New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg has declared the left ‘stagnant,’ but what she really means is that it’s miserable.
Dear Abby: I’m a liberal Democrat and my entire political party is full of insufferable nags. What do I do?!
That was the entire point of New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg’s article this week wherein she fretted that normal Americans are perhaps drifting to the political right because the left has become so indefensibly annoying.
“For those who get most of their politics online, this can be what the left looks like — a humorless person shaking her head at others’ insensitivity,” she wrote. “As a result, an alliance with the country’s most repressive forces can appear, to some, as liberating.”
Without saying it outright, Goldberg was getting at the left’s defining qualities today. Its allies have become so miserable, so toxic, so angry and weird that it’s repulsing voters. They call people “racist” for any reason at all. They push for the sexualization of children in public schools. And they shut down all discourse that threatens their delicate ideology.
Look what’s happening with the Elon Musk-Twitter drama. A billionaire wanted to buy a publishing company — not something unheard of — and it was an unnecessarily drawn out, messy fight for him to do it because the left wing and Democrats believe they alone dictate what counts as fair discourse.
Goldberg declared the left “stagnant,” but what she really means is that it’s miserable. It’s stuck in a rut because its activists are singularly motivated by negative emotions now. What do they talk about these days? Persecuting Trump supporters who were in Washington on Jan. 6, Covid as a means of controlling the populace, and “equity” for anyone who claims to be oppressed (i.e. the Democrat voter base).
“When the left becomes grimly censorious, it incubates its own opposition,” wrote Goldberg. “The internet makes things worse, giving the whole world a taste of the type of irritating progressive sanctimony…”
She says this like it’s a problem created by the right, or even unassuming independents who must not be able to distinguish between the “online” left from the real left. It’s not. It’s people like Goldberg who wanted to teach children about transgenderism and how it sucks to be white. That people were repulsed by their weird fixations isn’t their own fault. It’s the fault of the left for being so creepy, unhappy, and maladjusted.
Look at Florida. The hottest controversy there now is whether kindergarten teachers should be able to explain to students what it means to be “gender queer.” Leftists are adamant that they get to talk about sexual identity with kids. It’s dumb. Even a majority of Democrats in that state know it’s dumb.
Look at the reaction to the district judge in Florida who struck down the airline mask mandate. Leftists are furious that they can’t tell people to cover up their noses and mouths anymore (at least for now).
Look at the election of GOP Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin. His central campaign theme was that public school kids shouldn’t be instilled with the idea that being white is an irredeemable sin. The left nearly needed an exorcism.
Look at your own encounters with these people. The funny thing about left-wingers is that they feel absolutely no reservation about showing up to a social function and popping off with their political opinions on race, sex, and equity.
Any normal person thinks to himself, “I’d rather not.” Leftists don’t. They see it as their duty to ensure that everyone knows how they feel (miserable).
You don’t like it? Tough.
Goldberg knows her movement is an emotional and mental mess. She just can’t bear to break the news.
They’re always angry. They’re always upset. They’ve lost their grip. Goldberg could have just said that, but instead, she whined about conservatives and independent Americans who aren’t into the gross and distasteful things that the movement she belongs to has produced.
“In the short term, however, it’s frightening to think that backlash politics could become somehow fashionable, especially given how stagnant the left appears,” she continued.
The left doesn’t “appear” anything. It’s undeniably vulgar, and fewer people want to be part of it. Maybe Goldberg should just admit it and stop making excuses for how awful the left-wing Democrat movement is.
A filing by special counsel John Durham — alleging Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign paid a technology company to establish an “inference” that the Trump campaign was colluding with Russia so he could win an election — has not generated much excitement in the mainstream media.
Perhaps because the story is somewhat complex, the media has decided not to report on it? Indeed, naming all the players and their actions is a chore, if you read the few media outlets on the right that are covering it.
It’s sort of boring — until you realize the staggering implications of what’s being alleged.
Durham is saying that the Democratic candidate for president in 2016 engaged in a criminal conspiracy to infiltrate the opposition’s most sensitive, compartmentalized information and tried to manipulate data and information to politically damage her opponent.
Nothing to see here. Move along.
Will these brave, courageous purveyors of truth cover the fact that Trump special prosecutor Robert Mueller was hoodwinked by these shenanigans? That Mueller was kept in the dark about the surveillance from which some of his “evidence” was obtained?
Donald Trump was livid.
Former President Trump reacted to the filing on Saturday evening, saying Durham’s filing “provides indisputable evidence that my campaign and presidency were spied on by operatives paid by the Hillary Clinton Campaign in an effort to develop a completely fabricated connection to Russia.”
“This is a scandal far greater in scope and magnitude than Watergate and those who were involved in and knew about this spying operation should be subject to criminal prosecution,” Trump said. “In a stronger period of time in our country, this crime would have been punishable by death.”
Trump added: “In addition, reparations should be paid to those in our country who have been damaged by this.”
My PJ Media colleague Matt Margolis covered the story in detail yesterday, including this quote from Kash Patel, lead GOP investigator on the House Intelligence Committee for the Trump-Russia probe.
Kash Patel, the former chief investigator of the Trump-Russia investigation for the House Intelligence Committee under former Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), told Fox News that the filing “definitively shows that the Hillary Clinton campaign directly funded and ordered its lawyers at Perkins Coie to orchestrate a criminal enterprise to fabricate a connection between President Trump and Russia.”
“Per Durham, this arrangement was put in motion in July of 2016, meaning the Hillary Clinton campaign and her lawyers masterminded the most intricate and coordinated conspiracy against Trump when he was both a candidate and later President of the United States while simultaneously perpetuating the bogus Steele Dossier hoax,” Patel said.
Republicans can do nothing as long as they’re in the minority. And even if they were to hold hearings after regaining the majority to try to get to the bottom of this swamp, it still wouldn’t be news.
For Democrats, it simply never happened, because it won’t be reported. This is especially true as long as Trump clogging up the White House toilet is repeated again and again as “breaking news.”
To corrupt media, Democrats, and Big Tech, anyone who protested the 2020 election is no different than the fools who stormed the U.S. Capitol.
n the one-year anniversary of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, the corporate media is working overtime to convince the American public that Republicans as a whole stormed the nation’s beacon of democracy at the beginning of 2021 and have waged a war on all that is good and decent. While lunatics and fools did invade the Capitol last January, tens of thousands of Americans peacefully assembled to demand answers from the government about what they believed to be the sloppiest election in which they’ve ever voted.
Political violence should always be condemned, but a majority of the people present in Washington, D.C., and on the Capitol grounds on Jan. 6 weren’t violent. Yes, hundreds of people stormed the U.S. Capitol in a riot, but tens of thousands of people of all ages, races, backgrounds, and lifestyles gathered together that day at the Save America Rally to protest the Democrats’ sleazy election manipulation and hear from President Donald Trump.
Crowds began to form early at the White House Ellipse where Trump was scheduled to speak beginning at noon. After hours of waiting in the cold, Trump supporters finally heard from the president, who encouraged them to head to Capitol grounds and “peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard.” Following Trump’s urgings, tens of thousands of people slowly and peacefully marched to the Capitol grounds to rally at multiple planned events, all of which were permitted through the proper, official channels. Many of the peaceful protesters were unaware until the end of the day of the vandalizing and looting that had occurred inside the Capitol.
As multiple reports suggest, violence was not even considered by the vast majority of the rally attendees who simply wanted answers about what they saw as the messiest election in their lifetimes. Multiple states had used COVID-19 as an excuse to loosen absentee voting protocols, opening up a window for bad actors to push their preferred candidates to the top.
