Today is my last day at Splinter news dot com, but this isn’t about me. It’s about the dire importance of having vocal, unapologetically left wing media outlets in 2018 and going forward.
I’ve been thinking a lot about something Adam Serwer wrote shortly after the election on the media’s relative impotence in holding the Trump administration accountable (emphasis mine):
Another obstacle is that media objectivity is not a fixed point. It is carefully calibrated to the perception of public opinion, because media organizations do not want to alienate their intended audience. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews offers a telling example of how media figures shift to identify with their perceived audience, which can ultimately mean cozying up to power. During George W. Bush’s absurd war pageantry in May 2003, Matthews remarked that Bush looked like a “high-flying jet star,” and that Bush “won the war. He was an effective commander. Everybody recognizes that, I believe, except a few critics.” The Iraq War is arguably still ongoing.
The Matthews episode illustrates that in addition to reporting itself being manipulated, members of the media themselves engaged in careful brand-management exercises in order to portray themselves as in touch with “Real America,” granting themselves permission to dismiss criticisms of the Bush administration as the ravings of pampered liberal elites. Only days after the 2016 presidential election, this process is already taking place, with prominent media figures seeking to defend the victorious Trump coalition against the slights of those religious and ethnic minorities who fear for their fate under a president who campaigned using them as scapegoats for the nation’s problems.
Adversarial coverage of the Bush administration notably increased once his approval ratings dipped so low that media figures felt as though they were reflecting public opinion when they criticized him. The Bush administration’s ability to shape the narrative in the aftermath of public crises like Hurricane Katrina was noticeably diminished, because unlike with Iraq, reporters could contrast official statements with what they saw with their own lives. Trump’s ability to forge an alternate universe of belief for himself and his supporters suggests that reality may prove far less of an obstacle for him than it was for Bush.
All of Serwer’s predictions two years ago have been borne out by reality. While mainstream news outlets have published vital reporting since Donald Trump took office, they have also published a lot of dumb shit. They have played into the Trump administration’s crocodile-tear calls for “civility,” which has only emboldened the president and his allies to continue plowing ahead with their toxic agenda.
What we need now, more than ever, are strong, openly adversarial media outlets. (The fact that GMG is unionized plays a big role in our ability to write and report aggressively about this administration.) We need an opposition media that lives up to Fox News’ hyperbole about left wing Marxist media.
Today is my last day at Splinter. While staring into the firehose of news every day has been exhausting, it has also been exhilarating to know that I worked somewhere that I didn’t have to pull any punches, with a group of people who are unshakeable in their moral convictions.
When I first found out I was being sued in D.C. federal court by a member of the alt-right, I was positive I was going to be fired. Instead, my colleagues’ support was overwhelming. I apologized to my editor in chief at the time, Dodai Stewart, for getting into a legal battle. She sent me back this message: “I’m cool as a cucumber.” That simple sentence alone gave me so much peace of mind; I don’t have the words to thank her for them. (Thank you, Dodai.)
We need more people like Dodai in journalism today. We need more people like my colleagues at Splinter in journalism today. We need reporters with enough self-respect not to call Jeff Sessions an “honorable person,” launder the administration’s lies as “scoops,” then turn around and collect $25,000 per speaking engagement for doing so. In short, we need reporters who don’t give a fuck what the people in power think about them.
We need news outlets that are unafraid to call bullshit now more than ever. We need news outlets that aren’t afraid to call lies lies, or to treat this administration’s manifold grifters with the scorn they so rightfully deserve, or to call torture what it is. We need more news outlets like Splinter.
The world can feel very bleak these days. It can be easy to feel like nothing matters, that nothing will make an impact in the onslaught of abuses wrought by this administration. But there are bright spots. Splinter and Gizmodo Media Group have been two bright spots for me. I hope that our words can provide some clarity, solace, and comfort to you in these dark times.
Your voice matters too. Protests matter. Direct action matters. Voting matters. Reporting and bearing witness—whether it’s done by professional journalists or citizens with smartphones—matters. Exercising your right to free speech and assembly still matters, no matter how much Republicans want to erode it.
I will miss you, reader. Please keep reading my colleagues’ work at GMG. They genuinely care about what’s happening in this country and around the world, and they work hard to get that information to you. A great way to support the journalism we do here at Splinter, and at other GMG sites, is to send us your tips.
It’s not over yet. What I do, what you do, what each of us does in this moment—it all matters. Thank you for being here with me.