Bad News—A Review

A review of Bad News: How Woke Media Is Undermining Democracy by Batya Ungar-Sargon. Encounter, 312 pages. (October 2021)

In Bad News: How Woke Media Is Undermining Democracy, Batya Ungar-Sargon, the deputy opinion editor of Newsweek (where, full disclosure, she has published two of my essays), argues that elite left-wing journalists have embraced a race-based view of American inequality and abandoned any sort of class-based analysis. They’ve done this, she explains, because it largely absolves them of having to apologize for their own elite lifestyles. “The fact is,” she writes, “journalism has become a profession of astonishing privilege over the past century, metamorphosing from a blue-collar trade into one of the occupations with the most highly educated workforces in the United States. And along with this status revolution has come the radicalization of the profession on questions of identity, leaving in the dust anything commensurate to a similar concern with economic inequality…”

“What’s interesting about it,” African American filmmaker Eli Steele tells Ungar-Sargon, “is that we’re further away from segregation and slavery than ever before. Racism on almost every metric is lower.” Among a mountain of evidence marshalled in support of this claim, Ungar-Sargon cites an article Rav Arora wrote for Quillette in which he noted that American women of Iranian, Turkish, and Asian descent all out-earn white American males. So why do America’s elite journalists see racism everywhere? Liberal and left-wing journalists and media outlets accuse working class people of racism, says Ungar-Sargon, “not for actual racism, but for things that have increasingly been lumped under the ever expanding category of what counts as racism.” These include opposition to immigration, opposition to affirmative action, and criticism of any black person.

Curiously, many African-Americans, particularly of the working class, wouldn’t fare very well in a study of racial animus. More often than not, she writes, “what they measure is insufficient liberalism on questions of race. For example, to measure the alleged racism of Trump supporters, one study determined people’s racism according to whether they support affirmative action or not, even though over half of black Americans don’t. Can something that splits the black community down the middle really measure racism?” Likewise, she cites a Harvard CAPS-Harris poll which found that 85 percent of black Americans want less immigration. “This shouldn’t surprise us,” she writes, “a 2010 study concluded that when it comes to immigration, ‘no racial or ethnic group has benefited less or been harmed more than the nation’s African-American community.’ Illegal immigration has been tied to a massive decrease in black working-class wages, and up to a 10 percent increase in the mass incarceration of black Americans.”

Opposition to immigration was a mainstream—nay, a left-wing—stance just a few years ago. In 2016, Democratic Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders campaigned for the presidency by denouncing the idea of open borders, deeming it “a Koch Brothers proposal” that “would make everybody in America poorer.” Today, if a member of the white working class were to express such sentiments to a reporter for the Atlantic, the Times, or NPR, he would almost certainly be branded a racist.

Ungar-Sargon reminds us that America once had a vibrant populist press which spoke up on behalf of the working class. The first chapter of Bad News focuses on the way that two crusading newspaper publishers—Benjamin Day and Joseph Pulitzer—created and then expanded the so-called “penny press” in order to illuminate issues and causes near and dear to the poor and the downtrodden, regardless of race. In 1829, when Day arrived in New York City as an itinerant printer, economic inequality was intractable. Four percent of New Yorkers owned half of the city’s assets. The city was full of financially struggling laborers, but “they rarely went on strike, in large part because the press would uniformly condemn such actions and cast them as criminals.”

It was Day’s idea to create a paper that cost only a penny per issue, a price that most working people could afford. With that in mind, he created the New York Sun and filled each issue with stories that the working poor cared deeply about, primarily crime stories. The elites who lived in exclusive neighborhoods didn’t need to worry much about street crime. But poor people had to live with it every day, and so they took a close interest in it. Day’s experiment proved so successful that soon even upscale New Yorkers were reading the Sun, usually in the privacy of their own homes, where no one could catch them at it. “Once he had the attention of the employers as well as the employees,” Ungar-Sargon writes, “Day advocated vigorously for higher wages and shorter working hours. In 1834, he printed in full a manifesto entitled ‘Union Is Power,’ written by a group of girls who went on strike at the Lowell Mill. And when New York’s seamstresses went on strike, they had his full support, too.”

Before the advent of the Sun, one in every 16 New Yorkers bought a paper daily. By 1850, one in every four New Yorkers was buying a daily paper. So, when Joseph Pulitzer—an immigrant from Hungary—arrived in New York City in 1864, he found himself in one of the most literate places on Earth, thanks in part to the proliferation of cheap news. It took him until 1880, but eventually he realized his dream of owning a New York City newspaper. That newspaper, the New York World, was also written for ordinary people. “Pulitzer hated big words and long sentences, the trappings of the educated ‘snobocracy’ and hallmarks of a college education far beyond the means of his readers. … The World exposed the misdeeds of wealthy robber barons like … William H. Vanderbilt, who avoided paying any taxes on his $200 million fortune by claiming he was in debt. Pulitzer covered police brutality and tracked down tainted milk and sausage made of horse meat, going to war against anyone who took advantage of the poor from a position of power.”

Alas, this model of journalism wouldn’t last, and this is where one of the villains of Ungar-Sargon’s story appears: the New York Times. She spends an entire chapter detailing how the Times, since its inception in 1851, has largely eschewed the concerns of common people in order to court deep-pocketed subscribers. The financial model of the Times has always been reliant on selling expensive advertising space to corporations that produce luxury brands. To do this, the Times has had to convince those corporations that its subscribers are, for the most part, much wealthier than the average American.

