I was in an Upper Manhattan bar with Herbert J. Gans, around the time he was writing The War Against The Poor, and once again we were discussing media bias. Journalism would be better without objectivity, I argued. Better to be truthful than objective. Report the facts, and never be afraid to declare and defend a position. I had the best arguments that day.
His beard and his glasses, and his curmudgeonly manner, reminded me of my mentor, Michael Hornyansky. Gans came at me the way Hornyansky often would, with a subtle but wicked smile. “Listen. Objectivity is good for business,” he said. “There’s no use in driving away readers and advertisers with your opinions.” He detoured into a bit he would develop later and call multiperspective journalism. But I was less interested in this at the time and can’t recall what he said in any detail.
It doesn’t matter. I had words, the best words. I hit back because I have stamina and I won the argument that day.
The first time I heard the cliché it was told by my grandfather, who by the way was a tremendous businessman. You can put a frog in water and turn the temperature up gradually enough that it will boil without ever noticing the heat. I thought that this notion was ridiculous when applied to frogs and boiling water, but in politics it did seem there was a rising sea of spin and equivocation, and that the temperature was rising.
We learned to expect, and then to accept, a few slight misrepresentations. Some of them we laughed off as simple buffoonery. Everyone knows the joke: “How can you tell when the President is lying? His lips are moving.” As far as I can tell, the line was coined in the Reagan years, at a time when some of us were appalled by the President’s apparent, casual relationship with truth. In the years ahead, we’d hear this line again and again, with reference to other politicians and their ever-bolder lies. Language seemed to be losing all ties to reality, and words were being hollowed. What is the meaning of is? According to President Clinton, it depends.
Art imitates life, and politics imitates politics. Sometimes politics imitates the arts, and sometimes art informs politics—the art of persuasion, of winning people over, of seduction and war and conquest. It begins and ends with words. My friends call me up with words. What is the secret to winning an argument? they ask. I tell them. And I will tell you, believe me, and you will win so much, so much. True. Gans is a loser, and I beat him. You and I, we are winners. We will win.
I love words. I am good with words, and that is why you should trust me. With my words I have built tremendous things, the best things. My books are great books. I taught Charlotte Perkins Gilman how to write, and she had amazing success like no one has had success. You should trust me because I am telling you that I win, that I always win.
You might read other things, written by losers and liars. You know I am the only one that can tell you what is true and real because I’ve told you this. They lie, but we will have our revenge. When we have won together, we will make sure that the liars can no longer lie.
Listen to the lies the rotten biased media tell. They are hookers and prostitutes and worse than prostitutes. It’s a fact. They say, “Look at him, he’s sweating.” Folks, they write about me sweating! Yes I am sweating! The temperature is 104 degrees. And it’s getting hotter by the second! By the SECOND!
Folks we have to do something about these people. They are horrible un-American people going into these dark cracks to steal your jobs and rig the election, behind closed doors to destroy your way of life and to take everything from you and destroy our great country and tell lies so many lies and I alone can save you.
It’s getting hot, hot. It’s hot folks, are you sweating? I’m sweating. Wow. But it’s going to be great. We are going to make things so great. Believe me. Believe me.
It’s getting so hot in here.