Some good stories to read on a long weekend
Sinema, Lab Leak and more
To celebrate Memorial Day, when people might actually have some time on their hands to read, I wanted to highlight some good stories I rather enjoyed released over the last few months.
Who is Kyrsten Sinema?
Nationally she was the woman who put the first L in McSally’s back to back Ls in Arizona. But this feature traces her career in politics back to her activism against the Iraq War and immigration. Crucially it illustrates a clear trend: Sinema believes that change happens within and she can be the one to wield it.
As she becomes frustrated with the passionate but unorganized world of professional protestors she begins realizing that it’s better to be the person who understands the world of power and how to operate within it. The story made me bullish on her future in Arizona. She will credibly be able to run on the idea that she is a maverick who marches to her own drum.
I’ve written about the lab leak a fair amount so we don’t need to rehash my opinions on it. But there was a crucial paragraph in this piece that really struck me.
One key change to mainstream journalism in the Trump era was the impulse to tell the reader exactly what to think, lest by leaving anything ambiguous you gave an inch to right-wing demagogy. It was not enough to simply report, “Republican politician X said conspiratorial-sounding thing Y.” You also had to specifically describe the conspiratorial thing as false or debunked misinformation, in a way that once would have been considered editorializing, so as to leave no doubt in the vulnerable reader’s mind.
I’m very skeptical that this achieved its intended purpose. (Has anyone drawn to a conspiracy theory been disabused by seeing it described as such in the mainstream media?) But even if it sometimes did, it also created expansive pressures to describe more and more things without any ambiguity and shading, and judge more and more right-wing claims pre-emptively. Which is only a good rule for a truth-seeking profession if you assume the day will never come when Tom Cotton has a point.
This is something that has long bothered me over the last four years and I think is spelled out pretty eloquently. Phrases like “without evidence” or “fact-free” have become commonplace in news writing on a level that I can’t remember. In my humble opinion these declarations are often hasty and irresponsible. They create credibility gaps between reporters and audience because the world is complicated and the quickest way to make a mistake in journalism is to believe you know everything. Double that for the world of politics where double speak and partisan factoid shopping is the name of the game.
Lawrence Wright is one of my favorite non-fiction authors. His great gift is telling stories about massive organization in crisis. What he illustrates so well is that getting a big system to react the right way in a moment of confusion is often impossible. In fact, simply stopping them from doing something disastrous is a minor miracle.
As you can imagine there are plenty of these stories from inside the federal government and medical community during the COVID crisis in 2020.
Wright’s retelling is pretty complimentary of Dr. Birx which probably means she was a key source. But that’s just reckless speculation.
This piece is apparently an excerpt from a forthcoming book which I could not be more excited to read.
A look into the developing defamation suit between Project Veritas and the New York Times. Some of it gets into some “the definition of is is” Com Law legalize but it’s another consequence of news writing becoming more editorialized.
Glad the newsletter is back. The content we need is you breaking down Brian Stelter unpacking Tucker Carlson tearing down a New York Times piece exposing Substack. - JACOB
That’s my final form.
On MSNBC monsters-under-the-bed, I'd nominate Louis DeJoy. From my outside of the country perspective, a postmaster is brought up a lot more than usual (saying that, our former CEO of Australia Post is in the news a lot here for totally different reasons).
I get it, because people hate that their mail is being slowed and it's a stupid thing to cripple your postal system. It's just mentioned far more than I think might be considered normal by other networks. - MERRAN
Man, that is something that came and went too. Specifically since I don’t know how much anyone would have really noticed anything if it hadn’t become a media story.
No doubt, Fox gives conservatives a breath of fresh air! Fox has mastered the fine art of FUD, with salacious news stories that chalk full of controversy, adversity, drama and clear protagonists/antagonists. Their newcaster's performances excel with highly charged emotional stories that are easy to digest and champion righteous causes. And they come across as being smart, shrewd and sexy/handsome, too!
That said, out of the entire pack, the only one I could enjoy and feel I learned something new, had to pack his bags 5 years ago - Bill O’Reilly. - MICHAEL
There was a period of time when I was in college when I’d return from working on the newspaper at around 2 a.m. Get baked with my roommate and we’d watch the 3 a.m. rerun of the O’Reilly Factor. That was a weird period of time.