“Vastly Ignorant of Many Things”
G.K. Chesterton once wrote in the New York Times, “I am a journalist and so am vastly ignorant of many things, but because I am a journalist I write and talk about them all.” As a critique of modern journalism, it is much more fitting, and true, than the Times’ motto, “All the News That’s Fit to Print.” Akin to this is something Chesterton wrote elsewhere: “The most interesting ideas are those which the newspapers dismissas dogmas.”
As if to illustrate what Chesterton meant, a St. Louis newsweekly, The Riverfront Times, published an interview in October with Maureen Tucker, former drummer for the edgy, avant garde 1960s rock band, The Velvet Underground. It seems Tucker, the Velvets’ nod to gender-bending (she went by Moe Tucker and sported a man’s haircut in those days), had been spotted at a Tea Party rally and the Times wanted to find out why.
So far, so good. We’re used to rock stars lecturing us not to smoke, or urging us to abort our children. Rock stars who lecture us from the Right are a bit more rare. This had all the marks of “man bites dog” newsworthiness, especially in the weeks leading up to the midterm elections. But politics—not to mention thinking—is more complicated than Right vs. Left.
In his first question, Riverfront Times reporter Mike Appelstein asks Tucker why she is “furious about the way we’re being led toward socialism and the ‘incredible waste of money’ being spent. Could you elaborate a bit on these sentiments?”
Tucker does, in six paragraphs and in great detail. “I am not oblivious to the plight of the poor, but I don’t see any reason/sense to the idea that everyone has to have everything,” she says, condemning runaway government subsidy as “a ploy to control.”
Tucker recalls her own childhood poverty and evokes a little bit of Distributism (“The government is deciding what kind of light bulbs we can use”), and a lot of Libertarianism (“No country can provide all things for all citizens. There comes a point where it just isn’t possible, and it’s proven to be a failure everywhere it’s been tried”). Tucker’s response boils down to exasperation with the small laws, an exasperation born of age and experience for Tucker, who is now a grandmother.
In short, hers is an interesting, thoughtful answer that prompts about a dozen follow-up questions, not least of which are, “Are you as iconoclastic and countercultural as you were in the ’60s?” and “This is a long way from The Velvet Underground and Nico, your first album, no?” But the best Appelstein can come up with is, “What specifically about the current administration do you disagree with?”
It seemed to us that Tucker had just answered that question. Is Appelstein not at all interested in how Tucker arrived at her positions? Or is he so marinated in newsroom groupthink that he dismisses her ideas as dogmas? Not that there is anything wrong with dogmas, but what Tucker says is inherently interesting for its own sake. That she’s the former drummer for a band that once sang paeans to prostitution, drug abuse, and sexual deviancy makes her politics even more remarkable.
Maybe this is just a symptom of what Chesterton called the newspapers’ “blind idolatry of speed,” in which “they go so fast that they never notice anything; and they have to make up their minds so quickly that they never make them up at all.”
Indeed, the newsroom is not and probably never has been a place conducive to subtle thinking. Journalists are marked by two main characteristics: laziness and cowardice. Having learned their trade at elite schools of journalism (as opposed to learning the news trade the old-fashioned way—as a gumshoe reporter), young reporters arrive in newsrooms with already-fossilized, preconceived notions they rarely bother to investigate or question. For instance, it is axiomatic among them that to be on the Left is to be anti-establishment, despite all evidence to the contrary. Appelstein has before him a piece of that evidence, yet he ignores it.
They dread being ostracized for the sin of deviating from the prevailing newsroom zeitgeist. Secularism is the religion; leftist politics is the prevailing ideology. It’s okay to be a Christian, so long as it’s the watery, secularist variety that bends its knee to all the modern pelvic issues. As for the divisions in Christianity, don’t waste the journalist’s time with them, much less with the divisions among conservatives and the divisions among liberals.
Trapped in this false dichotomy, Appelstein can only ask, “Have you always had conservative views?” and this howler: “Are there other closet conservatives in the music/art world?” One wonders just what conservatives were doing in the closet when gays were in there with them.
Tucker knows better. “I make decisions on an issue-by-issue basis. I’m far more of an independent than a conservative or liberal,” she says. “I don’t agree with all of either side, and I think anyone who claims to is either a fool or a damn liar.”
Tucker sounds to us like a smart woman. Unlike the journalist, whose “conclusions are settled before the controversy starts,” Tucker has opened her mind, in order to close it on something solid.
—Sean P. Dailey, for the editorial board of Gilbert Magazine