Last week was the one-year anniversary of the passing of conservative commentator, Charles Krauthammer. To mark the occasion, several of Krauthammer’s former colleagues and conservative media figures paid homage to his memory, both on-air and online. The sentiment was good, thoughtful, and certainly deserved.
Those who’ve followed my work for a while know that I (along with many other conservatives) idolized Dr. Krauthammer and deeply admired his intellect and contributions to the world of political commentary. He was, and still is, an inspiration to my writing. Still, I have to admit that the anniversary caught me off guard.
It’s not that I had trouble reconciling that an entire year had passed. On the contrary. To me, it feels like much longer. And as I was vacationing with my family in South Carolina, and scrolling through some tribute tweets on my phone (as we waited for an alligator boat-tour to begin), I was reminded of exactly why.
Some of the deepest praise of Krauthammer’s legacy, and the admirable qualities that made him a valued voice of integrity, came from commentators who’ve pretty much taken the exact opposite approach in how they’ve chosen to perform the job.
I noticed this same thing last year, right after he had died, and wrote about it in a column:
“Krauthammer had little patience for hypocrisy. He didn’t defend or shrug off dishonesty. He rejected straw-man arguments. He rejected demagoguery and conspiracy theories. He didn’t use whataboutism to excuse conduct he had previously denounced, or to denounce conduct he had previously excused. He unflinchingly retained his character, even as he watched so many of his colleagues relinquish theirs in order to maintain personal and professional relevance in this radically altered political landscape.”
Krauthammer was indeed the gold standard by which political commentary should be evaluated, yet that legacy is nearly the antithesis of today’s prominent conservative-media creed. Thus it sure would be nice if many of those who’ve been expressing their deep admiration and gratitude for Krauthammer’s contribution would take a step back and recognize all that they’ve done to undermine it. And if they could manage to do that, perhaps they could even take steps to help rectify the situation.”
But they haven’t rectified the situation. Not even close. Not the commentators and not their bosses. The conservative media, by and large, has only gotten worse. Thoughtful, intellectually consistent voices are now quite hard to come by — most notably on Fox News where there used to be a plethora of such.
In the era of Trump, most of these people have either been cast aside or successfully pressured into reducing their commentary to entirely predictable Trump-fawning narratives and folklore-esque framings of our president’s greatness that would make the school teacher from Snowpiercer proud:
In this case, however, it’s not so much done in the interest of indoctrination as it is satisfying the network’s most intensely partisan viewers. Ratings drive everything, and if the audience hadn’t dragged Fox News and other conservative outlets in this direction, it would have never come to be.
But this is where we’re at, and if you ever have doubts as to just how much different the conservative-media has become, I would invite you to take part in a fun little exercise: listen to what some of today’s most prominent, self-described conservative commentators are saying about a particular political issue or ethical standard, and then search for YouTube videos (or even tweets) of what they were saying about the same topic three or four years ago. Far more often than not, you’ll find them taking the opposite position.
Even more amusing (sad is the better word) are those instances when President Trump alters his stance on a particular issue or policy multiple times within just days or weeks, and the same Trump-accommodating commentators reliably describe each reversal as the correct (and often brilliant) decision.
It’s a swamp murkier than the one I saw on my gator tour.
Of course, there’s still some commonality with the old days (aka the pre-Trumpian era), comprised mostly of cookie-cutter go-to themes, whether it be liberal media bias, the culture war, or something else. While these are almost always legitimate issues, the discussions of such topics have been largely purged of nuance, perspective, and self-assessment. They’re handled like a lazy reboot of a classic movie, where Hollywood throws out a thoughtless script with some fresh faces, and familiar imagery and punchlines, just to squeeze a few extra bucks out of a proven brand.
What we see today in the conservative media, with few exceptions, is the antithesis of value-added, Krauthammer-style commentary.
Krauthammer’s work and analysis wasn’t beholden to a business model or political loyalties. He took his role in our national discussion seriously because he saw his contributions as a public service and even a responsibility to his country.
Krauthammer’s goal wasn’t to validate, coddle, or profit off of the partisan instincts of his viewers and readers. It was to strengthen their knowledge and understanding of important issues.
How many conservative commentators in the national media can we honestly say that about today?
If you’re struggling to come up with more than three or four names, you’ll understand why it seems to me like a hell of a lot longer than just a year that we’ve been without Charles Krauthammer… or even the nearly two years it’s been since he wrote a political column or appeared on television.
Krauthammer’s legacy is an important one, and it deserves far more than just the fond memories of his peers and the nostalgic affections of his fans.
It deserves to be practiced… continually… and without apology. Tribes be damned.