April 26, 2005
You may have seen The Dartmouth Beacon around campus by now; it has five issues to its name. It's a sly little publication. And it might well be the future of conservative journalism on campus.
The Dartmouth Review is past its prime. Several of its staff members have told me as much, even going so far as to speculate it'll fold in the next few years. I don't know about that, but I do know TDR represents the old guard of conservatism -- what is now often referred to as paleoconservatism. Libertarian small-government Classical humanist skeptic with a hint of Old Testament moral electness. It's a kind of conservatism the Bush administration has made seem quaint, and, well, liberal. As we're all aware, the new order equals neocons and fundamentalists.
The Dartmouth Beacon pretty much fits the mold of the new order. You wouldn't think so at first, just by glancing at the cover, with its homely layout and unremarkable article titles. But the signs are all there.
Take the naïve March article by Jim Throckmorton '06 on the Iraqi elections:
Of course, despite the best arguments for hope, responsibility, and a strong society, the Iraqi elections are no panacea. It won’t be long before they too are talking about soft money, special interests, and the like. But for now, hope reigns.
While America may be the most conspicuous democracy in the world, it still has much to learn from places like Iraq, where freedom and self-determinism have not always existed. We can learn to hope that the fate of tomorrow depends on our decisions today. We can grasp that hope, and take responsibility to ensure it is nurtured to fruition. And we can find an appropriate place in public affairs for such an intensely private thing as religion.
When the dust settles, the situation in Iraq is not unlike many situations faced here during America’s younger days. Divided and war-wearied, the people and leaders of Iraq are stepping up to a far greater degree than those here at home. In such an environment, it is Iraqi leaders who sound more like Lincoln when he called for our country to act, “With malice towards none...With Charity for all; With Firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right”. With hope, Iraq will follow that call.
The Beacon is replete with this kind of righteous romantic rhetoric, which sounds like a scrapped first draft of Bush's inauguration speech. It's hard to find any substance behind it. Jim Baehr's coverage of the actual inauguration speech is even more fluffy, to the point of being highly misleading and insidious: "If past is prologue, Bush’s second term will continue to bolster his place among the most audacious and idealistic of American Presidents. As the years pass, increasingly free peoples from Florida to Fallujah will come to remember him with the respect his ideals and conviction demand." Florida, world symbol of democracy -- epicenter of Bush v. Gore and the Terri Shiavo intervention, the two most glaring breaches of the Constitution's separation of powers in our time, both by the Right. It's unfortunate, because I know Jim and he's a great guy. (In all fairnesss, he wrote that piece before the Schiavo spectacle, and surely he respects both the Constitution and the right to die just as much as those sacrosanct cultures of life.) He just needs to step back and examine his stances critically. We really don't need the Right's echo chamber to spread here.
Two really salient examples of the Beacon's strange mixture of journalistic amateurism and strategic spin -- some would call this the recipe for propaganda -- are the February cover photo and the most recent back-cover "Face-Off" (point-counterpoint) feature. I looked and found no credit for the February photo:
That and the thorough Photoshoped-ness of the image made me wonder, what exactly is this? If it's not a real image, it's essentially a caricature, an exploitive simulation playing on the most visible and reductive stereotypes many Americans have of an incredibly complex set of cultural and historical circumstances. Veiled women: this is what Islam is; purple finger: this is what freedom is. Even if the image were real (would anyone care to answer?), I believe my point would still stand -- this is simplistic sensationalism.
And now my favorite Dartmouth Beacon moment: the April "Face-Off" feature, titled "Terri Schiavo and the Right to Life: Should judges be permitted to make the decision?" Talk about framing -- this is the stuff of "Hannity and Colmes," pulled straight from the Republican Playbook. Might as well skip what the liberal has to say, because she's not going to be able to argue her way out of the trap set for her. Or just bring in Baxter Jones.
That's the Beacon for you, and I'm worried that's the future of conservative media -- and, let's hope I'm wrong, mainstream. Part Fox News, part Bush administration educational video, part carelessness, part calculation, wholly irresponsible, kind of disturbing. But, hey, that's why blogs are here: to do all the dirty work of cleaning the mess up.
Posted by Chris Bateman at 3:52 PM