The American Press Is Destroying Itself

A flurry of newsroom revolts has transformed the American press.

By Matt Taibbi and cross-posted from Taibbi.substack.com.

Sometimes it seems life can’t get any worse in this country. Already in terror of a pandemic, Americans have lately been bombarded with images of grotesque state-sponsored violence, from the murder of George Floyd to countless scenes of police clubbing and brutalizing protesters.

Our president, Donald Trump, is a clown who makes a great reality-show villain but is uniquely toolless as the leader of a superpower nation. Watching him try to think through two society-imperiling crises is like waiting for a gerbil to solve Fermat’s theorem. Calls to “dominate” marchers and ad-libbed speculations about Floyd’s “great day” looking down from heaven at Trump’s crisis management and new unemployment numbers (“only” 21 million out of work!) were pure gasoline at a tinderbox moment. The man seems determined to talk us into civil war.

But police violence, and Trump’s daily assaults on the presidential competence standard, are only part of the disaster. On the other side of the political aisle, among self-described liberals, we’re watching an intellectual revolution. It feels liberating to say after years of tiptoeing around the fact, but the American left has lost its mind. It’s become a cowardly mob of upper-class social media addicts, Twitter Robespierres who move from discipline to discipline torching reputations and jobs with breathtaking casualness.

The leaders of this new movement are replacing traditional liberal beliefs about tolerance, free inquiry, and even racial harmony with ideas so toxic and unattractive that they eschew debate, moving straight to shaming, threats, and intimidation. They are counting on the guilt-ridden, self-flagellating nature of traditional American progressives, who will not stand up for themselves, and will walk to the Razor voluntarily.

They’ve conned organization after organization into empowering panels to search out thoughtcrime, and it’s established now that anything can be an offense, from a UCLA professor placed under investigation for reading Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” out loud to a data scientist fired* from a research firm for — get this — retweeting an academic study suggesting nonviolent protests may be more politically effective than violent ones!

Now, this madness is coming for journalism. Beginning on Friday, June 5th, a series of controversies rocked the media. By my count, at least eight news organizations dealt with internal uprisings (it was likely more). Most involved groups of reporters and staffers demanding the firing or reprimand of colleagues who’d made politically “problematic” editorial or social media decisions.

The New York Times, the InterceptVox, the Philadelphia Inquirier, Variety, and others saw challenges to management

Yet Fang found himself denounced online as a racist, then hauled before H.R. His crime? During protests, he tweeted this interview with an African-American man named Maximum Fr, who described having two cousins murdered in the East Oakland neighborhood where he grew up. Saying his aunt is still not over those killings, Max asked:

I always question, why does a Black life matter only when a white man takes it?… Like, if a white man takes my life tonight, it’s going to be national news, but if a Black man takes my life, it might not even be spoken of… It’s stuff just like that that I just want in the mix.

Shortly after, a co-worker of Fang’s, Akela Lacy, wrote, “Tired of being made to deal continually with my co-worker @lhfang continuing to push black on black crime narratives after being repeatedly asked not to. This isn’t about me and him, it’s about institutional racism and using free speech to couch anti-blackness. I am so fucking tired.” She followed with, “Stop being racist Lee.”

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