In Pennsylvania, the Democrat Party circumvented the state legislature and instead used the leftist courts to make six changes to the state’s Election Code ahead of the 2020 election. These changes included expanding mail-in voting and drop-boxes and relaxing verification standards for absentee ballots. Some key states and counties even accepted money from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg through shady election-manipulating organizations designed to increase Democratic voter turnout.
These voters became even angrier when they realized how corporate media and Big Tech worked together to suppress stories that should have tarnished Joe Biden’s reputation and therefore his chances in the election. Whether the Democrats and their media cronies agree, these voters had every right to be upset and express their frustration peacefully at the feet of the government, legislators, and the system that they felt had betrayed them.
The idea that everyone who was at the Capitol grounds that day is an insurrectionist is patently and deliberately false. Yet the same corporate media outlets, Big Tech oligarchs, and Democrats who defended the arson, looting, and crime associated with the political riots after George Floyd’s death as “fiery but mostly peaceful” branded nearly everyone within a 10-mile radius of the Capitol an insurrectionist. These institutions gladly overlooked the numerous accounts of peaceful assembly, to wrongly conflate the rioters with protesters. Anyone who protested the election was no different than the horned-hat guy and the other fools willing to vandalize the U.S. Capitol.
The mischaracterizations didn’t stop in January of last year. For urging their state legislatures to listen to and take action regarding their grievances, Republicans as a whole are still being smeared by The New York Times for engaging in a so-called “bloodless, legalized form” of the Capitol riot. Just because of how they vote, Republicans are shunned for using the legal, rightful means presented before them to enact change that ensures safe and secure elections.
It is a familiar tactic often employed by the anti-Trump crowd, who use everything in their power, including political censorship, to disparage and tear down the reputations of conservatives and the former president. They think that by tarring all Republicans as Jan. 6 insurrectionists, they can prevent future GOP victories, and therefore prevent Republicans from taking action to ensure that the sloppiness of 2020 is never repeated.
Truthful discussions never begin with lies. The 1619 Project is founded on a lie. It has no place in our nation’s schools
Parents across the country are revolting against activist school boards and teachers who are introducing critical race theory and propagandistic accounts of American history into classrooms.
One such history is the New York Times’ 1619 Project, which is already being taught in at least 4,000 classrooms in all 50 states.
The 1619 Project is an alternate history of the American founding that claims our nation’s true birthday was not 1776 but 1619, the year 20 slaves arrived in the British colony of Virginia. According to the 1619 Project, America was founded on racism and slavery — never mind the text of the Declaration of Independence, which proclaims that all men are created equal, or the words and deeds of our Founding Fathers, many of whom deplored slavery and tried to place it on the path to ultimate extinction.
The 1619 Project avoids discussing how slavery clashed with the ideals expressed in our Declaration of Independence. Instead, it portrays our Founding Fathers as liars and frauds who did not believe the stirring words they wrote — and in fact wrote them to uphold the evils of human bondage and white supremacy.
Unsurprisingly, Democrats and liberals have lavished praise on this revisionist account of our history. The 1619 Project’s lead author, Nikole Hannah-Jones, won a Pulitzer Prize and quickly hit the lecture circuit. Then-Senator Kamala Harris quickly expressed her support, writing that “the #1619Project is a powerful and necessary reckoning of our history. We cannot understand and address the problems of today without speaking truth about how we got here.”
The response from actual historians, even many on the left, has been less favorable. The project is “so wrong in so many ways,” according to Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Gordon Wood. James McPherson, the dean of Civil War historians and a Pulitzer Prize winner himself, remarked that the project presents an “unbalanced, one-sided account” that “left most of the history out.” A history curriculum that leaves the history out? No wonder parents are upset.
Young Americans are in desperate need of history and civic education, as surveys often find that they do not know basic details about our history and system of government. The 1619 Project will not help Americans achieve greater historical literacy or a deeper appreciation of our nation’s Founding, which truly is the greatest political experiment in human history. Instead, students who are exposed to the 1619 Project will learn to despise their country and their fellow citizens. That is a recipe for division and disaster.
In response to parents’ concerns about the 1619 Project and critical race theory, we have introduced a bill to prevent federal funding from being used to teach the 1619 Project in K–12 schools. This bill, titled the Saving American History Act, would not prevent any local school from making decisions about what curriculum they wish to teach — but it would state firmly that federal taxpayer dollars cannot be used to teach a malicious lie that threatens to divide the country on the basis of race.
America’s students deserve to know the true story of our nation’s Founding, and to be able to grapple with, and debate, the difficult questions in our history. That story includes many great and noble chapters, from the abolition of slavery and Civil Rights Movement to the moon landing and the liberation of Europe from Nazi tyranny. It also includes many dark chapters where our nation has failed to live up to our own noble principles. Teachers ought to present this history in its full glory and tragedy, making clear how our Founding principles have inspired generations of patriots and reformers.
Truthful discussions never begin with lies. The 1619 Project is founded on a lie. It has no place in our nation’s schools.
Dr. Anthony Fauci is going to get a lot of grief about his seeming about-face on whether it is possible that the COVID-19 pandemic can be traced back to an accident at a Chinese laboratory. But it is much better that America’s most famous doctor — the face of the nation’s pandemic response — is keeping an open mind rather than, as he was previously, prematurely ruling out a realistic possibility.
A little more than a year ago, Fauci gave an interview to National Geographic where he said, “If you look at the evolution of the virus in bats and what’s out there now, [the scientific evidence] is very, very strongly leaning toward this could not have been artificially or deliberately manipulated. . . . Everything about the stepwise evolution over time strongly indicates that [this virus] evolved in nature and then jumped species.” The article noted that Fauci “also doesn’t entertain an alternate theory — that someone found the coronavirus in the wild, brought it to a lab, and then it accidentally escaped.”
Since the lab-leak theory arose, there’s been a frustratingly persistent pattern of conflating “created in a lab,” the more remote possibility, and “accidentally released from a lab.” It is worth keeping in mind that certain types of gain-of-function research do not necessarily involve human-driven alteration of the genetic code of a virus. One form of this research, “serial passaging,” consists of taking a pathogen, exposing it to substances or cell hosts, finding the minority of viruses that can survive that threat, taking that tougher and hardier minority, and then repeating the process over and over again to isolate the mutations that make the pathogen most hardy, virulent, contagious, etc. Serial passaging amounts to speeding up the evolutionary process. Laboratory efforts like this would not necessarily “leave fingerprints,” and scientists have noted with concern that, compared with previous viruses such as SARS and MERS, this virus is nearly optimized for infecting the human respiratory tract.
At an event earlier this month, PolitiFact’s Katie Sanders noted that there is still “a lot of cloudiness around the origins of COVID-19” and asked Fauci whether he is “still confident that it developed naturally.” He answered,
No, actually, I am not convinced about that. I think we should continue to investigate what went on in China until we continue to find out to the best of our ability what happened. . . . Certainly, the people who investigated it say it likely was the emergence from an animal reservoir that then infected individuals, but it could have been something else, and we need to find that out. So, you know, that’s the reason why I said I’m perfectly in favor of any investigation that looks into the origin of the virus.
