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Monday
July 24, 2017

Diary of August 9, 2016

Oh, the agonies of America’s conscience-stricken journalists — forced as they are to maintain their always high standards of professionalism, balance and objectivity when faced with the sheer loathsomeness of Donald Trump! That’s according to Jim Rutenberg who writes the "Mediator" column for The New York Times:

If you’re a working journalist and you believe that Donald J. Trump is a demagogue playing to the nation’s worst racist and nationalistic tendencies, that he cozies up to anti-American dictators and that he would be dangerous with control of the United States nuclear codes, how the heck are you supposed to cover him? Because if you believe all of those things, you have to throw out the textbook American journalism has been using for the better part of the past half- century, if not longer, and approach it in a way you’ve never approached anything in your career.

What, never? Well, hardly ever. Just every other time these 40 years or so that there has been a Republican candidate for president. The difference this time is that a lot of Republicans are saying similar things which creates an opening for "oppositional" journalists — you know, the kind that Jim and his high-minded pals now suddenly find themselves closer to being than they’ve ever been before — to throw off the mask. Besides, didn’t Mr Trump get the advantage of the media’s imbalance during the primary campaign when no one took him seriously? Mr Rutenberg has heard somewhere that he had "nearly $2 billion in free media," which was "more than six times as much as that of his closest Republican rival." Isn’t the media now only restoring the balance if it tips toward his opponent?

And then there’s this. "When controversy is being stoked, it’s our obligation to report that," The Washington Post’s managing editor Cameron Barr told Mr Rutenberg. "If one candidate is doing that more aggressively and consistently than the other, that is an imbalance for sure. . . It’s not one that we create, it’s one that the candidate is creating." But of course, what he means by "controversy" is anything that shocks the media’s sense of propriety — or, as we media skeptics so often prefer to put it, their biases. In the words of The New York Times’s own Carolyn Ryan, senior editor for politics, "Mr. Trump’s candidacy is ‘extraordinary and precedent-shattering’ and ‘to pretend otherwise is to be disingenuous with readers.’" So, guess what? In spite of appearances and complaints by right-wingers like Rush Limbaugh, the media are doing everything right after all. You can all breathe a sigh of relief and pat yourselves on the back. Again. Talk about disingenuous!

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In Britain it is beginning to look as if they may be about to re-litigate the battle over the grammar schools, abolished under the Labour government of the 1970s and banned from returning by that of Tony Blair in the 1990s. The new Prime Minister, Theresa May, a grammar school girl herself, has shown signs of wanting to ban the ban and allow local education authorities to return to some principle of selection not unlike that of the old 11-plus exams, which sent the brightest children to highly academic grammar schools at age 11 and the rest to so-called secondary-modern schools, which were more vocational in orientation. Labour and many if not most Conservatives still think this practice "elitist" — even though it helped insure that British elites were less socially homogeneous.

A similarly faux egalitarianism in America has insured that we never really got started with state-sponsored selection in the first place. Instead, it became a matter of cultural assumption in the US to suppose that if you sent the not-so-bright to college along with the bright they would become bright too and so take the places to which they were presumptively entitled in the governing classes. Instead, the colleges became not-so-bright and the bright were forced, at exorbitant expense, to delay their education to graduate school. Meanwhile, the not-so-bright were right back where they started, socially and economically, but deeply if not ruinously in debt. And all for the benefit of the government-favored educational industry! If there is a more egregious example of social, cultural and governmental waste, I’d like to know what it is.



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