By Hastings Wyman –
“The media elite” is a mostly pejorative term thrown around by Sarah Palin and other right-wingers to describe the powerful and influential voices that appear nightly on our television screens to tell us – and analyze for us – what’s going on in the world. Fox News aside, the conventional wisdom is probably on the money when it charges the news media is mostly liberal and Democratic.
Moreover, the media elite is also distinguished by the backgrounds of many of its members, who are the sons and daughters of other media bigwigs, of prominent politicians and other public figures.
Thus, John Dickerson, host of CBS’s Face the Nation and the network’s political director, is the son of Nancy Dickerson, one of the nation’s pioneering women journalists, known as a prominent Washington hostess and friend of the Kennedys and the rest of the powerful in the 1950s and ‘60s.
Similarly, Luke Russert, correspondent for NBC News and MSNBC, is son of the late Tim Russert, longtime moderator for NBC’s Meet the Press until his death in 2008.
You can even find this phenomenon on Fox News. Chris Wallace, who hosts Fox News Sunday, is the son of the late Mike Wallace, the lead reporter for CBS’s 60 Minutes.
It’s not just a matter of one media generation passing on its plum jobs to its progeny. The news business also caters to the scions of influential political figures, usually Democrats.
CNN features Chris Cuomo as both a news anchor and co-host of its morning show. Chris is the son of the late Mario Cuomo (D), once governor of New York and frequent short-lister for the presidency. He is also the brother of Andrew Cuomo (D), New York’s current governor.
MSNBC, the liberal alternative to Fox News, includes as one of its political analyst Jackie Kucinich, daughter of former US Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D), a liberal firebrand and one-time presidential candidate.
MSNBC also features Mika Brzezinski as co-host of its Morning Joe program, with former US Rep. Joe Scarborough (a Republican!). Mika is the daughter of Zbigniew Brzezinski, who served as National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter. She recently made the news by accusing House Speaker Paul Ryan of selling out by endorsing Donald Trump.
And both NPR and ABC News feature the impressive reportorial and analytical skills of Cokie Roberts, daughter of the late US Rep. Lindy Boggs (D) and the late Majority
Leader Hale Boggs (D). (Roberts recently caught some flak for writing critically of Trump, but that’s not unusual for a journalist of any persuasion.)
We looked for a Republican heir, but the closest we came was Phil Mattingly. We thought he might be the son of former US Sen. Mack Mattingly (R-GA). But alas, we could find no such connection. One might also point to Margaret Hoover, Herbert’s great-granddaughter, but she is only a guest contributor, not a member of a network news staff.
Now it’s obvious that someone whose has grown up in a household with the Boggs, the Cuomos or the Kucinchs is going to have an understanding of politics and government that is far greater than most graduates of journalism schools across the nation. Indeed, it probably can’t be taught; one has to experience it. But it would be nice to see a name or two in the mix from Republican families.
Anderson Cooper, CNN’s prime-time news host, is in a special category. He is neither the son of politicians or of journalists. But he is hardly a mere mortal. He is the son of Gloria Vanderbilt, a famous member of a crème-de-la-crème, and once very rich, family. Plus his father was a prominent Hollywood screenwriter. Anderson appears to take his job seriously, but aside from a certain naivety, it’s not clear what his silver-spoon background brings to the table.
We are loath to criticize media biggies for helping out their adult children, or those of their colleagues. It’s what people do, whether they own a filling station or report the news. But the presence of a greater-than-random collection of heirs to influence in the national news media should remind us that they are not a cross-section of America, but, as a group, a partially self-perpetuated elite. Moreover, they have grown up in relatively sophisticated, urban and, yes, liberal environments.
Nevertheless, these people are in charge of telling the public what it needs to know about national and international affairs. It would do us all good to remember that, despite their inherited celebrity, they, like the rest of us, put on their knickers one leg at a time.