Recent weeks have brought a sudden and spectacular public reconsideration of the plausibility of a lab leak from the scientific and journalistic establishment. “More investigation is still needed to determine the origin of the pandemic. Theories of accidental release from a lab and zoonotic spillover both remain viable,” 18 reputable scientists wrote to Science magazine. The editorial board of the Washington Post concluded, “If the laboratory leak theory is wrong, China could easily clarify the situation by being more open and transparent. Instead, it acts as if there is something to hide.” Donald G. McNeil Jr., the prize-winning but now “canceled” former science reporter for the New York Times, concluded that “the argument that [SARS-CoV-2] could have leaked out of the Wuhan Institute of Virology or a sister lab in Wuhan has become considerably stronger than it was a year ago, when the screaming was so loud that it drowned out serious discussion.” This comes a few months after the previous director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Robert Redfield, told CNN’s Sanjay Gupta, “I am of the point of view that I still think the most likely etiology of this pathogen in Wuhan was from a laboratory, escaped.”
Welcome to the party, everyone.
It is good that the lab-leak theory is no longer being reflexively dismissed as a conspiracy theory, paranoid nuttiness, or ipso facto evidence of an anti-Asian bias. But this reconsideration is belated. Yes, some evidence has accumulated in the past year — the U.S. State Department memos warning about a lack of trained personnel at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), the claim that cellphone use in part of the WIV stopped for three weeks in October 17, and the World Health Organization investigation concluding that some WIV staffers got sick with flu-like symptoms in autumn of 2019. When the WHO team went to Wuhan, Chinese medical authorities refused to hand over raw data about the earliest patients. But little of that represents a game-changer in the facts on the ground. From the beginning, the world has been confronting a novel coronavirus closest to those found in bats that first emerged in a city that housed not one but two state-run labs researching novel coronaviruses found in bats.
Nicholson Baker’s lengthy cover piece in New York magazine contended that the lab-leak theory became a culture-war football, and scientists feared that discussing the plausibility of the theory could end up benefiting a president they detested:
Everyone took sides; everyone thought of the new disease as one more episode in an ongoing partisan struggle. Think of Mike Pompeo, that landmass of Cold War truculence; think of Donald Trump himself. They stood at their microphones saying, in a winking, I-know-something-you-don’t-know sort of way, that this disease escaped from a Chinese laboratory. Whatever they were saying must be wrong. It became impermissible, almost taboo, to admit that, of course, SARS-2 could have come from a lab accident. “The administration’s claim that the virus spread from a Wuhan lab has made the notion politically toxic, even among scientists who say it could have happened,” wrote science journalist Mara Hvistendahl in the Intercept.
Obviously, the evidence regarding such an important matter shouldn’t be evaluated differently based on who is president of the United States. “TRUST THE SCIENCE” has been a simplistic and not-all-that-illuminating slogan for much of this pandemic. This is another case where many of the same people who used that slogan most readily haven’t hewed to it themselves. There should be a reckoning over this rank failure, and instead of relying on WHO, which is compromised in important respects, U.S. authorities should investigate the origins of the virus to the extent possible.
Now that the rigid conventional wisdom on this issue is finally giving way, we should seek the truth without fear, favor, or politically motivated preconceptions.
As a political issue, crime is back.
Between the uproar over police shootings in Minneapolis and other cities, the demands by activists to “defund the police,” and a spreading “blue flu” pandemic that seeing veteran police officers walk off the job – in some cases not to return – crime in America is on the rise. Even if the national political media hasn’t yet caught on.
But they will. It’s inevitable because few issues hit home as closely as personal safety does. What drives many BLM adherents into the streets to protest police shootings is not just the sense, amplified by the media coverage, that they aren’t safe in their neighborhoods but that the biggest threat comes from the very people who are supposed to protect them.
It turns out, a new poll says, that your sentiments on the issue are influenced considerably by which television news network you watch. “Fewer than 50 unarmed black suspects were killed by police last year and more people were killed with knives than with so-called ‘assault weapons,’,” the polling firm Rasmussen Reports said Friday, “but viewers of MSNBC and CNN are far more likely than Fox News viewers to get those facts wrong.”
The firm found 50 percent of likely U.S. voters who identified CNN or MSNBC as “their favorite cable news outlet” believed the number of unarmed African Americans who were fatally shot by police in 2020 exceeded 100. “By contrast, only 22 percent of Fox News viewers believe police shot more than 100 unarmed black people last year.”
The poll, found just about one in four of CNN viewers and one-in-five MSNBC viewers thought cops “fatally shot more than 500 unarmed black suspects last year” while only one in ten Fox viewers thought the same thing.
“Fox News viewers (60 percent) were about three times more likely than viewers of MSNBC (19 percent) or CNN (23 percent) to correctly estimate the number of unarmed black people shot and killed by police in 2020 as less than 50. Sixty percent (60 percent) of talk radio listeners also estimated the number correctly,” the firm said the data collected showed.
Each year about 1,500 U.S. homicides annually are committed with knives and fewer than 500 are committed with rifles. However, 30 percent of likely voters thought the number of annual homicides involving rifles was more than 500, including 18 percent who said they believed it was more than 1,000 homicides, Rasmussen Reports said.
“Thirty percent of MSNBC viewers correctly estimated the number of homicides committed with rifles as between 100 and 500, as did 22 percent of CNN viewers and 19 percent of Fox News viewers. However, while 63 percent of Fox viewers underestimated the number of killings with rifles as less than 100, viewers of CNN and MSNBC were more likely to overestimate the number of homicides committed with rifles. Forty-three percent of CNN viewers and 40 percent of MSNBC viewers believe rifles are used in more than 500 homicides annually, compared to just 19 percent of Fox News viewers. Only 26 percent of talk radio listeners overestimated the number of homicides committed with rifles.”
The survey of 2,000 U.S. likely voters was conducted on April 29-May 3, 2021 by the Heartland Institute and Rasmussen Reports. The margin of sampling error is +/- 2 percentage points with a 95 percent level of confidence. To see survey question wording, click here.)
By resisting censorship from the government, corporations, or cancel mobs, we reaffirm the value of the freedoms won and cherished in centuries past.
As I wrote in a preceding essay, the First Amendment was written to limit the government’s power. In the 18th century, only the state was conceived as possibly wielding the power to keep free people from speaking their minds. Thus, if maintaining a free people requires free speech, it followed that the government must be kept from controlling speech. For a long time, no more was necessary, but that would change.
As the United States grew in population and prosperity, there was very little agitation against business. There did not need to be. Most businesses were small affairs, owned by one man or one family, employing a handful of workers. Relations between labor and management were dealt with between individuals.
n 1854, Abraham Lincoln summarized this small-scale economy, speaking of a system in which a man “may look forward and hope to be a hired laborer this year and the next, work for himself afterward, and finally to hire men to work for him! That is the true system.”
Yet as corporations grew in size and power, that “true system” changed. Instead of one apprentice negotiating with an owner, a company that employed thousands would tell workers what they would get: take it or leave it.
In response, workers began to join together in trade unions, leveling the playing field, although diminishing their own independence. The balance between workers and management was restored, but the growing power of corporations still overpowered that of individual consumers.
Antitrust and utility laws were the response, but none of this much affected the realm of free speech. There was no news monopoly — newspapers were more plentiful than today — and restrictions on the new technology of radio came from the government, not the station owners. The biggest threat to the practice of free speech remained the state.
Although the two streams of jurisprudence here — anti-monopoly and free speech — did not much overlap in the early twentieth century, some of the same great thinkers were doing work in both. Foremost among these was Louis Brandeis, who joined the Supreme Court in 1916.
Brandeis was a progressive who saw Big Government and Big Business as equally threatening to the average American. Although he focused more on the growth of corporate power in his days as a private lawyer, Brandeis saw the danger in the government becoming too powerful. His solution was to resist consolidation in both regards — keep businesses small and local, and the government could stay small, too.
