March 14, 2019 | Reading Time: 6 minutes
Corruption Corrodes Everything, Everyone
Shep Smith is a legit journalist. He's also a front for GOP demagoguery.
Shepard Smith is a legitimate reporter employed by Fox News, and because he is in the extreme minority in what is otherwise a profitable vampire squid of networked propaganda, he’s often credited for being the voice of conscience. That’s the gist of Brian Stelter’s article Thursday in which CNN’s chief media correspondent reported segments of Smith’s speech after he received a journalism award in Washington.
Implicit in Stelter’s article is the stark difference between Smith, a real news man, and Fox host Tucker Carlson, a real horse’s ass. Carlson has come under blistering scrutiny after Media Matters found and reported various and sundry horrible thing that he has said about women, immigrants, Muslims, and black people. “Being accurate and honest and thorough and fair is our primary mission,” Shep Smith said last night. “It’s our professional calling. And everyone on my team takes it extremely seriously.”
In reporting Smith’s remarks, Stelter hints at ethical divisions inside Fox, and these divisions are important to point out given huge profits at stake and the influence the “news channel” has on the current president. But while Stelter and other media reporters focus on divisions inside Fox, they are missing something more important. Smith isn’t a voice of conscience so much as a front for Republican demagoguery. Smith is to Fox News what some restaurants were to the Mafia. The pasta is real, but it’s dirty. That it tastes good does not diminish its being tainted by criminal minds.
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I don’t mean to pick on Smith. As I said, he’s a legitimate reporter. He’s just working for and thus rationalizing an illegitimate enterprise, I contend, that has enriched itself by using American freedoms against Americans. But he’s not alone.
He’s part of a society that either does not know the extent of the corruption eating its moral core, or that looks the other way. To be sure, it could be both. Stelter, himself a pretty stand-up guy, chooses to make Shep Smith a martyr of sorts while overlooking the effect of Smith’s martyrdom, which is normalizing corruption. If Stelter is looking the other way, why would normal people understand what’s going on?
Normal people don’t understand, because normal people are not trying to game the rules. They are busy living by them. Only when it’s evident that whole sectors of the economy focus on gaming the rules do normal people start paying attention. But even then, they are only seeing the most obvious cases. There’s much more underground.
You’ve heard the news of federal charges against 50 people, including a couple of Hollywood actresses, who paid large sums into a fraud scheme to get their mediocre children in the country’s top universities. Well, think of that fraud scheme as a mushroom you might see during a walk in the park. Mushrooms are the fruit of a bigger organism living below the surface. This organism, called a mycelium, is vast. It touches virtually everything in the vicinity. This organism, you don’t see it. You only see its fruit. This organism is corruption, and corruption is touching everything.
People laughed when they found out that one defendant paid more than a million dollars to get into a school that costs about $50,000 a year in tuition. Overpaid! Ha! Funnier is that the defendant engaged in illegal corruption, not legal corruption. Instead of buying people off, they could have done what Fred Trump and Charles Kushner did—cut fat checks to the Wharton School and Harvard, then demand that they let in young Donald Trump and Jared Kushner, respectively. And that’s not all! They could then write off the money as a tax-deductible charitable donation. What’s merit when the US tax code is on your side? Merit is for the little people.
Actually, merit has social capital. None of the students enrolled under fraudulent circumstances will face consequences, the AP reported. That might seem fair. Some did not know what their parents were doing. But for every one of them, someone else who did everything right to get into an elite school is not getting her chance. And the moment the kid of criminal parents gets her diploma, she diminishes the value of every diploma ever conferred by that university. Past students did the work. This student didn’t. Yet she’s receiving the same rights and privileges. Is that fair?
You could say, well, these kids are blameless. Let them be.
That pretends corruption does not touch everything in society, that it does not eat our moral core. The chef who worked for the Mafia was a real chef. Shepard Smith is a real journalist. But that’s not the point. In working for criminal minds, the Mafia chef and Shepard Smith do not redeem criminal minds. They legitimize them.
And that harms everyone.
Liberalism and the left, a debate
In New Haven, I hosted Tuesday the first of many (I hope) discussions on American public affairs. We’re calling it “Politics in Plain English,” taken from the tag line of The Editorial Board. Our aim to inform the citizenry and to speak as plainly as honestly as we can about the issues most important to our age. Our discussion Tuesday was about liberalism and the left, and it went all over the place, as you might expect given the rangy topic and the fierce wit and intelligence of my guests, Joshua Holland (pictured, left) and Batya Ungar-Sargon (right). He’s a contributor to The Nation. She’s the opinion editor at The Forward. Future guests include Bill Scher of Politico, Dan Freedman of Hearst newspapers, Jacob Hacker of Yale, and Francis Wilkinson of Bloomberg Opinion. Below is part of a write up in the New Haven Independent. —JS
Two left-of-center pundits who disagree with each other debated for an hour and a half — without tearing each other apart.
That happened Tuesday night at the Institute Library on Chapel Street.
Can it happen in the U.S. at large?
That question emerged as Batya Ungar-Sargon, opinion editor for The Jewish Daily Forward, and Josh Holland, contributing writer for The Nation, engaged in a wide-ranging conversation about the past, present and future of American left politics during a period of resurgence. The conversation was moderated by New Haven-based journalist John Stoehr, who runs the Editorial Board, a daily e-newsletter with political commentary and analysis.
“I wanted [Holland and Ungar-Sargon] to be here because I’ve learned something from them,” Stoehr explained. “I feel like a student of theirs.”
Letters to the editor
Wednesday’s newsletter, “Merit Has Little to Do with It,” got a good response.
Here are the best. —JS
“Worthiness has nothing to do with the gilt on the diploma”
You brought back memories of my time at Yale and later times when I thought “what a waste”: my father and grandfather holding up Yale as inevitable; Dad’s bank loan, paid off a decade or more later; my easy job hunt upon graduation; and my work experience following the interviews Yale arranged for seniors. Turns out, 40 years on, I would have been happier had I gone to trade school and become a machinist. That’s my milieu. Not that I don’t value what Yale has done for New Haven’s vibrancy. I love living here (and not just because grad students have supported me for 30 years). Many times I’ve felt the sting of illegitimacy since graduation. But, gratefully, UUism came into my life and I’ve had it hammered home since then: worthiness has nothing to do with the gilt on the diploma. —TV, New Haven, Conn.
“Merit has nothing to do with it except for a few cases”
Wonderful post, but I would add an addendum: merit has nothing to do with it except for a few cases. I remember when I was teaching at a small college in the Midwest. I had a student who never came to class, never turned in homework, and failed all quizzes and tests. When I gave her the appropriate “F,” her father called me directly (he had been given my phone number by the dean). He attempted first to persuade me, and then to threaten me, with changing her grade to a “C,” because (as he put it) he was a “top” donor and his daughter didn’t deserve to fail. I held firm, refused to alter the grade, and told him that if he were unhappy, he should talk to the dean. After insulting me some more, he hung up. I’ll never forget that call—as if his daughter was entitled to a passing grade because her dad had money. —NK, Evanston, Ill.
“Your insight was the poke in the coccyx”
I don’t know how I ended up finding the Editorial Board (rest assured I do subscribe), but I want to tell you that your polished gem landed at the confluence of my working on breaking through a Medicaid expansion logjam in the Kansas legislature, rereading Sarah Smarsh’s Heartland and wondering how I, this imperfect impostor, made it to the center of conversations about power, values, rights and privilege and belonging. I believe in a beloved community, but we sure cleave to our old ways. Your insight was the poke in the coccyx I needed to keep moving. —LDM, Kansas City, Kan.
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John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.