Jonah Goldberg in Praise of ‘Pack Journalism’

News that an arrest may be in the offing in the Chandra Levy murder case–no, it’s not Gary Condit, but a man currently incarcerated for a similar crime–inspires many unpleasant strolls down media’s memory lane. But the most unpleasant might be Jonah Goldberg’s ode to pack journalism and rushing to judgment (Jewish World Review, 7/11/01; Townhall, 7/16/01 ), where the conservative columnist all but declared Democratic Congressman Gary Condit guilty of murder. Wrote Goldberg:

Technically, it’s bad form for journalists to “rush to judgment.” We’re supposed to carefully weigh and measure every confirmed fact as it comes in. Speculation, gossip and prurient chatter shouldn’t play a role in our thoughtful deliberations on the important topics of the day…. Let’s give all that rest for a minute.

Having dispatched with concerns over professional ethics, Goldberg graduated to several paragraphs of wild speculation, among them:

I think California Representative Gary Condit had something to do with the disappearance and therefore possibly even the murder of 24-year-old intern Chandra Levy. (Corpses from suicides tend to turn up.) I don’t know if Condit said to a shady friend, “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome intern?” Or if he forcefully declared, “Bring me the head of Alfredo Garcia, er, I mean Chandra Levy” to his Hell’s Angels buddies. But one thing is clear: Condit has not behaved like an innocent man.

Then, after stating that the story would “probably turn out to be a murder investigation–with Condit as a prime suspect,” Goldberg reached his crescendo, endorsing pack journalism’s righteous supposition that Condit was the killer:

Normally, I am loath to endorse pack journalism and feeding frenzies, but this time the media is 100 percent right. First of all, this is news. The only reason Condit isn’t a suspect in a murder investigation is that this isn’t an official murder investigation yet. If or when it does become one, Condit will undoubtedly be a–if not the–suspect. But more importantly, if it weren’t for the media pressure, it’s unlikely that Condit would have cooperated as much as he has.

Besides, there’s foul play afoot, and methinks Condit is wearing some dirty shoes.

As it turned out, of course, there’s no reason to think Condit had any involvement in Levy’s murder. Meanwhile, Goldberg’s sullied journalistic principles (here are some more recent examples) did not hinder the Los Angeles Times columnist and TV pundit from steadily rising in the corporate media. Indeed, they may even have helped.

About Steve Rendall

Senior Media Analyst and Co-producer of CounterSpin Steve Rendall is FAIR's senior analyst. He is co-host of CounterSpin, FAIR's national radio show. His work has received awards from Project Censored, and has won the praise of noted journalists such as Les Payne, Molly Ivins and Garry Wills. He is co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error (The New Press, 1995, New York City). Rendall has appeared on dozens of national television and radio shows, including appearances on CNN, C-SPAN, CNBC, MTV and Fox Morning News. He was the subject of a profile in the New York Times (5/19/96), and has been quoted on issues of media and politics in publications such as the Chicago Tribune, Washington Post and New York Times. Rendall contributed stories to the International Herald Tribune from France, Spain and North Africa; worked as a freelance writer in San Francisco; and worked as an archivist collecting historical material on the Spanish Civil War and the volunteers who fought in it. Rendall studied philosophy and chemistry at San Francisco State University, the College of Notre Dame and UC Berkeley.