In regards to free speech, Brandeis also led the resistance to censorship, although often unsuccessfully. While American citizens were the freest in the world in their right to speak and publish, limits remained.
The so-called “Red Scare” that followed communist revolutions in Europe led governments to clamp down on people’s right to advocate socialist ideas in America. In Whitney v. California in 1924, the Supreme Court heard a challenge to one such law. Brandeis was in the minority, but Whitney soon became one of the rare cases more famous for the dissent than for the opinion of the court. Brandeis wrote:
Those who won our independence believed that the final end of the State was to make men free to develop their faculties; and that in its government the deliberative forces should prevail over the arbitrary. They valued liberty both as an end and as a means. They believed liberty to be the secret of happiness and courage to be the secret of liberty. They believed that freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think are means indispensable to the discovery and spread of political truth; that without free speech and assembly discussion would be futile; that with them, discussion affords ordinarily adequate protection against the dissemination of noxious doctrine; that the greatest menace to freedom is an inert people; that public discussion is a political duty; and that this should be a fundamental principle of the American government.
Brandeis’s words remain one of the great summaries of the custom and law of free speech in America and follows the line of thinking started by Milton and Locke. In 1969, the Supreme Court adopted Brandeis’s ideas and overturned Whitney.
Since then, the government’s attempts to restrict free speech have mostly been rebuffed. Some efforts, like the censorship at issue in the 2010 case of Citizens United v. FEC, nearly succeeded, but most failed and failed quickly. The struggle for free speech in law trends toward greater liberty.
Today, however, something novel is happening in America: private actors have become a greater threat to free speech than the government is. Part of that comes from a laudable achievement — we have tamed free speech’s historical foe, the state. But part also comes from the rise of new means of communication that not only displace the old but are uniquely susceptible to monopolization in a way the old media were not.
That means that for the first time, corporate power might be a greater threat to our rights — especially our right to free speech — than the power wielded by the state. This accounts in part for the recent resurgence in antitrust advocacy.
Not long ago, there was considerable diversity not only in the sources of news and entertainment but also in the distribution of such things. Not only have the sources of news been subject to consolidation, but they have become separated from the methods by which they reach us. This vertical dis-integration might be seen as an antitrust success, except that the distribution methods are even more consolidated than the news sources.
The “distribution sources” in question are the social media giants of Facebook and Twitter, along with less powerful players in the field like Reddit and LinkedIn. Instagram and WhatsApp are also cited as delivery methods for news, but it does little good to mention them since they are both owned by Facebook. Consolidation across Silicon Valley has narrowed the real players in Big Tech to about half a dozen: Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft among them.
As far as free speech is concerned, some of these players are more dangerous than others, but the interaction among them is also a problem. Six big technological competitors might look like a healthy industry, but it is an illusion. While they clash at times, these Big Six have divided up the tech world much as the 19th-century colonial powers divided up the globe. Spheres of influence are mutually respected and the political aims of each align with the others.
First, the social media giants established monopolies in their respective fields. As companies grow in power, they exert control over their marketplaces. They evaded detection in doing so because their monopolies are different from those of the past.
What they monopolize is not a commercial product like Standard Oil’s monopoly on kerosene. Their monopoly is on access to a thing they created and that, outside of their network, cannot exist. As I wrote in the Washington Examiner last year:
There is no place to tweet except Twitter; there is no way to create Facebook posts outside Facebook. If Facebook or Twitter delete your posts or restrict your account, that network is closed to you, and each is a network that increasingly dominates the exchange of ideas. Even beyond the market for news and commentary, access to social media for businesses (especially Facebook) can be a make-or-break proposition.
The monopoly is on each social media company’s network, and the danger is in our increasing reliance on those networks to convey ideas. By 2019, a majority of Americans said they often or sometimes got their news over social media, and the number increases every year.
Unlike old-fashioned monopolies, social media companies use their power not only to exclude competitors but also to exclude customers with whom they disagree. AT&T wanted to control all telephony, but at least they only wanted your money. Facebook and Twitter also want to limit what you say, the equivalent of a telephone operator breaking in to shut down phone calls that their bosses find distasteful.
The Department of Justice shattered AT&T’s monopoly in the 1980s, breaking the company into several “Baby Bells.” The result was cheaper, better telephone service for everyone.
But that precise solution will not work for social media. No one is concerned about the price of a service that is given away for free, and the quality of the apps was never the problem. This network, and equal access to it, is the issue. Destroying that network would make service worse, not better. Moreover, it misses the point.
The intersection of monopoly power with free speech is something new. Even beyond the threat of exclusion from a social media company’s network, the collusion among the networks further stifles free expression. Consider the treatment of a rival social network.
In reaction to Twitter shutting down accounts with whose content it disagreed, two entrepreneurs launched an alternative site, Gab, in 2016. It went public in 2017 and seemed to offer the traditional alternative for dissatisfaction with a business: taking your business elsewhere. If the dispute with Twitter had been a traditional one, such as price or quality, that would have solved the problem.
But the nature of Twitter’s monopoly worked against Gab. Twitter users who had not been banned were reluctant to leave the network, because as unhappy as they were with it, it still offered the best forum for reaching a mass audience. Some maintained accounts at both sites, but only the banned — those who had no other option — were active users at Gab. Google decided it was a hate forum and removed it from their Play Store. Apple had never allowed it in the first place.
Gab was then restricted only to people extremely motivated to seek it out, and it became a deeply unpleasant echo chamber. When it emerged that the perpetrator of the 2018 mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue was an active Gab user, the site was forever known as the home of murderous extremists. The providers that hosted them terminated their arrangements, forcing it further underground. The same process played out with Parler in 2020, and it will play out again for the next would-be Twitter competitor.
Mainstream opinion is unbothered. Few had heard of Gab or Parler, which they could not find in their phone’s app stores, and many who were aware of it associated it with Nazis. Shutting them down was good riddance to bad rubbish.
Those few who raised free speech concerns were told to read the law, as though that is all there is to our ancient liberty. Recent episodes of tech censorship have involved a larger combination of tech companies and taken in a larger swath of users — including a former American president.
The drive to stifle speech is not limited to social media. Other tech monopolies have flexed their muscles. Amazon, which controls a majority of book sales in the United States, has started deciding which kinds of books it will allow. Anything that explores sexual orientation or gender dysphoria as mental illnesses is now forbidden. Tweets and Facebook posts on the subject are also likely to be censored if they voice the “wrong” opinions.
If free speech is necessary to enable individuals to discover virtue and choose their leaders, then monopoly censorship is just as harmful as government censorship. Even beyond the specific harm of stifling free expression, it does harm to the idea of free speech itself.
Legalistic denials from Big Tech supporters — “it’s not censorship if it’s not the government!” — miss the point. By allowing continued monopolies over segments of the public square and acquiescing in a restriction of free thought there, we erode the principle of free speech while piously upholding the laws that do nothing against this new threat.
As long as people believe in free speech, it will endure. According to a 2020 poll by Pew, a majority of Americans see the social media threat for what it is: censorship. That is good news. People are not distracted by the distinction of government and non-government; they see a powerful force trying to muzzle them and do not like it. The people understand that this right belongs to them and will resist anyone who tries to take it away.
The bad news is that such sentiments are declining. Americans, especially the young, increasingly are intolerant of speech that they hate. Instead of the liberty and courage that Brandeis extolled, they seek to decide public questions with private force. Milton and Locke would recognize the methods from their own times, although the actors and questions debated have changed.
