In the United States, where newspapers die off, the media has never been more powerful. Politics pivots off what President Donald Trump finds in his morning media feeds. The lord of the flies is transfixed and tormented by the slants of the talking heads. They orchestrate his tweets, his temper, his day.
Like the country itself, American journalism is brutally polarized along populist-progressive lines, the latest manifestation being Russiagate reporting. Media baron Rupert Murdoch has crawled into Lord Trump's cradle. His Wall Street Journal has embarrassed itself on the collusion file by training its editorial guns on Robert Mueller, saying he should resign and Hillary Clinton who, it contends, is the real collusion culprit.
This isn't bot talk. This is mainstream media pandering to power. Journal staff are reportedly aghast. As Bill Grueskin, a former editor at the paper, tweeted, "The WSJ edit page has gone full batshit."
The distressing aspect of journalism here is not that it reflects the country's political polarization but that, with the rise of Facebook and Murdoch's Fox and the like, it deepens it.
There is in the tumultuous media landscape at least one constant. Even more so than in times past, the progressive journals, The New York Times and The Washington Post, do stellar work. Their teams of reporters get beyond the dross to reveal what is real. Their reporting is erudite, often groundbreaking and more thorough than I can ever remember it. In the clickbait era, the depth is so necessary.
In the past week, the writhings of the WSJ, normally a high-quality newspaper, provided an idea of how important – imagine what Mr. Trump could get away with without the Times and the Post? – it is to have these bellwethers, these flagships for what's reasoned and even-keeled.
The traditionally conservative WSJ had been pretty straight in its coverage of this President. But there was an abrupt change of mind. An editorial not only called for the Mueller resignation but an investigation into the FBI for the role it played in any election interference. Not even Donald Trump himself had gone that far. As for Ms. Clinton being the colluding guilty party, that bore an Oval Office imprint. And for good measure, the WSJ ran an op-ed arguing that any targeted members of the President's team should be pardoned.
No one doubts that it was owner Murdoch who laid down the law. His other products, such as the New York Post and Fox News, follow similar lines.
The right-siders got all goosed up from a Washington Post revelation that the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee paid for research from a private intelligence firm that enlisted a former British spy, Christopher Steele, who had tight Russian connections. Mr. Steele turned up a dossier brimming with allegations of nefarious and compromising Trump conduct in Russia that then got into the hands of the FBI.
On the part of the Democrats, it was slimy and surreptitious work, but hardly unique. Opposing political parties do this kind of thing. But even if it isn't common practice, it's quite the leap to say that this means that Ms. Clinton was colluding with the Russians. The Putin government loathed Ms. Clinton. They wanted her defeated and went to long lengths, including hacking and leaking DNC e-mails, to do so.
As for Mr. Mueller, the paper reasoned that since the FBI got its hands on the Steele dossier, bargained with him for it, the FBI must be investigated. Mr. Mueller lacks the critical distance to do such a probe, said the WSJ. He's in a conflict of interest and should therefore resign. This, even though his term as FBI director ended in 2013 and even though he has a reputation for probity that far exceeds that of Mr. Murdoch.
Mr. Murdoch appeals, as he has through much of his career with the British media, Fox and elsewhere, to the lowest common denominator. It's where he makes his bucks, it's where Mr. Trump gets his votes. It shames good journalism, it shames a quality newspaper, it sharpens the country's divide.