Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Showdown At The Atlantic

The circus at The Atlantic is rapidly blowing up into the national issue of the moment, thanks in no small part to Megan McArdle and of course the Koch Brothers, the group that grew out the Koch's desire to end any curb on their power, which seems to be playing a prominent role in building up McArdle's career.

On one level, this is extraordinarily odd--is it really McArdle's job to be taking sides between corporations and her job as a journalist? But in another way, it's logical, even necessary. The mass media is where some of the hardest choices about who will suffer so corporations can enrich themselves have to be made. And thanks to a confluence of factors--Bush's wars, Bush's tax cuts, Bush's base's shadow banking system, crashing revenue thanks to Wall Street elite--those choices have to be made now. The Atlantic was facing a multi-million-dollar shortfall over the past years. Megan McArdle's money was going to have to come from corporations.

The pundits on both sides are teeing up the outrage. The right turns on the outrage that anyone would criticize anyone with wealth and power. The left fires back that The Atlantic's journalistic pretenses are just a sideshow, and that the real problem is the millions they are raking in from corporate-paid salons and other advertising.

I'm not outraged by either side. Of course Megan McArdle wants more money, health care benefits, and better pension, and do as little as possible in return. One of the prime attractions of working for The Atlantic is that you can almost never be fired, no matter how often you are wrong or how serious the damage from your lies and evasions. (See: Katherine Sibelius and Elizabeth Warren*.) Naturally, McArdle is going to fiercely resist having this taken away after having given a year or two to her career based on this assumption.

On the other hand, of course the masses want someone to tell them the truth. I am, as a matter of policy, against lying, so I agree that The Atlantic should not have spent $120 thousand per year, give or take, on Megan McArdle. But the actual targets--ambitious middle class white collar workers--are not prima facie morally inferior to corporate workers. In fact, on average, they're the same people. Overall, as a matter of policy, I would prefer to spend money on those workers than their bosses, but the workers themselves seem to prefer to see their bosses enriched at their expense.

To the conservatives I would have to ask the same question: is it good policy to tie your own hands? On that question, I don't know the answer.

On the one hand, telling your workers that you're trying to shaft them is not the best way to attract and retain the best workers; it seems that corporate workers will be at a competitive disadvantage with their bosses. On the other hand, the workers don't seem to care as long as they can shaft someone poorer than themselves.

So I have my doubts as to whether the current system does much to attract and retain the best journalists, which means that the corporations can hardly make it much worse. Indeed, you can make a fairly compelling argument that journalists' wages are not set so much on the basis of their ethics, impartially and craftsmanship as how much corporate welfare they can muster. In which case the current system probably helps restrain the left from putting pressure on corporate power. There are legitimate reasons that The Atlantic seeks to avoid certain questions.

Of course, there are also legitimate drawbacks, such as the devaluing of all journalists. Over the long haul, these mechanisms break down one way or another--in the case of The Atlantic, I'd bet that eventually there will be a shortage of reputable journalists that will need to be rectified by even bigger salaries.

But until then, is it somehow morally wrong for The Atlantic to change the rules under which journalism operates? It's incoherent even as a question. The right thinks that corporations are the entity which is supposed to set those terms--and it's no more outrageous for Mr. and Mrs. McArdle to favor the Koch brothers and corporations than it was for Bradley to favor a constituency which has further enriched him.

*Don't bother looking for Part II of McArdle's attack; she chickened out and never wrote it.


Anonymous said...

"But until then, is it somehow morally wrong for The Atlantic to change the rules under which journalism operates?"

Perhaps instead pointing out that they don't practice journalism (cf Fox News). McArdle is a paid shill, who wouldn't know real reporting if it bit her on the ass.

Hell, I often like what Ta'Nesi Coates writes, but he's not doing journalism either. Fallows, you could make an argument, even the Israeli-apologist Goldberg. But McMegan and the Tory douchebag Sullivan are as close to journalism as an Applebee's salad bar.


Batocchio said...


How many brain cells did that kill?

Susan of Texas said...

Many, many brain cells. It's difficult to deal with so much toxicity.