Taking One for the Tribe
Times lies and we’re having fun
readers of this column will recall that its last installment appeared roughly
a year ago, and they will no doubt want some explanation for why that is the
case. First-time readers most likely will want a good reason to keep reading
an article by an author who is trying to grab your hand through the page and
shake it vigorously, all while saying that what we’ve got here is two monkeys
shaking hands through a piece of paper: kind of like those two monkeys cuddling
together among the branches of some Borneo rainforest, clasping hands and
shivering in the middle of a thunderstorm. Pretty damn close, in fact.
But first-timers will have to wait and step to the back of the line. For you
old-timers, the reason I took a pause is that I met the monkeyluv of my life
and got married. I moved, got a dog, got responsible, and stopped writing
altogether. But something’s clicked, and now I want to return to all I could
think about before I met my monkeyluv. Which was: We’re monkeys, and that
no one, not even your father, has a clue what the fuck is going on.
This isn’t the same thing as what Darwin or Dawkins say about evolution, God,
or science in general. Talking about the behavior of Homo sapiens—that
the males get boners in the morning or that the girls tend to start menstruating
around age 12—Is fine and true, but it’s pretty weak stuff. This is about
looking reality square in the eye and saying that George Bush is a monkey,
and that he thinks it makes perfect sense to speak for 300,000,000 other ones.
Now back to your regularly scheduled column.
For years, I agreed to believe that the common thread of lefty media criticism
was the right one: That if only more rational explanations were given to the
journalists who got their facts wrong, held unfounded beliefs, or repeated
industry-funded dogma they’d change their tune, or at least recant in the
face of stronger argument.
But after reading my thousandth critique of how the New York Times’
coverage missed this or overlooked that, I got the feeling that that there
was something very flawed with the left’s media approach. First, that the
reporters at the Times must have, at least once, confronted a complaint against
their reporting that exposed them as bad reporters, or perhaps even liars.
And yet, without apology, they kept going. Second, regardless of that point,
this technique of media criticism did absolutely nothing to stop bad reporters
or bad reporting. Therefore it was illuminating only to the disaffected news
reader who, like me, craved a tonic for the disgraceful media that abounds.
But I still lacked a framework that would give a better understanding of why
reporters got their facts wrong. This is where I think most lefties are with
the problem of the press.
A year ago, I was lucky enough to read a different media critique which makes
a hell of a lot more sense: That we should simply understand reporters at
the New York Times as evil liars who know they are lying and lie in
order stay powerful.
But it doesn’t answer everything. In some cases, it might just be simple deceit
and greed that explains an article lying about corporate oversight to keep
the Times’ advertisers happy, or some minor details about nuclear weapons
to keep a reporter’s access to sources open at the Pentagon. But what about
those hundreds of New York Times articles that won’t admit we’ve lost
the war, that never got into hundreds of billions we’ve spent, that continue
to tell us that Qaeda is behind the Iraqi insurgency? How come the press never
fesses up that it’s the entire 18-to-30-year-old male population in the Sunni
This is a very different kind of lying, and I think it can only be explained
that these people are writing on behalf of The Tribe. These lies aren’t there
to be evil; these are conscientious favors to the rest of the people who share
the same mentality as the reporters; sweeping our mistakes under the rug to
keep the tribe’s sense of dominance intact and its psyche clean. That’s why
the Times, or political opposition leaders will never say anything tougher
about the lying top leader than “appeared to mislead”—don’t expect them to.
Because the tribe can never do wrong. For the editors and journalists who
knew better, finding a way to explain that the thousands of primitive IED
attacks and primitive ambushes were the work of bin Laden’s minions—not the
collective effort of a population that was supposed to greet us as liberators—took
extraordinary psychic sacrifice on behalf of the tribe, and it was they who
have to go bed and digest these lies on behalf of the tribe, not us, so that
in the morning, the tribe is still right.
The New York Times and a few other newspapers are a lot of things at
once, but most of all, they are the extraordinarily complicated recording
mechanisms for the most incredible tribe on earth. While this tribe’s recording
tools are light years beyond the primitive cannibal stories they sing around
the fire in Papua New Guinea, the laws that govern them are the same. And
the most important law of them is that the tribe is never wrong, and can not
fuck up, ever.