In 1896, the Times was purchased by Adolph Ochs, whose heirs still control it. In 1930, when Joseph Pulitzer’s sons offered to sell the New York World to Ochs at a bargain-basement rate, he demurred. “It was important,” Ungar-Sargon notes, “for Ochs to make sure the right people were purchasing the Times; but it was even more important to make sure the wrong people were not reading it. Getting high-class advertisers to pay for space in the New York Times depended on reassuring them that not a dime of their fee would be wasted on the eyeballs of someone who might enjoy Pulitzer’s World.”

Another villain in Ungar-Sargon’s tale is Walter Lippmann (1889–1974), a Harvard-educated journalist and media critic who deplored the fact that so many of the professional journalists of his day lacked an elite education. He called these reporters “accidental witnesses” to the events of the world and complained that they were men of “small caliber,” who couldn’t be trusted to report the truth. He wanted only highly educated men to cover the news, and he wanted to make a degree in journalism from an elite institution a “necessary condition for the practice of reporting.” Lippmann, Ungar-Sargon writes, “would soon get his wish. Today, 92 percent of journalists are college educated, thanks to an extreme class chasm that has opened in America. And yet it would be a mistake to view this in the context of journalistic ethics. While the labor of distinguishing truth from fiction is a crucial part of the job of a journalist, there is absolutely no evidence that having a college degree makes one better at this…”

Ungar-Sargon cites a study from the 1930s showing that only about 40 percent of American journalists at that time possessed a college degree, and nearly 10 percent of journalists hadn’t even attended high school. She supplies a quote from Richard Harwood, a long-time reporter for the Washington Post: “In the early times, we were not only describing the life of normal people, we were participating in it. Most of the reporters came from the lower middle class, which is where the readers and most of the subjects came from too. We were more or less on the same level with the people we dealt with. We lived in the same neighborhood. Reporters regarded themselves as working class.” Ironically, the quote comes from a book by Atlantic journalist James Fallows, who these days travels the country in his own private plane in order to write about how ordinary working folk live. The days when reporters were mostly just working-class drudges themselves are long gone.

As radio, and then television, made journalism a trade that could bring national recognition to its practitioners, it began to attract a more affluent and educated workforce. “But,” writes Ungar-Sargon, “the thing that really jump-started the status revolution in journalism was the Watergate scandal, and—just as importantly—its treatment in the Hollywood film All the President’s Men. The movie suddenly made journalism seem like a very glamorous endeavor, at its peak a David and Goliath tale where plucky sexpots, played by Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, could bring down the most powerful—and most unpopular—man on the planet. … It created a feedback loop where better educated people became reporters, and demanded more money, whereupon even more educated people applied.”

Since then, journalists have become an elite caste. Almost all of them have at least a bachelor’s degree, whereas only about a third of Americans do. “Back in the day, Ungar-Sargon writes, “when national media outlets were dwarfed by the number of local television and radio stations, papers, and magazines, you could count on a sizable number of journalists to still be living in smaller American cities, some of them attending church and synagogue alongside their readers, viewers, and listeners. Not so today.” She writes that 73 percent of today’s internet publishing jobs are in places that voted for Hilary Clinton for president in 2016. “Those digital media jobs,” she remarks, “located in the most expensive cities in America, pay entry-level wages of $35,000–$40,000 a year. Because that’s not a living wage in these cities, more often than not, someone else is paying the rent for these young journalists. In other words, journalism is now a rich kid’s job.”

Whereas the Times used to boast about how exclusive its readership was, it now boasts about how exclusive its newsroom is. Theodore Kim, the man in charge of newsroom internships and fellowships there, boasted in a (since deleted) tweet a few years ago that he drew his interns and fellows mostly from just four universities: Columbia, Northwestern, Yale, and UC Berkeley. “In listing these schools that ‘churn out’ the ‘most consistently productive candidates,’ Kim said the quiet part out loud: He, as the gatekeeper to the internship program at the New York Times—the most desirable pathway to success in an ever more competitive field—was admitting that unless you come from the kind of background that can pay $70,000 for a vanity degree, you need not apply,” writes Ungar-Sargon (who holds a doctorate from UC Berkeley).

When I was growing up, NBC newsman Chet Huntley was among the nation’s elite journalists. His slender memoir, The Generous Years, published in 1968 towards the end of his career, describes his family’s hardscrabble life on a vast and unpromising stretch of Montana range land early in the 20th century. “One of my first childhood chores,” he wrote, “was to take a team and the wagon, drive through the range land, and return with tremendous loads of what we called ‘cow chips.’” Without those chips, they’d have had nothing to burn in the wood stove. In 2013, Buzz Bissinger (real name Harry Gerard Bissinger III, educated at Philips Academy Andover, UPenn), wrote a 6,700-word essay for GQ about why he spent $638,412.97 on designer clothing over the course of two years.