That same 2020 Pew poll showed a majority of Democrats endorsing social media companies’ labeling of “inaccurate” tweets and posts. Polling by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) that same year finds that significant percentages of college students support suppressing unpopular speech through heckler’s veto (27 percent) or blocking entry to an event (11 percent). Only 4 percent of those surveyed claimed that it was acceptable to use violence to suppress offensive speech, but that is still too many.
We all have reason to doubt the accuracy of polling after the failures of the last few years, but there can be no doubt that the principle of free expression is under renewed threat. Looking at that threat requires reacquainting ourselves with the history of free speech and monopolies. Our forefathers fought censorship and fought monopolistic abuses, but political battles are rarely won for all time. These two are back, joined up in novel fashion, but no different than what came before.
The lessons of Milton, Locke, Bastiat, Lincoln, and Brandeis must guide a new generation to protect our ancient freedoms. If we fail, those freedoms will fade from memory and their protection in law will fade with them. We may vote for legislators, but few of us will ever directly influence the words of a law.
In the custom that underpins the law, though, we all have a role to play. By resisting censorship from the government, corporations, or cancel mobs, we remind the world of the value of the freedoms won and cherished in centuries past, and further reinforce them for the challenges to yet come.
The folks who came up with the term “fake news” – no one has ever claimed credit for it – probably rue the day they did. Originally the term was going to be used to discredit anything that appeared in an outlet that wasn’t part of the media elite which contradicted the dominant liberal narrative or painted progressives and their policies in an unfavorable light.
Oh, for the schemes of mice and men, as Robert Burns put it.
Before those behind this grand experiment in thought control could get all the fact-checkers, news outlets, and academics ready to make it work, Donald Trump appeared on the scene and expropriated the term. In the blink of an eye, what was supposed to be an ad hominem attack on Fox News and other conservative outlets came to be synonymous with liberal media distortions of the day’s news.
Now, say published reports, it appears “fake news” is a real thing and, just as the liberals alleged, there are a couple of Murdochs behind it all. Only it’s not Rupert. It’s his younger son from his first marriage James who, along with his wife Kathryn reportedly made significant contributions to a political action committee linked to a genuinely fake news operation allied with the Democrats.
The younger Murdoch, who at one time occupied senior management positions in companies owned by his father as well as a member of the News Corp. board of directors, severed his ties with the family business several years ago, allegedly over concerns of information bias. How odd it is then that he and his wife are now linked to a $500,000 contribution to Pacronym, a super PAC that, according to its website is “affiliated with ACRONYM” – a group that Federal Elections Commission records indicate funded a pseudo-news outlet called “Courier Newsroom,” which circulated Democratic Party and anti-Trump propaganda disguised as legitimate reporting.
The “Courier Newsroom” operated what one newspaper called a network of “impostor news outlets” in electorally critical states such as Arizona, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. Democratic Party talking points and candidate press releases were rewritten by the outlets and uploaded to the web as though they were legitimate news stories. It was essentially a political operation, National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Michael McAdams told National Review last October, “funded by a host of liberal billionaire donors” and “poster child for House Democrats’ complete and total hypocrisy when it comes to dark money and fake news.”
It’s a remarkable turn of events given the younger Murdoch’s outrage, purportedly shared by his wife, at the way so-called disinformation propagated by media outlets like those controlled by News Corp. created an atmosphere leading to events like Trump’s 2016 election, the contest of his 2020 loss, and the disturbance at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 – which led directly to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., launching an effort to impeach the 45th president of the United States for a second time and have him removed from office before the end of his term.
“Spreading disinformation — whether about the election, public health or climate change — has real-world consequences,” the younger Murdochs recently said to the Financial Times. “Many media property owners have as much responsibility as the elected officials who know the truth but instead choose to propagate lies. We hope the awful scenes we have all been seeing (at the U.S. Capitol) will finally convince those enablers to repudiate the toxic politics they have promoted once and forever.”
One is tempted to shout “physician heal thyself’ at James and Kathryn Murdoch but it would likely do little good. Whether the contempt he’s shown for honest reporting through this and potential other contributions – neither are talking about how they’ve been spending their political money – is driven by a familial dispute, ideological concerns, or the kind of liberal social consciousness commonly found among the members of the second and third-generation descendants of those who built great companies of tremendous value is not important; sad perhaps, but not a critical component of a drama that some might say has hints of Shakespeare about it.
What truly matters is the shameful way the younger Murdochs have allegedly used resources at their disposal thanks to their father’s success to distort both the news and the political process.
Thanks to the technological advances that have made the Internet the main source of news about global current, it is easier than it once was to pull the wool over the eyes of the people. And, because P.T. Barnum’s still not been proved wrong, information that appears on the web that looks real is too often mistaken as being real.
James Murdoch and his billionaire cohorts who allegedly funded it all and the political operatives who came up with the idea for who knows how many pseudo-news platforms ought to be ashamed of their actions. They cheapened the process and the news business, a vocation some of us still consider to be an honorable profession.
Journalists have become the thing they profess to hate — closed-minded censors who want to stifle free expression.
The American media — long stalwart defenders of the First Amendment — are now having second thoughts.
For decades, it was a commonplace sentiment among journalists that freedom of the press was one of the glories of our system. It helped to make the government accountable and to air diverse points of view — even unpopular ones — to be tested in the marketplace of ideas.
Media organizations were at the forefront of the fight to vindicate First Amendment rights, with the New York Times involved in two landmark Supreme Court decisions (New York Times Co. v. Sullivan and the Pentagon Papers case), and tended to rise as one against any perceived threat to their prerogatives and freedoms.
This advocacy has been sincere, although, if nothing else, journalists should be First Amendment purists out of a sense of self-interest. In a 2018 essay in The Atlantic representing the bygone conventional wisdom, titled “Why a Free Press Matters,” the longtime newscaster Dan Rather noted, “As a working journalist, I know I have a stake in this concept.”
One would think so.
Yet now journalists have lurched from finding a threat to freedom of the press in every criticism of reporters and news outlets by former President Donald Trump to themselves calling for unwelcome media organizations to be shut down.
They’ve become the thing they profess to hate — closed-minded censors who want to stifle free expression, First Amendment be damned.
Perversely, the TV program and email newsletter of the top media analyst at CNN, Brian Stelter, have been clearinghouses for such advocacy, whether it is demands to get right-wingers removed from social media or — more astonishingly — to keep conservative cable networks off the airwaves.
Stelter’s colleague, media reporter Oliver Darcy, tweeted about his effort to get cable companies to answer why they carry pro-Trump channels such Newsmax and One America News Network. “Do they have any second thoughts about distributing these channels given their election denialism content?” he asked on Twitter. “They won’t say.”
In the same vein, Washington Post columnist Max Boot drew a direct line between how we deal with foreign terror groups and how we should treat right-wing media organizations. “We need,” he wrote, “to shut down the influencers who radicalize people and set them on the path toward violence and sedition.”
Boot noted, approvingly, that the U.K. doesn’t have the equivalent of Fox News because regulators won’t allow it. The U.K. also doesn’t have a First Amendment, a small detail that might be worth considering if the point is to protect our freedoms rather than to destroy them in a fit of ideological vengeance.
A writer at the progressive publication Mother Jones argued for an advertiser boycott instead of regulatory action in a post called, charmingly, “It’s Time to Crush Fox News.”
A boycott wouldn’t violate the First Amendment like a direct crackdown on Fox and others. Still, it would be private action undertaken in the service of a profoundly illiberal goal, running counter to the country’s culture of free speech.
