Some of the best advice for dealing with the media can be found in He Leadeth Me, a 1973 book by American Jesuit Father Walter J. Ciszek. Father Ciszek was captured by the Russian army during World War II. They accused and convicted him of being a Vatican spy. He would spend 23 years in Soviet prisons and the labor camps of Siberia.
In one key passage, Ciszek
describes how his dismissive contempt for his captors and the absurdity of the
charge against him vanished. In a moment, they turned to cold realism when he
realized what he was dealing with. The Russians were not about to stop asking
him the same questions over and over again for days on end. They were not going
to listen to facts or reason. “They were relentless, and they were thorough,
and they were good at their trade,” Ciszek notes.
This kind of appreciation for
the skill of your enemy is essential to dealing with atheist materialists,
whether in the old Soviet Union or in the modern media. Sure, the press is
filled with people who are incompetent and make unbelievable mistakes. You and
I might consider the MSM something of a
joke. But don’t be fooled. In the midst of the mediocrities, you’ll also find
experts and fanatics. You’ll meet people schooled in opposition research,
psychological warfare and emotional manipulation.
You don’t have to like these
facts. (In fact, you shouldn’t.) But you must respect reality. The reporter who
has just called you with a list of personal questions might be a goofball — or
a trained and skilled interrogator. Assume, to be on the safe side, that he is
very likely a deeply damaged, ideologically obsessed and angry human being. One
who cares nothing about you, fairness, or even your life. Just like the
Russians who tortured Fr. Ciszek.
Was Written Before They Even Contacted You
Every person who comes into
the media’s crosshairs should understand this. Nothing you say or do is going
to change the story they are going to write. Indeed, the story was written
before they even contacted you. They will falsify quotes and leave out facts.
They often have reams of opposition research (ugly tales about you) at the
ready. If so, they will slowly dole it out to set up and trick a naïve subject.
The Stream: Equipping Christians to Think Clearly About the
Political, Economic and Moral Issues of Our Day.
To echo Fr. Ciszek: They are
relentless, they are thorough, and they are good at their trade. Acknowledging
this and not expecting fair or decent treatment will leave you more prepared
than most. To become hysterical, or to even talk to them, is to play into their
hands. Treat them the way surfers treat sharks — as a deadly adversary that
should never be underestimated.
Farrow Calls You, Hang Up!
On September 14, 2018, I was
at home when I got a call from Ronan Farrow of The
New Yorker. My high school friend Brett Kavanaugh had been nominated for
the Supreme Court on July 9. Now, two months later, Farrow was calling me to
tell me that Brett and I had been named in a letter claiming “sexual misconduct
in the 1980s.” At the time of Farrow’s call the accuser had not been named. She
turned out to be Christine Blasey Ford, a
college professor in California. Ford’s charge would upend the Kavanaugh
nomination and roil the nation.
I told Farrow I had no idea
what he was talking about — and asked him if he could be more specific than
“sexual misconduct in the 1980s.” He couldn’t. The only accurate description of
what happened that night was by Allahpundit, a popular blogger at the site Hot
apparently found out he was named in the letter when Ronan Farrow
called to ask about it. Farrow offered no details about when the incident
supposedly happened or where, or even the name of the woman. Judge has been
accused of participating in an attempted rape with a would-be Supreme Court
justice, in other words, and can’t even get the basic facts of the allegation
provided to him. It’s Kafkaesque. And it raises another question. If Democrats
knew all along that Judge was the second man and they’re taking this seriously,
why is he only hearing about it now, from Farrow? Why not in July from
Feinstein’s office or Rep. Anna Eshoo’s office? She was the first person
contacted about the charge, remember.
I have been a reporter for
some many years myself, and I have done a lot of reading on communism from The
Gulag Archipelago to China’s Cultural Revolution. So after I hung up with
Farrow, I knew exactly what was happening. I had been set up, and it had been a
long time in the making. I could, in sports vernacular, see the entire field.
Media critic Ben Smith described Farrow as a writer who “delivers narratives
that are irresistibly cinematic … and often omits the complicating facts and
inconvenient details that may make them less dramatic.” Farrow also “suggests
conspiracies that are tantalizing but he cannot prove.”
Because I know that most
reporters are no different from the old Soviets at Pravda, I knew
that they were working from a large file of oppo research. It had been worked
on for weeks, if not months or even years. There would be more stories that
were all already written. Still, even I couldn’t believe it when the media and
the members of the United States Senate began trying to decipher jargon from my
high school yearbook. Their goal? To prove that Brett and I had, I don’t know,
drunk some beers when we were teenagers. If I contradicted the media narrative,
the press would simply edit whatever I said to fit the narrative.
There was only one problem: I
wouldn’t play along. I gave one interview to The New York Times, lengthily
pointing out that I simply had no recollection of what Ford was talking about.
I told them that the Brett Kavanaugh I knew in high school was a good friend
and decent guy. He was interested in sports. Even that one interview may not
have been advisable, I know.
a.m. Knock on the Door
At one point during the most
chaotic point of the Kavanaugh episode, I decamped from Washington. I spent a
couple days at a friend’s beach house on the Eastern Shore to try and regain a
little sanity. One night at about 3 a.m., there was a loud knock on the door.
Here it was, the moment you always hear about in novels like Darkness
At Noon, or memoirs like Ciszek’s. The totalitarians were pounding on
my door in the middle of the night.
I didn’t answer, of course.
Respecting that awesome power and diabolical ability of those lined up against
me meant facing reality with a clarity that would help me survive. Like Fr.
Ciszek, I understood that I was dealing with highly skilled sociopaths, men
unencumbered by consciences.
Mark Judge is a writer and
filmmaker in Washington, D.C.