All posts filed under: Journalism

The Death of Political Cartooning—And Why It Matters

Six years ago, on January 7th, 2015, two brothers armed with Kalashnikov rifles assaulted a building on Rue Nicolas-Appert in Paris, where they killed a maintenance man named Frédéric Boisseau and forced their way into the second-floor offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. They asked for four cartoonists, by name, and executed each of them. They also killed four other journalists, a bodyguard assigned to protect one of the cartoonists in the event of just such an attack, police officer Ahmed Merabet, and a friend of one of the cartoonists. Following a nihilistic two-day crime spree, the brothers were killed in a hail of police bullets outside a printworks north-east of Paris. The ghastly murders at Charlie Hebdo shocked the world. Yet while the scale and violence of the incident were unprecedented, such attacks against cartoonists are hardly unknown. Throughout history, cartoonists have been jailed, kidnapped, tortured, exiled, and murdered. Ostensibly, the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists were killed for drawing pictures of the prophet Muhammad. (Two days after the murders, an al-Qaeda cell in Yemen …

Journalism’s Ivory Towers

In a recent essay entitled “The Resentment That Never Sleeps,” New York Times columnist Thomas B. Edsall explains how a lowering of social status among non-college-educated white Americans has increased that demographic’s anxiety and helped fuel the populism that made possible Donald Trump’s rise to the presidency. Reporters at many of America’s most prestigious journalistic outlets have echoed these sentiments. But none of those reporters ever seems willing to acknowledge their own complicity in the situation. Plenty of jobs that once used to require no university degree or special certification now do. According to a report by the National Conference of State Legislatures, the number of American jobs requiring state certification has risen from one in 20 60 years ago to one in four today. Technically, journalists do not require a university degree in order to practice their trade. Practically speaking, however, they do. No-one who writes for the New York Times, the Atlantic, the New Yorker, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, or any other major US journalistic venue lacks a college degree. …

Freak Power: The Ballot or the Bomb—A Review

Fifty years ago, in a small mountain town in Colorado, a young writer led a band of misfits against the establishment in a grassroots political movement they called “Freak Power.” That writer was Hunter S. Thompson, author of Hell’s Angels and creator of Gonzo Journalism. His revolutionary campaign would capture the attention of the nation and influence local politics for decades to come. These improbable events are the subject of a new, independently produced documentary comprising recently uncovered archival footage. In 1970, Thompson was just a year away from writing Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and fast becoming a name in the world of American journalism. While researching Hell’s Angels, he had embedded with the notorious biker gang and rode with them until they inevitably turned on him and issued a savage beating. Although he dismissed the Angels as “losers,” he recognised that their violent image provided them some measure of power in a society that was otherwise tipped against them: “In a prosperous democracy that is also a society of winners and losers, …

How The Intercept Abandoned Its Truth-Seeking Mission—And Lost Its Best Journalist

Journalist Glenn Greenwald shocked his global readership on Thursday, when he abruptly announced his resignation from the Intercept, the six-year-old site that became famous after publishing documents released by Edward Snowden. The incident that sparked Greenwald’s departure was the Intercept’s refusal to publish in whole an article he’d written criticizing much of the US media for failing to seriously cover allegations by a former business associate of Hunter Biden—son of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden—that the Biden family had used its name to profit from business deals in foreign countries where the United States has important foreign-policy interests. Since his early days at the Intercept, which Greenwald co-founded in 2014 with left-wing journalist Jeremy Scahill and documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras, he operated under an agreement stipulating that his columns would be published without the requirement that they be edited by colleagues. In a lengthy statement posted to his new Substack page, Greenwald argues that politically motivated Intercept editors violated this agreement in regard to his latest article, by “refusing to publish it unless I remove all …

The Misguided Campaign Against Journalistic Objectivity

Locked down in a northern Ontario cottage over the summer, I found myself listening to CBC Radio’s Sunday Edition, an eclectic three-hour weekly morning show hosted, until his recent retirement, by veteran journalist and broadcaster Michael Enright. On this particular Sunday in July, guest host Anthony Germain interviewed Candis Callison, a University of British Columbia professor who teaches in both UBC’s Journalism department and its Institute for Critical Indigenous Studies. The subject of conversation was her recently published book, co-authored with fellow UBC professor Mary Lynn Young, Reckoning: Journalism’s Limits and Possibilities. “Objectivity is ‘the view from nowhere’ and potentially harmful,” announced CBC headline-writers when the interview was aired. “Is objectivity an outmoded value in journalism?” Later, it was asserted that “more and more people, including many journalists, are questioning the sanctity of objectivity—especially when the arbiters of what’s objective truth and what’s opinion are largely the mostly-white, mostly-male people who run most newsrooms. [Prof. Callison] argues that objectivity in journalism is illusory and that it reaffirms the outlook of a white male-dominated world.” Prof. …

