When it comes to traditional media elites, the narrative is relentless. Stick to this product of their ideological orthodoxy and ignore or insulate themselves from anything inconsistent with it, and life in their bubble-wrap worlds is good. Never mind if it produces a garbage-in, garbage-out kind of quality, as recent story choices in and around Louisiana have shown.
One prize specimen comes from The Lens, an online publication that argues it tries to provide story content that “to report stories that others aren’t or can’t” in order “to advocate for a more transparent and just governance that is accountable to the public.” Leaving aside the larger questions of who defines what is “transparent,” “just” and “accountable,” this nonprofit organization produces stories on a range of subjects, including opinion pieces.
Recently, it put on offer one such piece by Tyler Bridges, a journalist best known perhaps for a book written in the aftermath of the short-lived political career of David Duke, which constituted a first-class rendering of the events involved, but a second-class analysis of the larger scope and meaning of that career. Essentially, the narrative propagated in his piece was Gov. Bobby Jindal was an oppressive meanie when it came to making sure his agenda remained unchallenged within state government.
Two strands comprised this argument, the first being merely facile. Bridges recounts how several administrative officials were given their walking papers because they failed to show insufficient ardor in, if not undertook outright insubordination regarding, toeing the Jindal line. Added to that are stories of insufficiently-committed legislators who got demotions of various kinds, where Jindal could not directly fire them from posts but had powerful allies in the Legislature to do it no doubt with his blessing – and who had put the recalcitrants there in the first place with Jindal’s backing.
Ho-hum. Even Bridges admits there’s not much news here because other governors have done the same, with the only novelty to this that he can muster being he perceives that Jindal is either ham-handed and/or particularly short-fused or both when it comes to people owing him, directly or indirectly, their posts. And if there’s something wrong with the argument that a chief executive ought to command loyalty in both deed and action from subordinates, or that if he has enough power to influence another branch of government entirely able but too unwilling to stand up for itself he ought to use it, Bridges never makes it.
But it’s the other strand that exits any reality when it comes to bolstering the narrative. Bridges tries to argue that the job of the director of Louisiana State University Baton Rouge’s center for media and public affairs somehow could be in jeopardy. The holder of an endowed chair and tenured there, Bob Mann was a journalist, then went into the political world working for liberal Democrats, most recently parachuting from the Gov. Kathleen Blanco Administration into his plush gig.
He also writes a blog that posts criticisms of the Jindal Administration, whose light readership probably is dominated by the journalists he used to work with. From what I’ve seen of it, it isn’t particularly well-reasoned, nor that well-informed, but is predictably orthodox in its liberalism. In others words, you can pretty much get the same kind of stuff by reading the comments sections to online stories of any of the state’s major newspapers, and therefore constitutes rather ineffectual criticism the Jindal Administration would be unlikely get upset about – if it even knew about it before the article got posted.
Yet from the article, Bridges conveys some kind of concern for Mann’s sinecure, and in it refers apparently to other journalists who wonder the same, giving the impression of an attempt to make a mountain out of a molehill to try to bolster the credibility of the narrative. But this moves from the merely lazy to insulting of reader intelligence in thinking that, if the Jindal Administration even cares about this, that in any way Mann would suffer from it.
Indeed, in the world of the academy, Mann probably is valorized in the faculty lounges because his opinion meets with its orthodoxy, wearing his new-found publicity like a badge of honor. And if political forces were ever to move against him for those opinions, university administrators would circle the wagons and do everything possible to protect him because of that sympathy in interests.
As opposed to the treatment that sometimes gets meted out to faculty members who did not rub shoulders with politicians, political operatives, and journalists to get their jobs, but worked to get a terminal degree and establishing records to get hired at the bottom of the academic ladder in order to earn their tenures. And who because of their political views that diverge from the campus orthodoxy find forthcoming a different reaction in the faculty lounge and from administrators, regardless of whether current or ex-elected officials call their bosses expressing their anger over what has been written about them or their causes, suggesting that investigations of their activities be undertaken with an eye towards finding violations of university regulations or state law, or insinuating other consequences to the publicly-funded university by the continued tolerance of these opinions seeing the light of day.
An untenured faculty member dare not disagree with this liberal orthodoxy typifying most of academia if he plans on staying at that place for any length of time, or even if he ever wants to have more than a small portion of the academic universe accept him for more than limited employment terms in his field. Even if tenured, the unstructured nature of job performance as a faculty member presents plenty of opportunities for administrators who dislike and/or regret the heat that can be brought on the university for the publicized views of a faculty member who dissents from the orthodoxy to act against them: denial of raises, promotions, and of other opportunities to enhance or enrich careers, and isolation of them from decision-making.
In other words, to suggest that Mann and those like him would not find support, if not reward, much less suffer any kind of sanction for hewing the academy’s party line or that this activity demonstrates any kind of courage whatsoever is an affront to all of those who face genuine peril in their academic careers just because they aren’t fellow travelers of Mann and Bridges. Any faculty member of any political persuasion should find offense with Bridges’ use of this catchy lead-in as a major component to his piece.
And it’s made worse because the orthodoxy to which Bridges grants fealty leads to other distorting, if not outright ignoring, of real cases of political pressure being brought against others by practitioners of that orthodoxy that Bridges must resort to fantasy in order to claim it is threatened. For example:
- Years ago, Loyola University of New Orleans awarded dissenting Catholic politicians honors, which reaps criticism from its bishop. The media largely defends the Catholic school for its support of those Catholic officials who break with Catholic teaching.
- An organization points out the dismal presence of overly-restrictive, if not unconstitutional, speech codes at some Louisiana public universities. But you don’t hear about it from any media outlet including The Lens, except from the only full-time media employed conservative opinion writer in the state.
- Nor does The Lens or any media outlet report at any time over the last several months the ongoing struggle of the conservative news and analysis website The Hayride to get the Legislature to stop stalling in fulfilling a public records request the material from which likely would prove highly embarrassing for a handful of liberal politicians and special interests. The goal is to silence The Hayride’s investigation by using government’s unlimited revenue-raising powers to throw up legal obstacles against its limited resources. Whose “transparency” and “accountability” are being served here?
But you do hear about Bridges’ non-story from other media outlets. Which is why if The Lens produces a lot of stuff in this vein, whether it would admit this, it will fail to fulfill its presumed rationale for its existence.