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Friday, May 04, 2018

Elites and elitists

This piece by Elizabeth Drew of TNR makes no sense. Drew attempts to rebut President Trump's criticism of reporters, especially the D.C. press corp, as "elitists" or "snooty elites." But there are so many problems with the argument.

Drew conflates elitist with elite--one represents a position in society, while the other reflects an attitude. One can be part of society's (or sub-parts of society's) elite without being elitist. I have heard the President and others use both terms, so it is not clear which she is responding to.

Drew cites "numerous indicators" showing journalists are not elite. These include not inheriting jobs (although a family name "might get you in a door" she concedes understadedly); not making a lot of money; not becoming famous (except for a few); working long hours; and not enjoying job security. But she never explains why those indicators define elite status. I can think of many careers that we regard as elite on some level that lack all or most of those indicators. Drew also ignores other indicators or enablers of elite status. One is education, which most D.C. journalists have. Another is some modicum of power or influence, which journalists unquestionably have, because their spoken or written words are going to be seen and read by thousands or millions of people.

There are good reasons to fight back against Trump's rants against the media. Denying the elite status of political journalists within U.S. society seems, well, elitist.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 4, 2018 at 02:37 PM in Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink


If we take your thesis that they have power and influence they why can't or don't they convert that power and influence into better working conditions?

If we take something like an archbishop that's nominally not well paid, there are in-kind benefits that dwarf the cash pay. That was even more true in the past when they were relatively more powerful. As we've seen in the last year, cabinet secretaries have lots of opportunities to enrich their lives on the government. Not to put too fine a point on it, but full professors at law schools do relatively well as compared to reporters and have great job security.

Maybe a DC reporter can get bought a nice lunch from publicist or lobbyist every once in a while, but by and large they are living lives that belie the idea that they have power and influence *unless* you want to argue that they are all ascetics.

Posted by: brad | May 5, 2018 7:26:59 PM

"Only Trump would bite the hand that feeds him. Yet he does..."

Of course he does, that just good journalism. Dog bites man is no story, man bites dog that's a story. What Trump understands is that many people are attracted to drama..."You're Fired! Lock Her Up!". Always remember that the role of the media is to deliver eyeballs to advertisers and from that perspective biting the hand that feeds one is one more drama. Even when the media is losing, they are winning.

Posted by: James | May 5, 2018 4:54:30 PM

If anything, the elites in the media have shown an elitist tendancy to give the liar-in-chief the benefit of the doubt when it is not merited (see, e.g., this week's "debate" over whether Trump actually knew about the payment, after Guiliani and Trump both confirmed it then backpedaled). I think they worry too much about hearing criticism of their work at cocktail parties in Montauk and too little about the obvious fact that the president* is manefestly unfit for the post.

Only Trump would bite the hand that feeds him. Yet he does...

Posted by: Anon | May 5, 2018 10:01:27 AM

Not unlike so many terms, such as judicial activist.
But all the more reason not to address the real issue and not defensively plead "not elitist" based on non-sensical criteria.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | May 5, 2018 9:40:44 AM

Putting aside the elites-vs.-elitists issue, the broader problem is is that the targeting of the "media elite," like targeting "the establishment," is used more as a criticism of what positions a person takes does than who they are. So a liberal NYT writer is a member of the media elite, according to those who use the phrase, but a Fox News writer is not. And the Trump opponent on a CNN panel is a member of the media elite, while the Trump supporter is not.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | May 4, 2018 7:07:32 PM

Interesting , but this is not really about elite or elitists even .It is really a very characteristic misperception . Let me quote Trump , from his speech in the inauguration ceremony , here :

Today’s ceremony, however, has very special meaning. Because today we are not merely transferring power from one Administration to another, or from one party to another – but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the American People .

End of quotation :

So we read it clearly , it is not even a back mind , but directly stated so. The American people according to him , has lost any confidence in federal administrations . They ( W.D.C ) work for themselves . Work for each other . Work for all sorts of lobbies in Washington . Work for every selfish goal , but the American people. That is his job right now . To restore the power to the American people. To work directly for them . Not for a bunch of fake liberals , with International agenda ( See for example his refusal to sign the " Paris agreement " or yield to politically correct perceptions concerning immigrants coming to the US ) .

It is about another perception :

America V. excessive liberalism and Universalism and pseudo humanism . But on both sides , you may find : rich people , educated people , professionals , hard working people etc….


Posted by: El roam | May 4, 2018 4:33:58 PM

Your skepticism about the substance of Drew's claims seems right to me, Howard.

But couldn't you go a step further? Couldn't you say that Elizabeth Drew herself is Exhibit A in defeating her own case? After all, she's still got platforms in places like The New York Review of Books and The New Republic, despite the undeniable fact that she hasn't written anything remotely decent (let alone perceptive or thought-provoking) in at least 20 years . . .

Maybe she's just defensive or lacking in self-awareness?

Posted by: Marcus Neff | May 4, 2018 3:02:33 PM

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