Back when he was a freelance journalist in 2008, the Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf published a well-regarded essay called “Electric Kool-Aid Conservatism.” The libertarian-leaning writer argued that, as opposed to simply inveighing against the liberal media, “the right must conclude that we’re better off joining the journalistic project.”
In other words, more conservatives should become reporters — not to produce opinion masquerading as news, but to bring their own instincts and insights to the process of fact-finding and storytelling.
Friedersdorf stressed accuracy in a 2011 follow-up piece, and explicitly criticized outlets such as Fox News for using the “excuse of commentary as license to broadcast the most outlandish, inaccurate nonsense, as evidenced by any number of Glenn Beck conspiracy theories.”
Yet it was a Glenn Beck employee, the deputy managing editor of the media mogul’s news website, TheBlaze, preaching the gospel of straight reporting to the annual Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday.
In a midday “conservative boot camp” presentation to young activists titled “Become the Press,” Oliver Darcy said he knows many of them dream of cable news punditry, but he recommends “the hard work” of hitting the ground and getting stories.
Part of his argument is pragmatic. He said media members are deemed less credible if they have an overt agenda, citing Fox host Sean Hannity, who he sees as “objectively in the tank” for presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
Darcy also argued that reporting can be a hugely effective means of shaping political debate in conservatives’ favor. He may have been the only journalist covering the 2014 “People’s Climate March” in New York who noted that demonstrators shouted obscenities at the police and held communist signs.
Ultimately, though, Darcy’s case for news over opinion comes from the British statesman Edmund Burke’s conservative principle of epistemological modesty — the belief that the world is complicated and there’s only so much we can claim to be certain about.
“I don’t think you really earn the right to have an opinion until you’ve done [journalism] for a long time,” he told InsideSources. “I don’t think I have by any means.”
After a career in news, Darcy said, “then maybe you’ve earned your right to talk.”