Caitlin Johnstone: Mainstream Journalists

It’s not just the obscenely wealthy owners of the mass media who are protecting their class interests — it’s the reporters, editors and pundits as well.

NATO press event in 2019. (NATO, Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0)

By Caitlin Johnstone

Listen to Tim Foley reading this article

Iraq war cheerleader David Brooks’ article in The New York Times, What if We’re the Bad Guys Here?” is another one of those tired old think pieces we’ve been seeing for the last eight years that asks, “Golly gosh could we coastal elites have played some role in the rise of Trumpism?” as if it’s the first time anyone has ever considered that obvious point.

One worthwhile paragraph about the media stands out though:

“Over the last decades we’ve taken over whole professions and locked everybody else out. When I began my journalism career in Chicago in the 1980s, there were still some old crusty working-class guys around the newsroom. Now we’re not only a college-dominated profession, we’re an elite-college-dominated profession. Only 0.8 percent of all college students graduate from the super elite 12 schools (the Ivy League colleges, plus Stanford, M.I.T., Duke and the University of Chicago). A 2018 study found that more than 50 percent of the staff writers at the beloved New York Times and The Wall Street Journal attended one of the 29 most elite universities in the nation.”

Brooks is not the first to make this observation about the drastic shift in the socioeconomic makeup of news reporters that has taken place from previous generations to now. 

“The class factor in journalism gets overlooked,” journalist Glenn Greenwald said on the Jimmy Dore Show in 2021.

“Thirty or 40 years ago, 50 years ago, journalists really were outsiders. That’s why they all had unions; they made shit money, they came from like working class families. They hated the elite. They hated bankers and politicians. It was kind of like a boss-employee relationship — they hated them and wanted to throw rocks at them and take them down pegs.”

“If I were to list the 20 richest people I’ve ever met in my entire life, I think like seven or eight of them are people I met because they work at The Intercept — people from like the richest fucking families on the planet,” Greenwald added.

Journalist Matt Taibbi, whose father worked for NBC, made similar observations on the Dark Horse podcast back in 2020. 

“Reporters when I was growing up, they came from a different class of people than they do today,” Taibbi said.

“A lot of them were kind of more working class — their parents were more likely to be plumbers or electricians than they were to be doctors or lawyers. Like this thing where the journalist is an Ivy League grad, that’s a relatively new thing that I think came about in the seventies and eighties with my generation. But reporters just instinctively hated rich people, they hated powerful people. Like if you put up a poster of a politician in a newsroom it was defaced instantaneously, like there were darts on it. Reporters saw it as their job to stick it to the man.”

“Mostly the job is different now,” Taibbi said, adding:

“The fantasy among reporters in the nineties about politicians started to be, I want to be the person that hangs out with the candidate after the speech and has a beer and is sort of close to power. And that’s kind of the model, that’s where we’re at right now. That’s kind of the problem is that basically people in the business want to be behind the rope line with people of influence. And it’s going to be a problem to get us back to that other adversarial posture of the past.”

This is a major reason behind the freakish sycophancy and empire loyalism we see in the mainstream press. It’s not just the obscenely wealthy owners of the mass media who are protecting their class interests — it’s the reporters, editors and pundits as well. 

These are typically fairly wealthy people from fairly wealthy families, who become more and more wealthy the more their careers are elevated. As insiders of the mainstream press have attested, it’s widely understood by employees of the mainstream media that the way to elevate your career is to toe the establishment line and refrain from spotlighting issues that are inconvenient to the powerful.

This identification with the ruling class feeds into the dynamic described by Taibbi in which modern journalists have come to value close proximity to those in power.

These are the people they want to be sharing drinks with and going to parties with and invited to the weddings of; the “us vs them” dynamic which used to exist between the press and politicians switched, and now the press see themselves and the politicians they fraternize with as “us” and the general public as “them”.

