At about 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday I had a mystical experience. There I was reading how appalled people were at what Media Matters had reported about what Tucker Carlson said about Warren Jeffs on the radio program of Bubba the Love Sponge Clem during Barack Obama's first presidential term when I saw that, per the Daily Caller, the current president of the aforementioned group — whose founder became famous after writing an article about how Anita Hill was "a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty" — had himself written some very crude things on his personal blog about "Japs," "jewry," and naked teenagers, albeit during the Bush administration.
Then it occurred to me: Suppose that someone at another liberal watchdog group were to do some digging and find that in 2009 the Daily Caller reporter in question had made some very untoward remarks about feminists on a group blog he edited with other college Republicans at the state university he attended many years ago. One of those new right-wing news startups, the ones with names like Patriot Bulletin, could retaliate by breathlessly pointing out that in 2005, Generic Woke Reporter had sarcastically suggested — as MSNBC's Joy Reid did around the same time — that Harriet Miers (remember her?) looked not unlike a dated stereotype of a lesbian. Not to be outdone, an indefatigable Resistance News staffer could fly out to Oklahoma to discover in the vast but mostly uncatalogued archives of the student paper at Former President High School that in 1988 the editor of Patriot Bulletin had attended an all-male Halloween party dressed as Bad-era Michael Jackson, complete with all three visible leather straps — a kind of unwoke hat trick of sexism, racism, and failure to distance himself clairvoyantly from an alleged sexual abuser of children. The whole thing could continue apace, until every living American over the age of 6 with the possible exceptions of Tipper Gore and the Archbishop of Portland had been fingered for various offenses against decency and, in the interest of justice, fired.
There is, in fact, a very good argument that all of these people, including the ones I have just made up, should be fired. But it has nothing to do with the contents of their remarks, real or imaginary. If some hypothetical right or left-wing billionaire were to hire a team of interns to transcribe the entire combined archives of CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, Howard Stern, Imus in the Morning, and the wider blogosphere from circa 2004 until about two years ago, how many moderately famous Americans would emerge with clean records? Coolio? It's hard to imagine the "Gangsta's Paradise" guy as some kind of secret raving anti-Semite, but then again, who knows? People got up to all sorts of things in the hundreds of thousands of previously aired hours of Larry King Live that researchers with infinite patience could sift through if they wished.
I think we need to stop this, even if it requires some kind of temporary all-encompassing horizontal integration of media companies and oppo firms — a kind of START for ex-post-facto gotcha reporting. And it's not because I think that what the guy who used to argue on CNN with the fellow who once made a vile joke about Obama's genitalia told the alleged comedian whose wife Hulk Hogan was sleeping with in the infamous Gawker tape was defensible. It was painfully unfunny. For my part, I think it's actually a good thing that Americans have stumbled upon the view that pedophilia isn't really all that amusing, just as I'm sure most of us are onboard with the eradication of racial slurs from polite speech.
But good grief. If you have the patience for these diurnal revelations of the no-doubt appalling comments made by a vastly expanding range of living persons both significant and insignificant in public forums in the not-so-remote past, congratulations. You're woker than I am. Woker, too, I imagine than about 95 percent of the American people who don't know who Jacob Wohl is. Enjoy your fiefdom in the aristocracy of outrage.
What gets ignored while we are all busy performing the mental gymnastics necessary to justify our recently improvised but somehow uncompromising position that what X said about Y during the Bush administration was 10 times worse than the crude joke A made at B's expense while Bill Clinton was still in the White House? Everything, including the national conversation about sexual assault that we were having sincerely for about five minutes until somebody noticed that Shania Twain once mused about the possibility of voting for Donald Trump. If you think the cycle I am describing is part of a serious attempt to remove wicked speech from our public discourse, please explain why only half the commentariat seems to be scandalized roughly half the time even when the supposed "news" is all of a piece.
The quantity of information about people on the internet and various media archives is virtually unlimited. It is also more or less accessible, if you want it to be. It is now possible to bring to bear upon such pressing questions as the relative wokeness of extemporized comic routines performed by various cable news anchors between the year Green Day released American Idiot and the appearance of the first Vox explainer on Pizza Rat the sort of scrutiny once applied only to mainstream presidential candidates.
Does that sound appealing to you? To me the only thing more exhausting than the never-ending presidential campaign cycle we've been in since roughly Nov. 2, 2004, the night I and many other Americans first started speculating about Obama's presidential ambitions, is applying the ethic of totalizing research-based Kulturkampf to the words and deeds of every sentient adult in this republic. I would rather count gray microscopic dots on the beige of a drop ceiling tile than read about the rude things a former White House staffer said about some D-list Republican Senate candidate when I was 13 years old. Surely I'm not alone.