Category: media

When you’ve lost liberal journalists …

Matt Taibbi is not a fan of Donald Trump. But he’s not a fan of his own profession either at this point:

Sometimes it seems life can’t get any worse in this country. Already in terror of a pandemic, Americans have lately been bombarded with images of grotesque state-sponsored violence, from the murder of George Floyd to countless scenes of police clubbing and brutalizing protesters. …

But police violence, and Trump’s daily assaults on the presidential competence standard, are only part of the disaster. On the other side of the political aisle, among self-described liberals, we’re watching an intellectual revolution. It feels liberating to say after years of tiptoeing around the fact, but the American left has lost its mind. It’s become a cowardly mob of upper-class social media addicts, Twitter Robespierres who move from discipline to discipline torching reputations and jobs with breathtaking casualness.

The leaders of this new movement are replacing traditional liberal beliefs about tolerance, free inquiry, and even racial harmony with ideas so toxic and unattractive that they eschew debate, moving straight to shaming, threats, and intimidation. They are counting on the guilt-ridden, self-flagellating nature of traditional American progressives, who will not stand up for themselves, and will walk to the Razor voluntarily.

They’ve conned organization after organization into empowering panels to search out thoughtcrime, and it’s established now that anything can be an offense, from a UCLA professor placed under investigation for reading Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” out loud to a data scientist fired* from a research firm for — get this — retweeting an academic study suggesting nonviolent protests may be more politically effective than violent ones!

Now, this madness is coming for journalism. Beginning on Friday, June 5th, a series of controversies rocked the media. By my count, at least eight news organizations dealt with internal uprisings (it was likely more). Most involved groups of reporters and staffers demanding the firing or reprimand of colleagues who’d made politically “problematic” editorial or social media decisions.

The New York Times, the InterceptVox, the Philadelphia Inquirier, Variety, and others saw challenges to management.

Probably the most disturbing story involved Intercept writer Lee Fang, one of a fast-shrinking number of young reporters actually skilled in investigative journalism. Fang’s work in the area of campaign finance especially has led to concrete impact, including a record fine to a conservative Super PAC: few young reporters have done more to combat corruption.

Yet Fang found himself denounced online as a racist, then hauled before H.R. His crime? During protests, he tweeted this interview with an African-American man named Maximum Fr, who described having two cousins murdered in the East Oakland neighborhood where he grew up. Saying his aunt is still not over those killings, Max asked:

I always question, why does a Black life matter only when a white man takes it?… Like, if a white man takes my life tonight, it’s going to be national news, but if a Black man takes my life, it might not even be spoken of… It’s stuff just like that that I just want in the mix.

Shortly after, a co-worker of Fang’s, Akela Lacy, wrote, “Tired of being made to deal continually with my co-worker @lhfang continuing to push black on black crime narratives after being repeatedly asked not to. This isn’t about me and him, it’s about institutional racism and using free speech to couch anti-blackness. I am so fucking tired.” She followed with, “Stop being racist Lee.”

The tweet received tens of thousands of likes and responses along the lines of, “Lee Fang has been like this for years, but the current moment only makes his anti-Blackness more glaring,” and “Lee Fang spouting racist bullshit it must be a day ending in day.” A significant number of Fang’s co-workers, nearly all white, as well as reporters from other major news organizations like the New York Times and MSNBC and political activists (one former Elizabeth Warren staffer tweeted, “Get him!”), issued likes and messages of support for the notion that Fang was a racist. Though he had support within the organization, no one among his co-workers was willing to say anything in his defense publicly.

Like many reporters, Fang has always viewed it as part of his job to ask questions in all directions. He’s written critically of political figures on the center-left, the left, and “obviously on the right,” and his reporting has inspired serious threats in the past. None of those past experiences were as terrifying as this blitz by would-be colleagues, which he described as “jarring,” “deeply isolating,” and “unique in my professional experience.”

To save his career, Fang had to craft a public apology for “insensitivity to the lived experience of others.” According to one friend of his, it’s been communicated to Fang that his continued employment at The Intercept is contingent upon avoiding comments that may upset colleagues. Lacy to her credit publicly thanked Fang for his statement and expressed willingness to have a conversation; unfortunately, the throng of Intercept co-workers who piled on her initial accusation did not join her in this.

I first met Lee Fang in 2014 and have never known him to be anything but kind, gracious, and easygoing. He also appears earnestly committed to making the world a better place through his work. It’s stunning that so many colleagues are comfortable using a word as extreme and villainous as racist to describe him.

Though he describes his upbringing as “solidly middle-class,” Fang grew up in up in a diverse community in Prince George’s County, Maryland, and attended public schools where he was frequently among the few non-African Americans in his class. As a teenager, he was witness to the murder of a young man outside his home by police who were never prosecuted, and also volunteered at a shelter for trafficked women, two of whom were murdered. If there’s an edge to Fang at all, it seems geared toward people in our business who grew up in affluent circumstances and might intellectualize topics that have personal meaning for him.

In the tweets that got him in trouble with Lacy and other co-workers, he questioned the logic of protesters attacking immigrant-owned businesses “with no connection to police brutality at all.” He also offered his opinion on Martin Luther King’s attitude toward violent protest (Fang’s take was that King did not support it; Lacy responded, “you know they killed him too right”). These are issues around which there is still considerable disagreement among self-described liberals, even among self-described leftists. Fang also commented, presciently as it turns out, that many reporters were “terrified of openly challenging the lefty conventional wisdom around riots.”

