"Are you the messenger and is this home?"
The marketplace of ideas should not be peddling poison or actively incorrect messages about the 2020 election. No, not even from a former president.
This week’s soundtrack: Ioanna Gika - “Messenger”
On May 10, former president Donald Trump went on CNN to conduct a town hall. CNN, as you may know, is trying to grab some of Fox News’ viewers and become a more bipartisan network. Conservative media has been reporting on CNN’s so-called leftward lean for years now and have ascribed its ratings to this shift, though I’m somewhat hesitant to endorse that particular line of thought (mostly because I haven’t studied it enough). Trump’s town hall event was conducted by the new CNN management favorite Kaitlin Collins.
(Before we go any further, Collins is most or all of the things you’ve probably heard about her. She’s a youngish pretty woman with a conservative past, a fairly milquetoast presence on-air and not a lot else. She definitely was a correspondent for the abominable Daily Caller for years, complete with the byline on a Barstool-esque slideshow of “hot” Syrian refugees. )
CNN, not shockingly, got a lot of shit for putting Trump on the air earlier this month. All the cable networks downplayed him in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack, largely in the interest of not amplifying his dangerous message that, you know, kinda spurred said attack. Personally, I thought deplatforming the big guy was a good idea; if a journalist’s first obligation is to the truth, it makes no sense to put his voice on air in order to continue to spread the nonsense that were the election result lies he so loves to repeat.
That lesson was easily forgotten, of course, for this town hall. The Factcheck.org folks did a debunking of the various lies Trump told during said town hall and it is not a short list. But, this is all prelude to the defense of the town hall I saw most frequently and the one that, broadly, has become the guiding light for the big-brained types who seem to obfuscate when it comes to journalistic responsibility. The defense was basically something like this: The pencil necks should listen to the pied piper of “real America” and that they (we?) are too cowardly to bow to CNN’s very smart journalistic decision-making that has nothing to do with trying to get more viewers and, thus, more revenue opportunities.
Anderson Cooper said so much on the air the day after the town hall.
I’m hardly an O. Henry story, but you’ll have to forgive me for not listening to a Vanderbilt on the subject of privilege. But, outside of that, let’s go down this path a little: Should we listen to anyone with any decent number of followers? Do vaccines make babies into mutants? Is the world flat? Do Jews – celebrities and Jewish celebrities– eat babies? Are the four humors the real key to health? And on and on.
No. I don’t have to listen to these people because they are incorrect. They are wrong. I understand that he’s the former president, but Trump is incorrect. He is wrong.
Either he is willfully not listening to the truth or he is lying to keep his followers happy or trying to get votes in ‘24 or whatever. I don’t know if he believes he won in ‘20 or not. I just know it’s not what happened. A journalist’s first obligation is to the truth and the truth is that the big man lost to Joe Biden. Therefore, I don’t have to listen to him and I shouldn’t amplify his message on one of the biggest possible platforms available for a public figure.
(I want to take a little aside here to stake my own claim in the belief of the salon and this arguing. The Talmudic tradition to which I often subscribe is all about arguing and going back and forth about the matters of ethics. Examination of statements is valuable when discussing the intricacies of Halacha; it’s not valuable when someone says that up is down, which is kinda where Trump is on the ‘20 election.)
I don’t know Cooper’s mind nor do I care to, but his statement echoes that of a few people I respect and a whole more who I don’t: They believe in the marketplace of ideas. It is a nice optimism, but I can assure you that it is not, in fact, true nor useful in our modern context. Cooper misuses academic terminology surrounding silos and bubbles, but that’s sorta immaterial to the popular notions that they’ve become, but they also make no use of meaning in his use.
Which is to say: It’s one thing to hear someone out who has a differing opinion, but it’s another to reopen things that have been closed. Society is constantly changing, for sure, but whatever the progression of time brings – technology, knowledge, etc. – we need to agree on a few things. The planet is not flat, for example, is something we already figured out (complete with ample evidence). There is no reason to debate it as though we are debating the nature of self or even futurism.
The point of inquiry is not to inquire until you croak, going back and forth and “listening” to someone be wrong. In fact, the goal of inquiry it to settle these matters, whether on a compromise or with the correct truth. I don’t need to go halfway on the issue of whether or not Jewish people drink baby blood; I can assure you that we do not. There is no debate there, no matter how much the Q people want to have that conversation.
What I notice when it comes to a lot of the market-lovers is that they are status quo lovers as much as anything. I hate to shit on Cooper (note: I don’t), but his perspective is not particularly useful to me when the incentives are so strong for him. He’s at risk because of his job and his sexuality, but his money and stature insulates him quite a bit; he won’t be the election workers targeted or even the GovExec podcast host getting death threats because of one of the first GovExec Daily shows.
Ditto Bari Weiss or Brett Stephens or Andrew Sullivan or Thomas Chatterton Williams. Their “theories” and platforming of dangerous ideas and people speak to a power that the actual people who this affects will not. It’s not a bunch of theories in a salon in pursuit of higher truth, it’s actual lives on the line.
Like it or not, the public does not have access to everything, so gatekeeping is a big part of the job of journalists. Taking extra care as to what people read or see “in the paper” will overrule any curiosity they may have about the world or any examination they will have about any topic. That means you can’t
Like it or not, it’s best to ignore the big man. when he comes calling. Deplatforming works (no, it’s not perfect) and it’s the responsible thing to do. It’s not the way to get audience and it’s not within the new management strategy, but it is the correct thing to do and a journalism outfit’s first obligation is to the truth.
I’m a near a telework absolutist, so it is always fun to get into my echo chamber (eat that, Cooper!) and talk to my former boss/current colleague Tom Shoop about the history of telework and how it’s gotten the same shit since it began.
Today’s show is another one during which I learned a lot about DEI in the financial industry. Your mileage may vary on how illuminating it was, but I thought it was interesting.
One of the things that a lot of mindfulness experts say is key is to be in the moment while doing something, which – for a millennial like myself – means keeping the phone away and not taking photographs of everything. That’s to say that I saw a plethora of terrific dogs this weekend – some Philadelphia friends were in town with their dogs, for example – and took no photos of them. Instead, I gave them liver treatd and pet them and talked to other people about said dogs. Dogs are my mindfulness hack.
That said, my own little goblin cannot go to dog events because she is so aggressive and would try and eat all the other dogs. I still love her.
A Recommendation: Explanation of Weird Things That We Take For Granted to Virgin Ears
I mentioned that some Philadelphia friends were in town this weekend and one of those friends, in fact, grew up in Europe. This is mostly immaterial, except that she does not have all the same frames of reference that I might. So, in talking about the often-whacky D.C Metrobus system, I brought up one of my favorite all-time stories: The time a bus driver – on a route! – parked the bus, got out and punched McGruff the Crime Dog.
Obviously, it’s a great story, but my friend gave me a quizzical look when I mentioned McGruff, which meant I had the opportunity to explain McGruff to someone. If you step back, it’s very weird that we have an anti-crime bloodhound in an overcoat telling kids to take a bite out of crime, but it’s just part of the landscape of living in the United States. She was both delighted and befuddled. Her husband – who grew up in the States – just laughed because he realized that McGruff had never come up in their conversations, so I thanked him for letting me explain this weird thing to an immigrant.
As a foreigner, I am also delighted to hear about your crime fighting dog of Celtic origin, I'll add that to the list my USian friend and I are assembling of American pop culture that didn't get exported.