New York Times columnist and co-founder of Vox, Ezra Klein, is a minor villain in Bad News. “If you’ve never heard of Vox,” writes Ungar-Sargon, “that’s probably because it’s not for you; from its inception, the site had a very specific audience in mind: young, affluent, and highly educated. … Vox’s trademark style would be a cheeky, barely concealed smugness that flatters its readers into believing that by reading the website—which, not coincidentally, would sustain all of the liberal opinions that young, affluent, educated people already hold—they can rest assured that they are among the ranks of the correct, the informed, rather than one of the stupids.” Klein and his wife, Atlantic reporter Annie Lowrey, both write frequently about the poor and the working class without evincing much understanding of either. Lowrey was one of the first elite journalists to produce an article defending the activist slogan, “Defund The Police”—a position few poor and working-class people actually support. As Ungar-Sargon notes, “[T]he abandonment of objectivity in favor of a woke moral panic isn’t really about representing black people but about pandering to white readers. It is they who are clicking on stories calling for defunding the police—a view rejected by 81 percent of black respondents in a Gallup poll.”

At the New York Times, the problem worsened during the great recession. As Ungar-Sargon writes:

Between 2008 and 2015, there were a series of buyouts at the paper, sometimes leading to hundreds of reporters at a time leaving or retiring. These reductions disproportionately cleared out senior ranks of reporters who had a more traditional view of journalism, in which a big part of the mandate, the meaning, and the fun of being a journalist was exposing yourself and your readers to other cultures and other people, and helping others to understand them. In the buyouts, these reporters were replaced by a younger generation of digital natives, some journalists, some in ancillary digital roles, who were educated at elite institutions and viewed their roles less as understanding their subjects and more as sitting in judgment over those they disagreed with.

At a 2019 meeting, one of the paper’s young reporters asked its executive editor, Dean Baquet, “I’m wondering to what extent you think that the fact of racism and white supremacy being sort of the foundation of this country should play into our reporting. Just because it feels to me like it should be a starting point, you know? Like these conversations about what is racist, what isn’t racist. I just feel like racism is everything. It should be considered in our science reporting, in our culture reporting, in our national reporting.” Needless to say, Baquet heartily agreed with this sentiment, and Ungar-Sargon’s book provides a graph which charts the recent exponential proliferation of the words “racist” and “racism” in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the New York Post, and on National Public Radio. Another graph illustrates a similar recent increase in references to the pre-Civil War slave trade in those same media venues, despite the fact that said trade ended about 170 years ago.

So, where did all this come from? Ungar-Sargon contends that it started in academia, and spends a chapter describing how American universities, beginning about five decades ago, underwent “a shift away from facts and grand narratives and toward relativism.” It took several decades for this new trend to take hold of American journalism. First, all of the older journalists, who took up the trade prior to the Vietnam War era, had to die or retire. Then, major journalistic venues such as the Times and the Post had to hire only those journalists who had been educated at expensive, elite universities. After that, according to Ungar-Sargon, “All roads led to a culture war around race.”

Just as New York newspapers of the early 19th century generally ignored street crime because it didn’t much interest their upscale readers, today’s progressive media largely ignore black-on-black crime, because it doesn’t interest theirs. In Bad News, Ungar-Sargon quotes journalist Zaid Jilani, who points out that massive amounts of blood were shed in black neighborhoods across America in the summer of 2020, but this was largely ignored by the left-wing media because it was caused by other black Americans not by violent white police officers.

Only about seven or eight percent of the people who get their news from the Times or NPR lack any college education at all, and this is by design. Media venues like to show their advertisers just how wealthy and educated their content consumers are. New York magazine boasts to its advertisers that it has 2,224,000 “affluent magazine readers monthly.” Likewise, Ungar-Sargon writes, “The Wall Street Journal reports in its media kit that four out of five readers have a bachelor’s degree or higher, and half are affluent, meaning they own liquid assets of $1 million or more. In a now-deleted media kit, the New York Times boasted a print readership who were ‘elite,’ ‘affluent,’ and ‘influential’; more likely to be millionaires, C-suite executives, or business decision makers than ‘the average affluent adult’; and claimed a median household income of $191,000, with digital readers coming in at $96,000.”

With the Times and its ilk focusing so much attention on wooing the wealthy, middle- and working-class Americans were left largely unrepresented. Into this vacuum stepped Rupert Murdoch and his minions. Alas, Murdoch is no Joseph Pulitzer. “With a captive working-class audience,” writes Ungar-Sargon, “Fox News could have created a real political constituency, one that demanded dignity in exchange for hard work and insisted that the downward mobility so many Americans face today is unacceptable. As we know, this did not happen. The channel went all in on the culture wars, abandoning the working-class’s economic interests entirely to unite rich and poor conservative Americans around the cultural front without threatening the status of its rich viewership.”

But half a loaf is better than what the liberal press has been offering working-class media consumers. As Ungar-Sargon puts it, “[I]f the working class in America is an amalgam of cultural and economic factors, the liberal media has abandoned both sides of this equation, while conservative media delivers on one of them; at least Fox News doesn’t sneer at working-class values while abandoning working-class viewers economically.”