Lacy says she never intended for Fang to be “fired, ‘canceled,’ or deplatformed,” but appeared irritated by questions on the subject, which she says suggest, “there is more concern about naming racism than letting it persist.”

Max himself was stunned to find out that his comments on all this had created a Twitter firestorm. “I couldn’t believe they were coming for the man’s job over something I said,” he recounts. “It was not Lee’s opinion. It was my opinion.”

By phone, Max spoke of a responsibility he feels Black people have to speak out against all forms of violence, “precisely because we experience it the most.” He described being affected by the Floyd story, but also by the story of retired African-American police captain David Dorn, shot to death in recent protests in St. Louis. He also mentioned Tony Timpa, a white man whose 2016 asphyxiation by police was only uncovered last year. In body-camera footage, police are heard joking after Timpa passed out and stopped moving, “I don’t want to go to school! Five more minutes, Mom!”

“If it happens to anyone, it has to be called out,” Max says.

Max described discussions in which it was argued to him that bringing up these other incidents now is not helpful to the causes being articulated at the protests. He understands that point of view. He just disagrees.

“They say, there has to be the right time and a place to talk about that,” he says. “But my point is, when? I want to speak out now.” He pauses. “We’ve taken the narrative, and instead of being inclusive with it, we’ve become exclusive with it. Why?”

There were other incidents. The editors of Bon Apetit and Refinery29 both resigned amid accusations of toxic workplace culture. The editor of Variety, Claudia Eller, was placed on leave after calling a South Asian freelance writer “bitter” in a Twitter exchange about minority hiring at her company. The self-abasing apology (“I have tried to diversify our newsroom over the past seven years, but I HAVE NOT DONE ENOUGH”) was insufficient. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Inquirer’s editor, Stan Wischowski, was forced out after approving a headline, “Buildings matter, too.”

In the most discussed incident, Times editorial page editor James Bennet was ousted for green-lighting an anti-protest editorial by Arkansas Republican Senator Tom Cotton entitled, “Send in the troops.”

I’m no fan of Cotton, but as was the case with Michael Moore’s documentary and many other controversial speech episodes, it’s not clear that many of the people angriest about the piece in question even read it. In classic Times fashion, the paper has already scrubbed a mistake they made misreporting what their own editorial said, in an article about Bennet’s ouster. Here’s how the piece by Marc Tracy read originally (emphasis mine):

James Bennet, the editorial page editor of The New York Times, has resigned after a controversy over an Op-Ed by a senator calling for military force against protesters in American cities.

Here’s how the piece reads now:

James Bennet resigned on Sunday from his job as the editorial page editor of The New York Times, days after the newspaper’s opinion section, which he oversaw, published a much-criticized Op-Ed by a United States senator calling for a military response to civic unrest in American cities.

Cotton did not call for “military force against protesters in American cities.” He spoke of a “show of force,” to rectify a situation a significant portion of the country saw as spiraling out of control. It’s an important distinction. Cotton was presenting one side of the most important question on the most important issue of a critically important day in American history.

As Cotton points out in the piece, he was advancing a view arguably held by a majority of the country. A Morning Consult poll showed 58% of Americans either strongly or somewhat supported the idea of “calling in the U.S. military to supplement city police forces.” That survey included 40% of self-described “liberals” and 37% of African-Americans. To declare a point of view held by that many people not only not worthy of discussion, but so toxic that publication of it without even necessarily agreeing requires dismissal, is a dramatic reversal for a newspaper that long cast itself as the national paper of record.

Incidentally, that same poll cited by Cotton showed that 73% of Americans described protecting property as “very important,” while an additional 16% considered it “somewhat important.” This means the Philadelphia Inquirer editor was fired for running a headline – “Buildings matter, too” – that the poll said expressed a view held by 89% of the population, including 64% of African-Americans.

(Would I have run the Inquirer headline? No. In the context of the moment, the use of the word “matter” especially sounds like the paper is equating “Black lives” and “buildings,” an odious and indefensible comparison. But why not just make this case in a rebuttal editorial? Make it a teaching moment? How can any editor operate knowing that airing opinions shared by a majority of readers might cost his or her job?)

The main thing accomplished by removing those types of editorials from newspapers — apart from scaring the hell out of editors — is to shield readers from knowledge of what a major segment of American society is thinking.

It also guarantees that opinion writers and editors alike will shape views to avoid upsetting colleagues, which means that instead of hearing what our differences are and how we might address those issues, newspaper readers will instead be presented with page after page of people professing to agree with one another. That’s not agitation, that’s misinformation.

The instinct to shield audiences from views or facts deemed politically uncomfortable has been in evidence since Trump became a national phenomenon. We saw it when reporters told audiences Hillary Clinton’s small crowds were a “wholly intentional” campaign decision. I listened to colleagues that summer of 2016 talk about ignoring poll results, or anecdotes about Hillary’s troubled campaign, on the grounds that doing otherwise might “help Trump” (or, worse, be perceived that way).

Even if you embrace a wholly politically utilitarian vision of the news media – I don’t, but let’s say – non-reporting of that “enthusiasm” story, or ignoring adverse poll results, didn’t help Hillary’s campaign. I’d argue it more likely accomplished the opposite, contributing to voter apathy by conveying the false impression that her victory was secure.