All of this would be bad enough if it weren’t people who write and comment on TV for a living advocating it. But journalists have been moving in this direction for a while now, as Armin Rosen catalogues in a disturbing report for Tablet magazine.
The author Steve Coll, who is no less than the dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University, said last December, “Those of us in journalism have to come to terms with the fact that free speech, a principle that we hold sacred, is being weaponized against the principles of journalism.” The former managing editor of Time magazine, Richard Stengel, has written: “All speech is not equal. And where truth cannot drive out lies, we must add new guardrails.”
And so its erstwhile champions are ready to retreat from strict adherence to the First Amendment to a new rule of “free speech for me, but not for thee.”
By giving comfort to China's evil regime, the New York Times is showing its true colors.
The New York Times has a long, sordid history of being in bed with brutal authoritarian regimes. From Walter Duranty praising the goodness of the Soviet Union to the Times’ gentle treatment of Adolf Hitler, the paper of record is always on board with tyranny. The current generation of gatekeepers at the Gray Lady is no exception. In a shocking and sickening article this week, author Li Yuan celebrates Chinese “freedom.”
The article beams about how China has gotten its society back to normal after unleashing a deadly plague on the planet and lying about it. They eat in restaurants, they go to movies, and they are free from fear. They have the freedom to move around, the Times proclaims, assuring us this is the “most basic form of freedom.” Really? Do the 1 million Uighurs currently in concentration camps have “freedom of movement”? They must have been unavailable for comment, as they aren’t mentioned once in this advertisement for the Chinese Communist Party.
It would be one thing if the New York Times were dedicated to offering space for a wide range of opinions, even borderline evil ones such as this absurd article offers. But this is the same newspaper that took down a piece by Sen. Tom Cotton because it suggested using the National Guard to protect cities being burned and looted by leftist radicals. That opinion was a bridge too far, but shilling for a regime that does not allow free speech and forces sterilization is just asking questions.
Freedom from fear. My God. Is this what America has become? Are we ready to take the advice of our nation’s most powerful newspaper and throw away our right to speech, religion, democracy, and family in the sad search for some impossible form of perfect safety? The behavior of many Americans during the lockdowns suggests that some are. The rest of us, those who love liberty, must fight back.
It’s not just the New York Times; take a look at this gem from The Economist.
A “more Chinese-style global industry”? What does that mean? Slave labor? It’s efficient, it lowers prices, and the slaves might well be kept free from disease so they live long productive lives doing exactly what their government tells them to do. This is a warning. Those in power in the media, so wedded to big tech and multinational corporations, seem just fine with a world in which you have no freedom and they use your labor to make billions in the name of safety and freedom from fear.
This is America, God dammit, and the New York Times can go to hell. These people have lectured us for four years about Donald Trump supposedly trampling the norms of American democracy, and now they turn around and tell us we should be more like China? This is much more than a culture war at this point. This is a fight for the very soul of the greatest nation on earth — which, even though the Times doesn’t know it, is the United States, not the People’s Republic of China.
Useful idiocy is reaching new heights. China’s hooks are so deeply embedded in our media that it can’t even call out slavery and concentration camps. Meanwhile, in China, printing even a gentle gibe at Xi Jinping can get you killed. Is that the glorious new form of freedom that our betters want for us? Does the New York Times want the government to tell them what to publish? I honestly don’t know the answer to that at this point.
Let us be clear, the Chinese Communist Party is an evil, repressive, and murderous regime. It is not the future of freedom. It is not setting an example that free people should or will follow. And we won’t. Unlike in China, Americans have 400 million guns, and if our government tries to take the New Times’ advice and crush our freedoms, they will hear them roar. This is a time for choosing. This is a time to stand up and say that our rights come from God, not the government or the New York Times. Stand up, America, before it is too late.
It’s not Trump supporters who are living in a fantasyland, but members of the corporate media who sense their power and influence waning.
With the end of Donald Trump’s presidency fast approaching, we’ve seen a surge of columns and posts asserting that Republicans and Trump supporters have lost touch with reality. After four years of marinating in “falsehoods” and “disinformation”—a term that really just means “information I don’t like”—Trump’s backers are all turned around, we’re told. They believe much that isn’t so.
David Brooks of The New York Times explains that these poor saps, most of whom, he says, are uneducated, uncredentialed people who don’t live in prosperous cities, have retreated to conspiracy theories to explain their misfortune and unhappiness. “People in this precarious state are going to demand stories that will both explain their distrust back to them and also enclose them within a safe community of believers,” he writes. Trump, QAnon, and Alex Jones “rose up to give them those stories and provide that community.”
Over at The New Yorker, editor David Remnick ponders the grave costs of Trump’s “assault on the press and the truth,” asking how many COVID-19 victims “died because they chose to believe the President’s dismissive accounts of the disease rather than what public-health officials were telling the press? Half of Republican voters believe Trump’s charge that the 2020 election was ‘rigged.’ What will be the lasting effects on American democracy of that disinformation campaign?”
These are just representative samples, but across the mainstream commentariat the gist is all the same: if you support Trump, you’re likely a poor person who believes conspiracy theories and is dangerously disconnected from reality, partly because you resent successful people like Messrs. Brooks and Remnick. You live in a fantasyland because it assuages your feelings of inferiority, which are mostly justified. You’re paranoid because you’re powerless, and the alternate reality you’ve constructed for yourself gives you a sense of power and agency in a confusing, unsettled world.
But here’s the thing. Everything these media elites say about Trump supporters can more properly be said about media elites themselves. Who really has been living in a fantasyland these last four years? Is it the ordinary Americans—including a lot of educated, white-collar professionals—who voted for a president they felt would shake up the sclerotic status quo in Washington, or a press corps that perpetuated an actual conspiracy about Trump-Russia collusion for years?
It was Remnick’s New Yorker, after all, that published a serious-seeming essay in September 2018 that claimed Facebook had been weaponized by “Russian agents who wanted to sow political chaos and help Trump win” in the 2016 election—an effort, the author said, that had an “astonishing impact.” Never mind the preposterousness of claiming that a couple hundred thousand dollars in Facebook advertising had an “astonishing impact” on the outcome of the 2016 election, there has never been a shred of evidence that “Russian interference” changed or altered even a single vote in 2016.
A New Yorker staff writer named Evan Osnos wrote that article. Osnos won the National Book Award in 2014 and in 2015 was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He’s won many other prizes and worked all over the world, and, just before the election, published a flattering book about former Vice President Joe Biden. Osnos is the sort of fellow Brooks has in mind when he talks about “professional members” of the “epistemic regime”—the people who know what’s real and tell us so, a job for which they are richly rewarded.
What else has this supposedly enlightened member of the epistemic elite told us? In June, he compared Trump’s White House, which had a temporary fence around it after Black Lives Matter protests turned into riots, to the Zhongnanhai, the seat of China’s communist government in Beijing, where “people are more accustomed than Americans are to the notion of leaders who live and work secluded from the public.”
Earlier that month, Osnos dashed off a post that described—falsely, as it turned out—protests in Lafayette Square on June 1 as “peaceful.” We all know, even if the media refused to report it, that the protesters were not at all peaceful, and in fact were hurling “bricks, frozen water bottles and caustic liquids” at police.
This isn’t really about Osnos, his hackery notwithstanding, but about his professional class—a class that fervently believes much that isn’t so. Despite mountains of evidence to the contrary, members of Osnos’ class still believe that Trump got substantial help from Russia in 2016. They believe, still, that Trump is a dangerous authoritarian who might just destroy the republic. They believe, still, that the only reason tens of millions of Americans would support Trump is that they are racists or rubes, or both.