It’s easy to understand why an upwardly mobile class of journalists might prefer to focus on race and gender issues rather than on the woes of the working class. What’s odd is that this even seems to trump solidarity with their own class of elite laborers. When Andrew Sullivan was run out of New York magazine for his heterodox views, none of his fellow writers stood up for him. In February of 2021, Donald McNeil, a longtime science reporter for the Times, was pressured to resign after it was discovered that, two years earlier, he had used a racial slur in a neutral way during a casual discussion about said slur. When McNeil took to Medium to write his side of the story, the Times covered it with a headline that read: “Ex-Times Reporter Who Used Racial Slur Publishes a Lengthy Defense.” That’s a rather cold description of a 45-year former colleague who had earned numerous awards for his reporting.

But Ungar-Sargon reminds us that McNeil was not only backstabbed by his former employer but also by the labor union whose job it was to defend him:

Instead of fighting for McNeil’s job, the NewsGuild observed that “there’s never a moment when harmful racist rhetoric is acceptable.” “We are not defense attorneys,” a Times reporter active in the union wrote on Twitter. … The Washington Free Beacon, reporting on the role the union played—or rather, failed to play—in saving McNeil’s job, noted how many Times staffers come from wealthy backgrounds and how few actually rely on the job security the union provides, and aptly concluded that “defending workers has given way to defenestrating them, especially when they violate the taboos of well-to-do progressives.” It wasn’t just a culture war anymore between antiracist woke-sters and what was left of old-school journalists committed to objectivity; it was a class war between highly educated young elites and their older, middle-class colleagues who offended their woke sensibilities and thus, they thought, deserved to be let go.

In Bad News, Ungar-Sargon cites various journalists who date the current moral panic to roughly the middle of the Obama presidency, when it became clear that having a black man in the White House wasn’t going to be quite the panacea progressives hoped. Conor Friedersdorf, a reporter for the Atlantic, dates the “Great Awokening” to about 2014. He tells Ungar-Sargon, “I started writing about what people now call wokeness at least as early as 2014. It seemed to me that there was some new moral thing in the air that I did not recognize from when I was in college. I didn’t yet see it in journalism, at least not like it’s there today.” To Friedersdorf’s credit, when an outcry among the staff of the Atlantic led editor Jeffrey Goldberg to rescind a job offer he’d made to firebrand conservative writer Kevin Williamson, he objected publicly, and in the pages of the Atlantic itself.

But 2014 now seems like a long-gone era in American journalism. “Back in 2014,” writes Ungar-Sargon, “journalists were able to cover wokeness because it hadn’t yet become their own ideology.” Not any more. Thomas Chatterton Williams, a journalist who also dates the Great Awokening to the second Obama term, told Ungar-Sargon, “That’s when the idea that white supremacy is hard wired into the DNA of America began to be popularized by writers like Ta-Nehisi Coates. … I’m convinced part of why [it is happening] now is because things are better than they’ve ever been. You don’t get this level of complaint until much more fundamental concerns and obstacles have been taken care of.”

Ungar-Sargon cites the work of political scientist Zach Goldberg, who found that, from 2012 to 2016, “media outlets like the Times, the Huffington Post, and BuzzFeed began covering topics like white privilege, social justice, and institutional racism with exponential regularity…” This increase began right when the New York Times erected an online paywall to keep non-subscribers from reading its articles—a move sure to keep out lower-income readers. This meant that the Times, now more than ever, had to tailor its pages to a more educated, more affluent readership—exactly the kind of people likely to get excited by articles on intersectionality and systemic racism. “Goldberg further found that between 2013 and 2019, the frequency of words like ‘white’ and ‘racial privilege’ grew by an astonishing 1,200 percent in the Times, and by 1,500 percent in the Washington Post. The term ‘white supremacy’ was used fewer than seventy-five times in 2010 in the Washington Post and the New York Times, but over seven hundred times in 2020 alone; at NPR it was used 2,400 times,” or roughly 200 times per month!

The situation became much worse when Donald Trump entered the political arena. Executives at CBS, MSNBC, CNN, the New York Times, and elsewhere realized that Trump was a veritable goldmine. Once upon a time, the newsrooms and advertising departments at most media outlets maintained at least a semblance of independence from each other. But Trump’s ascent made young journalists at elite outlets want to do nothing but publish negative stories about him all day long. And this was exactly what the advertising department wanted as well, because the name Trump in an online headline pretty much guaranteed millions of clicks. “With the incentives so aligned,” writes Ungar-Sargon, “there wasn’t even really a need to break down whatever was left of the wall between advertising and editorial; it happened on its own. … It can both be the case—indeed, it is both the case—that Trump made a lot of very real mistakes as a candidate and president and that the media’s obsession with him went beyond all proportion due to an unignorable profit motive. … Trump drove sales, so Trump drove editorial.”

She notes that if you type “Trump” and “Russia” into their search engines, the Times’s website will return over 15,000 results and the Post’s website will bring up more than 27,000, despite the fact that the Mueller investigation turned up no hard evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. If you enter the phrases “opioid crisis” or “homelessness” or “income inequality” into the search engines of the Times or the Post, you’ll get a tiny fraction of the number of hits that “Trump” and “Russia” bring up. Elite journalists leaned into Trump’s alleged (and actual) wrongdoings because it gave them an excuse to focus on him and not on the problems of the white working class, whom they have largely abandoned.

