The terrific humorist, journalist, and novelist talks about the downfall of journalism, bureaucratic absurdity, and class cruelty in a blistering indictment of an America turned upside down
Thank you for your hospitality in providing the written transcript along with the podcast. I listened yesterday and thought you and Walter Kirn had a great discussion. I very much agree about the cruelty of assorted pundits and comedians. The pushing of the Overton Window towards punishing the people who don’t go along with the mandates is not a little frightening. I hear the opening credits to Hotel Rwanda in those statements. We are in an unveiling the cruelty in our hearts. I just hope it doesn’t lead to violence, detention camps, the denial of health care coverage—all for a vaccine that doesn’t work, and may well make people sicker.
I very much appreciated your and Walter’s standing up for middle America. We are so not stupid as we are portrayed. We’re the ones who grow the food, truck it across country, repair your toilet, fly your jets.
I think the elites have lost common sense over Covid and the mandates. How is it a good idea to let the Washington state roads stay uncleared because the state refuses to let unvaxxed plow drivers help clear them. How is it healthy to let medical workers testing positive for the virus go to work, while not allowing healthy unvaxxed workers work?
At any rate thank you for your fresh take on our culture and great journalism. (Another subject to research might be the connection between anti depressants and mass shootings. I have heard that those are a common denominator along with guns. And a side effect is homicide and suicide, especially in young people.)
This covers my annual subscription cost for a year. Awesome, awesome, awesome... and I will tell you why. It gives me hope that professional journalists, professional humorists, professional medical doctors, professional (fill in the blanks) will rise up and start to eliminate the unprofessional jerks within their professional designation that are destroying the brand and reputation of the profession.
The most important one is the profession of science. It is being crushed by the shysters like Fauci.
It is one of the biggest media travesties since the Iraq war, the facts that: it seems likely Fauci had at least some role in funding gain of function research on coronaviruses at Wuhan, the virus overwhelming likely originated from there, he likely lied to Congress about it, definitely was a key part of a conspiracy to dismiss and suppress those facts as unhinged conspiracy theory, and *still* somehow is considered someone with an ounce of credibility. Let alone the godhead of Covid truth.
Not to mention, this is the same Fauci who assured the American public that the Pandemrix vaccine was safe in 2009 in the midst of the swine flu epidemic, and it turned out to be rather not safe. The report is in the British Medical Journal from 2018, but somehow I've only ever seen it refered to once by anyone in the media.
Cornell West and Ana Kasparian said the same thing. "it's a manufactured culture war." Manufactured to keep conversation away from the topics that led to Bernie and Trump's populism. Namely, Americans are sick of fighting unjustified wars and would prefer that money be spent on a richer welfare state like other first world nations have. For example, parental leave. Americans are also pissed at economic crashes, the lack of decent paying jobs, their justice system, illegal immigration, and the expense of university. Long story short, if you care about these things, you're now standing up for yourself. If you and your partner live in the burbs with good jobs at Microsoft and healthy savings accounts, you selfishly vote to keep everything the same. This isn't tribalism. It's just politics.
The US is different than every other wealthy nation. It's rulers believe their enormous military must continually keep it's knife sharp by always participating in war, and that a first world welfare state is ideologically incorrect. As a result, not all Americans live in the First World. Many live above it and many live below. And, as always, if you wish to improve your situation, one must work / fight (lobby) for it.
As a non-American who's spent much time in your country, I think you have an awful lot of nice people who constantly get jerked around -- and nobody really cares about them. Then again, maybe the aristocracy is right. If you're poor, don't have kids.
Thank you for posting that.
I live in Billings, MT, and we made the national news a few times for our "overrun" hospital here. (I think Walter Kirn was probably talking about Bozeman as that's more where the writers settle.) Of course, the locals would have told you there are two big hospitals in Billings. One of them was "overrun" and one of them wasn't, and the truth, the locals would have told you, was that the one that was "overrun" was a nightmare before COVID because of staffing shortages and a drive for profit over patient care and that it is frequently "overrun" during flu season. My further frustration is that we desperately need a conversation on our overpriced dangerous joke of a medical system in this country and the fact that it sucks us dry financially and can't even handle a small bump in need. But, no, instead we yell about vaccines and masks and never mention that the other hospital in town, the one that actually takes on indigent cases and therefore is often busier, was holding its own even in the worst of it, and discussing why that was and what we could take from it to improve the system overall. Instead the local newspaper seemed to literally forget that we had two hospitals and turned into a PR team for the one and then the story went national.
Journalism died when print went away with it’s end if day print deadlines. Journalists had time to recheck their facts before the print deadline. The intranet requires no fact checking because the reward ceased to be accuracy and became speed. Who can get the story out first. It is akin to giving a classroom of students the highest grade for finishing a test first, regardless of checking for correct answers. Ridiculous!
Great interview. A couple of thoughts.
First of all this bit - "Everybody thinks that because they went to a diner during a presidential primary, that they know the heartbeat of grassroots America."
