Well, I have cranked out another 185 fundraising letters to folks here at Carolina Meadows [this time to those registered as Unaffiliated], so I think I will take a break before merge-printing the matching envelopes and say something about the controversy I stirred up by describing the anti-Trump TV commentators as “privileged” and “self-congratulatory.” I was being flip, but the underlying issue is actually quite interesting and deserving of some extended commentary.
I shall begin by reminding you all yet again of a few statistical facts that I allude to quite frequently. First, only one-third of adult Americans have college degrees. Two-thirds do not. Second, median household income in 2016 [the latest figure I could find] was $59,039. In other words, one-half of all American households had annual income that year of less than that amount, the other half had more. For example, if a husband and wife both work full-time jobs for the year, taking two weeks of unpaid vacation each year, the husband earning $20 an hour driving a panel truck delivering furniture around town and the wife earning $10 an hour cleaning houses, the two of them are rather better off than half of all American households. Keep those statistics in mind.
Cable news, which I watch more or less obsessively, typically features a host [Wolf Blitzer, Ali Velshi, Nicole Wallace, Anderson Cooper, all those Fox News types, and so forth], a rotating panel of regular commentators, and special guests brought on for their expertise in the story of the moment. There are also reporters in the field – people talking into handheld microphones checking in from a political rally, a hurricane, a bus crash, a demonstration, or some other newsworthy event – and these reporters will quite often interview someone on site, a police chief, a student in a high school where there has been a mass shooting, a person attending a political rally.
I am quite sure, without having taken the trouble to check, that virtually every single cable news host, commentator, panel member, special guest, and field reporter is a college graduate, and most of them are graduates of one of the top 200 or so colleges and universities among the more than 2,600 Bachelor’s Degree granting institutions of higher education in America or their foreign equivalents. The only members of the non-college two-thirds who ever appear on TV are people being interviewed in the field. The majority without college degrees have educational credentials inferior to the minority who are graduates, and they know it. What is more, they may be uncredentialed, but they are not stupid. Ask yourself how they feel about the fact that one of them is on TV always as the object of the news report, never as the subject, always being asked “what it felt like,” never “what it means.” If you are heavily into Lit Crit and Identity Theory, you might even want to employ the currently fashionable term “being othered.”
Let me give you as an example of what I am talking about something I saw on old-time TV maybe fifty years ago or so. I was watching a right-wing talk show called The Firing Line, the brainchild of that rather odd, exquisitely cultivated and educated icon of American conservatism, William F. Buckley, Jr. Buckley had invited onto his show a White couple from the rural south who had protested [as I recall] the fact that their child was being told things in school about evolution that conflicted with their Fundamentalist Protestant beliefs. Also on the show were a pair of big city lawyers defending the School Board. Buckley was a devout Roman Catholic, not a Protestant, but he was on the side of the parents in this dispute. The couple were clearly of very modest means, dressed in their Sunday Go To Meeting best for the TV appearance and visibly ill at ease. The opposing lawyers were impeccably dressed and quite casually fluent. Now Buckley was with the parents in this fight, but he treated them more or less as specimens, not as people. By his every facial grimace and ironic vocal tone when talking to the lawyers, he managed to communicate, as clearly as if he had said it, “You and I, we are alike, for all that we are on opposite sides in this dispute. I can easily imagine you coming to my elegant apartment for one my famous harpsichord performances. These benighted folks, whose cause I thoroughly embrace, are however infra dignitatem.”
The regulars on cable news travel in the same social circles, regardless of their political affiliations. They know one another personally, often run into one another at social events, and exhibit toward one another, even in the midst of vigorous, even heated, political disagreements on television, a variety of verbal cues and body language that communicate to anyone capable of noticing [which is to say, everyone] that they are all members of the same social circle. Let me cite one example, to me at least quite striking. Michael Cohen, universally described now as “Trump’s fixer,” has been much in the news lately. Donnie Deutsch frequently appears as a panelist on Morning Joe on MSNBC, principally, so far as I can make out, because he knows Cohen personally and speaks with him often, despite the fact that Deutsch is clearly a New York Democrat. One of MSNBC’s hosts is “The Rev,” Reverend Al Sharpton, an old time associate and follower of Martin Luther King and a fixture in the Civil Rights Movement. The Rev has a weekend morning show on MSNBC, but he was just on yesterday because he had had breakfast with Cohen, whom he knows, and was there to report what he had learned. My eyes popped open when this fact was dropped. Sharpton knows Cohen well enough that when Cohen wants to reach out to a media figure to peddle some spin about himself, he calls The Rev??!! When I was young, we used to make fun of the Old Boy’s Network of Oxford and Cambridge graduates in England, but this is head-spinning. My mother-in-law, now departed, had a phrase that she would mutter when someone Jewish was mentioned. She would say, half under her breath, “unser leute,” which in German or Yiddish, means “our people,” which is to say, one of us, an insider, someone basically o.k.
When I described the anti-Trump TV commentators as “privileged” and “self-congratulatory,” this is what I was talking about.