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    taibbi.substack.com | Matt Taibbi | 6/12/20 | 21 min
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    • chronotope3 weeks ago

      As someone who was a journalist and works in the media, and indeed found Taibbi and excellent writer on the specific topic of the post-2007 economy, I find that this entire post is a pretty big misrepresentation of reality and sort of disproves itself.

      Here is Taibbi on his soapbox about how No One Can Say The Unorthodox Things In Media Anymore, but the very fact of it is that he is here saying the unorthodox thing and continuing to get huge amplification on this along with his regular job at Rolling Stone.

      It's also worth noting that he misrepresents Russiagate not through lying but omission (he does the same in regard to the movement to "defund the police") just as he misrepresents the media's interactions with the Clinton campaign and in his core argument about that particular issue he disproves his own point. If the Media Bias towards Clinton was so unsparing and complete (it was not) and still couldn't get her elected than how could removing its bullhorn from a few people really have an impact? Perhaps the media neither works the way he portrays it nor does it have the unified voice he pretends exists to provide a strawman to rail against here.

      But put that aside for a moment and examine the question of shaping views and responsibility. The media is not a perfect mirror, amplification is not speech. The question of Cotton's op-ed is not if it should or should not exist but what is the NYT's responsibility in regard to it (and once again, his omissions here speak loudly, as he does not note the editor who was fired only was removed from his position after admitting he didn't read the op-ed before it was published, a reflection on his capacity to execute his job).

      The NYT, more than ever, is a vehicle of amplification. It cannot, even in the internet age, cover everything. So what it chooses to cover, and how, is a choice, a choice about what topics and news to amplify but it is not a choice about what to suppress.

      After all if The Media (an awful misrepresentation of a concept if ever there was one, since it includes WSJ, Fox, The Intercept, NYT, MSNBC and Wonkette all vastly different) was so powerful would Greenwald continue to have a job, much less run a major publication? Would this post get the amplification it is getting all over the web?

      I think not.

      No, the mainstream media outlets that comprise a rather narrow majority of the newshole do not define unquestionable issues. (The media industries' head-to-head combat with Facebook would seem to argue they can barely define the questionable issues in the public sphere.). Nor is there some move towards a liberal orthodoxy in these publications or outlets. Instead what we are seeing is a new set of questions: who gets amplified in the media and why? What voices and choices never get challenged and which ones do to the point of zero amplification? If Wischowski approved a bad headline (and Taibbi notes it is INDEED a bad headline), when his job indeed includes approving headlines, why is that not a reason to consider his employment, after all minority voices have lost their job for much less. The change here is large, that the managers who make decisions that form the structure of media companies be held responsible for how the mechanisms they build both execute and discriminate. In the imaginary age Taibbi imagines these things would be published consequence free. But the reality is likely that some underlings would be thrown to the wolves instead of managers. And an article that made an argument of the scale of Cotton's here from say, the perspective of a Black Panther, or a protester who believes that violence is the only way forward, would never have been published in this 'free' era Taibbi misidentifies. Media has always centered particular voices and Taibbi's complaints boil down to the simple fact that those voices are changing and he doesn't like it.

      And this is where we hit on the core issue: Taibbi's opinions no longer get automatic amplification in every corner, nor do some others. He--and they--find themselves limited perhaps finding themselves too close to losing an exceptional status that some in media have never been able to achieve, no matter what the quality of their work, due to their lack of in-status, and often the color of their skin, or how they represent as a particular gender. But why should Taibbi's ilk get automatic amplification over others? Why should any opinion, even one that is polling in the majority get such unquestionable access to the bullhorn of "The Media"?