There are other factors at play with regard to elite education. The number of journalists with college degrees skyrocketed from 58 percent in 1971 to 92 percent in 2013; if your wealthy parents aren’t paying that off for you then you’ve got crushing student debt that you need to pay off yourself, which you can only do in the field you studied in by making a decent amount of money, which you can only do by acting as a dependable propagandist for the imperial establishment.

Universities themselves tend to play a status quo-serving, conformity-manufacturing role when churning out journalists, as wealth won’t flow into an academic environment that is offensive to the wealthy.

Moneyed interests are unlikely to make large donations to universities which teach their students that moneyed interests are a plague upon the nation, and they are certainly not going to send their kids there.

“The whole intellectual culture has a filtering system, starting as a child in school,” Noam Chomsky once explained in an interview.

“You’re expected to accept certain beliefs, styles, behavioral patterns and so on. If you don’t accept them, you are called maybe a behavioral problem, or something, and you’re weeded out. Something like that goes on all the way through universities and graduate schools. There is an implicit system of filtering… which creates a strong tendency to impose conformism.”

The people who make it through this filtering system are the ones who are elevated to the most influential positions in our civilization.

All the most widely amplified voices in our society are the celebrities, journalists, pundits and politicians who’ve proven themselves to be reliable stewards of the matrix of narrative control which keeps the public jacked in to the mainstream worldview.

Is it any wonder, then, that all the sources we’ve been taught to look to for information continually feed us stories which give the impression that the status quo is working fine and this is the only way things can possibly be?

Is it any wonder that the mass media support all U.S. wars and cheerlead all imperial agendas?

This is how things were set up to be. Our media act like propagandists for a tyrannical regime because that’s exactly what they are.

Caitlin Johnstone’s work is entirely reader-supported, so if you enjoyed this piece please consider sharing it around, following her on FacebookTwitterSoundcloudYouTube, or throwing some money into her tip jar on Ko-fiPatreon or Paypal. If you want to read more you can buy her books. The best way to make sure you see the stuff she publishes is to subscribe to the mailing list at her website or on Substack, which will get you an email notification for everything she publishes.  For more info on who she is, where she stands and what she’s trying to do with her platform, click here. All works are co-authored with her American husband Tim Foley.

This article is from and re-published with permission.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

27 comments for “Caitlin Johnstone: Mainstream Journalists

  1. robert e williamson jr
    August 6, 2023 at 23:28

    Great stuff here.

    Mass communications are so far out of control in this country currently as to be more than counter productive but rather a danger to the health of our society, it is obvious to those who still understand objectivity and especially concerning to those capable of successfully engaging in objective critical thought.

    Mass communications are not so much desired to be objective because of the demand of the “business”.

    We have always known that early on in the communications business markets were small and reporting mostly local. Then came the TV and 30 years later satellite communications and the greed heads went wild, hogs at the feeding troughs. During that same time period our government increased it’s data collection on the “masses”.

    As this article so aptly points out the infiltration of the news media during that time by government interests was doing well for itself using the confusing practices of infiltrating in all manners of openness and surreptitiously, no one was tracking the billionaire media owners behavior.

    Media moguls are the Achilles Heel of the free press and now days because of the authoritarian bent of the Federal Government the death knell of investigative reporters everywhere. Very rich cowards!

    Special thanks to Caitlin and the CN Crew!

  2. shmutzoid
    August 6, 2023 at 20:28

    Over many many decades, ALL institutions in the US have been shaped to serve the interests of the owning class. Education. Judicial. Media. …..and, journalism. Capitalism has been fused in peoples’ minds to equate FREEDUMB. The indoctrination begins in early schooling – journalism merely reinforces the hagiographic memes imposed from early on—–> the US is the best country EVER to exist——- the US only wishes to spread ‘freedom and democracy’ throughout the world———- the US doesn’t do war – only ‘humanitarian interventions’. …..and so on. ———- Between a ‘mis-education’ geared toward the, er, “sanctity” of all things American, and a corporate media that’s thoroughly empire-centric, it’s no wonder the masses of the US, especially, are the most disoriented in the world.
    …… Margaret Thatcher’s dictum, “There Is No Alternative” (TINA, regarding capitalism) becomes internalized to a degree it’s just THERE, like the air we breathe.
    —–Critiques of capitalism are not to be found in corporate media. …… nor any meaningful investigative reporting.

