Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Ruins Of The Press Corps


It's about lack of ethics in journalism.

Let us return to Megan McArdle's defense of her honor, a difficult endeavor since she has none. Josh Marshall pointed out that McArdle's meandering Gawker/Thiel post utterly ignored the only pertinent issue, the secrecy of Thiel's presence behind the lawsuit against Gawker and how it affects the suit.

McArdle is not going to say anything definitive; she will hedge, backtrack, and qualify any statements so she weasel out of taking responsibility for her words or actions. She cherry-picks and nitpicks her target until she judges it is sufficiently damaged and then considers the entire matter settled and done in her favor.

McArdle thinks that if she doesn't actually say that she is defending Thiel, she can say anything in his defense.  McArdle used numerous methods to defend him. For instance:

1. Nothing to see here! These are not the droids you're looking for. You can go about your business. Move on.
To read the Internet as a journalist over the past 48 hours is to conclude that the media is on the verge of a holocaust. Not the boring old holocaust of falling ad revenues and clickbait-oriented business models, but a brand new holocaust, in which rogue billionaires are going to sue us all out of existence....
The proximate cause of the sky falling is the revelation that Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel has been funding lawsuits against Gawker, apparently with the intention of destroying the company. ...
However, I don’t think this is an existential threat to journalism. I don’t think there’s an easy way to stop this sort of thing without stopping a lot of other stuff we’re rather fond of. ...
But I’m far more sympathetic to Gawker’s victims than to Gawker on this point, as I so often am when they self-righteously cloak repulsive clickbait in the proud trappings of First Amendment principle....
Fortunately, I also don’t think this is the End of Journalism As We Know It....
So while I can easily agree that this is an existential threat to Gawker, and may even have a chilling effect on other gossip sites, I’m not particularly worried that it’s a profound threat to the media in general. Most media do not traffic in material which has no obvious news value besides pointing and laughing at someone’s private life. Adam Smith famously remarked that there’s a lot of ruin in a nation. There’s a lot of ruin in a national press corps, too....
That's a lot of exculpation for someone who said she didn't defend Thiel.

Since McArdle is on shaky grounds when she needs to defend her work, she always tries to find a way to deflect her readers' attention from unpleasant facts. For instance:

2. Not that I did what you said I did, but if I had it wouldn't have made any difference.

Marshall's argument about secrecy is the main point, not a side note. The public identification of Hogan's backer would have been factor in the case. McArdle's idea of the legal system match her ideas of the political system: There are two teams, yours and mine, and everyone thinks their side is the best for no reason except feelings, and everyone wants to be the winner and hates the other side.

For McArdle, a trial is a contest between a right side and a wrong side and the jury picks whoever they like best based on what side they are on. Since nobody can know anything ever, one assumes making a decision in law is also like making a decision in politics: you guess and are either right or wrong.

It's not that McArdle defended Thiel, but even if she did it doesn't matter because juries hate both billionaires and the media so they would have awarded in Hogan's favor no matter who backed him. Therefore it didn't matter that Hogan's backer had an ulterior motive for going after Gawker and it didn't matter that McArdle ignored the conflict of interest. There is no way to know this--Marshall's point, of course--but McArdle is paid to bury the truth in bullshit.

3. McArdle is so eager to support the libertarian billionaire that she declares it should have been illegal for Hogan to sue Gawker. Nobody has the right to privacy because it's censorship to prevent a journalist from printing anything, even a sex tape. If anyone were to publish private information about McArdle-her sexual habits, her credit information, video of her riding a bus and discussing gentrification with an "urban" man--it would be censorship to stop them.
Journalists invade folks’ privacy all the time -- that’s sort of our job -- and drawing lines about whose privacy may be invaded, and when, is not easy for people with a strong commitment to free speech norms. Slippery slopes are real, and when they’re well-greased, you’d be amazed at the kind of acceleration you can get.
It's all about fascism, you see.
So while Hogan may indeed have the legal right of things, I don’t agree with any law that gives him this power. I want Gawker legally protected -- not because I approve of what Gawker did (I strenuously don’t), and not because I believe that the press has special rights that other people don’t, but because I want everyone to have the right to speak without fear of censorship. It doesn’t matter whether that censorship comes from the government or deep-pocketed plaintiffs using the power of the law.
4. McArdle defends Thiel's right to finance the Hogan lawsuit by ignoring the main issue, Thiel's secrecy, to defend Thiel's right to finance the Hogan lawsuit, a point not much in dispute. This tactic lets her pretend her enemies are being hypocritical, since they kicked up such a fuss about Citizen's United and since the Virgin Islands sued CEI. Even journalists are hypocritical, she says, since they only care about the case because it affects journalists.

So while I can easily agree that this is an existential threat to Gawker, and may even have a chilling effect on other gossip sites, I’m not particularly worried that it’s a profound threat to the media in general. Most media do not traffic in material which has no obvious news value besides pointing and laughing at someone’s private life. Adam Smith famously remarked that there’s a lot of ruin in a nation. There’s a lot of ruin in a national press corps, too.
Yes, we know the media is all about the news value, not pumping up traffic to increase revenue. But even if they are, it's okay because the media can absorb a lot of rotten journalists. Megan McArdle is living proof.

10 comments:

fledermaus said...

"So while Hogan may indeed have the legal right of things, I don’t agree with any law that gives him this power."

Shorter Megan: You hear that, Law? Megan disagrees. But not in this case, or any other case that involves billionaire libertarian plaintiffs. But yeah, free press and all that jazz.

Tengrain said...

Let us return to Megan McArdle's defense of her honor, a difficult endeavor since she has none...

The word you seek is demirep.

Rgds,

Tengrain

Anonymous said...

I'm gonna leave this right here....

http://www.motherjones.com/media/2015/10/mother-jones-vandersloot-melaleuca-lawsuit

Skinny Little Boy from Cleveland, Ohio said...

If it had been Soros rather than Thiel, I suspect the line of argument would be different. Without the libertarian-industrial complex she wouldn't be able to buy overpriced kitchen appliances.

cynic said...

To summarize: Gawker has the right of this issue because it can follow Hogan anywhere and write anything about him, howsoever private.

Which is a different McMegan from way back in oct 2015 where she said thusly:
Of course people should be able to hide data about what sites they use


I guess she was for privacy before she was against it.

redoubt said...

McMegan: "Near v. Minnesota? What's that?"

Susan of Texas said...

I'm sure McArdle would say that Soros has just as much right to secretly support lawsuits as Thiel, and then tell everyone why it wasn't the same thing at all.

She did mention Soros to me once.

I'm curious, Susan: who's paying you to troll my blog? Could it be . . . SOROS??? Surely you wouldn't waste all this time to so little effect unless someone was paying you, would you?
43 people liked this. Like Reply


susanoftexas1 day agoin reply to McMegan
Like you, I donate my time.
11 people liked this.

She knows there's nothing I can do or say that will affect her career or counteract her malicious damage. She always has the last laugh.

"Demirep" is very good.

Gary McCammon said...

they self-righteously cloak repulsive clickbait in the proud trappings of First Amendment principle

*gasp* You mean capitalists do things - things poor MeMeMeagan might find icky - to make money? QUELLE HORROR.

Anonymous said...

The "you must be a paid shill" accusation from people who are paid shills is my internet favorite.

Susan of Texas said...

Yes, it's what they know.