Officially decamping to Substack-land

A few days ago, an amazing passage appeared in an otherwise unremarkable New York Times article purporting to chronicle what was clearly regarded as a highly disturbing trend — namely that “Latino men” are exhibiting patterns of voting behavior that diverge from what the NYT deems morally acceptable. 

“Some of the frustrations voiced by Hispanic Republican men are stoked by misinformation,” journalist Jennifer Medina solemnly reported. “Including conspiracy theories claiming that the ‘deep state’ took over during the Trump administration and a belief that Black Lives Matter protests caused widespread violence.”

The passage is amazing because it’s such a perfect little encapsulation of how mind-bendingly screwed US media culture is. Just thrown in as a kind of matter-of-fact aside, with its truth to be assumed by all right-minded readers, is the claim that only devious “misinformation” could have caused anyone to hold the twin beliefs that 1) the permanent national security state bureaucracy exerted outsized influence during the administration of Donald Trump and 2) the protests and riots of 2020 resulted in “widespread violence.” It’s truly wild.

The wildness is especially pronounced for me because I spent a lot of time covering those two subjects in considerable depth. Not to re-litigate the whole of the “Russiagate” saga right now, but suffice to say that at bottom it was an unprecedentedly far-reaching intervention by the US security state apparatus into domestic political affairs — all based on an entirely faulty (some would argue fraudulent) premise. Notwithstanding the premise’s faultiness, the ensuing narrative in its various incarnations came to dominate US politics for several years, and had a huge impact on everything from the conduct of foreign policy to popular notions of how the internet should be regulated. So whatever your feelings about Trump per se, it would seem that understanding the “deep state” machinations which gave rise to “Russiagate” is pretty important for any conscientious citizen. 

But here comes the sagacious NYT, with one throwaway line, reducing any further inquiry on the matter to “misinformation” — a concept which is definitely applied totally neutrally and dispassionately across the media landscape, and isn’t invariably loaded with a slew of unstated subjective political presumptions. One thing’s for sure: if you want to be a journalist in good standing, you’d better not get caught dead degrading our sanctified online information-ecosystem by doing anything that could be decreed from on high as “misinformative.” 

Also apparently “misinformative” is harboring the perception that “widespread violence” arose from… the most widespread and destructive riots in the United States since at least the 1960s. It’s still astounding to me, something like nine months later, how many messages and comments I continue to receive from people who say they never would’ve had a sense for the scope of the destruction if not for my Twitter threads and Medium posts. And it was just me, with no formal institutional backing — just a phone and a laptop and a car — driving around the country and talking to ordinary residents of the affected areas. Maybe the most straight-forwardly obvious journalistic endeavor you could imagine under the circumstances. And yet, given the media climate at the time, it turned out to be some sort of radical statement. Because journalists were being radically stifled from covering properly what was going on in the country around them, by dint of the insane institutional pressures they were being subjected to. I know, because I heard directly from them. They were frozen with dread — it was beyond absurd.

So in light of all this, I’m inclined to argue that the most egregious purveyors of “misinformation” tend not to be random citizens sharing possibly ill-conceived memes online, but rather those charged with presiding over the main organs of information-production in society. I’m inclined to further conclude that trying to redress any of this from within the media institutions themselves is largely hopeless. I’ve written for plenty of mainstream publications, but there’s no way I’d seek full-time employment with any of them at present, because you’re always one tweet away from provoking some manufactured vindictive shitstorm and bringing the place to a grinding halt. 

Just yesterday I was condemned by a top official at something called the “International Center for Journalists” as a perpetrator of what the organization’s “Global Director of Research” called “online violence.” My gravely violent offense was to respond in a mildly critical manner to a series of political arguments publicly promulgated by NYT journalist Taylor Lorenz. In doing so, the “Global Director” proclaimed, I was guilty of engaging in “networked gaslighting” — which is apparently a form of literal violence.

This kind of jargon almost comes across as self-parody; in my experience a lot of people instinctively don’t believe that these rhetorical and logical formulations have actually taken such hold in various elite spheres until they get direct exposure to it. Turns out the @ICFJ is gainfully funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Facebook, Google, the U.S. State Department, and of course the New York Times. Among other leading lights of respectable society. So that’s an instructive indication of the trends infiltrating most media institutions.

To give just one more pertinent anecdote, another purported press-freedom-such-and-such organization contacted me a few months ago to document, and presumably put into a database, an incident from last summer in which some Portland “antifa” activists snatched my phone out of my hands and made me recite a political slogan, before chasing me off, hurling objects at me, and threatening to kick my ass. CLARIFICATION: I never claimed “trauma” or “harm” from the encounter, and still don’t, but I did relay what occurred and it generated a large reaction. So someone from this organization got in touch and had me explain the details of what happened. Perfectly nice individual. Then awhile later, they got back to me with the revelation that the incident did not qualify as a bonafide Press Freedom Violation or whatever. 

Again: the point is not that I desperately desired for my encounter with a bunch of dopey black-clad Portland maniacs to be memorialized in the annals of journalistic history. I didn’t particularly care one way or another. The point is that these kinds of organizations dictate what’s seen as acceptable journalistic conduct. And look at the bizarre ideological constraints they’re operating within.

If you’ve followed me on Twitter for any period of time, you may occasionally notice that lots of people in the media industry really seem to despise me with a burning, zealous passion. Maybe for good reason: I’m constitutionally incapable of kowtowing to their ridiculous ingroup pieties, and I’m not interested in being a cherished member of their little insular social circles. Which — breaking news — is actually the highest aspiration for many journalists, who incessantly perform for the validation of their peers far moreso than they do anything resembling a service for the wider public.

A lot of the same people also seem to hate outfits like Substack, because Substack affords those they’ve decried as heretical to generate sustainable income without needing to bow before their conformist dictates. In fact, on Substack, you can cheerfully oppose these conformist dictates and it often appears to work out pretty well financially. They really hate that.

And it’s not just the NYT, which in some ways is the lowest hanging fruit — a similar species of conformity is pervasive even in self-appointed Bold, Adversarial, Alternative media. I worked for awhile at The Young Turks, and while I was given an admirable amount of autonomy and have no personal grievances at all with anyone there, one thing you find is that the subtle constraints of institutional conformity over time creep into your psyche at an almost subconscious level. Even if you’ve made what you thought was a fully conscious, proactive decision to willfully buck those constraints. That kind of co-optation is nothing new re: the human experience, but it makes you marvel at the extent of the stifling that must be present in other institutions whose inhabitants are obliged make constant accommodations and tradeoffs in order to survive.

Thankfully, Substack is a real antidote to this dynamic, so from here on out it will be the primary place where my work appears.

The format of the offering is that I will do at least two posts per week, unless otherwise noted. This seems like the right balance. One thing I definitely want to do is not just opine haphazardly on here, but incorporate original reporting where possible. For example, I’ll be returning soon to Minneapolis for a review of what’s transpired since last summer, when the city was the epicenter of a massive convulsion that permanently changed the country’s culture and politics. Your support helps facilitate reporting initiatives such as that.

So please subscribe! Everything for now will be free, but in the relatively near future there will be a transition to a partially-paid model. I’ll keep you informed about the details. You can start a paid subscription now if you’re feeling beneficent. Also expect audio/video output in due course. Thanks.