Bad News is a valuable and timely book, but it isn’t without its faults. While Ungar-Sargon condemns progressive journalists for embracing sketchy evidence that Trump’s support was driven largely by racism, she mostly ignores rightwing journalists—like alleged serial fabulist Salena Zito—who have used sketchy evidence to argue that many of Trump’s voters were merely disenchanted former Democrats worried about trade and justifiably fed up with elite condescension. This may be true in some cases, but in Zito’s sympathetic dispatches from Trump country, the former Democrats often turned out to be Republican Party insiders. Some were also prone to conspiracist and inflammatory views which Zito tactfully omitted from the quotes she attributed to them, since they complicated her argument that these were simply noble people misunderstood by arrogant elites. That Trump had a deranging effect on progressive and liberal media outlets and journalists is beyond dispute at this point; that he had a deranging effect on his elite supporters is less remarked upon in polemics like Ungar-Sargon’s. (Zito, it should be noted, has vehemently denied any wrongdoing.)

The subtitle to Ungar-Sargon’s book mentions “woke media,” which probably explains why she largely ignores the sins of right-wing journalism. Being left-of-center herself, her book is probably intended part as a family squabble with other left-wingers. But surely at least some of the “anti-racism” that pervades contemporary journalism arose as a response to right-wing media race-baiting, from figures like Rush Limbaugh, to whom Trump awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Back in 2007, Limbaugh liked to regale his millions of listeners with a song entitled “Barack the Magic Negro.” The same year, radio shock-jock Don Imus referred to the mostly-black Rutgers women’s basketball team as a bunch of “nappy-headed hoes.” Around the same time, many in right-wing journalism began to emphasize Obama’s middle name, Hussein, whenever they mentioned him, despite the fact that Obama himself didn’t use it.

Left unconsidered by Ungar-Sargon is the possibility that the racist response Obama’s campaign elicited from some prominent media conservatives is at least partly to blame for the illiberal Left’s current obsession with race. A journalist who graduated from college during that time might well have felt honor-bound to go on the offensive against things so … well, offensive. Many of the trends Ungar-Sargon identifies certainly deserve the scorn she heaps upon them. But polarization has produced corresponding problems of bias, hyperbole, and motivated reasoning in right-wing media ecosystems which are not examined. As a result, her critique of the lamentable state of contemporary media is necessarily incomplete.

A bigger problem with Bad News is that its thesis—that left-wing journalists have allowed themselves to be swept up in a moral panic over race and that this has caused them to almost entirely abandon class-based criticisms of American society—is really only half-true. Ungar-Sargon’s book is an excellent summary of how an obsession with postmodern doctrines of anti-racism has caused left-wing journalism to become a wholly unreliable source of information about the current, rapidly improving, state of race relations in America. But she’s far less effective at convincing the reader that prominent liberal venues such as the New York Times and the Atlantic have abandoned class issues. Annie Lowrey, among the wokest of woke journalists, writes regularly about class issues for the Atlantic. She is also the author of a book entitled Give People Money that forcefully argues for the implementation of a universal basic income.

Ungar-Sargon is right that the current moral panic over race distracts many journalists from much more serious stories. But she’s wrong when she writes that “the liberal mainstream news media has [sic] actively excluded the working class—even the idea of being working class—from its pages.” She’s also wrong when she writes that “Labor coverage, which used to be robust” has nearly vanished from mainstream journalism. I recently spent two fairly enjoyable years working at an Amazon warehouse, and I lost track of the number of times well-meaning friends contacted me to see if I was okay after they had seen yet another piece in the New York Times about how horrible the working conditions at these “sweatshops” are. The mainstream press’s coverage of working-class lives is often muddle-headed, sentimental, and occasionally downright wrong, which is a good reason to employ more writers from these backgrounds who know what they are talking about. But there is still plenty of it.

We should do what we can to end the current moral panic over race, not because it distracts us from a more important battle over class, but because moral panics are bad for us in their own right. But they can be difficult to resist because they provide the allure of engagement in righteous conflict which requires very little in the way of personal sacrifice, but contributes massively to societal discord. As Ungar-Sargon writes in one of her book's many perceptive passages: “When you define racism as an omnipresent white-supremacist framework baked into the heart of our nation that can never be solved or extracted, you give people a culture war they can hammer away at forever, a perpetual cudgel against those who disagree with them, even if those who disagree with them are less affluent and less fortunate—the losers of the economic and culture war.”


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://quillette.com/2021/10/25/bad-news-a-review/

Yet another great article by Kevin Mims. It echoes many of the observations made by veteran British journalist and commentator Mike Graham (@Iromg on Twitter and who presents The Independent Republic of Mike Graham on Talkradio on YouTube). I have heard him talk about his early days of journalism, when talent school leavers who didn’t even have ‘A’ levels would be subjected to a form of craft-based apprenticeship within local newspapers, with the best scooped up to the nationals, like sportsmen ascending to the premier leagues.

He also mentioned a historic job swap where tabloid journalists traded places for a short period with writers from more prestige newspapers like the Guardian- the tabloid journalists took to the broadsheets like ducks to water and were able to fill column inches with ease, but ask a more prestige writer to condense down a story to five or six hundred word, to only the bare facts, and they were at a loss.

Probably the best central hub I’ve seen in recent times which raises class issues is Breaking Points, with Krystal Ball and Saagar Enjeti. They are available for free on YouTube, but also have a Substack and can be accessed through Apple Podcasts. They tend to target a millennial audience and consistently outperform CNN in terms of viewership, and whilst I may not always agree with their political viewpoints, what I really value is the fact that they cover stories completely ignored by the corporate media.