After the 2016 election, we began to see staff uprisings. In one case, publishers at the Nation faced a revolt – from the Editor on down – after articles by Aaron Mate and Patrick Lawrence questioning the evidentiary basis for Russiagate claims was run. Subsequent events, including the recent declassification of congressional testimony, revealed that Mate especially was right to point out that officials had no evidence for a Trump-Russia collusion case. It’s precisely because such unpopular views often turn out to be valid that we stress publishing and debating them in the press.

In a related incident, the New Yorker ran an article about Glenn Greenwald’s Russiagate skepticism that quoted that same Nation editor, Joan Walsh, who had edited Greenwald at Salon. She suggested to the New Yorker that Greenwald’s reservations were rooted in “disdain” for the Democratic Party, in part because of its closeness to Wall Street, but also because of the “ascendance of women and people of color.” The message was clear: even if you win a Pulitzer Prize, you can be accused of racism for deviating from approved narratives, even on questions that have nothing to do with race (the New Yorker piece also implied Greenwald’s intransigence on Russia was pathological and grounded in trauma from childhood).

In the case of Cotton, Times staffers protested on the grounds that “Running this puts Black @NYTimes staff in danger.” Bennet’s editorial decision was not merely ill-considered, but literally life-threatening (note pundits in the space of a few weeks have told us that protesting during lockdowns and not protesting during lockdowns are both literally lethal). The Times first attempted to rectify the situation by apologizing, adding a long Editor’s note to Cotton’s piece that read, as so many recent “apologies” have, like a note written by a hostage.

Editors begged forgiveness for not being more involved, for not thinking to urge Cotton to sound less like Cotton (“Editors should have offered suggestions”), and for allowing rhetoric that was “needlessly harsh and falls short of the thoughtful approach that advances useful debate.” That last line is sadly funny, in the context of an episode in which reporters were seeking to pre-empt a debate rather than have one at all; of course, no one got the joke, since a primary characteristic of the current political climate is a total absence of a sense of humor in any direction.

As many guessed, the “apology” was not enough, and Bennet was whacked a day later in a terse announcement.

His replacement, Kathleen Kingsbury, issued a staff directive essentially telling employees they now had a veto over anything that made them uncomfortable: “Anyone who sees any piece of Opinion journalism, headlines, social posts, photos—you name it—that gives you the slightest pause, please call or text me immediately.”

All these episodes sent a signal to everyone in a business already shedding jobs at an extraordinary rate that failure to toe certain editorial lines can and will result in the loss of your job. Perhaps additionally, you could face a public shaming campaign in which you will be denounced as a racist and rendered unemployable.

These tensions led to amazing contradictions in coverage. For all the extraordinary/inexplicable scenes of police viciousness in recent weeks — and there was a ton of it, ranging from police slashing tires in Minneapolis, to Buffalo officers knocking over an elderly man, to Philadelphia police attacking protesters — there were also 12 deaths in the first nine days of protests, only one at the hands of a police officer (involving a man who may or may not have been aiming a gun at police).

Looting in some communities has been so bad that people have been left without banks to cash checks, or pharmacies to fill prescriptions; business owners have been wiped out (“My life is gone,” commented one Philly store owner); a car dealership in San Leandro, California saw 74 cars stolen in a single night. It isn’t the whole story, but it’s demonstrably true that violence, arson, and rioting are occurring.

However, because it is politically untenable to discuss this in ways that do not suggest support, reporters have been twisting themselves into knots. We are seeing headlines previously imaginable only in The Onion, e.g., “27 police officers injured during largely peaceful anti-racism protests in London.”

Even people who try to keep up with protest goals find themselves denounced the moment they fail to submit to some new tenet of ever-evolving doctrine, via a surprisingly consistent stream of retorts: fuck you, shut up, send money, do better, check yourself, I’m tired and racist.

Minneapolis mayor Jacob Frey, who argued for police reform and attempted to show solidarity with protesters in his city, was shouted down after he refused to commit to defunding the police. Protesters shouted “Get the fuck out!” at him, then chanted “Shame!” and threw refuse, Game of Thrones-style, as he skulked out of the gathering. Frey’s “shame” was refusing to endorse a position polls show 65% of Americans oppose, including 62% of Democrats, with just 15% of all people, and only 33% of African-Americans, in support.

Each passing day sees more scenes that recall something closer to cult religion than politics. White protesters in Floyd’s Houston hometown kneeling and praying to black residents for “forgiveness… for years and years of racism” are one thing, but what are we to make of white police in Cary, North Carolina, kneeling and washing the feet of Black pastors? What about Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer kneeling while dressed in “African kente cloth scarves”?

There is symbolism here that goes beyond frustration with police or even with racism: these are orgiastic, quasi-religious, and most of all, deeply weird scenes, and the press is too paralyzed to wonder at it. In a business where the first job requirement was once the willingness to ask tough questions, we’ve become afraid to ask obvious ones.

On CNN, Minneapolis City Council President Lisa Bender was asked a hypothetical question about a future without police: “What if in the middle of the night, my home is broken into? Who do I call?” When Bender, who is white, answered, “I know that comes from a place of privilege,” questions popped to mind. Does privilege mean one should let someone break into one’s home, or that one shouldn’t ask that hypothetical question? (I was genuinely confused). In any other situation, a media person pounces on a provocative response to dig out its meaning, but an increasingly long list of words and topics are deemed too dangerous to discuss.

