A Principled Farce

If a pundit pouts off a political cable news network, does anyone give a feather or fig beyond the refuse-ridden shoulders of the I-495 Beltway?

Short answer: no. Long answer: even after a New York Times writeup from media gossip-truffler Ben Smith, still no. Of course not. Whom am I kidding? One of the half-dozen masochists who still loyally tune in to “Face the Nation”?

Actually, I’m not kidding you, dear reader. Because, let’s be honest: most Free the People fans are closeted political junkies, and a not insignificant smattering of you probably cite one relevant party as an intellectual influence. So here we are discussing the resignation.

(If you truly don’t care about the loss of two interchangeable TV jabbers, feel free to browse the next fine piece in our humble publication. But we both know you won’t: political intrigue is, well, too intriguing. So let your curiosity win—read on!)

Jonah Goldberg and Stephen Hayes, erstwhile penners at National Review and Weekly Standard respectively, both quit their Fox News contributorship over a January 6th investigative documentary featured on the network’s streaming service.

Whooooo—that’s a lot of prestige references in one sentence. But us right-wingers love our poli-celebrity name dropping, don’t we?

In a rationalizing missive published on the Substack-hosted site The Dispatch—which, if you’re not acquainted, Goldberg and Hayes partnered to found in 2019—the two commentators explain why they’ve abandoned a decade-long sinecure at the most watched news channel. “Fox News still does real reporting, and there are still responsible conservatives providing valuable opinion and analysis,” they write. “But the voices of the responsible are being drowned out by the irresponsible.”

Who are these irresponsible mouthers arrogating valuable auditory bandwidth from the fine, upstanding, Ferragamo tie-wearing Burkean voices of reason? Why, it’s the preppy, former bow tie aficionado, prep school educated, wavy mopped Tucker Carlson!

Talk about a clash of the TV titans.

In one corner, you have a populist monologist whose working-class credentials include a (Salisbury) stake in the Swanson TV Dinner fortune, by way of his step-grandfather. In the other corner, you have a grouchy militarist whose entire career in opinion caterwauling was a matrilineal legacy. The intellectual bout of the century! Salt of the Swiss earth versus the chinless (or should that be chinful?) wonder.

Of course, a news program’s personnel update isn’t actually important news. Other than the loss of a few forgettable afternoon TV hits, no Fox viewer will much miss Goldberg or Hayes. A decade ago, in the Tea Party heyday, both were a staple on the “Special Report” panel with fan-favorite chefs d’orchestre Bret Baier. Then along came Donald Trump, who, besides giving the left mania-inducing rabies, split the conservative movement into two recrudescent camps: man-Tang fans and man-Tang haters.

Now Tucker runs the show at Murdoch Inc., by virtue of his ratings draw. The network continues to walk a fine line between objective reporting and remaining an open forum for the President in sunny exile. Fox’s Trumpy friendliness still puts Goldberg’s and Hayes’s noses out of joint, who, in their own words, thought a “course correction” was due after Biden’s triumph, with a tacking away from blustery nationalism back to the Reaganism of pre-conciliar conservatism.

No such luck. Carlson’s mini series exploring deep state-linked provocateurs involved in the Capitol riot was the last straw. Goldberg and Hayes decried the documentary as being “riddled with factual inaccuracies, half-truths, deceptive imagery, and damning omissions.” Carlson’s conclusion—that the U.S. government is training its tortuous sights on “patriotic Americans” in a way comparable to methods used “to target al Qaeda”n—was so rhetorically odious to the duo, it cemented their departure.

At this point, if your libertarian radar isn’t bleeping like a metal detector scanning a pile of scrap iron, then you may want to peruse the archives of the late, great anti-war polemicist Justin Raimondo. Or, spend an hour poring over everything within The American Conservative tagged with “Hayes” and “Iraq.” Or simply read Rothbard.

Either way, Goldberg and Hayes denouncing anything as conspiratorial and fallacious is so devilishly rich that its mere mention should send any diabetic within earshot into a fatal coma. Hayes actually wrote a book titled—I kid you not, the fact is so mind-blowingly ludicrous—The Connection: How al Qaeda’s Collaboration with Saddam Hussein Has Endangered America. Goldberg is also guilty of literary hyperbole, writing the now-foundational conservative text Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, which, despite its acclaim and sales, revealed no hidden history but only asserted in a dull-headed way that “ACTUALLY, libs are the real fash!!” The tract’s cover even featured a toothbrush-mustached smiley face—you know, because the left is Hitler!!

Atom-bombing Godwin’s law while agitating for full-bloodied invasion of the Middle East is a twofer of unhinged raving in print. Or, as it’s known in our nation’s imperial capital, simply respectable discourse. Goldberg and Hayes have long careers championing our misbegotten Mesopotamian adventurism while sicking up half-clever sputum on Twitter. This “Mean Girls repertoire,” as Scott McKay puts it, is what passes for “acceptable” behavior by the right-of-center commentariat.

Behind all the windy rhetoric about bounding out extremism, happy warriorism, and recognition of epistemological limits, most factions of the anti-Trump professional right are just as ideologically compromised and reflexively conceited as the left. These FATS—Fortunate, Affectless, Talentless, Suck-ups, which is my coined acronym for these smarmy shills—are just as prone to shrieking “Orange Man BAHHHHDDDDDD” as a segment alternate on Rachel Maddow.

A qualifier: not all Trump critics from the right are guilty of snooty anti-MAGAism. And even the America-First camp that has sprung up post-prez Donald has its share of unscrupulous actors. But anyone who promulgated the theory that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden were kissy-kissy boon companions plotting to douse Toledo in mustard gas should have been chased out of Washington years ago.

Tucker Carlson’s report on Jan. 6th could very well have been filmed with a nifty tinfoil lens. But it would be an exercise in veridical narration compared to the foreign-invasion advocacy Goldberg, Hayes, and their near-peers have long gushed over on the boob tube.

And wouldn’t you know it, but a Fox exec has confirmed neither Goldberg or Hayes would have had their contributor contract renewed next year. So their giving themselves the gate was all a show to burnish their never-Trump bonafides. No doubt the performance will earn them a nice dinner at Capital Grille. They may even earn the cheesecake dessert by telling Margaret Sullivan at the Washington Post that Trump’s man stick is no bigger than a gastropod.

As for the thousands of American servicemen and hundreds of thousands of civilians who perished in the “liberation” of Iraq, perhaps God can let us know if they appreciate Goldberg and Hayes’s principled farce.

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Taylor Lewis

Taylor Lewis writes from Virginia.

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