I was kind of floored by a piece in The Atlantic back in '17 after the election. It was an excellent and eye opening piece, basically about how shellshocked liberals went to the heartland to find out exactly what these deplorables where thinking. The piece centers on the Third Way pollsters, and how the reality of what what they found caused extreme cognitive dissonance with what they expected to find. So they ignored the parts that caused dissonance and wrote up the poll results the way they wanted to, and fed the audience what they wanted to hear.
Ever since, every time i see a column that cites Third Way polling, i call bullshit and call the piece crap based on unreliable polling.
In a half-hearted attempt to maintain a smidgen of perspective, I would remind you that media - or more accurately, the dissemination of news - has always been more about molding public opinion than about objectivity and reportage.
Whether it was the cherished works of Thomas Payne beating the drums of revolution, or the rancid lies of Wm Hearst making short order of weed and hemp, we've all been led by the nose for centuries (the bible?) by those who could afford a printing press (or digital platform).
"You spend too much time worrying about what people will think. I tell people what to think"
- Wm R Hearst.
And the beat goes on...
At least the old elites had the decency to be villains. The new guys want to be heroes on top of everything else.
Obey your television
Do NOT think
Questioning masks is murder
Roll up your sleeve
Andrew: Quick follow-up: do you think that the consumers of these media outlets even care that they’re brought to you by Pfizer? Because I see it as a problem, but I’m not sure they do at all. -I’m also not sure they don’t see it as a benefit, like who else should be sponsoring them? After all, they’re the ones that made the drug!
The consumers definitely do not. When you point it out they'll say things like, "Oh right, of course that's bad but..." and then they start making excuses for these outlets. They're brainwashed.
I had a conversation with my cousin where I pointed out that this is why I go to people on SubStack like TK and Greenwald and others for actual news stories and he just didn't get it. He could not understand the difference between going to an independent news outlet that gets its funding from paying subscribers and going to a news outlet that is bought and paid for by corporations. Because they both receive money he seemed to think they were the same.
"Doesn't TK need to say the right things so he doesn't lose subscribers? Isn't he writing stories so people will keep coming back?" This is the sort of stuff he would come up with, that you're tailoring your output to keep subscribers signing up. Never mind that you've been consistent in your views and the way you report things for your whole career.
I swear he is not an idiot, he is just that indoctrinated and that's what we are fighting against. People that are completely irrational, because they've been told that "news" comes from the news media and that is things like CNN and MSNBC and NYT (or if you're conservative, Fox News, the Wall Street Journal etc) and anyone else is some sort of social media ladder climber looking for more views so they can sell more t-shirts. In reality, it's completely the opposite. The major news outlets are the ones looking to sell more Pfizer ads so they say whatever the fuck Pfizer wants.
I could not make him see this.
Milo Minderbinder. Thank you for reminding us of him. JH should be required reading for anyone professing journalism.
In 1969, I left the States for university in Spain (Barcelona/Ronda), under the watchful eye of Federico Franco, a fairly repressive dictator. We were allowed to read Cervantes, but no Basque or Catalan writers. The classes were patrolled by armed police. There were curfews...The newspapers were edited by approved proofreaders....and blue jeans were not allowed. There are times when urban visits feel like a reprise of those days -- Chicago schools are closed, armed security on Michigan Avenue -- even by the Art Institute...The old talk radio stations are now either cackling, infomercials for foodies and gear, or hard right fear-spewing oratories on crime. Is it any wonder that print media is for titillation, not education? "Journalists" gotta be part gumshoe and easy rider these days, and that information highway has some dangerous curves ahead. Great interview, Matt
Walter Kirn's invocation of the Wizard of Oz reminds me of another version of that same myth via Malcolm Reynolds and the show Firefly.
"...they'll swing back to the belief they can make people... better. And I do not hold to that. No more running. I aim to misbehave."
To looking behind the curtain, friends.
Andrew (paraphrasing Thomas Frank): "...[journalists have] become the professional class, the adults in the room. They know that they’re the smart ones, the ones with the college degrees..."
I just wonder about that. Make no mistake, universities still habour genuine scholars who belong in academic environments and write wonderfully perceptive, painstakingly researched books worth reading. But by far the larger number of Americans (including, one would suppose, those who end up as journalists) emerge from their prohibitively expensive university experience no wiser or more 'adult' than before, and no better informed in most areas than readers of Wikipedia; and all too often they're full of resentment for those who haven't come by their ignorance the hard way. The motivation of graduates in a position to seize bully pulpits and tell others what to think and do may owe more to credentialism, and an aggrieved sense of what their entitlements ought to be, than to any real confidence in their intellectual gifts or competence.
The bona fide competence of plumbers and other tradesmen tends to unnerve these not-quite elite 'professionals,' and the truly smart among them realize their caricatures of the denizens of Montana and other 'flyover' states are cardboard cut-out stereotypes. Yet to the extent such stereotypes help fortify pretensions and perpetuate class divides that narrative spinners are desperate to believe they're on the right side of, they cynically, diligently reaffirm and patrol the borders.