After reading Philadelphia Daily News political reporter Will Bunch's open letter to David Broder, I began writing a post about how Broder is a clear example of a columnist who has Jumped the Shark. His temper tantrum and subsequent meltdown seemed to suggest he's hit a distinct breaking point and Bunch takes Broder to task for supposedly forgetting his journalistic roots. And while I agree with most of what Bunch says in his piece, I disagree that there was this fuzzy era in the past where David Broder and the David Broder Mutual Appreciation Society of pundits were all such Journalistic Icons of Virtue. Put another way, David Broder, David Brooks, Tom Friedman, Joe Klein, ABC's The Note and the "Gang of 500" power worshippers haven't Jumped the Shark - they are the Shark.
How do we know this? Check out this 1969 Broder column dug up by my friend Rick Perlstein, the well-respected historian. Broder attacks those who wanted to end the Vietnam War. How dare millions of people try to pressure a president, says Broder. Message to the public from the Sharks: You are not relevant, you have no right to demand anything from your government. The only possible wisdom that exists in the political arena comes from those in power who treat the sharks nicely and make them feel warm and fuzzy inside by sending them Christmas cards. And that's the way it has always been.
Many of us become outraged everytime we see a Shark behave like this. But it is what we should expect, because Sharks are not like ordinary humans. Consider the differences between the two. An ordinary human in America actually believes in democracy. Sharks do not - and they never have. They write columns in the largest papers in the world saying voters shouldn't be able to decide elections anymore. They berate millions of Americans who still believe they have a constitutional right - no, responsibility - to protest when their government gets off track.
Ordinary humans understand that there are no't necessarily two sides to a story if only one side has all the verifiable facts on their side. Sharks, on the other hand, will always claim there are two sides to a story when the side they disagree with has all the facts. They do this even if the side they agree with is asking the public to stop believing in the basic laws of space and time that govern the universe. The only one-sided story to Sharks are the ones that allow them to most publicly kiss the rear end of power.
Ordinary humans understand that there is a size and scope to lies that should relate to the reaction to those lies. Sharks, by contrast, care far more about the lies that may personally offend their cocktail party sensibilities, and far less about the lies that result in the deaths of tens of thousands of people. Thus, we have a media that cared more about Bill Clinton's willingness to lie about fellatio than about President Bush's willingness to lie us into a war that has killed thousands, seriously endangered U.S. national security, and generally destabilized the Planet Earth. The same media that dug into every last detail of an extramarital affair and let no spin go unchallenged when it came to that affair now smiles silently like Katie Couric did when Condi Rice went on 60 Minutes this weekend and claimed the White House didn't lie about pre-war intelligence - when the actual facts show otherwise.
Ordinary humans believe that Serious People are those who have principles and have a record of actually succeeding at Serious Things. Sharks, by contrast, label as Serious People those like Rep. Nancy Johnson (R) who proudly sell their souls to the highest bidder and who champion the Medicare bill - arguably the most disastrous health care legislation in a generation.
Ordinary human beings believe that the word "center" actually means "in the middle." Sharks, on the other hand, use the word "center" to mean "far away from the middle, way out on the fringe." Thus, those politicians who have positions on the war and the economy that polls show are right in the actual center of public opinion are labeled by Sharks as "extremists." Meanwhile, politicians who push policies that are supported almost exclusively by a handful of neoconservative think tank scholars and corporate lobbyists in Washington are called "centrists."
Finally, ordinary humans get angry when they see politicians trashing our country. Sharks, on the other hand, want us to believe we should never get angry, no matter how abused our laws or our country are. The only thing that is worthy of a Shark's anger is when one perceives that outsiders are daring to challenge the status quo in Washington, D.C. Sharks criticize people for being angry about the war, stagnating wages, a burgeoning health care crisis, rampant pension rip-offs, the wholesale auctioning off of our government - because Sharks never have to deal with those problems. But Sharks do get very, very angry when anyone dares to threaten Washington. "This is where they spend their lives, raise their families, participate in community activities, take pride in their surroundings," wrote the Washington Post in trying to explain the media's outrage over the Clinton impeachment. Similarly, Broder frothed: "He came in here and he trashed the place, and it's not his place."
Exactly - to the Shark's our nation's capital is not our place - it's theirs. They get angry when they perceive someone trashing their place - but trash the rest of the country, and everyone is supposed to be all smiles.
So as the establishment criticism of those challenging power grows in advance of the 2006 election, remember - there really wasn't a golden era of journalism where Serious People like David Broder were once objective, independent arbiters of the news. There people have always been Sharks, and they have always had a visceral hatred for regular people. Sharks see themselves at the top of the food chain, immune from the real-world consequences of their actions. When they get threatened as they are being threatened right now by a building grassroots movement, they freak out like Broder did. And the louder their screams, the more infantile their outbursts - the more we know we are succeeding in changing this country.