Osnos and Remnick and the rest of our media elites believe these things for the same reason Brooks thinks Trump supporters are conspiracy theory-addled suckers: they are becoming irrelevant, they are losing power and influence, their status as members of the epistemic regime is uncertain—indeed, their entire regime seems to be collapsing, and they know it.
It’s not too much to say, quoting Brooks, that “people in this precarious state are going to demand stories that will both explain their distrust back to them and also enclose them within a safe community of believers.”
So we will continue to see stories and commentary from the epistemic regime that soothe men like Brooks, Remnick, and Osnos, assuring them all is well, that credulous, mendacious Trump supporters have been put in their place, and that after a harrowing four years, all is once again as it should be.
Let the rule of law prevail
This is a difficult time for Trump supporters. The unofficial, unelected, arrogant news media took it upon themselves to declare Joe Biden the 46th president of the United States, thereby confusing a lot of people by giving them the impression that this election is over.
That is nor true. Nothing official has changed between noon and 6 pm on November 7, 2020. Until the recounts and investigations with their resulting lawsuits have been settled, THERE ARE NO WINNERS OF THE 2020 ELECTIONS. The nominal deadline for the official announcement of the winner is December 14, 2020, when all electors are due to cast their votes. But they will not do so if there are unresolved legal actions pending.
The current federal election procedures carry a whole sequence of delayable dates for the final determination of the election results, ending up on January 6, 2021 before a joint session of Congress. Even then there is a dispute process available. Everything does have to be solved by the Presidential Inauguration date of January 20, 2021.
So, don’t be fooled by the networks, who are trying to hijack the declaration of the victor, presumably to stir up the Biden supporters. The result will be that, when the Trump faction announces their actions — which will delay the official declaration of winner — they will be discredited, discounted, and despised. If the outcome ultimately favors Mr. Trump, the hate campaign of the past 5 years, will be off and running for another term.
Our role is to stand by and let the actions of Rudy Giuliani and his team play out, knowing two things: 1) that this will all take time – possibly as much or more than the 41 days Al Gore used in 2000 before conceding. And 2) there is a true American principle being observed in all this: namely, that the rule of law will prevail. It is the American way of settling disputes, the reason we have such a sophisticated judicial system; the adversaries each bring forth the evidence they have uncovered before the open court and the court ultimately declares the victor.
America does NOT settle its disputes by violence, street protests, rioting or civil war. Those who choose such methods of protest have to be stopped by law enforcement, whether by police or National Guard. As Americans, we have supported this approach throughout the most violent summer since the Civil War. We must respect the ultimate judgement of the courts this time also – no matter the outcome.
The preliminary reports of the Senate and House elections seem to afford some measure of reassurance that, even if the Biden/Harris ticket were ultimately to win, the line of defense against their extreme agenda will be tempered by a Republican Senate and a strengthened Republican presence in the House – with still a chance to take control, depending on the outcomes of some recounts.
All said, our role right now is to relax and let the wheels of justice grind in peace.
The journalism school at Arizona State University caves to student activists.
Walter Cronkite said on receiving a global-governance award in 1999: “I am in a position to speak my mind. And that is what I propose to do.”
Today, those who attend the journalism school named after the famed broadcaster are not so lucky.
The spread of “cancel culture” in newsrooms — declaring people henceforth “canceled” from society owing to ideological disagreements — is nothing new. Look no further than the hysterical reaction to Senator Tom Cotton’s New York Times op-ed urging government to use its authorities under the Insurrection Act to “restore order to our streets” amid riots and looting. Newsroom activists flooded Twitter, objecting to its publication. The opinion editor was forced out. And the Times attached a note at the top of the op-ed (nearly 40 percent as long as the piece itself) apologizing for daring to publish the opinion of a sitting U.S. senator.
It was entertaining that Cotton’s tame commentary provoked such a disproportionate meltdown from those who consider themselves serious journalists. But that this scourge is seeping into local campus newsrooms is deeply worrisome — and seep it has.
The first sign of cancel culture bubbling up at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication involved Sonya Duhé, whom the university named dean this spring. Her tenure was cut short almost instantly after she published a tweet praying for “the good police officers who keep us safe.”
The protest-allied campus revolted against the incoming dean’s “racist” tweet and provoked a former student to accuse Duhé of committing “four years of microaggressions” against her. Other students would come forward to allege that she had made similar “microaggressive comments” to them.
It wasn’t one week before the Cronkite School revoked its offer and pledged to be more “inclusive” moving forward.
Things have only gotten worse — and, now that administrators have gotten used to the sweet taste of cancel culture, it appears that student journalists themselves are on the dinner plate.
When Cronkite News, the news division of Arizona PBS, published a poll following a May looting spree in Scottsdale, progressive students complained that the poll’s language was too friendly toward police officers — so Cronkite News folded to the pressure. It deleted the poll and apologized for causing “divisiveness”: “It was not our intention to downplay the actions of law enforcement.”
When a second young journalist published a Q&A with a former police officer in June, students complained that this exchange also was too friendly. Once again, Cronkite News folded to the pressure. It wiped the Q&A offline and replaced it with an apologetic note pledging to “better serve and represent our communities, especially the black community and other communities of color.”
The list goes on.
The most recent “cancel” target is Rae’Lee Klein, a young journalist at the Cronkite School’s Blaze Radio. After the police-involved shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis., Klein, on her personal Twitter account, linked to a New York Post investigation and wrote: “Please read this article to get the background of Jacob Blake’s warrant. You’ll be quite disgusted.”
Progressive students were apoplectic. The board voted to remove her as station manager, threatened to resign if she did not, and released a statement from “Blaze Radio alumni” condemning her for trying to “dehumanize and insinuate blame on the victims of police violence.”
Luckily, Klein has refused to resign or succumb to this cancel culture flare-up, explaining on-air her decision to push back against “a situation where our opinions and our beliefs are held against us or [are] characteristic of our ability to lead.”
While she plants her feet, other young journalists at ASU understandably are reaching for the escape hatch. In August, two such undergraduates founded The Western Tribune, an “independent student journalism” website, as a home to “the oft unheard voices of our generation.” They won’t be the last.
These campus newsrooms are a means for tomorrow’s leaders to write down, or say out loud, the opinions they’ve been keeping in their minds and to see if those ideas stand up to the scrutiny of the real world. These young ideas rarely do — and the invaluable lesson that students glean from that realization will be lost forever if administrators cut them off at the knees by continuing to appease oversensitive cry-bullies whose antics threaten these vital sandboxes.
If things continue as they do, soon there will be no conservatives left to cancel, and progressive journalists will only be left to cancel themselves like a scorpion stinging itself to death.
And that’s the way it will be.
Two recent pieces in Vox and the New York Times say outright what many of us have long understood is an implicit belief among our elite media: that the media are motivated — and should be motivated — by ideology, not objectivity.
Of course, the ethics guidelines and mission statements of leading outlets have yet to acknowledge this reality, and many still read like paeans to the old gods.
“Our fundamental purpose,” the New York Times cautions its reporters, “is to protect the impartiality and neutrality [of our] reporting.” The Washington Post insists on strict “fairness” and that it “shall not be the ally of any special interest.” We are “unbiased, impartial, and balanced,” declares the Associated Press. “Non-ideological objectivity” is what the Los Angeles Times assures readers it maintains. “Professional impartiality . . . without our opinions,” is the standard declared by National Public Radio.