Down the 1619 Project’s Memory Hole

The history of the American Revolution isn’t the only thing the New York Times is revising through its 1619 Project. The “paper of record” has also taken to quietly altering the published text of the project itself after one of its claims came under intense criticism. When the 1619 Project went to print in August 2019 as a special edition of the New York Times Magazine, the newspaper put up an interactive version on its website. The original opening text stated: The 1619 project is a major initiative from The New York Times observing the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It aims to reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative. [emphasis added] The passage, and in particular its description of the year 1619 as “our true founding,” quickly became a flashpoint for controversy around the project. Critics on both the Left and Right took issue with the paper’s declared …

George Orwell and the Struggle against Inevitable Bias

In the bleak post-war Britain of October 1945, an essay by George Orwell appeared in the first edition of Polemic. Edited by abstract artist and ex-Communist Hugh Slater, the new journal was marketed as a “magazine of philosophy, psychology, and aesthetics.” Orwell was not yet famous—Animal Farm had only just started appearing on shelves—but he had a high enough profile for his name to be a boon to a new publication. His contribution to the October 1945 Polemic was “Notes on Nationalism,” one of his best and most important pieces of writing. Amidst the de-Nazification of Germany, the alarmingly rapid slide into the Cold War, and the trials of German and Japanese war criminals, Orwell set out to answer a question which had occupied his mind for most of the past seven years—why do otherwise rational people embrace irrational or even contradictory beliefs about politics? As a junior colonial official in Burma, the young Eric Blair (he had not yet adopted the name by which he would be known to posterity) had been disgusted by …

Twilight of Democracy—A Review

A review of Twilight of Democracy by Anne Applebaum, Doubleday (July 2020), 224 pages. Historian and journalist Anne Applebaum’s new book The Twilight of Democracy sees a democratic world, as Rupert Brooke saw his world at the onset of World War I, “grown old and cold and weary.” So weary of democracy’s institutions and processes, so coldly contemptuous of the liberals of the Left and Right who administered them, that many of those who previously supported these central pillars have instead embraced one or another form of right-wing fundamentalism. This may manifest as nostalgic yet virulent nationalism, or reactionary Catholicism, or an invocation of Great Leader-ism which is, she writes, “at once serious and unserious.” Illustrative of the last of these types, she says, is Santiago Abascal, the leader of the Spanish anti-immigrant party Vox, who was filmed riding a horse to the soundtrack of The Lord of the Rings—unserious, because plundering popular culture for the purposes of rousing self-glorification is so obviously crass; serious, because it is rousing, nonetheless. The title of Applebaum’s book communicates the seriousness …

Journalism’s Death by a Thousand Tweets

Upon further reflection, it’s clear that the broken system is ad-driven media on the Internet. It simply doesn’t serve people. In fact, it’s not designed to. The vast majority of articles, videos, and other “content” we all consume on a daily basis is paid for—directly or indirectly—by corporations who are funding it in order to advance their goals. And it is measured, amplified, and rewarded based on its ability to do that. Period. As a result, we get… well, what we get. And it’s getting worse. ~Evan Williams, co-founder and former CEO of Twitter Imagine you want to create a digital platform that will both destroy—or, at the very least, seriously enfeeble—the journalism profession, and simultaneously make you a vast amount of money. How should you do it? Well, first you should ensure that the primary goal of your platform has absolutely nothing to do with the stated goals of the journalism profession. More specifically, the aim of your platform should not be to hold the powerful to account or, more broadly, to report on …

Our Oppressive Moment

As one of the signatories to the much-discussed “Open Letter” in Harper’s magazine, I’ve been bemused by the objection that we are merely whiners—people with impregnable career success, flustered that social media is forcing us to experience unprecedented criticism, particularly in the wake of the Floyd protests. This represents a stark misunderstanding of why I and many others signed it. I am certainly not complaining about being criticized. As someone frequently described as “contrarian” on the fraught topic of race, I have been roasted for my views for over 20 years—it’s just that, when I started out, I received invective scrawled on paper folded into envelopes instead of typed into tweets. The sheer volume of criticism is greater, of course, but the last thing I would do is sign a letter protesting it. For writers of commentary on controversial subjects, the barrage keeps us on our toes. Haters can be ignored, but informed excoriation can help sharpen our arguments and ensure we remain acquainted with the views of the other side. The Harper’s letter is …