The media in the last four years has devolved into a succession of moral manias. We are told the Most Important Thing Ever is happening for days or weeks at a time, until subjects are abruptly dropped and forgotten, but the tone of warlike emergency remains: from James Comey’s firing, to the deification of Robert Mueller, to the Brett Kavanaugh nomination, to the democracy-imperiling threat to intelligence “whistleblowers,” all those interminable months of Ukrainegate hearings (while Covid-19 advanced), to fury at the death wish of lockdown violators, to the sudden reversal on that same issue, etc.

It’s been learned in these episodes we may freely misreport reality, so long as the political goal is righteous. It was okay to publish the now-discredited Steele dossier, because Trump is scum. MSNBC could put Michael Avenatti on live TV to air a gang rape allegation without vetting, because who cared about Brett Kavanaugh – except press airing of that wild story ended up being a crucial factor in convincing key swing voter Maine Senator Susan Collins the anti-Kavanaugh campaign was a political hit job (the allegation illustrated, “why the presumption of innocence is so important,” she said). Reporters who were anxious to prevent Kavanaugh’s appointment, in other words, ended up helping it happen through overzealousness.

There were no press calls for self-audits after those episodes, just as there won’t be a few weeks from now if Covid-19 cases spike, or a few months from now if Donald Trump wins re-election successfully painting the Democrats as supporters of violent protest who want to abolish police. No: press activism is limited to denouncing and shaming colleagues for insufficient fealty to the cheap knockoff of bullying campus Marxism that passes for leftist thought these days.

The traditional view of the press was never based on some contrived, mathematical notion of “balance,” i.e. five paragraphs of Republicans for every five paragraphs of Democrats. The ideal instead was that we showed you everything we could see, good and bad, ugly and not, trusting that a better-informed public would make better decisions. This vision of media stressed accuracy, truth, and trust in the reader’s judgment as the routes to positive social change.

For all our infamous failings, journalists once had some toughness to them. We were supposed to be willing to go to jail for sources we might not even like, and fly off to war zones or disaster areas without question when editors asked. It was also once considered a virtue to flout the disapproval of colleagues to fight for stories we believed in (Watergate, for instance).

Today no one with a salary will stand up for colleagues like Lee Fang. Our brave truth-tellers make great shows of shaking fists at our parody president, but not one of them will talk honestly about the fear running through their own newsrooms. People depend on us to tell them what we see, not what we think. What good are we if we’re afraid to do it?

Uncomfortable truths

Jason L. Riley:

Chicago has long been one of the nation’s most dangerous big cities, and it seems determined to keep that distinction.

The Chicago Sun-Times reports that 18 people were killed on one Sunday, May 31, “making it the single most violent day in Chicago in six decades.” Over the full weekend, “25 people were killed in the city, with another 85 wounded by gunfire.” None of these deaths or shootings involved police, so there will be no massive protests over them, no tearful commentary on cable news and social media, no white politicians wrapped in Kente cloth taking a knee for photographers.

Sadly, the only thing remarkable about the episode is that it occurred in the middle of a national discussion about policing. The political left, with a great deal of assistance from the mainstream media, has convinced many Americans that George Floyd’s death in police custody is an everyday occurrence for black people in this country, and that racism permeates law enforcement. The reality is that the carnage we witness in Chicago is what’s typical, law enforcement has next to nothing to do with black homicides, and the number of interactions between police and low-income blacks is driven by crime rates, not bias. According to the Sun-Times, there were 492 homicides in Chicago last year, and only three of them involved police.

So long as blacks are committing more than half of all murders and robberies while making up only 13% of the population, and so long as almost all of their victims are their neighbors, these communities will draw the lion’s share of police attention. Defunding the police, or making it easier to prosecute officers, will only result in more lives lost in those neighborhoods that most need protecting.

There’s nothing wrong with having a debate about better policing strategies, how to root out bad cops, the role of police unions and so forth. But that conversation needs perspective and context, and the press rarely provides it. People are protesting because the public has been led to believe that racist cops are gunning for blacks, yet the available evidence shows that police use of deadly force has plunged in recent decades, including in big cities with large populations of low-income minorities. In the early 1970s, New York City police officers shot more than 300 people a year. By 2019 that number had fallen to 34.

Part of the confusion stems from attempts to equate any racial disparities with racism, which is as mistaken as equating age and gender disparities with systemic discrimination. Young people are incarcerated at higher rates than older people, and men draw more police attention than women. Is something fishy going on here, or do such outcomes simply reflect the fact that young men are behind most violent crimes? When journalists break down police behavior by race but don’t do the same for criminal behavior, you’re not getting the whole story.

A recent New York Times report, for example, tells us that the racial makeup of Minneapolis is 20% black and 60% white, and that police there “used force against black people at a rate at least seven times that of white people during the past five years.” Left out of the story are the rates at which blacks and whites in Minneapolis commit crime in general and violent crime in particular. Nor are we told whether there is any evidence that white and black suspects of similar offenses are treated differently. Minneapolis may in fact have issues with police bias, but drawing conclusions about the extent of the problem or even whether one exists would be premature based on the information provided.

Reports about race and policing that omit relevant facts to push a predetermined narrative are not only misleading but harmful, especially to blacks. We know from decades of experience that when police pull back, criminals gain the advantage and black communities suffer, both physically and economically. A common assumption among liberals is that the movement of inner-city jobs to the suburbs in the late 1960s is what led to the higher rates of crime, violence and other social pathologies associated with ghetto life. But this gets the order wrong. The business flight took place after the rioting, not before. Will history repeat itself?

