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As intended, Jonathan Chait's denunciation of the "PC language police" -- a trite note of self-victimization he's been sounding for decades -- provoked intense reaction: much criticism from liberals and praise from conservatives (with plenty of exceptions both ways). I have all sorts of points I could make about his argument -- beginning with how he tellingly focuses on the pseudo-oppression of still-influential people like himself and his journalist-friends while steadfastly ignoring the much more serious ways that people with views Chait dislikes are penalized and repressed -- but I'll instead point to commentary from Alex Pareene, Amanda Marcotte and Jessica Valenti as worthwhile responses. In sum, I fundamentally agree with Jill Filipovic's reaction: "There is a good and thoughtful piece to be written about language policing & 'PC' culture online and in academia. That was not it." I instead want to focus on one specific point about the depressingly abundant genre of journalists writing grievances about how they're victimized by online hordes, of which Chait's article is a very representative sample:
When political blogs first emerged as a force in the early post-9/11 era, one of their primary targets was celebrity journalists. A whole slew of famous, multi-millionaire, prize-decorated TV hosts and newspaper reporters and columnists -- Tom Friedman, Tim Russert, Maureen Dowd, John Burns, Chris Matthews -- were frequently the subject of vocal and vituperative criticisms, read by tens of thousands of people.
It is hard to overstate what a major (and desperately needed) change this was for how journalists like them functioned. Prior to the advent of blogs, establishment journalists were largely immunized even from hearing criticisms. If a life-tenured New York Times columnist wrote something stupid or vapid, or a Sunday TV news host conducted a sycophantic interview with a government official, there was no real mechanism for the average non-journalist citizen to voice critiques. At best, aggrieved readers could write a Letter to the Editor, which few journalists cared about. Establishment journalists spoke only to one another, and careerist concerns combined with an incestuous chumminess ensured that the most influential among them heard little beyond flowery praise.