George Will: 'Infant' Josh Hawley feeds the 'degradation' of politics and journalism
On Wednesday, August 3, the U.S. Senate voted, 95-1, in favor of Sweden and Finland joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). President Joe Biden applauded the vote, declaring, “This historic vote sends an important signal of the sustained, bipartisan U.S. commitment to NATO, and to ensuring our Alliance is prepared to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow. I look forward to signing the accession protocols and welcoming Sweden and Finland, two strong democracies with highly capable militaries, into the greatest defensive alliance in history.”
The vote was a rare example of everyone from Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont to Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer being on the same page. The lone “no” vote came from far-right Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, who used the vote to boast about how MAGA he is on foreign policy and how devoted he is to former President Donald Trump’s “America first” agenda — and Hawley defended the vote during an interview with Fox News’ Tucker Carlson.
Never Trump conservative and veteran Washington Post opinion writer George Will examines Hawley’s “no” vote in his August 10 column, arguing that these events underscore the “degradation” of both journalism and politics in the United States.
“Like an infant feeling ignored and seeking attention by banging his spoon on his highchair tray, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) last week cast the only vote against admitting Finland and Sweden to NATO,” Will explains. “He said adding the two militarily proficient Russian neighbors to NATO would somehow weaken U.S. deterrence of China…. That evening, Hawley appeared on Fox News to receive Tucker Carlson’s benediction. This umpteenth episode of a senator using the Senate as a stepping stone to a cable television green room illustrates what Chris Stirewalt deplores in his new book, ‘Broken News.’”
Stirewalt served as Fox News’ political editor before being fired for, ironically, doing his job well. And he discusses that controversy in his new book, “Broken News: Why the Media Rage Machine Divides America and How to Fight Back,” which has an August 23 release date on Amazon.
Will says of Stirewalt, “He was washed out of Fox News by a tsunami of viewer rage because on Election Night 2020, he correctly said Donald Trump had lost Arizona. Now, he says today’s journalism has a supply-side problem — that is, supplying synthetic controversies.”
Stirewalt, in his book, describes the state of U.S. journalism in 2022 as, “What did Trump say? What did Nancy Pelosi say about what Trump said? What did Kevin McCarthy say about what Pelosi said about what Trump said? What did Sean Hannity say about what Rachel Maddow said about what McCarthy said about what Pelosi said about what Trump said?”
Will shares Stirewalt’s complaints, writing, “But journalism also has a demand-side problem: Time was, journalists assumed that news consumers demanded ‘more information, faster and better.’ Now, instantaneous communication via passive media — video and television — supplies what indolent consumers demand. More than half of Americans between ages 16 and 74 read below the Sixth-Grade level. Video, however, requires only eyes on screens. But such passive media cannot communicate a civilization defined by ideas.”
Will continues, “Our creedal nation, Stirewalt says, ‘requires written words and a common culture in which to understand them’…. Technology — radio, television, the internet — turned journalism from reporting what had happened to reporting what was happening, and now to giving passive news consumers the emotional experience of having their political beliefs ratified.”
Now 81, Will has seen a lot of technological changes over the years. And he shares Stirewalt’s view that technology has made some political journalism a form of lowbrow entertainment.
“Technology has produced a melding of journalism and politics, to the degradation of both, as illustrated by the seamlessness of Hawley’s Senate floor grandstanding and his cable news self-congratulation,” Will observes. “Small wonder, says Stirewalt, that ‘the news business treats politics like sports’ — entertaining, but with no meaning deeper than the score. The fans, consumers of emotional-impact journalism, wear, figuratively speaking, their teams’ colors: red shirts against blue shirts.”
Will continues, “This journalism’s constant attention to politics instead of government — to gaining power instead of its exercise — makes the players on the field, Stirewalt says, ‘want to show off to the fans in the stands instead of trying to win the game.’ Hence Hawley, the quintessential example of the politics that the new journalism encourages. And hence his absurd vote against NATO expansion — spoon clenched in infant fist, banging the highchair tray to say: ‘Pay attention to me!’…. Define news down, and this is the kind of newsmaker you get.”
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