Non-sequitor in the theme of Martin Gurri

It’s sort of obvious, but I think a lot of the establishment’s hand-wringing about the “threat” of Trump is simply wilt under the hot lights of scrutiny. The establishment regards themselves as society’s scientist, analyst, administrator, and judge. They (like most people) do not like to be studied, analyzed, administered or judged. Indeed, much of their authority turns on the notion that they are the ones who ought to scrutinize, and not be scrutinized. The political and legal system that they prefer similarly rests on the assumption that they will be at the helm–regulation is great, so long as you’re doing the regulating.

Like other “structural” claims, the establishment-beneficiaries have a hard time seeing it that way. They don’t notice the gravitational pull of capital “I” institutions–institutions they grew up with–slowly drawing them towards positions of authority (media, civil service, academia). They similarly don’t notice the way these institutions encourage them not to notice by reinforcing their stature as the analysts, and not the analyzed. It’s not surprising therefore that when Trump turned the camera around, establishment types genuinely perceived a real threat to (their notions of) order.

Thiel’s Gawker lawsuit is particularly striking in that regard. To be clear, I think liability for speech ought to be very carefully circumscribed. Still, it remains the case that journalists wield an enormous amount of influence–just ask any journalist about the importance of journalism–and yet bear few of the costs that flow from their words. Journalists can create self-fulfilling narratives simply by purporting to speak for the consensus, given the way perceived consensus effects human cognition. That is, we are inclined to believe something if we think that others believe it–which is an impression journalists can easily create. Athletes, for example, have learned to turn the other cheek (for the most part) because getting into a war of words with a full time professional scribe is a losing battle. Taking on the media is like starting a lawsuit where only one side gets to write briefs.

The media is not the only institution afforded special treatment–government officials and non-government officials (academics, etc.) similarly can prognosticate, condemn and recommend as they see fit (like bloggers!). By contrast, when it comes to advertising or the sale of securities, for example, people face liability for fraud and “consumer protection” law. So what’s the difference? Only the living, breathing soul of DEMOCRACY, dummy.

Journalists, by happy coincidence, enjoy the broad protections of the First Amendment that give them more or less carte blanche (relative to the rest of us folks) to say what they want, however they want. Academics too, make their own claims to unfettered academic freedom. Government officials (and other “public servants”) have variations of immunity because if they were held accountable for their actions . . . government would cease to function (!).

Again, I’m largely supportive of this framework (but I would apply it more liberally to commercial speech as well). It’s still remarkable, however, to witness the collective freakout when *gasp* Thiel suggested there should be some limits to journalistic discretion, by forbidding the publication of private sex tapes. For people who regularly turn the bright lights of “truth to power” scrutiny on others–calling for more oversight of that, and more limitations on this–you’d think they would empathize just a little bit with Thiel’s efforts.

It’s not like Thiel suggested something so onerous as regulation, for example. Can you imagine if journos had their own version of 12(b)(6)? Every newspaper article would read like a securities filing and journos would (rightfully) mourn the demise of journalism. Thiel simply sought liability for a highly specific form of public embarrassment that serves no other purpose than to embarrass and that’s considered a broadside to press freedom? C’mon, now. [Note: sometimes I think more regulation for the media would be a good thing solely to give the media firsthand experience of regulation, which I’m confident would significantly dim their faith in the efficacy and fairness of regulation.]

That the MSM continues to fret about Trump’s war on the media, fake news–this was downright precious–and connections to Bannon just speaks to the enduring power of their own mythology (over themselves). Instead of internalizing their own failure to see (in them) what Trump and millions others saw, the MSM continues to double down: “Goddammit! Can’t you tell how important we are?! We’re the DEMOCRACY! How will you know what to think, do and say without us?!” For all their sober analysis, the one hypothesis the MSM refuse to consider is that they’re not the gatekeepers they thought they were. If they were to entertain that thought a little longer, they might consider that *heaven forbid* it is they that ought to be patronized to, rather than they doing the patronizing.

It’s no wonder the establishment considers Trump to be a waking nightmare.


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