      This is an article that fundamentally disproves itself. Here it is, the talk of the web water cooler. Clearly no question is so unquestionable that Taibbi can't question it and get attention for doing so. If a US Congressperson has a bad opinion there is nothing stopping him from publishing it in any number of places. If he does it will be picked up. It will get attention. It will even get amplification is some corners. But that does not mean that a publication, the NYT, any publication, must be complicit. The internet is vast, but their attention, like ours, is limited. So every time a media company chooses what to amplify, that choice is an editorial decision. And the idea that media orgs should use their editorial judgement with a little more care might be frightening to Taibbi, who at this point is infamous for using little care or judgement with his own voice, but for the readers, the decision to take a more active concern in how a media company allows its platform to be used for amplification can only be for the best.

      ReadUp users should know better than anyone that the hole which is our attention and time to consume media is a limited one and that we must make choices in what we read. How could it possible be inappropriate that editorial publications do the same? And why should we ask protesters to censor their extreme feelings in public without asking congresspeople to do the same? The answer is that in public anyone can say whatever they please. Including "I'm tired". Including cursing at a Mayor. And anyone is equally free to criticize it as long as they are not agents of government who do have first amendment issues to be concerned about. And any private media organization is also able to make any decision about who they amplify and who they don't and it surely makes sense that the interests of their employees have as much a say in that as they ever did, even in Taibbi's imaginary perfect-free-speech-past. The difference isn't their capacity to speak... it's just who is speaking.

      • jeff
        Top reader this weekReading streakScribe
        3 weeks ago

        Why should any opinion, even one that is polling in the majority get such unquestionable access to the bullhorn of "The Media"?

        What do you think the role of opinion editors at a newspaper of record should be?

        In the Vanity Fair profile on Bari Weiss, who is a staff editor of the NYT opinion section, she was quoted as saying:

        “is our job to be a warm bath and an ideological safe space for people who we think are our readers? Or is it our job to show them the scope of opinions, legitimate opinions, that people all over this country have? I think that’s our job. But there are other people out there who apparently think the job of a newspaper is almost to be socialist realist art.”

        I agree with her 100% and I feel like Taibbi's piece is driving at the same point. I fully agree with you that media organizations only have so much bandwidth to publish so many opinions and that they have no legal obligation of free speech, but in selecting what to publish I feel like the ultimate goal should be to amplify debate and contrasting points of view which is impossible if they choose to ignore views that are held by large portions of the population.

        (and once again, his omissions here speak loudly, as he does not note the editor who was fired only was removed from his position after admitting he didn't read the op-ed before it was published, a reflection on his capacity to execute his job)

        Are you asserting that James Bennet would not have been forced out for merely "putting black NYTimes staff in danger" had he not said that he didn't read the piece? I'm sorry but I'm not buying that.

        Lastly, since you brought it up, I think it is important to note that Taibbi published this piece on his personal Substack and that he is a contributing, not staff, editor at Rolling Stone. I don't think the argument is that the "left-leaning media" is unfairly propping up Democrat politicians like Hillary Clinton, but doing a disservice to them, and public discourse as a whole, by exaggerating public support and ignoring or minimizing dissenting opinions.

        When I'm having a debate with someone about an issue I want to be able to reference articles from the NYTimes or Washington Post in order to counter whatever fake news garbage they might be reading on someone's personal blog and have it carry the appropriate amount of weight. Of course these private companies are free to do whatever they want, but I think we're all going to be a lot worse off if they choose to treat certain opinions, especially those held by elected officials and significant portions of the population, as too dangerous engage with. I think it fuels divisiveness and bolsters demagogues like Trump.

        • chronotope3 weeks ago

          Ok, so let's put aside Barri Weiss's incredible historical inconsistency and provably bad opinions and take her within only this context. (BTW, those bad opinions include allegedly lying about the nature of the discussion around the Cotton piece) Where, while being profiled by a major publication, due to her constant writing in another major publication, she's going on about how her voice is somehow under threat. It's a bad profile, but taking this as seriously...

          Or is it our job to show them the scope of opinions, legitimate opinions, that people all over this country have?

