Giving Bannon a Platform

Last night, Twitter exploded with opinions about Bannon being uninvited to talk at a New Yorker festival.

I have mixed feelings about all this.

On the one hand, I do blame the media for giving Trump too much of a platform before the election. He shouldn’t have been able to just call into the Today every morning and chat with Matt Lauer before the election.

On the other hand, I want to know what that Rasputin has to say, because I still can’t believe that Trump is president. Bannon is awful. I don’t want him to have a permanent stage to talk, but I want to know more, in order to hate him more effectively.

Semi-off topic… A disturbing number of teenage boys around here are supportive of Trump. These aren’t the kids of coal miners in West Virginia. They are the children of stock brokers attending fancy private schools. They have command-stripped “Don’t Tread on Me” flags over the dorm room beds. We can’t pretend this isn’t happening.

Politics of the Press

Back when I was a professor, a million years ago now, I taught a few sections of Politics and Media. Media and Communications, a subsection with political science, wasn’t one of my specialities in grad school, but I sort of stumbled into it later. I was teaching at a small college, and they needed someone to cover the class. I had also started publishing academic research about the politics of blogs (that is still being cited in other academic research, thank you very much), because I knew a lot about it.

It was a pain in the ass class to teach because the existing textbooks were so massively out of date. It seemed stupid to be using textbooks that talked about Walter Cronkite and evening news patterns, when most of my students were getting their news from online sources, if at all. So, I reworked that damn class three times and still wasn’t happy with my syllabus.

It’s not just the textbooks that are out of date. The industry has changed massively in the past five years. In real life, I am constantly correcting people — even press relations people who should know better — about how things work. In the past few years, things have gotten both more professional — more fact checking — and more amateur — more writers with less experience and less job security —  at the same time.

Megan McArdle had a great post and twitter thread last week about how the industry is going to have to put up paywalls, because it can’t afford to carry on with free content. I subscribed to the WaPo for the first time this month.

And then there’s the whole White House Correspondents’ Dinner drama from this weekend. My twitter stream is still ranting about Michelle Wolf’s jokes about Sarah Huckabee Sanders. I watched it. I was uncomfortable, but I hate all roasts. There’s something horrible about watching someone’s face when they are being publicly mocked. That kind of comedy is not my cup of tea.

The Correspondent Dinner is always a weird affair. The press and politicians should not mingle and be all chummy or be all hate-y either. It’s not cool. There should be a big wall between them. And there should be an emotional detachment from politics, which is different from objectivity. Objectivity is a higher standard and is probably impossible. Detachment is a lower bar and is simply reporting without sentiment. I think we can do that.

But to have a great press, I think that the WHCD is the least of the problems. We have to solve the problems that Megan talks about in her article. We have to figure out how to pay grown-ups to do the writing. Because right now, that’s not happening.

 

The Media and Donald Trump

Last week, there were a small storm on Twitter. Two journalists who criticized Donald Trump were targeted on Twitter by his supporters. I suppose it’s old news, but let me just recap. Julia Ioffe was let go from Politico a week before her contract was up for an inappropriate tweet. The anti-semitic comments on her twitterfeed were truly frightening. Another journalist was set a flashing gif that caused him to have an epileptic fit.

Among journalists, there is a strong fear that the next four years will mean more personal attacks and reprisals against the whole industry. Freedom of the press is in jeopardy.

But at the same time, Donald Trump is good for business. People want to read articles about him. Any articles – positive or negative – about him go to the top of the charts. Those same newspapers and magazines are watching numbers bump up and are making big ticket hires, because they anticipate good business in the next year.

Trump is a master of the media. He knows that his actions gather attention. The whole country has become a reality show with him as the star.

Today’s news is all about the electoral college. What will they do? (Nothing) The last couple of weeks were all about his picks for the cabinet. When have we ever paid such close attention to this process before? (Never)

He has orchestrated the pick process perfectly with people going up in the elevator to his office. It’s drama, dammit. And people love the drama.

Meanwhile, we have the Russian involvement in the election. More drama. And that Kellyann snake doing her evasion magic on the morning news shows.