They regularly profile interesting writers like the aforementioned Zaid Jilani and Jonah Furman, who also writes at the Intercept and various other outlets, and covers labor issues. He has recently been covering the John Deere strike and the ongoing Kellogg’s labor dispute. Another regular features guest in Matt Stoller, who covers American monopolies with his Substack BIG.

But by far the most significant case Breaking Points have covered recently is that of environmental lawyer Steven Danziger. For those unfamiliar with the case, he won a landmark victory against Oil Giant Chevron for $9.5 billion representing the interests of indigenous people and farmers in Ecuador, for Chevron’s role in contaminating the Lago Agrio region of Ecuador. The case was subsequently upheld by 28 appellate judges in multiple countries and jurisdictions.

Chevron did not take the judgement lying down. They swiftly moved their assets out of Ecuador. They subsequently created a publication to discredit Danziger and hired a team of hundreds of lawyers spanning over 60 firms to investigate him. The tactic paid off. Chevron filed a RICO suit in New York. Based largely on the testimony of one witness, an Ecuadorian Judge Alberta Guerra, who had been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars, was moved to the US with his family and received a stipend 20 times his former salary. He later recanted and admitted he had lied. Regardless, the judge in the case, a Judge Lewis Kaplan, was dismissive of the new evidence, claiming his court “would have reached precisely the same result in this case even without the testimony of Alberto Guerra.”

But the most extraordinary episode of this saga is yet to come. After Danziger failed to turn over laptops and other documents to Chevrons, on the basis that it might violate and harm the interests of his clients, Judge Kaplan held him in contempt for his failure to comply with what many might deem an unreasonable demand. When public prosecutors declined to prosecute, Judge Kaplan made the unprecedented move of appointing a private law firm to prosecute the case. Stephen Danziger has subsequently been under house arrest for 787 days, and when a ‘panel of human rights experts commissioned by the United Nations said on September 30 that Donziger’s house arrest violated international civil rights laws and recommended his release’ the case finally moved forward, culminating with six month sentence for contempt of court. A curious result for what began as a civil case.

The whole story has even been the subject of Hollywood Interest. The 2009 documentary Crude followed the story. In 2016 The Hollywood Reporter disclosed that documentary filmmaker Bill Guttentag was directing Rumble in the Jungle a film sympathetic to Donziger, whilst Brad Pitt’s production company Plan B had acquired the right to Law of the Jungle by Paul Barrett, a book highly critical of Donziger. In a final note, dozens of legal organizations around the world representing more than 500,000 lawyers along with over 200 individual lawyers have submitted a judicial complaint against Judge Kaplan.

Regardless of what one might think about the case of Steven Danziger- whether one intellectually is drawn to side with Chevron or Donziger, the is little doubt that this is huge story which would have been covered in detail by a frenzy of media and press. Yet the corporate media is silent. Fox covered the story only in passing- with one reference to Paul Barrett’s book a few year ago. I was unable to find a single listing for CNN or MSNBC. The press has been somewhat more laudable with The Guardian, Forbes and Reuters all covering the story, as well as a slew of independent Left press sources, but one has to wonder, where are the privileged wealthy progressives who inhabit the lofty New York Times and other prestige American publications which Kevin Mims writes about in his Quillette Bad News article?

Could it be that the ESG credentialism of woke capitalism is only a PR patina, that the woke virtues of those who peddle the more superficial aspects of identity politics at the New York Times be more than a little jaded. Writing for Medium, Karen Hinton certainly thinks so. One wouldn’t want to annoy the sponsors with anyone remotely resembling real news. To their credit, The New York Times did cover the story back in 2013, but that was before the wave of woke capitalism took over. These days we get stories like this:

This should have been major news. In previous eras of journalism it would have been. Perhaps we’ve lost more than we bargained for with what was once a blue collar apprenticeship for the lower middle classes, turning into prestige career for those fortunate enough to attend elite four year universities.

As usual, my essays are available on my Substack, which is free to view and comment:

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While I appreciate Kevin’s summary and critique of Ungar-Sargon’s book, it feels in analytical terms bit like someone doing a crit on an airport novel, or perhaps a TV drama series, or a gossip columnists memoir, where the color and movement are everything, but the underlying forces that are driving the characters and their situation are never revealed, because it is the drama and the action that captures audience interest and sells the product.

There is more to the sinking of America Inc than the movement of deck chairs on its ominously sloping deck, as it were.

The place is disintegrating, and has been since the Vietnam war, except that the awful facts have only started to appear as starkly as they now are because the white anteing has done its work and the place is actually starting to crumble, as the post WW2 democratic consensus falls to bits…and it becomes obvious that the economic growth in recent decades has seen the main organs, sinews and muscle of capitalist over production and consumption move to Asia and the replacement tertiary suites in the old industrial heartlands built around a services culture, have turned out to be mainly economic blubber, like Elvis on steroids, where color and movement is all there is, and the biggest industries are there to dress it up to make the sclerotic obesity look normal, using the biggest, most over leveraged and under secured fantasy production system ever assembled, whose gigantic size dwarfs the propaganda institutions run by the redoubtable Joseph Goebbels, by many orders of magnitude…of which the press is a modest and sagging component, along with the rest of it.

