Tony Blair, one of the world’s most mediagenic leaders, is leaving his post as PM with a snarl at the media.
“The fear of missing out means today’s media, more than ever before, hunts in a pack,” he said Tuesday at Reuters headquarters in London. “In these modes it’s like a feral beast, just tearing people and reputations to bits. But no one dares miss out.”
Feral Beast is a lovely Ben Kingsley kind of image. Rowdy talk, gotta love it. I can picture the British press corps printing up Feral Beast buttons and wearing them proudly. It’s probably happening as I write.
He’s got the pack part right, if not the feral part. The media spends way too much time in herds, drooling mindlessly after Paris Hilton or George Bush. In The Boys on the Bus, a great book about the press corps covering presidential campaigns, Timothy Crouse showed how every reporter was terrified of missing what the bigfoot journalists from the major media were reporting. If you didn’t have what The New York Times had, your editor would yell at you for missing the story. Hunter Thompson lampooned this habit brilliantly, and David Halberstam showed how literally deadly it was in Vietnam to only report what the establishment media reported, which was hand-fed them by official military sources.
I don’t think Blair would like it if the British media really did stop hunting in packs, lapping up the packaged spin people like him lay out in briefing troughs, and actually went out and did some serious reporting. What if all the British and American reporters skipped the press conferences Blair and Bush had during the run-up to the war and went out and investigated what was really happening in Iraq, in Niger, among the generals of the British and American military? We would have had all kinds of dissenting and conflicting views — not just what the official sources told us in off-the-record briefings and news conferences about the need for war.
Pack journalism favors official sources, conventional wisdom and status quo.
What if a couple journalists who are endlessly repeating what everyone else is saying about Paris Hilton went out and dug up stories about how people of wealth and fame get special treatment from our justice system? We might actually learn something about unequal justice.
Break out of the pack, reporters. But remain feral. It’s a badge of honor.