William Safire, the New York Times columnist and former Nixon speech writer who died this weekend, is credited with starting the conservative’s campaign against the mainstream media by putting words in former Vice President Spiro Agnew’s mouth: nattering nabobs of negativism. Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Daily News, who thinks Reaganism is a fiction of conservative imagination, doesn’t think so much of that.
The words that William Safire penned and that Spiro Agnew mouthed actually had enormous impact that has lasted until this day. They helped foster among conservatives and the folks that Nixon called "the silent majority" a growing mistrust of the mainstream media, a mistrust that grew over two generations into a form of hatred. It also started a dangerous spiral of events — journalists started bending backwards to kowtow to their conservative critics, beginning in the time of Reagan, an ill-advised shift that did not win back a single reader or viewer on the right. Instead, it caused a lot of folks on the left and even the center to wonder why the national media had stopped doing its job, stopped questioning authority.