After Debate Loss Last Year, the Mainstream Press Hasn't Learned Much
Munk debate opponents Michelle Goldberg and Malcolm Gladwell appear to still be struggling with the listening thing
In a surreal scene in Toronto a year ago, writer Douglas Murray and I squared off against Blink author Malcolm Gladwell and New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg at Canada’s prestigious Munk Debates. Douglas and I argued for the proposition: “Be it Resolved: You Should Not Trust Mainstream Media.”
The Munk audience was solidly upscale-Toronto-intellectual, an MSNBC producer’s wet dream and as close to a pure home crowd as “mainstream media” could have. We won anyway. Voters moved from 48-52% against to 67-33% for, a 39% shift that was the biggest in the history of the event. Much of the action turned on Murray’s soaring destruction of Gladwell, who lost the event more or less single-handedly, with his lunatic reaction to an offhand comment.
I mentioned Walter Cronkite was twice voted the most trusted person in America, and Gladwell with weirdly disproportionate anger seized on the line and spent the event hurling a whole deck of race cards my way, going on about my “affection” for the age of Jim Crow, the fifties, and the “golden moment” when media was “dominated by white men.” Forget that I was born in 1970, or the two surveys mentioned were from 1973 and 1985, or that someone who longs for Jim Crow probably doesn’t write I Can’t Breathe, or that I’d conceded early the old model was flawed, saying only the strategy of going after a broad audience instead of chasing demographic silos as we do now had a positive impact on trust levels for media. Gladwell seemed so thrilled by the opportunity to describe someone as a racist that he returned to the theme five times, even resorting to schoolyard taunts, like misprouncing my name even after being corrected.
His mistake was calling Murray “Doug,” which prompted a brutal finishing tirade from Douglas that began, “Well, Malc…” that triggered applause signaling the final result. It was such a massacre that even I cringed a little to watch, feeling sorry for Goldberg, who I thought paid a heavy price for Gladwell’s antics.
I feel less charitable after reading Goldberg’s new column in the Times, “What’s Driving Former Progressives to the Right?” Michelle is following up a similar piece in In These Times by Kathryn Joyce and and Jeff Sharlet that offers me as a prime example of an alleged movement of “left-to-righters” whose ultimate aim is “relitigating civil rights, gays, race in America,” all of us apparently being a hair’s breadth away from “thinking that two sets of water fountains aren’t a bad idea.” Goldberg likewise put me in a camp of “born-again reactionaries” who “revel in cruelty toward out-groups” and trade off the “false promise of return” to a “romantic conception of the past” that never was. For context, the offense landing me on this list was accepting an award from the “ultraconservative” Young America’s Foundation.