Raise Hell and Take Names

Last weekend, the New York Times published a sympathetic profile of longtime Trump confidante and former presidential adviser Hope Hicks. We know it was sympathetic because it described Hicks’s anguish over a decision whether to testify about Trump to Congress.

The story called that decision an “existential question”.

Twitter had fun with that. Twitter also had fun with the fact that the existential question was whether to obey the law. Hicks wasn’t entertaining an invitation; she was deciding whether to comply with a subpoena.

The fashion-shoot portrait accompanying the story didn’t help, either.

Much of the malicious glee was directed at the story’s writer, Maggie Haberman. Haberman’s one of those White House reporters with regular scoops on Oval Office palace intrigue; it was suggested that Hicks was one of her main anonymous sources, and the sympathetic story was returning the favor.

The weekend passed, the Times quietly changed the offending word to “crucial”, and the party moved on to the next outrage — until Tuesday, when Jonathan Chait published a vociferous defense of Haberman and her work.

“The progressive loathing of Haberman draws some of its force from the mistaken belief that straight news reporters should stand up to the president and call him out for his unfitness to hold office,” Chait wrote. “Some people who believe this fail to grasp the distinction between news gathering and opinion journalism.”

And on Twitter, the Blue Checkmarks came out to join Chait in his praise, proclaiming the unassailable virtue of Haberman’s work and deep misunderstanding of journalism itself.

At which point our head exploded.

Well, no, that’s just us being colorful about our state of mind at that moment. We know that, as a trained journalist, you can’t put that in a story; explosive noggins aren’t facts, absent an incendiary cause or vehicular collision.

We can, however, accurately report the phrase that came to mind:

Raise hell and take names.

It’s a phrase we hadn’t thought about in forever — or some forty years, take your pick. We learned it at the college newspaper, where we learned everything about journalism, including our deep passion for it. It was a real newspaper, too — an independent daily, not some school-funded project. (Our journalism degree was good for learning about libel law, but not much else.)

Raise hell and take names. Journalism wasn’t just a craft but a calling, the fulfillment of the ideal of the First Amendment. Journalism was the citizens’ representative in the halls of power. We could hold the bastards accountable for the crimes they were committing against the public.

It was great fun.

So, yeah, we know a thing about journalism. We know what you can and can’t print, what you can and can’t say. You seek the truth, but you can only run with the facts. If you’re going to nail the bastards to the wall, the nails must be sturdy.

We also know, especially, deeply, who the journalist is writing for: The Reader. Readers are actual people, living actual lives. They may only glance at your school-board story on their way to the sports section, but they’re out there, and they’re why you exist. Readers pay the rent. You’re providing them a service. All journalism is service journalism. If you’re not writing for The Reader, you’re jerking off.

Raise hell and take names. The Reader doesn’t have time to hang out in the halls of government all day, day after day. That’s your job. For them.

At least it should be.

We’ve been trying to get at this for a couple years now, the failure of national journalists to do their fucking jobs in the face of the kind of crisis the First Amendment was designed to counter.

Something happens when you reach that level of journalism — the national level, the prestigious level, the Times level. Your beat changes. Your sources change.

Your audience changes.

Who is Maggie Haberman writing for?

Who is the audience for a sympathetic Hope Hicks profile with a fashion shoot? Who out there cares about the personal anguish of a former White House staffer deciding whether to obey the law?

You know what? Not us.

Probably not you, either.

Our parents wouldn’t have given a shit.

Few souls west of the Mississippi, we’d imagine.

In fact, give us a map of the continental United States, and we’ll draw two circles encompassing the audience for that story, and many others like it: Manhattan, and Washington, D.C. These stories aren’t being written for us; they’re being written for the people they’re writing about. You, dear reader, are not The Reader. They are.

The New York Times is just a community newspaper for the elite, and they all like seeing their names in it.

This is by no means a fresh observation — we were talking about some form of this forty years ago at the college rag. Nor is it an observation without exception — the Times, the Post, the networks, they’re all capable of doing outstanding work when they put their minds to it. But then they slip back into the daily grind, writing for their real audience, whining that we just don’t get them, when in fact we do, all too well.

We don’t exist for them.

We are not the rich, the powerful, the connected. We do not walk the halls of power, as officeholder or observer. We rely on those who do to serve our interests and our needs. When the former don’t, we rely on the latter to tell us about it. And when the latter show more care for the emotional state of the powerful than the consequences for the ruled, we are in deep fucking trouble.

Raise hell and take names. We really haven’t thought about that phrase in forever. Journalism that doesn’t abide by it isn’t serving the citizens of a republic.

18 comments:

2:07 am • Sunday • June 2, 2019

Government is fucked; journalism is fucked. Maybe now I can focus on cats.

10:10 am • Sunday • June 2, 2019

@nojo: Standing O, brother! My old-school journalism prof called it BSBS – both sides bull shit – and tried to remind us our role was to afflict the comfortable and speak the truth.

10:42 am • Sunday • June 2, 2019

@SanFranLefty: We had one of those — a hardass curmudgeon, beloved by all — and I wonder whether they exist anymore. He would have been fiftysomething forty years ago, a relic of a journalism era that was already passing, as Network ushered in the new.

I’m pretty sure he was the one who warned us incoming freshmen to choose another career, since Gannett was taking over the world and chain newspapers would be the death of journalism. If we insisted on staying in, he told us, we better believe in what we’re doing, since that’s all we could count on.