The Walmart and Target stores in Chicago that were looted last week are two of the city’s largest retailers. They employ a disproportionate number of low-skilled workers, and they haven’t decided whether to reopen. If they don’t, it could mean fewer jobs and higher prices for underserved minorities. Before we divert resources away from policing, maybe we should consider the effect it would have on the willingness and ability of businesses to operate in places where they’re most needed.

Another sign of our current stupidity

Readers may remember that I have been a fan (though our binge-watching of “Miami Vice” interrupted it) Wisconsin Public Radio’s Old Time Radio Drama Saturdays and Sundays from 8 to 11 p.m.

Not anymore. Warren Bluhm quotes WPR:

Wisconsin Public Radio is dropping the weekend Old Time Radio Drama show after this Saturday and Sunday. I’ll just leave this here …

“While schedule changes can be difficult, now is the right time to end this program,” said Mike Crane, WPR director. “Many of these plays and productions were produced more than 60 years ago and include racist and sexist material. Despite significant effort over the years, it has been nearly impossible to find historic programs without offensive and outdated content. And, ultimately, these programs don’t represent the values of WPR and The Ideas Network’s focus on public service through news and information.”

And what are those values now? Read this.

The show will end thusly:

SATURDAY: “Wild Bill Hickok,” 8 p.m.; “Our Miss Brooks,” 8:30 p.m.; “Lux Radio Theater: The Thin Man,” 9 p.m.; “Studio One: The Return of the Native,” 10 p.m.
SUNDAY: “Gunsmoke,” 8 p.m.; “The Great Gildersleeve,” 8:30 p.m.; “FBI in Peace and War,” 9 p.m.; “Crime Classics: Bathsheba Spooner,” 9:30 p.m.; “The Mann Called X,” 10 p.m.; “Arch Obler’s Plays: Mr. Pyle,” 10:30 p.m.

“Of course you know THIS means WAR!”

The New York Post reports the latest ridiculous shot in the culture war:

It just got a lot harder to hunt wascally wabbits.

Warner Bros is stripping Elmer Fudd of his rifle in a new Looney Tunes cartoon series on HBO Max, handicapping the grumpy hunter as he continues his decades-long pursuit of the wise-cracking Bugs Bunny, according to reports.

The change in the latest incarnation of the iconic animated series is a response to the gun violence in the US, the Telegraph reported.

Historically the toons have largely revolved around Fudd’s persistent chase of the carrot-chomping Bugs, with his classic catchphrase, “What’s up, Doc?”

Fudd, known for his own catchphrase, “Shhh. Be vewy, vewy quiet. I’m hunting wabbits,” gets outsmarted by Bugs at every turn, even though he’s always had his trusty shotgun at his side — until now.

“We’re not doing guns,” Peter Browngardt, executive producer of the new series, told the New York Times. “But we can do cartoony violence — TNT, the Acme stuff. All of that was kind of grandfathered in.”

Fudd won’t be empty-handed, however — he’ll now use a scythe to try to bag Bugs

The 200 new cartoons, which will feature other Looney Tunes “stars,” will still have an edge — Porky Pig sucks the poison out of Daffy Duck’s leg in one skit, Sylvester the Cat is haunted by the ghost of his traditional target, Tweety Bird, and Satan even makes a cameo in one toon.

“Some of them have maybe gone a little too far, so they might come out in a different format,” Browngardt told the outlet.

“We’re going through this wave of anti-bullying, everybody needs to be friends, everybody needs to get along,” he said. “Looney Toons is pretty much the antithesis of that. It’s two characters in conflict, sometimes getting pretty violent.”

HBO Max is the same channel that stopped streaming “Gone with the Wind,” whose costar Hattie McDaniel was the first black woman to be nominated for and win an Academy Award. But sacrifices have to be made, mister.

 

How illiberal

Daniel Henninger:

In 1789, America’s Founding Fathers, acutely aware of the political bloodbaths that had consumed Europe for centuries, created a system in which disagreements would be arbitrated by periodically allowing the public to turn their opinions into votes. The majority would win the election. Then, because political disagreement never ends, you hold more elections. Aware of the natural tendency of factions and majorities to want to suppress opposition opinion, the Founders created a Bill of Rights for all citizens, including what they called, with unmistakable clarity, “the freedom of speech.”

Nothing lasts forever, and so it is today in the U.S., where the pre-liberal idea of settling disagreements with coercion has made a comeback.

In the past week, the editorial page editor of the New York Times, the editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer and the editors of Bon Appétit magazine and the young women’s website Refinery 29 have been forced out by the staff and owners of their publications for offenses regarded as at odds with the beliefs of the current protests.

It is impossible not to recognize the irony of these events. The silencers aren’t campus protesters but professional journalists, a class of American workers who for nearly 250 years have had a constitutionally protected and court-enforced ability to say just about anything they want. Historically, people have been attracted to American journalism because it was the freest imaginable place to work for determined, often quirky individualists. Suddenly, it looks like the opposite of that.

The idea that you could actually lose your job, as the Inquirer’s editor did, because of a headline on an opinion piece that said “Buildings Matter, Too” is something to ponder. It sounds like a made-up incident that one might expect in a work of political satire, such as George Orwell’s “Animal Farm.”

The issue here is not about the assertion that racism is endemic in the U.S. The issue is the willingness by many to displace the American system of free argument with a system of enforced, coerced opinion and censorship, which forces comparison to the opinion-control mechanisms that existed in Eastern Europe during the Cold War.