          Yeah, of course that's the job of an op-ed section. (I'm ignoring the part about socialist realist art because it is a silly strawman that is poorly defined) But note how much heavy quiet lifting "legitimate" does here. Who decides what is legitimate? By what rules? What context? What requirements? This goes unsaid by Weiss because for her... the answer is her. But why couldn't it be the rest of the staff of the NYT? Or someone entirely unlike her? Why does the historical decision making of the NYT op-ed section decide that mostly right-of-center voices are the most important? What is, exactly, the argument against righting that imbalance by choosing to spend more effort amplifying other voices? Why does her and Taibbi's vision of the NYT op-ed page have room to represent an opinion that both threatens the stability of our democracy and the rights of the NYT to even have freedom of speech... but not room for a regular column from the DSA? The Democratic Socialists of America are a long standing organization with a growing membership as of late (they even have made significant impacts in some local and state elections). Why are they not "legitimate" for Weiss? Vice has the answer:

          their arguments are obsessed with balancing acts that do little other than "signal the distance between the authors and the partisans of identity who are too emotional to think clearly." They profess to be concerned with an ideological climate that stifles free expression, but in practice express concern over little other than the rules of the discourse. They want an atmosphere in which ideas can be freely debated; if anyone takes an idea seriously, though, it is held as evidence that no such atmosphere exists.

          Taibbi's oeuvre as a professional journalist, with plenty of highs and some lows, is grounded in exactly this semi-sarcastic stand-off-ness from the topics of his coverage. It does not benefit journalism, his readers, or the cause of any of us. It does not undercut his excellent coverage. But it doesn't serve it either. Take instead Michael Lewis, whose work covers many of the same topics, but is compelling, includes calls to action, and engages us in part because he connects it to individual humans who feel human feelings like passion, responsibility and worry. This speaks to why it is more successful. This is the core of the argument as to what an op-ed should be. Is it a college debating club where Taibbi, Weiss, Cotton and others can take whatever position they choose, irrelevant of the facts, the impact, or the serious considerations of what it means to say... call for military intervention in the lives of every day citizens? Should the only requirement for publishing opinion be that the majority of people hold it? (What crazy shit might that include, now and historically?) Or does the amplification of the op-ed page call for a higher standard? I would say it does. Printing an op-ed in the digital pages of the NYT has an impact--as you note!--and asking them to weigh it is highly relevant.

          I feel like the ultimate goal should be to amplify debate and contrasting points of view which is impossible if they choose to ignore views that are held by large portions of the population.

          But the goal of the NYT op-ed page isn't to arbitrarily amplify any view and arguably one held by a large portion of the population is more worthy of challenge than amplification. Why can't they address that view critically, instead of simply reprinting it? Isn't that editorial responsibility? CJR, a major publication in the documentation and understanding of journalistic ethics, illuminates that question:

          The problem with this idea of the Times as an open forum for views of all stripes — no matter how abhorrent — is that by opening the door to all “operative opinion” (as a member of the Opinion section described it to me a couple of years ago), the Times becomes a platform for those who are hostile to its core values and at direct odds with the New York Times Company mission to “seek the truth and help people understand the world.”

          And consider too the SPJ code of ethics, which applies as much to the op-ed page as anywhere:

          Seek Truth and Report It

          Minimize Harm

          Act Independently

          Be Accountable and Transparent

          The goal of any editorial publication is to be accountable, to its readers, to its subjects, and to the facts. If the majority of the population holds a bad opinion, that does not make it legitimate or factual. It makes it worth reporting on and it makes it worth discussing. But does it make it worth amplifying? No.

          Are you asserting that James Bennet would not have been forced out for merely "putting black NYTimes staff in danger" had he not said that he didn't read the piece? I'm sorry but I'm not buying that.

