A few weeks ago, writing for the Commentary website about the Left’s attempts to deny that over-generous handouts by the Biden “stimulus” package can have had anything to do with the unexpectedly slow drop in the unemployment figures and widespread labor shortages, Noah Rothman wrote this: “When self-evident reality conflicts with ideology, ideology tends to lose that fight.”
So, at any rate, you might think. But I’m afraid it’s not true anymore. Not in the media anyway. There, ideology has been winning every battle with reality.
Rothman had in mind articles like this one, by Jacob Silverman of The New Republic: “Low Wages and Crappy Jobs Gave Us the Labor ‘Shortage’” with its teasing sub-head: “Republicans think overly generous unemployment benefits are keeping people from working. Biden might be taking the bait.”
To Silverman, even the existence of a labor shortage is a self-evident falsehood, as The New Republic indicates by putting scare-quotes around “shortage.” Why? Because the media narrative about the stimulus, as about everything that President Biden does, does not recognize the possibility of error, or even of unintended consequences.
It’s the reverse of the narrative about President Trump, which was (and is) that everything he did and continues to do was an error or worse: a deliberate attempt to ruin the country, its economy, and democracy itself.
Put it like that and any fair-minded person would be skeptical at the least. It is simply not in human life or nature for anything or anybody to be always wrong—or right.
Always Right, Right Now
But ideologues are not fair-minded people. Indeed, the whole appeal of ideology to a certain kind of mind—the kind that is now predominant in the media—is that it insulates you from the possibility of ever being wrong.
In other words, since your ideology is, by definition, always right, so are you if you stick loyally to it, no matter how absurd, or how much in conflict with reality, it may seem to be. And, by the same definition, everybody who is not an adherent of the ideology, no matter how plausible he may seem, is necessarily wrong.
What makes an idea into an ideology is just this compulsion to believe in it as the only possible way of being right. Science itself—or, rather, “the science”—has lately been turned into an ideology by the media.
And if “the science”—whether of climate change or of the pandemic—is assumed always to be right, it only remains for the media consensus to decide what scientific opinion, no matter how far-fetched, is worthy of the label of “the science” for that consensus, too, always to be right.
It’s important to remember that being right, in this sense, is always right now. If “the science” was telling us a year ago that hydroxychloroquine was of no benefit in the treatment of COVID-19 infections (Donald Trump said that it was, so it wasn’t) and today is telling us that it is of immense benefit, there is no contradiction between these two truths of “the science.” You simply pick the truth that is most convenient in the present.
Ideological truth, you see, has no history. This is what Orwell recognized when he wrote in “Nineteen-Eighty-Four” that “The past was alterable. The past never had been altered. Oceania was at war with Eastasia. Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia.”
All this is just another way of saying that, in the mouths of the media, “truth” means the narrative and the narrative is by the same a priori assumption necessarily true.
This is something always to be borne in mind when you hear the words “truth” or “lies” today—in the media or out of them, since the media have in effect enfranchised all of us to be equally proprietorial with our own chosen ideological truths.
The clash of such truths with reality is a problem that the kind of “explanatory journalism” pioneered by the Vox website was invented to solve. Silverman in the article mentioned above is engaged in just such an explanation of why what, in reality, appears to be a labor shortage is, ideologically speaking only a “shortage,” and thus not a shortage at all.
Likewise, David Leonhardt of The New York Times, explains that, by the logic of “capitalism” (conceived of as just another ideology) there can’t be a labor shortage, since the price of labor is bound to rise, thus attracting reluctant workers back into the work force.
In the same paper, Heidi Shierholz offers a similar explanation of why the apparent shortage is largely a statistical artifact—never mind the obvious difficulties real employers are having finding real workers. Who are you going to believe? Heidi Shierholz or your lying eyes?
The obvious purpose of all such obfuscation is not so much to explain as to explain away the effect of the $300 weekly unemployment benefit included in the Biden stimulus package.
In the same way, both The Washington Post and The New York Times have recently run stories about the spike in the crime rate while offering various explanations of why it has been happening “as the pandemic wrought economic and social hardship.”
Yet they hardly mention, apart from a vague allusion to “the social unrest related to policing,” the rhetorical and literal assaults on the police in the last year by the Black Lives Matter movement with the support of local and national Democratic officials.
“In the aftermath [of George Floyd’s death],” wrote reporter Neil MacFarquhar for the Times, “some criminologists attributed the spike in homicides to hesitancy among residents to turn to the police for help. Others argued that it was the police who held back. The debate, frequent after any crime wave, remains unresolved.”
The problem for all such media explainers is that they must now continue to uphold the fiction that Joe Biden and the Democrats can never be wrong (except by not being radical enough) with equal fervency to that by which they have always upheld and continue to uphold the fiction that Donald Trump and the Republicans (except for those who repudiate him) could never be right.
It will be interesting to see what contortions of logic and sense they will be reduced to as both these fictions come more and more into conflict with reality.
James Bowman is a resident scholar at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. The author of “Honor: A History,” Bowman is a movie critic for The American Spectator and the media critic for the New Criterion.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.