Nobody needs to take this particular view seriously per se, but merely to note that what is going on isn’t just a institutional glitch in the organism, as in various perverse trends in the media. At best the rather bizarre and quaint behavior going on inside its portals is little more than the crust on a pile of shit that is about to be flushed down the toilet of history…maybe not tomorrow or the next day, but coming to a town near you soon enough.

The coming conflab in Glasgow isn’t some casual get together to talk about the weather, so much as a desperate last stand to rescue something from the shambles caused by 50-70 years of inaction and delusional obfuscation, as a result of chronic overproduction and consumption using an accounting system that treats the environment as an ‘externality’, so they never noticed how in the red they really were or are. Climate is just one of numerous indicators of ecological collapse.

And the same thing is happening across all the other platforms of life from governance to bureaucratic and private social administration to political life.

We need to join the dots. The dysfunctionalities within the media are part of the tip of the iceberg. They are at best emblematic of far deeper and more profound problems. And if we concentrate only on the visible crust of our institutions and way of life, we cannot even begin to see the real depth of our problems, let alone figure out a realistic plan.

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I think that it is important to understand that universities down the ages have primarily been seminaries to indoctrinate young men destined to be priests in the regime’s church. (Or in the case of Harvard and Yale to be priests in the various Protestant churches).

Now, Nietzsche wrote in The Genealogy of Morals that the priests are the most appalling haters. So we shouldn’t be surprised that our modern seminaries are graduating whole bishoprics of hater secular priests. And if the generality of mankind were not evil and in need of serious correction, who would need the priests?

Now Curtis Yarvin writes, following Nazi Carl Schmitt, that “there is no politics without an enemy.” Without an enemy there is no need for government to make war, and no need for politicians to salt the fields with loot and plunder.

The whole point of systemic racism is that without it, there is no need for politicians to gin up new programs of race-based loot and plunder and leak enticing news stories to elite journalists who can enjoy their priestly duties and rail against sinners from their media pulpits.

Really, what’s not to like?

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Maybe we shouldn’t be too sure how we define ‘class issues’. I don’t believe that Marx would have favored UBI. He would have suspected that it would encourage the Lumpenproletariat, and perhaps supported artists with bourgeois tastes.

I say that, for the elites who work for the Times, those are exactly the kinds of people they want to buy off, and delude away from their true class interests. The agenda of the Times is the protection of the interests of the elites, while throwing a few scraps to the crowd.

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Chris, the neo-clericalist cult that you are describing shows all the hallmarks of the same kind of epochal change that the Reformation heralded when the Medieval world broke up and the modern one started to assert itself. It cost 150 years of intermittent wars of toleration that were as devastating and bitter as the world wars several centuries later.

I have been reading some very obscure tracts about British universities at the beginning of the reign of Henry VIII, as the ideas of Zwingli and Luther cruised onto campus, and it was very nasty, with considerable student violence, murders and exile. Oxford was Papist and Cambridge was protestant and it was not good if one were caught on the wrong side, as everyone was playing for keeps…

We have all this to look forward to…as the modern world starts to disaggregate and cantonize, in probably much the same way that the Soviet Union did, with all the violence, disorder and bizarre fruitcakery you might expect.

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An excellent review. I need to run out and read this book.

I was largely unaware of how crude and offensive Limbaugh and Imus had become by the time of the Obama candidacy in 2007. But that’s not an accident. Like many others who had listened to Rush in the 1990s (without agreeing with him), I had long stopped listening to him by 2007. The last two years of the Little Bush presidency had plainly reduced both to desperation. (BTW whoever on here wrote that Imus isn’t right-wing is correct; he’s not.)

What Mims wrote about the disappointment of the Obama presidency to the reawakening zombies of the far left is exactly right. Obama’s desperate need to push the “race” button in 2012 to get out the black vote contributed to this. But look at the other side too. The failure of the Tea Party and the defeat of Romney in 2012 marked the end of conventional conservatism. After that, a new, cruder, more populist and in-your-face approach emerged, first evidenced by the takeover of Breitbart by Bannon and friends.

It’s not true that Fox ignores economic or class issues. But its approach is very different from that of liberals and the left. It emphasizes the negative effects of globalization and illegal immigration, as well as the current heavy political bias in favor of tech and health care industries, against the older industrial and extractive industries. It does ask some pertinent questions, like why does everyone need to go to college. Skilled trades labor has been doing very well the last 20 years in the US. This is taking the other side of the brainwork-handiwork divide. Those of us in the hoity-toity college-educated elite stare in disbelief.

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to c.d.e – those words sound very wordy, and very whatever. But in fact I dare say this is exactly it! We are in a strange phase of the theological discourse, in which that side doesn;t admit it is 'theological;. But we are in a clash of theologies, as the West has not been in a few centuries.

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Apparently wokism maps on pretty well to puritanism if you look at a map of America.

As in, the places that were once the most puritan, are now the most woke. Liberal arts colleges in New England, for example. Yale, Harvard, etc.

So some people have argued that Wokism is a new Protestant sect.

