The Media as a “System Run by Activists”

The Media as a “System Run by Activists”

The other day, The Wrap – a digital publication covering entertainment and media – ran a long, 2100-word piece on the “tectonic shift” in the media and how it has drastically changed “perceptions of Israel.”  Sharon Waxman, the founder of the publication and a former journalist with Reuters, The Washington Post, and The New York Times, begins the essay as follows:

It gives journalist Matti Friedman no satisfaction to know he was early to realize that a change had come to covering Israel, favoring fixed narratives and activist journalism over a tradition of fact-based reporting. 

Friedman, a former reporter and editor at the Associated Press based in Jerusalem from 2006-2011, quit the global news agency after being censored by his editors, and realizing he would have to censor what he and his colleagues knew to be true about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And what was the case a decade ago is more true now, he told me. 

“The press has been gutted. The bureaus have shrunk, and into that vacuum have come ideological voices,” he said. “Now Human Rights Watch gives you a report, in English, and you write a story based on that report.  And you end up serving as the media arm of the hard left, the world of NGOs.”

After detailing some of the most egregious media bias in the current war and her own experiences covering the Middle East for Reuters some 35 years ago, Waxman returns to Friedman, who is frustrated and exasperated by the trends in journalism:

“This stuff has been brewing for a while,” Friedman said. “It’s erupted now, but the pieces have been in place. There are activists, and those who are cowed by activists, remnants of the Boomers in the system. Those are the old school journalists, but what’s left is a system run by activists.” 

As Friedman observed, “the coverage of Gaza is not coverage of a war,” and he wonders why there is so little interest in how Hamas operates in Gaza today to accompany the understandable focus on the suffering of the Palestinian population. “If you consume Western media coverage, it’s not a war,” he said. “It’s a campaign against Palestinian civilians.”

This is a really good essay, and you should, as they say, read the whole thing.  And it probably goes without saying that we sympathize and largely agree with Waxman and Friedman.  Much of what’s left of journalism – on the national and international fronts, especially – is, indeed, “a system run by activists,” just as Friedman says.

At the same time, however, we want to note that this is not exactly a phenomenon exclusive to journalism.  “A system run by activists” describes any number of systems – or institutions, if you prefer – in the West these days.  And that’s by design, not accident.

Naturally, the media/journalism business has its own quirks and its own unique developmental milestones, etc.  Yet the process here is one that we have described countless times, most prominently in The Dictatorship of Woke Capital:

The second part of our tale has its origins in Europe in the years after World War I. The theoretical fountainhead is located in a prison cell in Turi, Italy, in the late 1920s. The applied fountain­head is found a few years earlier, in Budapest, in the months after the end of the Great War. The two meet seamlessly, flowing through Frankfurt, Germany, in the early 1930s, and then wend their way through the institu­tions of the West…

This stream of contemporary liberalism is concerned first and foremost with institutions, loosely defined, and their effects on the broader culture. In contemporary American politics, Andrew Breitbart is, perhaps, best remembered for the astute observation that “politics is downstream from culture.” And while Breitbart’s aphorism was revelatory to many of his fellow conservatives, the sentiments expressed therein have been part of the accepted canon on the Left for almost a hundred years….

What [Antonio] Gramsci concluded, more or less, is that it’s awfully tough to start a new religion where an existing religion is already firmly entrenched. He didn’t put it that way, of course. He said that Marx was wrong in his presumption that all of man’s history is the story of eco­nomic class conflict. Rather, Gramsci argued that the real class conflicts are cultural, which, in turn, led to a theory of cultural revolution. The battle for the soul of mankind must be waged on cultural grounds first, and only after the existing culture has been thoroughly destroyed can the new culture—and the new economics—be established….

Gramsci believed that the proletarian revolu­tion must be preceded by a cultural revolution, one in which the anti-Christian Marxists made what the German Marxist student leader Rudi Dutschke would later call “the long march through the institutions.”

It’s all more complicated than it appears here, of course, which is why there’s an entire chapter on it in the book.  It’s also more complicated than it appears in the book, which is why others, far smarter, have written multiple books about it.  Nevertheless, we guess you get the point: the mainstream media is a radically leftist, anti-Semitic institution run by activists for the same reason that higher education is a radically leftist, anti-Semitic institution run by activists; which is the same reason that Hollywood is a radically leftist, anti-Semitic institution run by activists; which is the same reason that K-12 education is a radically leftist, radically pro-LGBTQ institution run by activists; which is the same reason that Mainline Protestantism and, increasingly, the Catholic Church constitute a radically leftist, social-justice-obsessed institution run by activists; which is the same reason that American business and capital markets (the subject of the book) constitute a radically leftist, radically climate-conscious institution run by activists; etc., etc., ad nauseam.

We know that there is a risk here of sounding conspiratorial, of seeming to attribute organic changes in institutions to some fantastical deep, dark, treacherous scheme.  Fortunately, the perpetrators of this conspiracy have never been especially shy about discussing their plans, their schemes, and their mechanisms for advancing the cultural revolution.  Indeed, many of them – Gramsci, Gyorgy Lukacs, Horkheimer, Adorno, and especially Herbert Marcuse – have been explicit about their vision for the cultural revolution and the ongoing adjustments they think it needs as it evolves and yet – shockingly! – never precipitates the long-promised economic revolution.

Now, the average reader, looking at this, might think, “But I thought the media was already on the Left, that it was institutionally captured decades ago.”  They might think this, of course, because it’s absolutely true.  But then, that’s the thing with fantastical/millenarian movements.  They must evolve constantly to address the fact that reality never seems to want to play along with their plans.  Journalists who were on the radical Left ten or fifteen years ago – Matt Taibbi, for example – are now considered right-wingers, not because they have moved to the Right but because the revolution continues evolving to accommodate the failure of its vision.

What this means, therefore, is that it can and likely will get even worse.  The anti-American, anti-Western, antisemitic bent of the media today will come to be seen, in time, as tame and trite – just as the leftism of the old media seems today.  The fantasies of the Gnostic/millenarian Left die hard.  Marx should, by all rights, have been relegated to the dustbin of history more than a century ago.  That he has still not been is a testament to his followers’ dedication, diligence, and delusion.

Stephen Soukup
Stephen Soukup
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Steve Soukup is the Vice President and Publisher of The Political Forum, an “independent research provider” that delivers research and consulting services to the institutional investment community, with an emphasis on economic, social, political, and geopolitical events that are likely to have an impact on the financial markets in the United States and abroad.