Shocker! My Column In Today's New York Daily News
If you’re a subscriber to this Substack, you probably share my general pessimism about the state of the US media. Substack has skyrocketed in popularity over the past year largely because there is a growing recognition, across traditional partisan/ideological lines, that something has gone gravely wrong with the basic structures of US newsgathering. That so many people were deeply shocked at today’s Kyle Rittenhouse verdict is just the latest evidence of the problem.
Quick aside on Rittenhouse: I’d suggest that a big reason there’s such indignance and bewilderment at the Not Guilty verdict goes back to the failure of the media in summer 2020 to accurately characterize what was going on demographically with the protests/riots. If you were following me at that time, you’ll know that I spent two months traveling the country to try and piece together a mechanical explanation of how and why those riots unfolded in the way they did. One important observation that was relayed to me over and over again, in city after city, did not fit comfortably with any easy partisan narrative (on the left or right) and was therefore mostly ignored. Here’s an excerpt of what I wrote in a July 2020 article that seemed to go viral, and still gets circulated even now from time to time:
Residents of Chicago’s predominantly black South and West sides remarked that the looting appeared to begin at apparel stores like Foot Locker, and then branched out from there. Here’s how one man described the progression. Opportunistic “looting” should generally be distinguished from the more ideologically-motivated “rioting,” as those who “looted” were generally locals (mostly but not exclusively blacks) who simply took advantage of an unprecedentedly chaotic situation to seize goods. Whereas “riots” motivated by consciously insurrectionist ideology — consisting of arson attacks and other actions intended to maximize chaos — appear to have been largely instigated by left-wing activist whites. You could possibly group both activities under the banner of “rioting,” but it’s worth drawing a distinction between these two different kinds of conduct which arise in a riot context.
Because that bolded part was almost never mentioned in popular media, you’d have to forgive casual news consumers who just reflexively assumed that the three people shot by Rittenhouse were black. They were, in fact, white. Just like Rittenhouse. Sorry if the exclusive involvement of white guys in this case complicates the overheated moralizing of fellow white guys like Stephen King. But the facts are the facts!
Nonetheless, it’s still awkward for many to acknowledge that the protest/riot movement last summer was a largely white enterprise. Why pointing this out continues to make people so frothingly mad, I’ll leave it for you to speculate. But it shouldn’t have been counter-intuitive at all that the people scuffling with Rittenhouse, and who ended up shot, were white — seeing as they were taking part in a largely white protest movement.
So the media was extremely culpable, by sins of both omission and commission, for creating a faulty generalized impression that led uninformed news consumers to believe that Rittenhouse was a white supremacist vigilante who went to Kenosha to mow down black people. Even though none of the main characters in the trial that concluded today were black. I would argue this misapprehension derives from the media’s original reluctance to be forthright about what the movement last year really was — an all-purpose left/liberal youth social movement populated predominantly by whites.
You can and should fault the media, in aggregate, for fostering an erroneous perception. Which brings me to the main point of this article: that for all the media’s innumerable faults, I still think it’s ill-advised to treat “the media” as some kind of permanently unchangeable monolith.
Because there are emerging signs that outlets which were hamstrung by the frenzy of summer 2020, and the derangement of the Trump years more generally, are quietly untethering themselves from some of the more insane dogmatic axioms they adopted overnight. Freddie deBoer was just published in the New York Times. Yeah, that’s only one example of the tide potentially beginning to turn, but I could provide other comparable examples. Just know that the people inside these outlets generally are not stupid, and they’ll sometimes even confide to you privately about how stultified they feel by the current media environment. Something had to give, eventually. Doesn’t mean they’ll suddenly rid themselves of all their failings, or that Substack is any less vital, or that most media institutions aren’t still brimming with unbearably tedious people and “content.” Just that the all-consuming five-alarm-fire panic of 2016-2020 was not going to be sustainable forever.