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The system wouldn’t let me delete this post

All the heresy sniffing conformity that Karl Popper saw in ‘oracular’ communism; you know, the inevitably irreversible forces and predetermined course of Historical Progress, the retrospectively conjured correctness of the Party Line, and a plague of turgid jargon encrusted ideological gobbledygook and comfortably ensconced regime apparatchiks (plus their enforcers) has been carefully reframed, updated and crafted for the twenty-first century.

I give you the even more antediluvian and reactionary neo-clerical reincarnation of the church ascendancy that the Enlightenment so rudely interrupted in the eighteenth century…The Way of the Woke…Enjoy…

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Two years ago when Quillette ran

I had the feeling that we were already beginning to watch a replay of the church’s resistance to Galileo, with the new Woke religion defending itself by clining to impossible fictions, and calling everybody else heretics. I don’t think it makes a difference whether Woke is some new Protestantism, or a hypercatholicism.

But your observation is correct, that geographically it maps to New England Puritanism.

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Just as I was rolling my eyes at the absurdity of the notion that wokeness only got started in 2014, the author went and confirmed his error by writing this:

The subtitle to Ungar-Sargon’s book mentions “woke media,” which probably explains why she largely ignores the sins of right-wing journalism. Being left-of-center herself, her book is probably intended part as a family squabble with other left-wingers. But surely at least some of the “anti-racism” that pervades contemporary journalism arose as a response to right-wing media race-baiting, from figures like Rush Limbaugh, to whom Trump awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Back in 2007, Limbaugh liked to regale his millions of listeners with a song entitled “Barack the Magic Negro.” The same year, radio shock-jock Don Imus referred to the mostly-black Rutgers women’s basketball team as a bunch of “nappy-headed hoes.” Around the same time, many in right-wing journalism began to emphasize Obama’s middle name, Hussein, whenever they mentioned him, despite the fact that Obama himself didn’t use it.

No one outside the Left who was politically aware during the 2008 presidential campaign thinks that wokeness didn’t start until 2014 because we all remember the absurd extent to which the Democrats of that era declared that one could not possibly criticize Barack Obama in any way without being racist. That was wokeness in all its glory, and it was around in 2007. “Barack the Magic Negro” was an entirely appropriate criticism of the racism with which Democrats promoted candidate Obama. It was not racist to call that out. References to Obama’s middle name were not racist either, but rather criticism of his radical departure from much of America’s views with regard to the Middle East. At the time, Obama promised to completely withdraw from both Iraq and Afghanistan on day 1 of his presidency, a position which could quite fairly be described as excessively friendly to radical Islam. As a reminder, Islam is an ideology, not a race!

As for Don Imus, he was not “right-wing media” at all. But he was canceled, which again supports the thesis that wokeness existed prior to 2014. That Mims decided to include him in this list underscores how weak his argument regarding “right-wing media being racist” actually is.

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Ah, so you’re a right-wing partisan. I suspected as much, but it’s good to see it confirmed.

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@claire You’re channeling Michael Lind’s arguments. Go see on The Spectator and Tablet.

The urtext, the Rosetta stone, of America’s regional cultures, is David Hackett Fischer’s Albion’s Seed. It’s all there. No one who reads it thoroughly will be surprised.

P.S. I would also check out Kevin Philips’ The Cousins’ Wars, an interpretation of an important thread of Anglo-American history that draws of Fischer, but also adds its own original arguments and evidence. His interpretation of modern events is a little weird, but his history is sound.

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It is true that the Obama personality cult prefigured what we call Woke, which properly didn’t appear until 2013 or 2014. We cannot forget the devastating effect of the developing financial crisis and Great Recession of 2008. This event, along with the 9/11 attacks, was the most important in US history since the end of the Cold War. Such turnings and their aftermaths induce profound, chronic fear, enough to make otherwise solid personalities soften and melt and ready to mold.

Hillary Clinton won the 2008 primaries, but in the space of a few months, the big donors and major media swung to Obama, showing for the first time the new configuration of who’s in charge of the Democratic party. These donors included major Wall Street figures and institutions, as well as the media and Hollywood. Silicon Valley wasn’t on board yet, but would be by 2012.

It’s also true that Obama was a crushing disappointment to many who voted for him, including many black voters and the far left. His core appeal was always much more to guilt-ridden white liberals than to black voters, who initially rejected him in 2007.

Much of this was determined by Obama’s obvious narcissism, which is standard in personality cults.

Not to loose any opportunity to offend everyone … a narcissism surpassed by few except The Donald, almost only the major figure on the American scene more narcissistic than Obama. I mean, blatant, absurd, epic narcissism.

Sam Vaknin, call your office…

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thanks for the recommendations

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Have you read Crane Brinton’s “The Anatomy of Revolution?”

It was first published in 1938 and revised, expanded and republished in 1952 and 1965. It’s a broad survey of the English, America, French and Russian revolutions that looks for and identifies common threads; a revolutionary syndrome, in Brinton’s words.

His style reminds me of both CP Snow and JRR Tolkien, perhaps because the book is a condensed restatement of lectures he delivered at Harvard between 1923-64. The 1938 edition appears to available on line at Google Books. I skimmed through it 50 years ago and just finished rereading it and it does appear the revolutionary storm is upon us.

Denying systemic racism is proof of racism.
Denying one is a witch is proof of being a witch.

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