Recent Gallup findings show that the news media’s approval ratings with the American people lag those of every other national institution except for Congress and big business. That is, the public says it has more confidence in the nation’s schools and banks, among others, than in “newspapers” and “television news.” Moreover, Americans’ opinions of the press keep getting worse all the time.
After reading Joe Klein’s new Time magazine column on the mounting woes of America’s white working class, I can only wonder why the media’s numbers are even this good.
Klein shot to media superstar status by exploiting his chummy ties with the Clinton political team to write an adoringly leering anonymous novel about the 1992 presidential campaign. Primary Colors was packed with so much inside information that the national chattering class echo chamber was abuzz for years trying to decide whether it was written by a Clinton staffer. (President Clinton’s own musings on the matter didn’t exactly hurt.) Klein lied repeatedly to fellow journalists about his authorship, but on the verge of being outed, finally confessed in mid-1996 – several months after the best-seller was published.
Since journalism says it values honesty and independence from power, you’d think that Klein would have been disgraced and ostracized. Instead, not only did Primary Colors fly off the shelves and win a movie deal for the author. But his career thrived outside Hollywood, too as he “became a columnist at the New Yorker magazine, then edited by [celebrity-worshiping] Tina Brown, the wife of Harold Evans, the head of Random House, which published Primary Colors” before landing his current gig at Time.
So after literally decades of cruising in the chattering class’ most glamorous circles, you’d think that Klein might be a little hesitant about commenting on the state of working class whites in Flyover America – and that whatever he wrote might express at least a little sympathy. But you’d be wrong.
According to Klein, the recently spotlighted spread of “sexual profligacy, drug dependency, violence, indigence and a free-range sense of helplessness that leads to irresponsibility” in regions like (but not restricted to) Appalachia have little to do with economic trends like “the departure of manufacturing jobs.” Instead, as with the presence of these pathologies in the African-American community – which he claims is also mistakenly attributed to (and excused by) job and wage loss in the liberal canon – the real problem is “a bottom-up crisis of individual responsibility.” Even more conveniently from lofty perches like Klein’s, this malady is “largely beyond the reach of public policy.”
Apparently it’s beyond Klein’s ken nowadays that “habits of indolence–the inability to show up to work on time, the refusal to follow orders on the job, the preference to hang out at a home often subsidized by the federal government” might have something to do with the reality that after entire careers of meeting all these standards of responsibility, tens of millions of working class Americans of all races have been rewarded by entire industries being offshored with Washington’s active assistance, or destroyed by predatory foreign competition as American leaders looked the other way. P.S.: The vast majority of Mainstream Media journalists were loudly applauding the entire time.
It’s also clear that Klein is completely unfamiliar with the findings of sociologist William Julius Wilson, who has painstakingly shown how the loss of good industrial jobs in urban America has fueled much of the social breakdown experienced by black families and communities. I presented Wilson’s key conclusion in a May, 2015 post and it’s worth considering again today:
“The consequences of high neighborhood joblessness are more devastating than those of high neighborhood poverty. A neighborhood in which people are poor but employed is different from a neighborhood in which people are poor and jobless. Many of today’s problems in the inner-city ghetto neighborhoods – crime, family dissolution, welfare, low levels of social organization, and so on – are fundamentally a consequence of the disappearance of work.”
Wilson’s analysis – which of course is as relevant to the white working class as to the black – undoubtedly sounds obvious to anyone who has depended on employment day in and out at a factory or similar facility that generated family-wage jobs. For jet-set journalists like Klein, who at most drop in occasionally on this world – usually for a little local election-year color – and who not so coincidentally benefit handsomely from cheap imported goods, not to mention cheap legal and illegal immigrant labor, it’s much easier to blame the victim.