          Until he said he hadn't read the piece multiple members of upper management at NYT came out with statements in his defense and in defense of the piece. So I don't think it's a bad argument to make, but also it can be multiple things, including publishing a piece with multiple inaccuracies, not doing his job of reading the piece, and yes, publishing a piece that, in its amplification, was dangerously irresponsible with the bullhorn of the NYT and contradictory of their values. From the CJR piece:

          The Times fails in its mission to seek the truth when it lends its platform to others to tell lies.

          This is the core issue. Bennet failed in the NYT's mission. As a top level editor, very close to the top of the hierarchy, he holds responsibility. To be blunt, even if everything was correct about the piece his failure to create an environment which would alert higher up managers to the content of the piece, and prepare them to respond to it, is a complete failure of professional responsibility that is a fire-able offence in most publications by itself.

          Taibbi published this piece on his personal Substack and that he is a contributing, not staff, editor at Rolling Stone.

          I'm not going to go into too much detail here, but to be clear his role as a contributing editor with the capacity to self publish and freelance is one he chose (after leaving RS to found his own publication, which failed before it started, after which they let him come back to RS right away), and generally considered a privilege in journalism circles because it gives his regular space in a major publication along with regular pay but the freedom to publish elsewhere. What you're describing is a function of his immense seniority and respect within particular journalistic circles, not a rejection of him.

          Additionally, the fact that the piece got such huge lift from his personal Substack is, like I said, proof that his ability to speak remains uncurtailed and the tools of amplification are readily open to him. Like Cotton he is more than capable of lifting his own bullhorn without making the NYT complicit.

          When I'm having a debate with someone about an issue I want to be able to reference articles from the NYTimes or Washington Post in order to counter whatever fake news garbage they might be reading on someone's personal blog and have it carry the appropriate amount of weight.

          I agree, which is all the more reason why NYT shouldn't be amplifying ideas that belong on fake news garbage personal blogs without fact checking and context just because they happen to be authored by a person in power. Those links have weight and that weight is on the shoulders of the editorial staff, requiring them to make good choices.

          The issue, again, is whether or not the editorial discretion is well applied. And the evidence -- which goes way beyond that one op-ed -- says that it was not.

          Of course these private companies are free to do whatever they want, but I think we're all going to be a lot worse off if they choose to treat certain opinions, especially those held by elected officials and significant portions of the population, as too dangerous engage with.

          To be very clear this is moving the signposts from what people are saying significantly. No one is saying that these ideas are 'too dangerous to engage with'. (Except Taibbi in his strawman fallacy) The opposite is true, they are saying that these ideas do need to be engaged with (and often publications do so) but that they need to be engaged with by using the full weight of facts, research, historical context, intelligent analysis and tact (doing the job of journalism). They should not be engaged with by blindly amplifying them and expecting other people to somehow know the right countervailing op-eds to read to understand what is going on.

          Here are some examples of examining the arguments around and reasoning for and against military deployment inside US borders, beyond engagment over the Cotton piece:

          The issue of Cotton's op-ed is that it is blind amplification without care or the duty of both journalism and having a large platform. With a big bullhorn comes great power, and with great power, to paraphrase one famous fictional New York resident, comes great responsibility. Taibbi and Weiss believe that responsibility should be shirked, in the hands of one or two powerful people who think like they do, and in the individual writer who contributes. But the NYT is a platform, it isn't an individual, it has more power than an individual. To dare to put it to the accountability of more people with a larger set of views is to better amplify all the voices in America, not just the ones who already have power.

          • bill
            Top reader this weekTop reader of all timeScoutScribe
            3 weeks ago

            So much to process!!

            There are significant underlying things that we disagree on, but it sounds like you've read way more than me about these people. I can't imagine wanting to unread Taibbi, Weiss or Cotton. Totally different people, opinions and situations, but I think that all three are advancing arguments that they genuinely believe in. The writers/journalists/politicians who freak me out are the ones who are vying for attention and willing to say anything and everything to anyone who will listen, just to get more eyes and ears. That's why Trump spooks me so much. The crazier he is on Twitter the more attention he gets on Twitter. So he's using it correctly.