  3. RWilson
    August 6, 2023 at 19:31

    These corporate journalists Caitlin describes are essential participants in the war profiteering oligarchy’s looting and massacring of Americans and people around the globe. Without their blanket of lies the jig would be up.

  4. John Dukes
    August 6, 2023 at 13:40

    Glenn Greenwald, Matt Taibbi, Joe Rogan, Jimmy Dore, Russell Brand, and others in the millionaire podcast media are becoming the Neo-Establishment Media which is just as disconnected from the working classes as is corporate broadcast news. They actively ignore bottoms-up people’s power movements to give time to elites like RFK Jr and Andrew Tate.

  5. Sarge Carter
    August 6, 2023 at 09:46

    -Reagan got rid of ‘The Fairness Doctrine’ and ‘Equal Time’ rules.
    -Reagan and Clinton got rid of the pro-democracy rules that limited media ownership.
    -The result of these decisions was the concentration of media power into a very small number of hands (the number used to be cited as ‘6 corporations’, but that’s a very dated number). These decisions allowed the creation of highly manipulative and biased ‘news’ such as FOXNews and MSNBC and the rest of American Corporate News.
    -During the Reagan years, it was widely reported that the ‘wall’ that used to separate ‘journalists’ and ‘journalist ethics’ from the business concerns of the corporation was being demolished. There were more and more stories about how the ‘news’ organizations protected their advertisers from ‘negative news’.
    -By the time of the Cheney Regime, any journalists who did not toe the line were summarily removed by the corporations. Any who criticized Bush/Cheney were removed. Dan Rather famously wore a flag lapel pin and proclaimed himself ready to serve the government and the corporation and to faithfully report what he was told to report. (He of course retired wealthy compared to ordinary Americans.)

  6. Eddie S
    August 5, 2023 at 22:52

    Much like the remark made by someone that much of the opinions (especially from right-wing sources) are coming from millionaires working for billionaires.,,,

  7. Rudy Haugeneder
    August 5, 2023 at 22:23

    Unfortunately, this opinion piece is totally true. But that’s good because the decay that journalists unwittingly promote will lead to economic, social, and political collapse that is currently happening but which most of the public is not aware of because the overwhelming majority of people who call themselves professional journalists are an integral part of the rotting system.

  8. John Elsbree
    August 5, 2023 at 19:33

    Just to add a wrinkle: Many people see the word elite and they think it means there is something excellent about the folks being described. But with our punditry it is really hard to find any excellence. On the other hand, actual reporters, folks who investigate and write good reports about what they find, are to this day often excellent, regardless of their schools or where they grew up.

  9. Bill
    August 5, 2023 at 19:13

    Caitlin “The Hammer” Johnstone nails it again!

  10. Greg Grant
    August 5, 2023 at 17:10

    I really appreciate how Caitlin Johnstone keeps pushing this topic. I also think part of the equation is the willingness of the public to be manipulated against their own best interests. I used to believe people just lacked information. It took me a long time to admit it even to myself, but I can no longer deny the obvious – the vast majority of people simply do not want to know the truth, they build a wall between themselves and hard realities, particularly anything that criticizes the democrat party from the left and makes them have to admit to being guilty crimes against humanity, not to mention being the sanctimonious hypocrites. It seems to me the penchant for mass delusion has to factor in to the equation of how we got where we are.
    It’s particularly depressing to see how widespread skepticism of the government does exists over things like vaccines. But when it comes to waging the next war of illegal total destruction, genocide and wanton murder, they buy into every line coming down the pike about terrorists and communists, no matter how weak and transparently absurd they are, or how many times they were duped in the past.
    If people simply do not want to know the truth, then it’s hard to maintain much hope for the future.

  11. JonnyJames
    August 5, 2023 at 12:16

    Yeah, the fancy academic (classical Greek) words for this is plutocracy/oligarchy/kakistocracy.

