Part 1—A real bombshell, CNN said: Last Friday afternoon, the moving finger of James B. Comey—"Comey the God"—wrote a few mysterious words on the latest stone tablet.
His latest pronouncement was remarkably brief. It was also quite vague. As any journalist would have known, the very fact of the pronouncement seemed to fly in the face of certain well-known, established procedures.
Especially when the corps is pretending to conduct campaign discussions, vague pronouncements of this type can produce much more heat than light. A serious journalist would approach such pronouncements with that problem in mind.
On CNN, a "cable news" channel, something quite different occurred. Last Friday, during the 2 PM hour, Brooke Baldwin, a CNN "anchor," had managed to get a leading authority on the phone.
This particular leading authority had written the definitive book! Asked about Comey's pronouncement, he revealed what he had heard:
BALDWIN (10/28/16): On Hillary Clinton, you're looking at live pictures. She is speaking at her rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. We have a lot of ears listening in. As soon as she mentions or addresses this breaking news that we've been discussing from the FBI, we will take it live.Both parts of that exchange help define our floundering journalistic/political culture. Let's start with what the person cast as the anchor said.
Carl Bernstein—Carl Bernstein is on the phone with me.
Carl, we have been talking for months and months and months about the election. You wrote the definitive book on the Clintons, on Hillary Clinton. You've been saying that this is drip, drip, drip that could ultimately haunt her.
BERNSTEIN: Well, there's no question that the emails have always been the greatest threat to her candidacy for president, that her conduct in regard to the emails is really indefensible. And if there was going to be more information that came out, it was the one thing, as I said on the air last night, actually, that could really perhaps affect this election.
We don't know what this means yet except that it's a real bombshell. And it is unthinkable that the director of the FBI would take would action lightly, that he would put this letter forth to the Congress of the United States saying there is more information out there about classified e-mails and call it to the attention of Congress unless it was something requiring serious investigation. So that's where we are.
Is it a certainty that we won't learn before the election? I'm not sure it's a certainty we won't learn before the election. One is it's possible that Hillary Clinton might want to, on her own initiative, talk to the FBI and find out what she can, and, if she chooses to, let the American people know what she thinks or knows is going on. Because obviously, people need to hear from her.
The anchor told her viewers that we had some "breaking news." More precisely, we had "breaking news that we've been discussing from the FBI."
Among those who people our "cable news" channels, "breaking news" qualifies as one of the greatest gods. In response to this breaking news, the anchor had contacted a leading authority.
According to the person cast as the anchor, Carl Bernstein had written "the definitive book on the Clintons, on Hillary Clinton." As such, he was now cast as the voice of authority concerning these words from the god.
What did Bernstein, the voice of authority, say about the breaking news from the FBI?
Bernstein had several things to say. He instantly condemned the candidate's past behavior. But more than anything else, he said the new words from James B. Comey constituted a "bombshell."
Indeed, it was even more exciting than that! James B. Comey's latest words were "a real bombshell," he said.
Already, we'd seen a basic component of the industry which markets itself as "cable news." Excitement is their product—arguably their only product.
Quite routinely, the excitement arrives in the form of "breaking news"—"breaking news" which may, in certain cases, qualify as a "bombshell."
In these ways, the purveyors tell us that something exciting has occurred. That tell us that something exciting has happened, and that it's very important.
Please keep watching, these pronouncements say. Help us maintain the ratings from which our undisclosed, huge salaries flow.
Excitedly, the man who wrote the definitive book had announced a real bombshell. Now, he enacted another part of the culture of "cable news."
He bowed to one of the industry's gods. Crazily, here's what he said:
"It is unthinkable that the director of the FBI would take would action lightly, that he would put this letter forth to the Congress of the United States saying there is more information out there about classified emails and call it to the attention of Congress unless it was something requiring serious investigation. So that's where we are."
It's "unthinkable" that Comey isn't a god. So the leading authority said. He proceeded to offer ridiculous thoughts about what Candidate Clinton might do.
"Obviously, people need to hear from her," he excitedly said.
Let's state the obvious. This latest pronouncement by Comey the God may tip the presidential election.
Inevitably, some votes will change. There's no way to know how many.
At this late date, there's little way to affect that. That said, this latest pronouncement helps us see the way our establishment "press corps" works, especially in its cable and broadcast divisions. It helps us see the essence of modern press corps culture.
For starters, it lets us see how non-journalistic our press corps' instincts are. It lets us see their reliable instinct to seek the heat, not the light.
It lets us see their instinct for the illusion of excitement. You might even say it lets us see their secret corporate identity.
Truly, cable news is Bombshells Inc.! They're a group of silly purveyors who like to sell us breaking news—"explosive" news which sometimes reaches the level of being a "bombshell."
Not everything will qualify as a "bombshell," of course. As the week continues, we'll examine that point, and other parts of press corps culture which emerged from Friday's pronouncement.
We'll see that they're also Scandals Inc.; we'll see what counts as "scandal." We'll see they're Straight-Shooters Inc. We'll see who gets cast as the straight-shooters in the exciting stories they tell.
(Hint: Comey has long been cast in that manner. It's this casting which made him a god.)
Sadly but unmistakably, we'll see that one branch of the industry is Pseudo-liberals Inc. We'll review the ways our favorite liberals have hid in the woods, for twenty-fives years, in the face of this growing press culture. We'll remember the roads they didn't take, the truths they agreed not to tell.
(We'll recall what happened when You-Know-Who got to interview Colin Powell. We'll recall what our favorites did when Benghazi was being invented.
(We'll recall the way You-Know-Who mugged and clowned after Trump's formal announcement. We'll revisit the word The Puppy used when the New York Times published its ludicrous, 4400-word report about the scary uranium deal.
(Gack! It was a "bombshell," he said.)
We'll review these topics this week. For today, let's start with a basic point:
Especially on "cable news," our modern "press corps" is Bombshells Inc. The product they sell is excitement, though a great deal of sifting goes on.
Friday, as the excitement grew, an array of purveyors on CNN pimped the latest example. As of the 5 PM hour, Wolf was calling it an "October bombshell," fashioning an instant hybrid with the exciting "October surprise."
Comey's words had been extremely vague. As all these purveyors knew, the fact that he had spoken at all seemed to diverge from well-known, long-standing procedures.
A journalist would have gone in search of the light, cautioning viewers about all the heat. Excitedly, Bernstein took a different approach. He announced "a real bombshell."
There's no way Comey wasn't sincere, the strange alleged journalist said.
Tomorrow: Two essential products
Teasing the excitement: The anchor has Bernstein on the phone! Before taking a commercial break, she teased the upcoming interview thusly:
BALDWIN: Coming up next, we're staying on the breaking story, the news from the FBI. We'll talk live with Carl Bernstein. This man literally wrote the biography on Hillary Clinton. We've been talking to him for months. He's been predicting this trouble all along.The excitement was running high. Carl Bernstein, who literally wrote the biography, had been predicting this trouble all along!
That wasn't true, of course. But cable news is all about excitement. It's also Predictions Inc.