In 2006, the movie “The Lives of Others” dramatized how the Stasi, the omnipresent East German surveillance apparatus, pursued a nonconforming writer, whose friends were intimidated into abandoning him. To survive this kind of enforced thought-concurrence in the Soviet Union or Communist Eastern Europe, writers resorted to circulating their uncensored ideas as underground literature called samizdat. Others conveyed their ideas as political satire. In Vaclav Havel’s 1965 play, “The Memorandum,” a Czech office worker is demoted to “staff watcher,” whose job is to monitor his colleagues. You won’t see Havel’s anticensorship plays staged in the U.S. anytime soon.

Other writers during those years of thought suppression sometimes wrote in allegory or fables. In Russia, writers called it “Aesopian language.” We’re not there yet. Instead many writers and media personalities here have chosen to participate in keeping opinion and even vocabulary inside restricted limits.

Some will object that it is preposterous to liken them to a communist party. But social media has become a partylike phenomenon of ideological and psychological reinforcement. It avoids the poor public optics of China’s Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and ’70s, when dissidents were paraded in dunce caps. Today, endlessly repeated memes on social-media platforms, such as “silence is violence,” reduce independent thought to constant rote reminders. Instead of the Stasi, we have Twitter’s censors to keep track of dissidents.

Alarmed parents saw years ago that platforms such as Facebook were being used to humiliate and ostracize teenage girls. It is disingenuous to deny that this same machinery of shaming has been expanded to coerce political conformity.

It is also disingenuous to deny that this ethos sanctions the implicit threat of being fired from one’s job as the price for falling out of line just once. It’s beginning to look like nonlethal summary execution.

The Marxist philosopher Herbert Marcuse argued in 1965 that some ideas were so repugnant, which he identified as “from the Right,” that it was one’s obligation to suppress them with what he called “the withdrawal of tolerance.” Marcuse is a saint on the American left.

The ingeniousness of this strategy of suppression and shaming is that it sidesteps the Supreme Court’s long history of defending opinion that is unpopular, such as its 1977 decision that vindicated the free-speech rights of neo-Nazis who wanted to march in Skokie, Ill. But if people have shut themselves up, as they are doing now, there is no speech, and so there is “no problem.”

Free speech isn’t dead in the United States, but it looks like more than ever, it requires active defense.

The anti-First Amendment cowards

The Wall Street Journal:

The purge of senior editors at progressive newspapers this weekend is no cause for cheering. Their resignations are another milestone in the march of identity politics and cancel culture through our liberal institutions, and American journalism and democracy will be worse for it.

The long-time editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, who’d seen the publication through difficult times, was pushed out over a headline, “Buildings Matter, Too.” It was atop a piece by architecture critic Inga Saffron, who worried that buildings damaged by violence could “leave a gaping hole in the heart of Philadelphia.” Staff members deemed the headline an offense to Black Lives Matter. They protested, and no amount of apologizing or changes to the headline were enough. Editor Stan Wischnowski didn’t last the week.

At the New York Times, editorial page editor James Bennet resigned Sunday after a staff uproar over an op-ed by a U.S. Senator. Arkansas Republican Tom Cotton wrote that military troops should be sent to restore public order in American cities when the police are overwhelmed. A staff revolt deemed the piece fascist, unconstitutional, and too offensive for adults to read and decide for themselves.

Our editorial last week opposed deploying active-duty troops, but the idea is legal under the Insurrection Act. George H.W. Bush deployed troops in 1992 to quell riots in Los Angeles after the Rodney King verdict, and other Presidents have done it too.

Mr. Bennet defended the op-ed on Friday as part of his attempt to broaden debate in his pages, and at first so did publisher A.G. Sulzberger. But Mr. Sulzberger changed his mind the same day, suddenly declaring that the op-ed he had defended had not received proper editing and should not have been published. By Sunday Mr. Bennet, as true-blue a progressive as you can find, was out the door. James Dao, the opinion editor who had signed off on the Cotton op-ed, was reassigned.

An ostensibly independent opinion section was ransacked because the social-justice warriors in the newsroom opposed a single article espousing a view that polls show tens of millions of Americans support if the police can’t handle rioting and violence. The publisher failed to back up his editors, which means the editors no longer run the place. The struggle sessions on Twitter and Slack channels rule.

All of this shows the extent to which American journalism is now dominated by the same moral denunciation, “safe space” demands, and identity-politics dogmas that began in the universities. The agents of this politics now dominate nearly all of America’s leading cultural institutions—museums, philanthropy, Hollywood, book publishers, even late-night talk shows.

On matters deemed sacrosanct—and today that includes the view that America is root-and-branch racist—there is no room for debate. You must admit your failure to appreciate this orthodoxy and do penance, or you will not survive in the job.

Some of our friends on the right are pleased because they say all of this merely exposes what has long been true. But this takeover of the Times and other liberal bastions means that there are ever fewer institutions that will defend free inquiry and the contest of ideas that once defined American liberalism.

Journalism vs. free expression

First, Cal Thomas:

Which of the following would you consider the most unusual and least likely to occur?
1. President Donald Trump calls Speaker Nancy Pelosi to invite her to lunch.
2. Rioters and looters agree to pay for the damage they caused to businesses and individuals.
3. Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh appears on “The Breakfast Club,” a nationally syndicated radio program that features discussions on progressive politics and black culture.
No. 3 is the correct answer and it was a fascinating moment.