    Speaking of promoting the bloated orange freak: The Guardian (just one example) has featured DT almost DAILY for years and years. They give him free publicity like no other politician. Other outlets do as well, they LOVE the freak, because he is polarizing and good for ratings/hits. (on the US website, but even the UK site). He’s not good for the country, but he’s great for profits, good fe bidnez baby.

    Recall that in 2016, CNN ignored Bernie Sanders’ speech and instead broadcast live DT’s empty podium, “waiting for Trump”.
    Although Sanders is a Sheepdog for the DNC and a phony, he does bring up issues that the plutocratic BigMedia does not want to hear.

    In addition to what Ms. Johnstone outlines, the “cross sectoral” ownership of the MassMediaCartel is also telling: who “owns” the big media? BlackRock, Lockheed Martin, Chevron, etc. No surprise: the Oligarchy (1%) own the media and their interests are thus reflected. No surprises there: the consolidation and deregulation of BigMedia has created the post-Orwellian monster.

    And if we think that NPR or PBS are any different: “this PBS program was made possible by…BigOil, The MilitaryIndustrialSurveillance Complex, BigPharma, the Banksters and by gullible viewers like you… Thank You!”

  12. Chris Cosmos
    August 5, 2023 at 08:54

    This is crucial to understanding the current political situation. It fits perfectly with the movement of the professional class towards a new form of “woke” conservatism as explained by Thomas Frank in *Listen Liberal.” These people all pretend to be on the “left” but they are clearly and ardently on the right. They love war, empire, and are almost fanatically against the working-class. They are happy to employ the most obvious Orwellian techniques to not only lie but silence all dissent. They are as loyal to the Imperial bureaucracy as any Communist or Nazi during the 1930s. I fault, above all possible sources the US university system which has systematically attempted to destroy the Western intellectual tradition replacing it with a puzzling hive of emotional neo-fascism.

  13. jaume corominas rafart
    August 5, 2023 at 05:09

    You nailed it, Caitlin. These things should be said and explained more often… but they are not explained more often precisely because of what you say!

  14. Toutatis
    August 5, 2023 at 03:58

    “…more than 50 percent of the staff writers at the beloved New York Times and The Wall Street Journal attended one of the 29 most elite universities in the nation….”
    This article
    shows that in the same time, there is a deep change in what “education” means now in the west.

  15. Alex Scala
    August 5, 2023 at 01:17

    A false distinction. The people who wrote for, say, the New York Times in the 1950s and 1960s were no less loyal servants of wealth and power than their successors are today. The Times is and always has been the Pravda of the centrist establishment. The particular quality of its sycophancy and mendacity has been a constant for at least sixty years. The paper’s only rival in this respect is The New Yorker.

    What has happened is that they’ve raised the ante. The universities have succeeded in professionalizing almost every remunerative activity that doesn’t involve getting your hands dirty. Employers that used to accept people with diplomas now insist on degrees. The people that enter the work force with degrees are much the same sort of people as those that formerly entered it with diplomas — abject children of the middle class. Newspapers have have been playthings of the rich and journalists have been their servile understrappers for long time.

  16. Rafi Simonton
    August 4, 2023 at 22:37


    I remember some of those crusty old reporters in the ’60sand ’70s who frequented the union bars around labor organizations. And around the state capitol during legislative sessions where the old egalitarian New Dealers still hung out. Along with a few progressive Rs who took noblesse oblige seriously. The old reporters knew everything about everybody because everybody talked to them; they were “one of us.” All now extinct species.
    That the contemporary breed of Ivy league reporters gets along with the Ivy Dem administrative and professional elite is no mystery. Along with the econopath 1%ers, they attended the same classes and live in the same neighborhoods. They all have the same cultural interests. And the same attitudes towards the masses–those irrelevant, declasse’ lessers.