But if you look at what journalists actually say about each other and their racket behind closed doors, at the champagne-soaked galas where they hand each other prizes, you’re hard-pressed to find an acknowledgment that impartiality or balance are even virtues at all.
The most insider-y of these onanistic lovefests is the annual Mirror Awards, hosted by the prestigious Newhouse School of Public Communications and focused on reporters who cover the journalism industry itself.
One of this year’s nominees for “Best Story on the Future of Journalism,” the Pacific Standard’s Brent Cunningham, perhaps captures the new media zeitgeist most starkly in an article spotlighting reporters who hold the “belief that journalism’s highest calling [is] not some feckless notion of ‘objectivity,’ but rather to . . . expose the many ways the powerful exploit the powerless” and “f*** ’em . . . with the facts.” Indeed.
Reporter Jon Marcus was nominated for a piece in Harvard’s Nieman Reports about reporters who withhold certain facts — say, the name of a mass shooter — in a move that’s come to be called “strategic silence.” While Marcus says it’s a “fraught and complex debate” that “media organizations are struggling with,” he rehearses an Olympian leap of logic from a left-wing activist at Media Matters, who argues that reporters should apply this strategic silence to the leader of the free world, too: The idea is that they should refrain from reporting statements by President Trump that they determine are not “inherently newsworthy” or that they classify as “misinformation.” Say what you will about the man — he probably shouldn’t be covered like a gunman.
Forget about laying out the facts, or airing competing viewpoints, or writing “the first draft of history.” Americans are far too thickheaded for that. Marcus cites another sage who observes that “assuming media literacy . . . may be optimistic.” Yet another one of his sources bemoans journalists who assume that if you merely “throw facts at someone . . . that’s going to change their minds.”
The other nominees for the 2020 Mirrors (19 in all, across six categories) hardly need the encouragement to selectively slant their reportage. The list includes a host of liberal media darlings singing straight from the progressive hymnbook. In the eyes of the Newhouse School, apparently no conservative writers came up with any worthy media criticism in the last year.
Elsewhere The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer, a writer whose leftism is more knee-jerk than a can-can dancer’s, was nominated for an essay called “Trump TV,” which explains that, gee whiz, Fox News tends to support the president. Move over, Bob Woodward.
The Mayer love gets meta, too. Nominated for “Best Profile” is a piece by Molly Langmuir that appeared in the glossy magazine Elle, titled “What’s Next for New Yorker Reporter Jane Mayer?” Here is what the awards committee regards as an exemplar of “hold[ing] a mirror to their own industry for the public’s benefit”: “In person, Mayer, who is petite with brown shoulder-length hair she usually wears down, the tips slightly flipped up, displays a confidence that has no visible fault lines. She also has a tendency toward self-deprecation. And while her mind often seems to whir with seamless elegance, this appears to fuel in her not impatience but curiosity.”
And here’s a detail that didn’t make it in alongside the flipped tips: Mayer was recently excoriated by critics across the ideological spectrum for a baseless and uncorroborated hit piece she co-wrote, the central claims of which were later disavowed by “several dozen” sources contacted by the New York Times.
In an Orwellian flourish, Langmuir explains that to Mayer, the “furor from both the left and right” over the piece was a consequence of her and co-author Ronan Farrow’s own “attempts at carefulness.” Mayer told Langmuir that she had focused on the “‘accountability portion, trying to be fair,’” you see. Plus, Mayer’s certainty on the unsubstantiated accusation she did get into print was “informed by [another] incident Mayer learned about, the one she didn’t get into print.” Got that? The reporting rejected by every other mainstream outlet except The New Yorker was backed up by reporting rejected by every mainstream outlet — including The New Yorker.
If Mayer was at all chastened by the denunciation of her work by her peers, it’s hard to tell. In her most recent piece, “Ivanka Trump and Charles Koch Fuel a Cancel-Culture Clash at Wichita State,” she returned to one of her pet obsessions. Riffing on original reporting in the Wichita Eagle, Mayer deceptively claimed that Koch Industries “threatened to withdraw its financial support for the university” after Ivanka Trump was disinvited from giving a commencement speech. But the source article makes clear that neither Koch Industries nor Charles Koch threatened any such thing. A company spokesperson said explicitly that the company was not pulling funding and in fact stressed its commitment to “academic freedom.”
Maybe Elle ought to hold off on the puff profiles, and Mirror on the awards, until Mayer can master faithfully representing all the facts she finds reported in regional newspapers?
And that isn’t even the biggest coffee-spitter Mirror Awards nominee. That honor would go to David Zurawik of the Baltimore Sun, saluted for his opinion piece applauding MSNBC host and serial prevaricator Brian Williams. “At this moment when journalism and a free flow of reliable information are under continual attack from the Trump administration and its many media allies,” Zurawik proclaimed, “our democracy is made stronger by having Williams . . . at the end of each weeknight to offer perspective on the political and cultural warfare” in our “nation’s civic life.”
But that’s tame stuff compared to the outright agitprop of the nomination for a multipart series jointly published by the Columbia Journalism Review and The Nation, “The Media Are Complacent While the World Burns,” which argued that the press doesn’t spend enough time talking about climate change. Right, and the New York Post ought to devote more ink to a plucky ballclub from the South Bronx called the Yankees. A recent report found that in 2019 the top five U.S. newspapers combined ran between 400 and 800 articles per month that mentioned climate issues. The top seven TV news outlets (ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, NBC, PBS) combined covered climate issues between 200 and 400 times a month.
For the authors of that series, Mark Hertsgaard and Kyle Pope, the sheer volume of this reporting isn’t good enough if it doesn’t send readers to the ramparts. “Instead of sleepwalking us toward disaster,” they insist, “the US news media need to remember their Paul Revere responsibilities — to awaken, inform, and rouse the people to action.”
Let me suggest a different historical analog for Hertsgaard and Pope. It was a former newspaper editor, Vladimir Lenin, who once wrote, “A newspaper is what we most of all need . . . [in] the pressing task of the moment. . . . Never has the need been felt so acutely as today for reinforcing dispersed agitation . . . that can only be conducted with the aid of a periodical press. . . . A newspaper is not only a collective propagandist and a collective agitator, it is also a collective organizer.” That’s why, to turn the sleepwalkers into the fully woke, Lenin created the infamous Department of Agitation and Propaganda, or “agitprop” for short.
For all that they say the quiet parts out loud, most journalists still want to have it both ways. They want the satisfaction of slanting coverage to suit their ideological commitments but without giving up the authoritative veneer of neutral objectivity. This duplicity helps explain why surveys from leading media groups like Pew Research show a fast-growing majority of Americans no longer trust the news.
The Mirror Awards, at least, seem to have sensed which way the winds are blowing and are sailing in that direction. They’ve moved away from their promise that the prizes should “recognize reliable reporters who criticize the media and put their own views aside [to] be transparent and objective” and toward the consensus that the problem is “the media’s reliance on objectivity and what some see as false equivalency,” as Newhouse professor Joel Kaplan puts it.
Objectivity is for suckers. A reporter’s own subjective assessment is what counts, and the public is depending on the media to tell them what to think and how to vote.14
Fine. But treat readers like grownups. Polemic masquerading as unbiased reporting demeans everyone involved, making liars out of the press and treating the public like idiots. So why not end every article with a shirttail stating plainly the reporter’s point of view? The author of this piece is a committed progressive and would like [insert desired political result] to come from the issues raised here.
The Newhouse School could even give the first New York Times or Washington Post reporter to adopt the practice an award for bravery.