In an otherwise forgettable personal rant by a Minneapolis Star-Tribune columnist against the excellent PowerLine blog, you find the following quote:
They should call themselves “Powertool.” They don’t speak truth to power. They just speak for power.
References to “speak[ing] truth to power” abound on the Internet, mostly referring to some group’s purported goal of confronting some powerful person or group. From what I can tell, the phrase first became popular among Quaker pacifist groups in the middle of last century. “Power” to them referred to its most obvious form–military force–and was thus very applicable to their mission. While the contrast between speaker and power is rarely this clear, the general idea behind “speaking truth to power” implies that the speakee has the power.
With that in mind, let’s look at the Star Tribune and its parent company, McClatchy:
Headquartered in Sacramento, Ca., the company has 12 daily and 18 community newspapers with a combined average circulation of 1.4 million daily and 1.9 million Sunday. Over the decades, McClatchy newpapers’ many honors have included 12 Pulitzer Prizes, three of which were gold medals for public service.
That sound pretty powerful to me. As do their financials, including their market cap of $3 billion. (How many bloggers have access to even a third of that?)
While professional journalism seems to be quite happy about “speaking truth to power” when the “power” is someone else, they seem less enthusiastic when they are the “power” being spoken to. Here we have a blog that dared to criticize a columnist at the 14th most-read newspaper in the country, a crime for which only vague sexual innuendo, false accusations (according to PowerLine), and misleading conclusions, all broadcast to their entire readership, would fit as a punishment.
Being a large media figure means being powerful, and we all know how well power corrupts. Journalism has had quite its measure of scandals this year, and has so far not responded well to any of them. But it’s rare to see utter cluelessness on this scale: the 14th largest newspaper in the country using their power to attack a blog by three people, and complaining about them not “speaking truth to power”.
Here’s a hint, Nick: They were speaking truth to power, and that power was you. How does it feel to play the part of a blustering Nixon in your own personal Watergate analogy?