I am a big fan of partisan media. Being “objective” is all well and good, and there are some spectacular journalists who walk that line. But there’s really nothing as potent as a journalist with an agenda.
Especially when they’re on offense. When their “opponent” is in power and they have a point to prove. It’s for this reason I was a devoted subscriber to The Australian when Labor was in power.
The paper really took the government to task. Hardly relenting. Analysing anything and everything with thorough scepticism. For someone mistrustful of power, our incentives were aligned.
The problem arises when it’s time to play defense. The Australian with a Liberal government in power is, frankly, more than a little pathetic. Scepticism now is largely relegated to keeping the team in line. They’ve turned sycophant. Scrambling to explain away missteps or misdeeds, bending reality to suit their narrative (of course this happens on offense too, but there’s less flop sweat).
For whatever reason, this appears to be less of a problem over in America. I follow American politics like a sport – my lack of real skin in the game makes it rather enjoyable. And so, I consume a lot of partisan American media too.
But unlike in Australia, America boasts a lot of partisans as concerned with critiquing their side as the “enemy”.
Take Andrew Sullivan, for example. He’s a conservative writer who has long been one of my favourites. The reason – he criticises his own team a lot, and it’s always informative. He initially supported the war in Iraq, for example, but then turned against it. Excoriating his “side” for their stance on torture, same sex marriage, and a host of other issues. Sullivan is a Burkean conservative, and, so, his loyalty is to this set of ideas and principles, not the team that (wrongly, in my opinion) claims to represent them.
Sullivan became so disillusioned with the Republican Party, and their abandonment of their principles, that he endorsed Obama in 08 and 12. Covering this week’s Trumpaganza, he freely vented at the party:
"Just mulling over the events tonight, there’s one obvious stand-out. I didn’t hear any specific policy proposals to tackle clearly stated public problems. It is almost as if governing, for the Republican right, is fundamentally about an attitude, rather than about experience or practicality or reasoning. The degeneracy of conservatism – its descent into literally mindless appeals to tribalism and fear and hatred – was on full display. You might also say the same about the religious right, the members of whom have eagerly embraced a racist, a nativist, a believer in war crimes, and a lover of the tyrants that conservatism once defined itself against. Their movement long lost any claim to a serious Christian conscience. But that they would so readily embrace such an unreconstructed pagan is indeed a revelation.
If you think of the conservative movement as beginning in 1964 and climaxing in the 1990s, then the era we are now in is suffering from a cancer of the mind and the soul. That the GOP has finally found a creature that can personify these urges to purge, a man for whom the word “shameless” could have been invented, a bully and a creep, a liar and cheat, a con man and wannabe tyrant, a dedicated loather of individual liberty, and an opponent of the pricelessly important conventions of liberal democracy is perhaps a fitting end.
This is the gutter, ladies and gentlemen, and it runs into a sewer. May what’s left of conservatism be carried out to sea."
This is a voice we’re missing in Australia. There are plenty of great voices of criticism – Peter Van Onsolen and Waleed Aly among them. But they feign neutrality, and so their punches are pulled, their refrains easily ignored.
The likes of Onsolen and Aly can’t really get away with a screed like the above. Even if they wanted to, their positions wouldn’t allow it. Only an outed true believer can get away with it. Unfortunately, all our true believers appear to have sold out.
We need more writers and journalists with obvious bias, but one that does not include slavish devotion to a team. Rather, to ideas.