THE TV – “It is all the fault of the media elite.” “The media elite hate America, and will do everything in their power to destroy our country.” “The little guy doesn’t stand a chance against the media elite.” That’s Newt Gingrich talking, or saying something close to it. I guess he used surveys and focus groups to determine that the media elite are the easiest way to score points with his audiences. It was said that each sentence in former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s presidential campaign speeches consisted of a noun, a verb and nine-eleven. Well, ol’ Newt has the same problem: The poor guy can’t utter a sentence without that mind-numbing repetitious phrase.
Here’s an interesting point: By his usage, Gingrich is turning a positive into a negative. The word used to have this definition: “Elite, (often used with a plural verb) the choice or best of anything considered collectively, as of a group or class of persons.” It comes from the Middle English (1300-1400) meaning an elected official. Donald Trump, before he was an elected official, lived in a multi-storied penthouse in Manhattan and traveled in his private helicopter and aircraft. Yet he branded Hillary Clinton as an “elitist” who was out of touch with the common folk, and it clicked with that minority of Americans who voted for him. It didn’t help Hillary’s cause when she mentioned that she hadn’t driven a car in 16 years.
So we had this elite and that elite, meaning the crème de la creme, the top 1 percent, the best and the brightest. The older among us will remember “Duffy’s Tavern, where the elite meet to eat.” Now it’s an insult. Awhile back we discussed how names change as with the Cajuns, who were ridiculed as redneck semi-literates until Louisiana realized what a goldmine they had in Cajun music, cooking and culture. Georgia Crackers went the other way, from prominent early settlers (that was the proud name of the Atlanta minor league baseball team) to redneck semi-literates.
Of course, the term was often overused, or used wistfully. Saddam Hussein’s “elite Republican Guard” turned out to be elite only in surrendering. But generally it was a compliment, and most of us would like to be considered elite. Alas, the title has been hijacked, just like compromiser and the Republican Party. Sometimes it is simply a name change for the same animal. A liberal is now a progressive and a Wall Street billionaire is now a job creator. The two groups carefully choose which words to use in describing the other. Those who write letters to the editor are an example. Right-wingers and left-wingers never describe themselves that way, but a conservative will refer to a liberal’s (excuse me, progressive’s) letter as a “screed.” I like that word, it reminds us of screech or the sound of fingernails on a blackboard. Conversely, a conservative’s letter is a “bombast.”
Hero is a much overused title. A recipient of the Medal of Honor is a hero. Those of us who defended San Diego from the Seabees are not heroes. As an aside, that medal is not the Congressional Medal of Honor. It is presented in the name of Congress, and no one “wins” the award, as I was sternly told by a Marine lieutenant colonel. “It’s not a (fill in the blank) contest.”
Where were we? Oh, yes, words and their changing meaning. Do you call that chunk of the Middle East the West Bank or the Occupied Territory? I still like Bombay, Burma and Constantinople. Naughty is now applied to children. Santa knows who’s naughty and nice. But naughty used to mean evil, really bad. Not anymore.
As for Newt Gingrich’s hated media elite, who are they? Probably those who disagree with him, who point out that he keeps preaching “family values” but has had three wives and several affairs, says he looks out for the little man but has a half-million dollar line of credit at the working man’s Walmart, Tiffany’s. Those kinds of elites. We know who they are, and Newt is not totally off base. They are the talking heads on Sunday morning TV panels, the same people every Sunday. The rest of the week they talk to each other at Georgetown dinner parties deciding what America thinks. “The American people today feel that….” Or: “There is a great uneasiness across the land….” Oh, come off it. They wouldn’t know the average American if he bit them on the backside. These pundits only know flyover country if they have a speech in Chicago or Denver.
But they have to stay on TV to uphold their soapbox, their power base. They would probably pay to be a talking head on TV. Once they lose their power base, no group wants to pay them $20,000 for a half hour of “inside Washington skinny.” Just ask Sam Donaldson, Sarah Palin or Dan Rather. When you’re hot, you’re hot. When you’re not, you’re Rudy (Nine Eleven) Giuliani. Now, to be fair, many of these folks are, indeed, experts on Washington, elections and government. It’s good to get the media elite’s take on situations. Put it this way: when watching a sports event on TV, do you mute the sound? No, because the announcers know a whole lot more about the game, and whether Joe “Lightin” Jones can hit a three-pointer from downtown with his left hand on Thursdays. We listen to them because they are experts, and we can learn.
The same with the talking heads. They just heard the very same State of the Union speech you did, but they know the President said exactly the opposite in Akron on Labor Day, and he needs the soybean farmers’ vote in the Iowa primary. They tell us something we didn’t know. So we can’t dismiss the media elites as self-important jerks. That title belongs to ol’ Newt.
Ashby is elite at firstname.lastname@example.org