Then, after Vietnam, an ethos of exposure swept the culture. The assumption among many journalists was that the establishment may seem upstanding, but there is a secret corruption deep down. It became the task of journalism to expose the underbelly of public life, to hunt for impurity, assuming that the dark hidden lives of public officials were more important than the official performances.
Then came cable, the Internet, and the profusion of media sources. Now you have outlets, shows and Web sites whose only real interest is the kvetching and inside baseball.
In other words, over the course of 50 years, what had once been considered the least important part of government became the most important. These days, the inner soap opera is the most discussed and the most fraught arena of political life.
And into this world walks Gen. Stanley McChrystal.
General McChrystal was excellent at his job. He had outstanding relations with the White House and entirely proper relationships with his various civilian partners in the State Department and beyond. He set up a superb decision-making apparatus that deftly used military and civilian expertise.
But McChrystal, like everyone else, kvetched. And having apparently missed the last 50 years of cultural history, he did so on the record, in front of a reporter. And this reporter, being a product of the culture of exposure, made the kvetching the center of his magazine profile.
Where to begin.
Does one start with the fact that a general in charge of a war complaining about said war and the people conducting it and by the way, jokes about the cheese-eating surrender monkeys notwithstanding, DYING ALONG WITH U.S. SOLDIERS, is newsworthy no matter what “culture of exposure” you are living in? That this wasn’t some trivial thing about how, say, somebody said he’d quit smoking but was being lifed about it daily by the White House press corps? Or got a blow job from an intern?
Or that it was the reporter’s job to produce a profile of the general and even if he’d been brought up by Dwight Eisenhower himself entirely inside a terrarium decorated by Donna Reed, he’d have still had to get his lede from somewhere? And that he didn’t exactly hold a gun to McChrystal’s head and make him wisecrack about Biden?
Or that, you know, “the establishment” those unfortunate and nasty journalists had such dark suspicions about turned out to, in fact, BE FULL OF CROOKS AND ASSHOLES WHO WERE TRYING TO RUIN THE COUNTRY BEFORE JOURNALISTS EXPOSED THEM? God forbid anyone lose their childlike innocence after the Gulf of fucking Tonkin.
Possibly David here could get some of his friends at THE NEW YORK TIMES to explain to him that it has ALWAYS been the job of the journalist to “expose the underbelly of public life,” to sort out the bullshit and tell people what was really going on. Upton Sinclair. Nelly Bly. Lincoln Steffens. Ida Tarbell. They practiced the craft long before this “culture of exposure” existed, and thank God for it and all who carry on their work today. I think it’s time David went back to school. Obviously he missed a few history courses IN HIS OWN GODDAMN TRADE.
This may be my favorite part, though:
Another scalp is on the wall. Government officials will erect even higher walls between themselves and the outside world. The honest and freewheeling will continue to flee public life, and the cautious and calculating will remain.
First, megalomaniacal idiots will always shoot their mouths off to reporters, so access will never be the problem. Second, I don’t see David retiring from his very public life to go tend goats or whatever because of the horribleness of the world in which we now live. Third, oh my God, so long as public life continues to offer fat stacks and loving tongue-baths from the gullible assholes in our national newspapers, people will be lining up for it, even if they’re subjected to the occasional indignity of being asked a question or two by a real reporter to satisfy our hippiefied, patchouli-stinking “culture of exposure.”