While it appeared that the hosts and Limbaugh were occasionally talking over each other, the conservative had to earn at least some respect with his forceful denunciation of the killing of George Floyd and his belief that the police officer who killed him should be charged with first-degree, not third-degree, murder.
“The Breakfast Club” hosts, DJ Envy, Angela Yee, and Lenard Larry McKelvey, known professionally as Charlamagne tha God, focused mainly on what they called “white privilege” as the source of misery in much of the African American community. Limbaugh countered that the three were examples of how one can overcome obstacles, including discrimination.
Charlamagne reiterated his accusation of white privilege and added “white supremacy.”
What is important in this continuing debate is not each “side” getting in its talking points but listening to how the other reached the conclusions that created their worldview.
Saying things that only reinforce one’s stereotypes and ideology doesn’t solve the problem, and who doubts there is a problem?
I have written this before, even recently, but the main problem is not only racism. It is that we don’t know each other.

The late Republican Congressman Jack Kemp used to say that as a professional football player he had showered with more African Americans than attend the Republican National Convention. Black people who knew him called him a friend.
Growing up in a virtually all-white Washington, D.C., suburb (a city that practiced segregation well into the 1960s), I didn’t know anyone of a different race, other than a family maid, until I began playing college basketball.

Showering and eating meals with people who were “different” from me bridged a gap that no legislation could span. I came to see them as teammates, friends, equals, and better players than me.
White people have enjoyed privilege from the beginning of the country in almost every category. This includes professional sports, which are now dominated by African Americans, but for many years were not.

I recently again watched the Ken Burns series “Baseball” on PBS and was reminded of how that sport (and others) banned black players from fields and courts simply because they were black.

It is important for white people to acknowledge white privilege and this history of white supremacy before helpful and healing conversations can begin and race relations improved.
Limbaugh also made a political point the hosts were unable or unwilling to answer. He wondered why so many African Americans continue to vote for Democrats when that party, he said, had done little to help them.

Yee responded with the stock answer that she votes for the person, not the party. She should have been asked, “When was the last time you voted for a Republican?”
After “The Breakfast Club” segment was played on Limbaugh’s program, a woman caller offered her definition of white privilege. She said it came from how the country was founded, reserving economic and political power for white, land-owning men.
Some will be surprised that Limbaugh seemed to agree with her. He called her summation “brilliant.” More of us need to have these conversations and not be so eager to get in our talking points. We should speak less and listen more.
“The Breakfast Club” exchange was a good first step toward achieving that goal.

Seeing a political conservative laud another conservative for starting a dialogue with political opposites, you might think that should apply for liberals as well.

You would be wrong, as ¡No Pasarán! reports:

On Fox News, always mocked and demonized by the rest of the mainstream media as faux newsHoward Kurtz notes that

We are getting a great insight into the culture of the New York Times.

The paper struck a blow for honest journalism–and that greatly upset many of its staffers.

At stake is whether the op-ed pages of a newspaper should be a forum for debate, or just a vehicle for reinforcing what its top editors and a majority of its readers already believe. To choose the latter course is to reduce that precious real estate to predictable propaganda, which is not just one-sided but boring.

The Times did the right thing–well, until it didn’t. The paper’s editors chose to publish a piece by Tom Cotton, a Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, titled “Send In The Military.” Cotton argues that it’s perfectly appropriate for President Trump to use the military to restore order in cities wracked by violent protests after the brutal killing of George Floyd.

Well, there was an open revolt at the paper, led by black journalists who were offended.

Nikole Hannah-Jones of the Times Magazine, who worked on the paper’s Pulitzer-winning “1619” slavery project, said: “As a black woman, as a journalist, as an American, I am deeply ashamed that we ran this.”
To their credit, the editors [decided to stick] to their guns. … The Arkansas senator praised the editors … telling Fox: “They’ve stood up to the ‘woke progressive mob’ in their own newsroom. So, I commend them for that.”

But he spoke too soon. About two hours after I checked in with the Times PR office, the paper caved.…The paper said it would make changes, expand its fact-checking operation and publish fewer op-ed pieces.

Fewer op-eds? No explanation of supposed factual shortcomings? The internal pressure must have been overwhelming.

In THE NEW YORK TIMES AND THE VANGUARD OF THE INCOGNIZANT, Noah Rothman retells the story inside Commentary:

“One thing above all else will restore order to our streets,” wrote Sen. Tom Cotton, “an overwhelming show of force to disperse, detain, and ultimately deter lawbreakers.” The senator has advocated extraordinary measures involving the domestic deployment of uniformed soldiers for several days—as we’ve witnessed mass protests in American cities during the day and wanton violence, rioting, and looting by night. This exhortation is not new for him, but the venue in which it was placed—the New York Times opinion page—inspired a frenzied revolt from within the journalistic institution that published him. More remarkable, the aggrieved staffers and writers at the Times generally declined to issue a counterargument. They simply declared Cotton’s arguments anathema and sought to wield whatever power they could muster to see them banished.

