SHOTS FIRED: Goldberg Goes Full John Galt | Steve Berman

Jonah Goldberg, a longtime Fox News contributor, who frequently appeared on panels seated next to the iconic Charles Krauthammer, has quit Fox, along with his partner at The Dispatch, Steve Hayes.

The reason given for the sudden departure is Tucker Carlson’s subscription-only streaming series Patriot Purge, a pure fan fiction piece served up as an “exposé” of how the U.S. government is rounding up “patriots” in the manner, and with the same tools as it deployed against al Qaeda.

Over the past five years, some of Fox’s top opinion hosts amplified the false claims and bizarre narratives of Donald Trump or offered up their own in his service. In this sense, the release of Patriot Purge wasn’t an isolated incident, it was merely the most egregious example of a longstanding trend. Patriot Purge creates an alternative history of January 6, contradicted not just by common sense, not just by the testimony and on-the-record statements of many participants, but by the reporting of the news division of Fox News itself. 

Some readers might say, “big deal.” And perhaps, from their armchair, they’re right. Two media people, who don’t really rely on their Fox News contract money to pay for dinner, quit in protest. It’s all entertainment anyway, right?

No, not really. It’s deeper than that.

American media has entered a dangerous “shots fired” zone, where the actions of a few large news organizations is driving the narratives of millions. The larger the tectonic rift grows between left-leaning MSNBC and CNN against right-leaning Fox News, along with scores of national, political, local, and online outlets on the fringes of both political poles, the bigger the potential for actual violence between partakers of their products.

The big media companies have lost perspective, responsibility, objectivity, and ethical principles. This decline has left the people who peruse the media with two choices: believe what they’re told, or stop trusting the source. But when all the sources both play fast and loose with facts, twist meanings, ignore obvious conclusions, and parlay the smallest tidbits of outrage into maniacal rolling campaigns of steaming garbage, pitting “them” against “us,” it’s not hard to see why the play “pew-pew” war they make in front of cameras, played for sponsors, money, and ratings, can become very real.

People so easily forget about the whole Gabby Giffords “targeting” episode where the New York Times editorial board, “sharply critical of the heated political rhetoric on the right,” blamed Sarah Palin’s “stylized cross hairs” as the motive behind Jared Lee Loughner’s shooting spree. The Washington Post reminded everyone in 2017 that the 2011 talking point was still being echoed in the media despite being debunked within days after the shooting.

Many forget that James Hodgkinson, who in 2017 fired 136 rounds from an SKS style 7.62mm hunting rifle, while carrying a list of GOP “targets” at a suburban Virginia ballfield, was fully absorbed into politics, even volunteering for Sen. Bernie Sanders presidential campaign. In April of 2021, the FBI, under President Biden’s administration, released a murky finding that Hodgkinson’s motive was “suicide by cop.” Hodgkinson was indeed killed by police; Rep. Steve Scalise wasn’t having any of it.

The left-leaning wing of the media was very quick to bury any possible link of Hodgkinson to liberal causes, as they also did with Floyd Lee Corkins, who had 15 Chick-fil-A sandwiches in his backpack when he arrived at the Family Research Council offices on August 15, 2012. Corkins, armed with a 9mm handgun with two 15-round loaded magazines, and a box of extra ammunition, was stopped by a security guard, who was shot in the arm in the resulting scuffle. In fact, Corkins was a highly educated man with a master’s degree from George Mason University. The feds called it an act of domestic terrorism.

The January 6th insurrection at the Capitol was a mob action resulting from months of Fox News and other outlets amplifying President Trump’s attacks on election security. He’d been claiming the elections are “rigged” for years, and with the pandemic offering cover, these claims were motivating millions of Americans to question the results of the November, 2020 presidential election. Trump never backed down an inch, despite over 60 defeats and no victories in courtrooms across the nation.

When tens of thousands showed up for the January 6th “stop the steal” rally, they were armed with months of conditioning from Trump-friendly media. They were also armed with years of lies from the anti-Trump media. Years of “the walls are closing in,” the Russiagate scandal, which should never have been pursued, twisted and fabricated “insiders with knowledge” leaks, disparaging stories, and plain made-up lies peppered the media on both sides of the Trump chasm.

Those who participated in the storming of the Capitol during Congress’s constitutional duty to certify the results of the Electoral College, did so with a criminal intent to subvert the very foundations of peaceful transfer of political power that have kept America from veering into despotic chaos for 240 years. But those people also truly believed they were doing a patriotic duty to defend the government from a “deep state” conspiracy, even at the cost of their own lives, like Ashli Babbit.

I’ve written that I believe the best course for President Biden has always been to dismiss the charges and offer clemency to just about all the January 6th participants, especially the young and impressionable like Bruno Joseph Cua, 18, from Milton, Georgia. But Biden has pursued a more aggressive stance against those charged in the January 6th event. 

I remember my own dismay seeing billboards around Atlanta last may asking for tips, put up by the FBI. Around 500 people now face federal charges, and some have been convicted or pled guilty, like the “Qanon Shaman,” Jacob Chansley, who received a sentence of 41 months in prison. The path we’re on could lead to civil war, many say, and the media is happy to remind us daily.

