Well, it’s good and bad, like everything. It’s good in that people spend more time consuming news than they ever have. I don’t think there’s any question about that. The average person has access to more information than any time in history by a factor of something high. Truly, you can get primary documents, you can look at information online … The bad news is narrowcasting.
In other words, people can spend their entire lives hearing their own opinions repeated back to them. Conservatives can spend their entire waking day on conservative websites. Liberals the same. And there’s something bad about that. It’s good to be challenged. It’s good to hear your own assumptions thrown back in your face once in awhile because it forces you to reassess why you think what you do. And increasingly people don’t have to have that experience.
Nothing in those bygone statements is incompatible with criticizing CBS News, or NBC News, or ABC News, or CNN, or MSNBC, or advising viewers to watch them with a critical eye rather than taking everything that they say as gospel.
Indeed, I’d endorse that counsel.
But Carlson’s previously expressed concerns are utterly at odds with an admonition to “always” assume “the opposite” of what big news stations report to be true and the implication that it is better to rely on Carlson and Fox News. The civic corrosiveness of dismissing mainstream news sources so sweepingly, even as they are attacked as never before by a lying president, is something that Carlson presumably understands, given his own past statements.
That he issued his carelessly maximalist denunciation anyway calls to mind something he told GQ last year. The quote stuck with me as an unusually pithy rationalization for a D.C. elite who has earned his living in ways parasitic on American civic life. “There’s this illusion, and it’s created by the people who live here, that everything is meaningful, everything important,” Carlson said. “It’s not.”
If true, that would excuse Carlson’s lucrative turn in the cable-news game as inconsequential—and there are many pundits on the left and right in Washington who treat appearances before millions on TV as a frivolous mercenary game.
But in my view, Beltway insiders would do better to adopt the ethos of those Washington journalists as smart and talented as Carlson but too scrupulous to compromise their integrity in the manner that he has—the ethos that every time Carlson squandered his considerable God-given talent for scrupulously true commentary, opting instead for clickbait at The Daily Caller or dumbed-down demagoguery at Fox, the failures of intellectual honesty were meaningful. His part in the degradation of the conservative media ecosystem was important.
Among other things, Carlson degraded the part of his message that deserves a hearing:
We have a ruling class. And I’ve lived in it most of my life, so I know it’s real. It’s not a conspiracy but we have a class system, increasingly, in this country. And the people in charge have done a really bad job on the big things—on foreign policy and on the economy. And they’ve gotten us into a number of counterproductive wars. That was a bipartisan effort. It was started by Bush but it was applauded by Clinton. So it wasn’t one party. It was both parties. And they made a bunch of assumptions about the economy that turned out to be wrong. And they helped to destroy the American middle class. And then they don’t care.
So why has he conducted his career like Gail Wynand?