1:20 pm • Sunday • June 2, 2019

I confess to still liking Haberman’s reporting. It’s in part because she and others scooped the inner workings of the WH that the public was so dead inside by the time the Mueller Report was slow rolled – then dropped. Her fact based reporting left the Reader numb.

I have no excuse for the Hicks fluff piece. I also didn’t read it. It’s gotten so bad out there I can barely get through two paragraphs of Peter Baker before I flick over to Deadspin.

oh and hey! How’s it going? Glad to see this thing still works. Does this mean you’re bringing Barry back? Or the Ark?

9:36 am • Monday • June 3, 2019

What’s that racket? Oh, C&L has come calling again.

https://crooksandliars.com/2019/06/mikes-blog-round-0

11:35 am • Tuesday • June 4, 2019

I recall hearing somewhere that the unwritten rule of journalism is that if the country’s economic and political elite don’t hate your guts, then you’re not doing your job.

11:41 am • Tuesday • June 4, 2019

@nojo: I’m currently re-reading The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, and I noticed at the airport last week that there’s a sequel, Everything is Fucked. Seems appropriate in this age of environmental collapse, fascism, mass murder, measles, and Prezinazi Tr666p.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/43808723-everything-is-f-cked

11:27 am • Thursday • June 6, 2019

On some personal bittersweet news…

I finally said goodbye gas stations and bought a Nissan Leaf used. 2 years ahead of sched because some asshole did a left turn in front of me without looking to see who was coming. Still pissed about that. Especially when his wife arrived on the scene after the fact and blamed me. I bit through my tongue as I controlled my smart/snide/rude mouth and temper.

The guy offered me a mere $3-4k to not go through insurance. For the aggravation and headaches I would have to go through? The fact my 2005 Civic was a write off? No fucking way. Any remote chance disappeared when his wife opened her big mouth.

For those wondering, my insurance didn’t go up much for a new (for me) electric.

Gotta purchase the 240V Level 2 charging station next.

2:05 pm • Thursday • June 6, 2019

@ManchuCandidate: Wait, wait — 2005 Civic? Stick? Two-door? Silver? Don’t jinx my ride, man.

6:14 pm • Thursday • June 6, 2019

@nojo:
Yeah… but mine was blue.

1:23 pm • Saturday • June 15, 2019

I seem to be a magnet for asshole drivers right now. This week my new car nearly got hit by an asshole in the work parking lot. I yelled at that guy (manager) who didn’t even look when he turned. It felt good ripping him apart for being an unaware stupid driver.

On another note: It seems I have a lot to fear about getting old because the war my cranky dad started with his neighbour has escalated to nuclear when the neighbour sued for “pain and suffering.” Afterwards he went outside to provoke a reaction from my dad while he was working on the lawn. The funny thing is when my dad is super pissed with someone he basically ignores them (which I do too).

My dad is not an innocent here. He lost his temper and threatened to kill the neighbour’s dog if they didn’t control it after it barked for several hours incessantly. This pretty much set off the war.

However, it seemed the neighbour was always quick to call the cops or the lawyers rather than talk to my dad about it. When my parents sent them a letter about their big tree, they ignored it. My dad being my dad doesn’t like getting flipped the bird so he trimmed part of the tree over hanging his fence.

In the lawsuit there is no mention of the letter. Lots of lies though that I won’t go through. Gonna be a stupid summer.

My sister who tried to prevent all this, is understandably upset.

2:22 pm • Saturday • June 15, 2019

@ManchuCandidate: My parked Civic has had its driver mirror knocked off. Twice. Yeah, older residential streets are a tad narrow in Denver, but still.

11:17 am • Tuesday • June 18, 2019

@ManchuCandidate: Wow—I just caught the coverage of the Raptors’ parade through Toronto. What an amazing outpouring of civic pride. Congrats, man.

10:23 am • Wednesday • June 19, 2019

@¡Andrew!:
It was. 600k people showed up including several of my coworkers.

10:28 am • Wednesday • June 19, 2019

Grumpy Old Man Vs Asshole Bully Neighbour Saga Continued:

It turns out I know a pretty good litigation lawyer from a large firm. Well, they’ve been served in reply as it turns out the letter trying to extort money from dad (GOM) was written by a paralegal without lawyer support. The firm representing ABN deals primarily with real estate not litigation/tort. It is going to be costly, but cheaper than giving into their demands.

Lesson is don’t bring a rubber knife to a gun fight. Also don’t go cheap with a lawyer. (That was what my dad was trying to do… even wanted to represent himself. Ugh.)

4:36 pm • Tuesday • July 9, 2019

@nojo: My cat horked a hairball today. And yesterday. And the day before. Must be time to vacuum.

3:26 am • Wednesday • July 10, 2019

Well, well, well. NYT says don’t use Zoom because it’s super-spyey. Like superduper spyey.

The VA uses TeleHealthNOW for veterans with mental health conditions who live too far from a VA and can’t find a local provider that accepts VA mental health patients.

Guess what! TeleHealthNOW uses ZOOM! Hello, HIPAA? HIPAA is a thing right? Fucking criminal.

ETA: Maaaaad props to Jonathan Leitschuh for calling out the Zoom shenanigans AND detailing how the company gives zero fucks about privacy.

2:52 pm • Wednesday • July 10, 2019

@ManchuCandidate: Love you, Man :)

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