            I'm sure it sounds naive, but I just wish Akela Lacy and Lee Fang sat down to sort it out in person. I bet they could have. Lee Fang really didn't seem unreasonable.

            The original tweet shouldn't have been such a big deal. If it had 10 likes and 3 retweets and Lee Fang saw it and replied directly to Akela like, "Yo, Didn't mean to upset you, let's talk," we wouldn't be having this conversation, and that would be the ideal. Direct call-outs on Twitter are just pure fire though. And it's basically whenever things go viral (in other words, when Twitter "works," which, again, is scary) that things get out of hand.

            I kinda think that nobody should ever be fired over a social media storm in the midst of a social media storm. We know that these platforms amplify negativity and real world sentiment (undeniably more positive) is likely to return soon.

            Right? I don't know. I'm tired, lol

      • bill
        Top reader this weekTop reader of all timeScoutScribe
        3 weeks ago

        Thanks! Powerful comment. Gives me a ton to think about. I guess, overall, I experienced the whole Tom Cotton thing, the Mueller thing, and the current resurgence of Black Lives Matter in much the same way as Taibbi.

        the editor who was fired only was removed from his position after admitting he didn't read the op-ed before it was published, a reflection on his capacity to execute his job.

        An interesting detail.

        I read the op-ed amidst the kerfluffle. Actually, before I read anything else. I heard about the axing, and I went straight to the op-ed. Cotton's an ass. Newspapers should publish these asses, so we can see for ourselves how ass-ish they are, and not vote them in any longer.

        It doesn't help, as a consumer, to see such a ruckus going on at the Gray Lady. I wish we weren't debating the internal policy decisions there and instead figuring out wtf Cotton was saying and why, and how we can bounce people like that out of power. All of this is fascinating to me tho regardless. Again, thx chronotope!

    • jeff
      Top reader this weekReading streakScribe
      3 weeks ago

      This is a seriously sad state of affairs. I feel like the way that the mainstream media has handled Russiagate and other "unquestionable" issues is a major force in driving people into the hands of fake news outlets.

    • SEnkey
      Scout
      3 weeks ago

      It also guarantees that opinion writers and editors alike will shape views to avoid upsetting colleagues, which means that instead of hearing what our differences are and how we might address those issues, newspaper readers will instead be presented with page after page of people professing to agree with one another. That’s not agitation, that’s misinformation.

      • Karenz3 weeks ago

        Lee Fang is my kind of journalist. He has courage and integrity and a devotion to truth as he can search it out. So many liberals or moderates, as I consider myself, are so terrified about being labeled racist they can’t have an independent thought. When truly free thought is squelched, we’re in trouble as a democracy—from the far left as well as the far right. Both are equally dogmatic and applying intimidation tactics.

    • [user]3 weeks ago

      This comment was deleted on 6/18/2020

    • bill
      Top reader this weekTop reader of all timeScoutScribe
      3 weeks ago

      Spectacular.

      The media in the last four years has devolved into a succession of moral manias. We are told the Most Important Thing Ever is happening for days or weeks at a time, until subjects are abruptly dropped and forgotten, but the tone of warlike emergency remains: from James Comey’s firing, to the deification of Robert Mueller, to the Brett Kavanaugh nomination, to the democracy-imperiling threat to intelligence “whistleblowers,” all those interminable months of Ukrainegate hearings (while Covid-19 advanced), to fury at the death wish of lockdown violators, to the sudden reversal on that same issue, etc.

      There were no press calls for self-audits after those episodes, just as there won’t be a few weeks from now if Covid-19 cases spike, or a few months from now if Donald Trump wins re-election successfully painting the Democrats as supporters of violent protest who want to abolish police. No: press activism is limited to denouncing and shaming colleagues for insufficient fealty to the cheap knockoff of bullying campus Marxism that passes for leftist thought these days.