Why It's Okay to Hate Cliven Bundy
It has become clear that Cliven Bundy was transgressed by the New York Times, his words taken out of context and retailed in such a way as to mean something they were not. Bundy is no racist, and the attempt to make him look like one is another step downward in the collapse of American national media.
But conservatives still have a right -- in fact, a responsibility -- to be annoyed with Bundy.
To wit: Bundy did not walk, not stumble, did not swerve into the trap set by the New York Times. He was not ambushed, he was not taken by surprise. He instead ran full tilt and threw himself into that trap, exactly like the kid at the end of Million Dollar Hotel.
Bundy sat across from a reporter for the NYT, the most vicious, calculating, untrustworthy, and dishonest nest of vipers in the entire U.S. media network, and talked straight to him about matters of import and controversy, under the impression that he would understand and transmit his thoughts the way that he actually expressed them.
Nobody, a full century into the progressive era, seventy years into the epoch of big government, and fifty years after the mass media turned anti-American as a matter of course, has any right to do this. Nobody has a right to be that stupid, to be that ill-informed, or to be that self-centered.
Granted that Bundy, a lifetime Nevada rancher, is not the epitome of sophistication. He is not the typical Times reader, even for Nevada. He may well have never held a copy of the paper in his hands, much less read it. But that’s no excuse, because the status and nature of the New York Times has become a truism of American political culture. It is the bastion of left-wing thought in the media, the source from which everyone else takes their cue. In conservative circles, it’s what amounts to a punchline.
Bundy must have heard of this, at least vaguely. And yet he went out, and kindly loaded up Adam Nagourney’s pistol for him, then turned around, took his hat off, and waited for the bullet. The living portrait of middle-American conservatism in the 21st century.
How many times does this have to happen? How many Todd Akins do we need giving bizarre lectures on female biology exactly as if he knew what he was talking about? How many O’Donnells do we need providing ammunition to Bill Maher? How many Mourdocks? Even Sarah Palin, one of smartest political figures we’ve got, fell for this her first time out. (Granted, she was given plenty of help by McCain’s staff.)
I have been interviewed by newspaper reporters several dozen times in my various careers in business, writing, and conservative politics. How many times was I quoted correctly? Not once. Not a single time. Reporters typically mangle quotes, misunderstand what you’re saying, shift contexts, or deliberately rearrange statements to make them work the way they want. (And there’s nothing you can do about this. Once you speak to a reporter, what you have said is the newspaper’s property. That’s right. Your words no longer belong to you -- according to their interpretation. Your statement is theirs, to do with as they see fit, with no input from you, the schmuck who merely spoke the words. Of course, there’s no legal backing for this whatsoever. But there’s no legal backing for airline baggage handlers destroying expensive musical instruments. Yet they still get away with it.) The first time you see this it’s annoying. The second time it’s infuriating. The third time it’s expected.
Why do they do this? Not necessarily out of maliciousness or stupidity. (Though that’s true often enough.) It’s the culture. The idea that newspapers are there to print “facts,” Who-what-where -when-and-why, is mythology gone with Jimmy Olsen and His Gal Friday. Today, reporters work with certain formats, to which they are expected to fit any related story. One such concept is “every conservative is a hate-filled, fanatic Neanderthal.” A corollary of this is “All Nevada ranchers are demented racists.”
Papers higher on the food chain, along with magazines and broadcast and cable networks, have agendas which these stereotypical patterns are used to support. I doubt I need to detail the nature of these agendas.
From these realities certain rules can be derived.
1) These people are not on your side.
2) Anything you say can and will be used against you.
3) Nothing you say will ever be used to support your position (or any conservative position at all.)
So what can we do in this situation? A friend of mine long experienced in public relations puts it very simply: you tell them exactly what you want them to say in the exact words that you want them to say it with. No ambiguity, no complications, no diversions. Then you stop. You don’t say any more. You add nothing. You don’t answer their questions. Their questions are not intended to shed light on your ideas or to develop detail. They are meant to trip you up and that is all. Anybody who acts as if they are truly interested in what you think about them there Negroes or legitimate rape is speaking as the enemy. You don’t feed them. You don’t hand them the weapon to strike you down with. You say “good afternoon” and turn on your heel.
None of this is guaranteed to obtain you fair coverage. There is no guarantee. They will distort, they will misquote, they will switch contexts. They will even flat out lie, as we have seen endless times with Jayson Blair of the Times, Janet Cooke of the Washington Post, and so on down the line of infamy. They own the table, they own the chips, they own the Gaming Commission. You are playing in their casino, and you will lose.
Which leads us to ask why anyone is speaking to them at all.
Bundy had no business speaking to any of these people. (And don’t tell me about “rights.” There’s no “right” to play the fool at the expense of others.) Bundy is not, by experience, education, or ability capable of handling a veteran media operative. If somebody had walked up to him and said, “I’m going to stand here talking to you while my associates steal all your cattle,” or “I’m going to distract you while somebody burns down your ranch house,” he’d have known what to do. In this case, no, even though he damage done to him is fully the equivalent of those two crimes. (Or as Shakespeare would have it, even worse: “ Who steals my purse steals trash... But he that filches from me my good name Robs me of that which not enriches him And makes me poor indeed.)
The end result is another black eye for the conservative movement in this critical election year of 2014. For decades, the media of this country has depended on conservatives obligingly committing suicide just in time for the next broadcast. It had better stop.