I say this because for all the many benefits of platforms like Substack, there’s no denying that “legacy media” can still have an impact that is just not available elsewhere. As you’ll know, for several months now I’ve been writing about criminally under-reported aspects of the ouster of Andrew Cuomo. It’s a saga that really demands your attention even if you hate Cuomo and/or you don’t care about the New York governorship. And while my reporting has had a surprisingly outsized impact, the entire game would’ve changed if, for example, the NYT had followed my lead instead of functioning as a PR conduit for the purported “victims” and their lawyers/handlers.
But that’s why I wanted to draw your attention to something that happened today, which is that the New York Daily News published a column by me on the whole Cuomo fracas, with an emphasis on the wildly egregious abridgements of due process by Letitia James — the New York Attorney General who is now running for governor. Should she win next year, she’d be instantly heralded as a trailblazing, history-making figure of national import and probably be lobbied to run for president. So I think her actions in this saga warrant way more scrutiny than they’ve received.
Luckily, I was able to do just that today in the Daily News for a wide audience. To my knowledge, it’s the first time that the Cuomo-ouster narrative has been subject to any real journalistic re-evaluation in major New York media, which has otherwise functioned as a pack of mindless dupes. I’ve actually been writing semi-regularly for the Daily News since 2012, so it’s not like this opportunity came out of the blue. But the material which informed my contribution today originated, significantly, on Substack. If not for Substack, an opening would have never been created for this column to exist, whatever my pre-existing relationship with the Daily News.
Which I guess is just to say: the media can be changeable. And that’s worth bearing in mind, lest one succumb to total nihilism about the changeability of US media institutions. Doing so would write off a huge portion of the population which is just not going to be attuned to platforms like Substack, at least in the same way that they are to the Daily News — which still has one of the widest circulations in the country for any newspaper, although it took a huge hit during COVID. Even so, the paper’s political reporting and commentary is inevitably going to be read by the type of NY “insiders” who think they can afford to ignore Substack.
The column appeared in the print newspaper, and maybe it’s schmaltzy, but there’s still a special satisfaction in that. At least for me. It will have also been read today by people on the bus, or in the subway, or just futzing around a bodega somewhere — people who wouldn’t know the first thing about Substack. I think it’s still worth trying to reach those people where possible.
The Daily News article is behind a paywall, but I’m going to take the liberty of re-publishing it here in full, below, for paying subscribers. (Shhh, don’t tell anyone.)
And here’s a little snippet from the cutting room floor. After I published my most recent piece on the Cuomo/James saga, I was contacted by a person who until recently worked in the NY Governor’s office.
Among other things, the person told me: “I do not particularly like Cuomo or many of his senior staffers, and yet I am not a little appalled to observe the strange and surprisingly naive coverage of these events. Particularly among a group of reporters who genuinely think of themselves as very canny.”
The person added, “everyone who is ‘in the know’ in New York will admit privately” that multiple aspects of the ordeal, and especially the circumstances around the recent filing and leak of a misdemeanor criminal complaint against Cuomo, smack of political opportunism. “Albany Sheriff Apple’s proceedings were extremely abnormal and the timing even more extraordinary,” the person told me.
“Like anyone,” the person said, “the accusations against [Cuomo] should get at least an average level of scrutiny from the media, which as you point out, has not happened.”
Why hasn’t it happened? There are a multiplicity of reasons, one of which being that Cuomo had ceased to enjoy any benefit of the doubt after 10+ contentious and often ruthless years in office. He has himself to blame for that, to some extent. But it should be more than possible to vehemently despise Cuomo, and still think that the media’s credulous across-the-board acceptance of these accusations was patently absurd — as well as a violation of basic journalistic standards.
That should’ve been obvious months ago. But today there’s no excuse, since the person who oversaw the investigation, James, now admits to operating with overt political calculations, as I document in today’s Daily News column. And she appears to have a conception of the proper use of the state’s law enforcement power that, shall we say, is highly questionable.
The narrative around the Cuomo/James affair does seem to have finally shifted somewhat. Not to brag, but that’s largely because I decided I should stay on the story. Let me assure you, the Daily News would not have published this article if they didn’t think there’s validity to the critique I’ve been making for months now. And it all began at this humble Substack. So that’s a reason for optimism, I guess. Here’s the full column: