remains a mystery. And now, Crossfire is back on the air. The obvious question is one you might ask yourself after a hurricane flooded your house or a bear killed and ate your favorite great-aunt: Why, God, why?
Today we learn that New York Times Magazine reporter Mark Leibovich has penned a book called This Town: The Way It Works In Suck Up City, exposing all the awfulness of our nation's capital. As Politico reports, "Two people familiar with the book said it opens with a long, biting take on [Tim] Russert's 2008 funeral, where Washington's self-obsession – and lack of self-awareness – was on full display. The book argues that all of Washington's worst virtues were exposed, with over-the-top coverage of his death, jockeying for good seats at a funeral and Washington insiders transacting business at the event." Sounds about right.
In the past, I've offered Washington some gentle ribbing, employing colorful phrases like "moral sewer" and "festering cauldron of corruption." In truth, D.C. is a complicated place, and like any city it has its virtues and flaws. But you don't find many other cities where the inhabitants regularly write about how despicable the place is. Obviously, there's "Washington," an actual city where people live and work, and "Washington," a rhetorical construct that embodies the things people don't like about government and politics. But is Washington really worse than anyplace else? It's a tough call, but here are some reasons I think D.C. comes in for more of this kind of criticism:
At the New Republic, Rebecca Dana has a profile of MSNBC chief Phil Griffin, during which she points out that the network's current incarnation as the liberal's home on cable came about only because Griffin tried a bunch of other stuff that didn't work. There wasn't an ideological motivation, just a financial one. "Fox News is a TV network that succeeds because of its ideological slant," she writes. "MSNBC is a TV network that has an ideological slant because that's what happened to succeed."
Just before the 2012 election, the Daily Caller, a web site run by Tucker Carlson, produced a blockbuster report claiming that New Jersey senator Robert Menendez had frequented underage prostitutes in the Dominican Republic, and they had the prostitutes' testimony to prove it. Bizarrely, mainstream media did not pick up the story, Menendez was re-elected, and to almost no one's surprise, the whole thing now appears to have been a slander cooked up by Republican operatives. How did such a thing happen? The answer is, it's ACORN's fault. Hold on while I explain.
Four years ago, Tucker Carlson went before the audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference, and told them that instead of creating more media forums to talk to each other about what a bunch of jerks liberals are, they ought to nurture outlets that actually report news, with a commitment to accuracy. For his trouble he was booed vigorously, and I guess he learned his lesson about what conservatives are interested in, because instead of creating a newsgathering organization he created the Daily Caller. I'm sure it's doing quite well with it's target audience, and I couldn't help but think about Carlson upon seeing that Erick Erickson, proprietor of RedState.com and CNN talking mouth, issued a plea to conservatives to come work for him and actually do journalism. First though, he identified the problem:
Yesterday, Keith Kellyused his Media Ink column in the New York Post to comment on a Daily Caller story that wasn't, which accused TheNew Yorker'sJane Mayer of plagiarism. Questions remain, of course, about who was accusing Mayer and, therefore, supplying the reporter with the "story," and Kelly's piece quotes DC editor Tucker Carlson saying the following: "I have no clue where we got it. I never ask the reporters where they get stuff, only whether it's true. In this case, we didn't have enough."
The latest high-profile entry into our Washington media universe, Tucker Carlson's Daily Caller, launched yesterday. With millions of dollars in venture capital, a staff numbered at 21 (a huge number for an online start-up), and plenty of publicity, the site hopes to be a conservative combination of the Huffington Post and Politico. Out of the box, there are certainly things you could criticize, like the pedestrian design ("Hey, what if we use a lot of bold, blocky capital letters, and everything will be red and blue? No one’s seen that before!"). But there is one thing that really stands out.