It’s not hard to believe that in today’s age of Edward Snowden document dumps, secret FISA warrants against a President-elect in 2016, and the spying capabilities of the U.S. government’s most classified tech, that if the government wanted to pursue political opponents down to the neighborhood and workplace level, by the tens of thousands “targeted” for whatever kind of roundup, it would not be completely implausible.

That’s what Tucker Carlson is claiming in his Patriot Purge series. Carlson’s claims fall somewhere in the spectrum between the moon-landing-is-a-hoax conspiracy, and Glenn Greenwald’s very real diatribes against Democrat-runjackbooted overreach and targeting of right-wing media. Journalists and pundits who want their names associated with fact-based real analysis, versus fan fiction and narrative fantasy, like Goldberg and Hayes, are right to quit. I bet Fox executives expected it, and I also bet they don’t care one bit.

In media inside baseball, some things are bigger “news” than they appear to be on the outside. I’m certain that most viewers just don’t care if they see Jonah Goldberg on Fox News anymore. In fact, many people who subsist on a regular Fox News diet probably despise Goldberg, along with his fellow writer David French, whose very name has become a curse in Trump-right social media circles. They say “good riddance!”

The media world isn’t what the followers of the media world think it is. When Erick Erickson was given a contract with Fox News, jumping from CNN, around 2014, he frequently appeared right up until the time when he turned against Donald Trump in 2015. Then, Roger Ailes decided to ice Erick—paying him to stay off the air, while denying permission for other networks to use him. For two years, Erick got a paycheck from Fox News to not appear on television.

Then when contract time opened up again, Erick and Fox both knew it wasn’t going to renew. This cost Erick a significant portion of his income, and all he had to do was get on the Trump train, to just flip. Interestingly, after leaving Fox, Erick become more a Trump defender, seeing all the lies, deceit and journalistic malpractice the anti-Trump media used for four years. That limited his use on other networks, but was good for Erick’s reputation. Listeners are more eager to believe someone who has served on both sides of the rift, and come out relatively unscathed. In short: reputation matters.

Now, unlike Erick, I haven’t ever seen Jonah Goldberg give a full-throated defense of Donald Trump—it’s just not in him to do it, regardless of the bad behavior of those who oppose Trump. Yet, correctly here, Goldberg is staking his own reputation, even severing a long held position as a Fox News contributor, on staying within the lines of fact-based analysis.

Again, reputation matters. As I’ve noted, when the media behaves abominably, it leads to abominable behavior of the people who consume the media. Even if it’s just one or two people bent on carnage, or millions who have heard that the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict is a travesty—when many journalists knew but withheld key facts that would have given their audience a clue—if there’s violence to come, the media is more than just a bystander here.

The colossal and magma-spewing rift between right-wing and left-wing media is not only creating a “shots fired” atmosphere within the media itself, it’s also poisoning political discourse and fomenting actual violence. If you think that’s a really far-fetched idea, look at Rwanda.

For years, the media in Rwanda fostered the division and hatred between Hutu and Tutsi tribes. They blithely believed that their reporting wasn’t going to lead to mass bloodshed, or they believed they would avoid responsibility if it did.

Margret Jjuuko, an associate professor at the University of Rwanda’s School of Journalism and Communication said the role of media in the genocide was significant. She said the trend to publish stories without thinking of their impact is still valid.

“Many journalists have shifted to a point where they want to publish stories that sell, looking at how much they will get out of the story without minding more about who is affected or who is not affected. That is why you find many of them sensationalize issues instead of reporting for the good,” Jjuuko told Anadolu Agency.

The media in Rwanda followed their own best interests, which resulted in attempted genocide. The media in the U.S. is on a path, following its own interests, where political violence not just might occur, it has occurred, multiple times.

Anyone who has a shred of devotion to the facts, to decency, and to balancing the unbridled pursuit of money, power, and influence with a responsibility to report and analyze the facts—all the facts, including the ones that don’t comport with their own political worldview—should do what Goldberg did. They all need to head for the exit. Atlas needs to shrug in the media space.

Some already have gone John Galt. Matt Taibbi, Bari Weiss, Glenn Greenwald (as mentioned), and others have left the editorial meat grinder and settled on Substack. It’s not that Substack is some panacea (the media is attacking it like Substack was the problem), it’s that it’s the best thing right now besides the stifling secret-police, money-grubbing, boot-licking, entertainment-as-news world of traditional media.

The media’s best organizations have resorted to pandering, lies, half-truths, conspiracies, and dredging up debunked and discredited talking points, on both sides. They’ve now grown accustomed to their actions leading to actual violence, and while they relish the ratings these manufactured crises give them, they pretend they can stand by (“who, me?”) and report on the outcome without taking the slightest bit of responsibility for what they’ve created.

The best way to fight is for the professionals to go John Galt. It’s time for quitting, en masse.

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevengberman.

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