Politics should not be drama. It’s serious, boring business. How do we make sure that people get health insurance? The details are horribly boring, even though the outcomes are so important. How do we keep people from getting massacred in Aleppo? There aren’t clear answers. Instead, we get a photo-op with Kanye.

It’s the media’s job to not jump at the easy hits and sensational headlines. We have to stop letting Donald Trump use us. And it’s up to the readers to demand facts and figures.

UPDATE: This New York Times story.

The Prince of Lies

The insomnia was pretty fierce last night. So, that meant that I was squinting into my iphone at 3:00 in the morning reading articles about politics. David Remnick’s piece in the New Yorker is long, but excellent.

Hobbled by lack of sleep, I have to prepare for a pasta dinner for the cross country team tonight (should I make homemade meatballs?), wait around for my editor to look at the article that I wrote yesterday, and make a quick run to Old Navy for new pants for Ian who keeps growing and growing.

As I’ve been doing the usual juggling between work and mom responsibilities this week, I’ve had CNN on the background all day. I still feel like we’re in crisis-mode. Like I’m watching the country unravel. I have some hopes that Trump is going to pick some establishment Republicans for his cabinet that will keep the lid on the insanity and keep our basic democratic institutions in place for four years.

But then there’s the Steve Bannon character in the background whispering his ear. He scares the crap out of me.

The proliferation of lies by the alt-right press is disturbing. I saw it a bit of that on my Facebook feed last month. Someone posted a link to some article that claimed that Hillary was running a child prostitute ring that serviced Anthony Weiner and her husband. With Donald Trump as a mouthpiece for the alt-right, will there be any checks on this group?

When did Fox News become a voice of reason? When did Mitt Romney become the savior for normality?

The utter lack of checks on Brietbart, Drudge, and even more disreputable sources is a real problem. We, who work for the mainstream media, have become too cautious, fearful of lawsuits and hobbled by a devotion to truth, to properly counteract them. Sensational stories, like Hillary’s porn ring, have too much power, while Remnick’s TL;DR articles for the New Yorker are ignored.

The truth is important. Call me a cornball, but I do value facts. We need to do a better job of challenging our friends and family who are suckered in by sensational news stories and supporting news organizations that operate with integrity and ethics.  I feel so strongly about the need to buttress the fifth estate that I’m going to keep writing for little money for a news organization that I respect. I’m also going to keep blogging and tweeting, even if I sometimes feel like I’m spitting into the wind.

Advice For Young Journalists

Felix Salmon has some pretty dire news about journalism and the prospects for young journalists.

If all you care about is the great journalism, then, well, go out and find great stories to tell, and tell those stories in a compelling manner. You’ll always be able to find somewhere willing to publish them, even if they pay little or nothing for the privilege of doing so.

On the other hand, if you’re more career-oriented, and want a good chance at a well-paid middle-class lifestyle down the road, I don’t really know what to tell you. Except that the chances of getting there, if you enter the journalism profession today, have probably never been lower.

Ezra Klein says that journalism is still a viable career choice is one works hard and specializes.

Learn things about things. Pretty much everybody in journalism can write. The fact that you can also write probably won’t set you far apart. But not everyone in journalism can understand policy, or interpret the minutes from the Fed’s most recent meeting, or use the C-SPAN archives, or make a good graph. Try to figure out what your particular interests and/or skills are. Then work to make those competitive advantages. Subject area expertise is wildly undervalued in journalism, but it’s what makes the best journalists.

 

It’s Been a Bad Week for Journalism

The UVa story has been retracted. Links here and here.

Red Wedding at the New Republic. Links here and here.

UPDATE: I’m upset about the New Republic. I’m very upset. I need to read interesting things, and this is one more place that will start to give me 8th grade explainer shit. I don’t need any more 8th grade explainer shit.

The people who left are very smart people. Where are they going to go? There are fewer and fewer places that want long form articles about smart stuff.

I’m upset, dammit.

UPDATE2: More from Andrew Sullivan