Much credit to Declan Lynch for his brilliantly funny take down of Liberal journalists in the Irish Independent, entitled “Journalism is rediscovering its soul in these dark days”. Written in a dry satirical tone it evokes the bitterness and self-righteousness we have all come to expect from the Fourth Estate. Mocking his own trade, Lynch addresses us in the voice of an out of touch hack. A convincing and compelling portrait of a man out of time. One could well imagine Lynch expanding this creation into a one man show, where the protagonist sits at his desk, chain-smoking and beating out copy, taking breaks to regale the audience with tales of the good old days, when men were men, women were women and people paid to consume news.
What comes across strongly is anxiety about change, disillusionment with a readership who no longer trust journalists or buy newspapers, frustration with digital technology and bitterness about the decline of traditional media. It is this reactionary bent from which Lynch draws much of the humour of the piece. We hear of the “massive growth in the sales of newspapers in India”, as though the developing world were a shining beacon or example. Other growth sectors include cigarettes and pornography.
The tone of reactionary nostalgia is expertly handled, as can only be the case when the writer is of that world. One can almost hear Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman punching the keys of electric typewriters. The good old days when investigative reporters took down corrupt and evil politicians. When the world could be set to rights by some plucky kid in a newsroom or his tough-but-fair executive editor. The media are always looking back to that one breathless moment in the mid 1970s when the journalist was seen as idealist rather than as misanthrope.
But times have changed. Populist demagogues are rising and are doing so by attacking the media who are now seen as Establishment lackeys. A new cynical age is upon us in which Western Man has lost his pious regard for the “olde worlde activity that we call journalism”. Lynch hints at the insecurity of the modern media hack. In this world where words are cheap, where every idiot can call himself a writer, the professional newspaper man must constantly justify his position and his stature.
Not only is much of the best writing being done under the broad heading of journalism, there is a sense these days that you really need to keep your eye on the breaking news just to check that the world is still there, that it hasn’t been inadvertently or otherwise incinerated by one of the various jokers who have risen to such abominable heights.
Every good satire needs a false messiah. Here the messiah is journalism itself, embodied in the prototype “Woodward and Bernstein” era hard-working hack. Half novelist, half detective, all Liberal. The media are presented as the key protagonist in a culture war. The only force that can release our “culture from the myriad forces of degeneracy which are devouring it”. Lynch draws our attention to the fact that the producers of media are also its consumers. “I watch Newsnight on the BBC most nights now, to check if I need to bother waking up in the morning”. This is a wonderful image. The journalist in his bubble, listening intently to other journalists, consensus spreading like gossip from a sowing circle.
And of course no messiah is complete without a sense of impending apocalypse. A world going mad, and being dragged into populist hysteria by irrational and atavistic forces.
Try to imagine, for a moment, that Macron has lost and that France today is essentially a fascist dictatorship, the EU is on the way out, and the last hope for our old friend liberal democracy is now… Germany.
That would be quite a punchline, a little over 70 years since Hitler finally relinquished that vision of his – to defy the global elites, and to make his country great again.
Life is a newsroom and we are merely plagiarists. The modern journalist whips up hysteria in the act of denouncing hysteria. He denounces hyperbole and employs hyperbole. He decries binaries and excites binaries. Like some mad prophet he tells us the world would literally have ended had Le Pen got into office.
So we should be down on our knees, thanking the Good Lord that the French somehow came up with a Macron to stop the descent into eejitry of the most lamentable kind, in a way that the British and the Americans could not.
And we should also be grateful that there is still such a thing as journalism, which Trump correctly identifies as the enemy, the main thing standing between him and whatever he wants.
No satire is effective unless it rings true. The sense of self-congratulation here is all too familiar. Naturally, if one is writing the story, it is good sport to make oneself the hero. Time was, when the Liberal journalist was the guardian of a Liberal Society. So went the theory of the Fourth Estate. Now the Liberal journalist is merely a reader of the Guardian. And the image he conjures in his mind while he does so, is what passes for Liberal Society.
Of course no reactionary rant would be complete without an attack on Social Media. Remember, Mark Zuckerberg is not coming to the rescue of Liberalism, nor “any of those amoral titans of the 21st century”. No, salvation will come from the “allegedly dying art” of “olde worlde” journalism. Contempt for the new is accompanied by nostalgia for the old.
Are journalists sometimes guilty of sordidness and dishonesty? Of course… Well, a certain type of journalist. You know… the other kind. You know, the English tabloids… Of course there are “unsavoury elements” in journalism, but it happens over there… It happens somewhere else. And it is always reactionary. Always of a lower type. The “hideous organs so far to the right that they have somehow made old Tories like Kenneth Clarke and Michael Heseltine look like unreconstructed Marxists”. Nobody with a Dublin 4 postcode would ever do something so odious. Would ever stoop to “ossified cliches”. By the way have you heard that Marine Le Pen is literally…? Well you know how the sentence ends.
Hope, like hubris, springs eternal. The grand old days, we are assured, will come again. American journalism is once more “finding its soul”. Speaking truth to power! Calling out the evil populists. That “battered old thing called journalism” is rising glorious as the sun. Woodward and Bernstein, played by Redford and Hoffman will take the scalp of another reactionary President, who nobody in the New York intelligentsia voted for.
In All The President’s Men, the noise of the typewriter banging out each letter in another Washington Post story burying Nixon, sounded like a gunshot, like there was a war going on.
And that is the crux of the matter. This is war, Lynch tells us. And the journalists are soldiers in that war. Their words are bullets. The “ladies and gentlemen of the press” will stride forward, anachronisms in the digital age, Immortals of the Imperial Liberal Idea. For which they are prepared to kill and die and write copy. Lynch has illuminated the Liberal journalist with his concise and compelling caricature. He is to be applauded.
The original article can be found here:
“Journalism is rediscovering its soul in these dark days”