  17. Willow
    August 4, 2023 at 22:04

    spot on insight. Thank you. Please investigate the impact of the repeal of the smith mundt propaganda ban. the repeal of smith-mundt in the 2013 NDAA made it legal for our government to use taxpayer dollars to aim propaganda at U.S. citizens, and with the legalization the flood of money poured into newly created propaganda industry

  18. August 4, 2023 at 21:54

    Thinking of Diogenes walking through Athens with a lamp looking for an honest man. A bit of street theatre I imagine.

    Long ago at the fall of Rome, St. Benedict established a monastic order that took off and changed the course of history as people committed to living not by lies. Sooner or later we’ll make it be about our own part and the system we’re supporting. Then we’ll do what we can. Maybe that’s the revolution.

  19. Graeme
    August 4, 2023 at 21:01

    John Kampfner, in Freedom For Sale: How We Made Money And Lost Our Liberty, wrote the following:
    “In his seminal 1922 book, Public Opinion, Lippmann said democracy and media operated in an environment of low attention spans and the inability of the “bewildered herd” to come to an intelligent conclusions without prompting.
    This “herd”, he argued, must be governed by a specialized class.
    That specialized class would be composed of experts, otherwise known as elites, whose role would be to circumvent the primary defect of democracy, the impossible ideal of the “omni-competent citizen”.

    Edward Bernays said something along similar lines only six years after Lippmann in the opening few paragraphs of ‘Propaganda.’

    Corporate media is dependent upon the status quo remaining intact and undisturbed.
    Modern journalism as rendered by corporate media is merely a stenographer to the powerful.

    • shmutzoid
      August 6, 2023 at 20:06

      huh. what you write here also sounds like what the framers of the US constitution mighta’ been discussing, too. ….how the “bewildered herd” was NOT to left to its own devices in directing democracy. ….. better left to “experts’ and the property owners/moneyed class.

  20. CaseyG
    August 4, 2023 at 19:37

    LOL, well I agree with you on this. It seems as if many journalists write things which can’t be true, or would have people think that America wouldn’t do that. Yes, it is demoralizing to try to figure out who is telling the truth.

    When I read about Mi Lai, I could not believe that so many in the military tried to cover things up–that was depressing. Another military in charge person bombed people in the desert. They were out there celebrating a wedding but the military man in charge questioned why would they be there. Hmm, I guess he thought that the military tent and a wedding tent are the same???

  21. Atul
    August 4, 2023 at 18:18

    I’ve been reading you for years, Caitlin.
    You are clear eyed and right on, but I fear the vice grip with which power is held will not likely be relinquished.
    I expect nuclear war before the peaceful transition to a just world.

  22. John Zeigler
    August 4, 2023 at 18:01

    My late wife, MJ from the University of Texas, 1962, is probably spinning in her grave. She taught journalism at a Texas Junior College for 28 years, and did her best to turn out the kind of old school journalists she had cut her teeth on. Thank you, Caitlin for telling us not only how the cow eats the cabbage, but has broken into the cabbage patch! Our heroes like the late Walter Cronkite, Bill Moyers, and Dan Rather are, alas, a dying breed. The late Liz Carpenter and the late Molly Ivins of Texas fame also come to mind as voices I miss.

  23. Jeff Harrison
    August 4, 2023 at 16:13

    Spot on dudette. As Patrick Lawrence says, I read the NYT, not to find out what happened but to find out what I’m supposed to think happened.

  24. John Petrella
    August 4, 2023 at 16:08

    “…the celebrities, journalists, pundits and politicians…”
    Which ones?

  25. Richard Romano
    August 4, 2023 at 14:56

    My, Caitlin you again are right on. The system we live with is one which is run by the wealthy. It is completely corrupted by their values.

    • Carolyn L Zaremba
      August 5, 2023 at 13:35

      All socialists have known that since the 19th century. That is why we must support sites like Consortium News, the World Socialist Web Site, The New Atlas, Caitlin Johnstone, Garland Nixon, and many other independent media. I gave away my television in 2011 and apart from occasional peeks at sites like The Guardian (ugh) get all of my news from independent sites.

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