Regarding the 1619 ProjectEd Driscoll (who I thank for being behind most of the hyperlinks in this post) takes the opportunity to step back and make a broader remark about the “newspaper of record” and, beyond, the mainstream media:

As a result of their staff’s meltdown over the Cotton op-ed, the New York Times, already drowning in a fantasy-land of alternately running pro-Soviet Union apologia and their anti-American founding “1619 Project” series, promises to narrow what they view as acceptable opinion even more. Or as Tiana Lowe writes at the Washington Examiner, “New York Times employees can bully their bosses into submission — just don’t criticize a celebrity:”

As you may recall from a long day ago, after the opinion page published a fairly straightforward op-ed from Sen. Tom Cotton, arguing to utilize the military in quelling protests — a position shared by the majority of Americans and 46% of people who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, mind you — several staff members instigated a civil war, all sharing the same copypasta bullying their bosses: “Running this puts Black @NYTimes staff in danger.”

… Publishing the opinions of the Taliban wasn’t a bridge too far for the staff, and employees claiming that destroying property isn’t violence on national television isn’t a bridge too far for the management. But a sitting United States senator’s opinion that’s shared by the majority of the electorate is, and as a result, journalism will suffer in the future.

The bitter babies at the New York Times wanted less speech, and they got it. They’ll now publish fewer op-eds overall. There is a wholly illiberal war on the free press, and its primary aggressors aren’t in the White House or corrupt police stations. It’s being waged from within the inside.

Which brings Ed Driscoll to allow William F. Buckley to have the final word:

“Liberals claim to want to give a hearing to other views, but then are shocked and offended to discover that there are other views.”

A journalist vs. the First Amendment

The Washington Post’s Alyssa Rosenberg:

Like many other industries, entertainment companies have issued statements of support for the protests against racism and police brutality now filling America’s streets. But there’s something Hollywood can do to put its money where its social media posts are: immediately halt production on cop shows and movies and rethink the stories it tells about policing in America.

For a century, Hollywood has been collaborating with police departments, telling stories that whitewash police shootings and valorizing an action-hero style of policing over the harder, less dramatic work of building relationships with the communities cops are meant to serve and protect. There’s a reason for that beyond a reactionary streak hiding below the industry’s surface liberalism. Purely from a dramatic perspective, crime makes a story seem consequential, investigating crime generates action, and solving crime provides for a morally and emotionally satisfying conclusion.

The result is an addiction to stories that portray police departments as more effective than they actually are; crime as more prevalent than it actually is; and police use of force as consistently justified. There are always gaps between reality and fiction, but given what policing in America has too often become, Hollywood’s version of it looks less like fantasy and more like complicity.

There’s no question that it would be costly for networks and studios to walk away from the police genre entirely. Canceling Dick Wolf’s “Chicago” franchise of shows would wipe out an entire night of NBC’s prime-time programming; dropping “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” and a planned spinoff would cut even further into the lineup.

But the gap between what some companies and executives have promised this week and what they have done in the past cannot be ignored. As reality television critic Andy Dehnart points out, at ViacomCBS, cable networks chief Chris McCarthy pledged “to leverage all of our platforms to show our ally-ship.” One of those platforms also airs “Cops,” a decades-old reality show with a troubled history of participating in police censorship and peddling fear of black and brown criminals. If McCarthy means what he says, canceling “Cops” would be a start.

But simply canceling cop shows and movies would be easier than uprooting the assumptions at the heart of the problem.

Say writers made a commitment not to exaggerate the performance of police. Audiences would have to be retrained to watch, for example, a version of “Special Victims Unit” where the characters cleared only 33.4 percent of rape cases, or to accept that in almost 40 percent of murders and manslaughters, no suspect is arrested. If storytelling focused on less-dramatic but more-common crimes such as burglary and motor-vehicle theft, the stakes would shrink — along with the case-clearance rate.

In addition to revealing the world as it is, art has the power to show us the world as it can be. But when reform doesn’t seem like a real possibility, even modest optimism risks souring into mockery.

The closest thing to a reformist police show right now is “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” a sitcom that alternates explorations of the policies and identity politics of the New York Police Department with fantastic gags and one-liners.

Series co-creator Dan Goor told me in 2016 that he hoped that the show was “Modeling what a good police-community interaction would be like.” I’ve never doubted his care in pursuing that ideal. This week, Goor and the cast donated $100,000 to the National Bail Fund Network and announced that they “condemn the murder of George Floyd and support the many people who are protesting police brutality nationally.”

Still, as Vulture’s Kathryn VanArendonk put it this week, the show can’t escape what it is: Neither the show’s good intentions and genuine good work nor “its silliness … change the way it prioritizes police perspectives over anyone else’s,” VanArendonk wrote.

One way forward might be to emphasize the dialogues, and sometimes fierce struggles, that take place within police departments. “The Shield,” which aired on FX from 2002 to 2008, follows the reign and eventual downfall of corrupt Detective Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis) and his Strike Team, based on the division at the center of the real-life Rampart scandal in Los Angeles. In the finale, Claudette Wyms (CCH Pounder), Mackey’s longtime colleague and a truly decent officer, wins a small victory. Mackey, in exchange for his cooperation in an investigation against the surviving members of his team, is not prosecuted for his crimes, but he is required to spend three years in a deadening desk job at Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

It takes seven seasons to even achieve that much on “The Shield.” It’s been almost six years since Michael Brown was shot and killed by Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Mo., and no one can be blamed for feeling like national reform has moved at a similarly petty pace. If the entertainment industry truly believes change can no longer wait, it should start with its own storytelling.

Rosenberg’s anti-police idiocy prompted these comments:

  • While we’re at it let’s burn books and send those who disagree with so called progressives to re-education camps.
  • Great “article “; please tell us which books at the library we should burn.
  • Perhaps we should also get rid of televised sports? Grown men and women beating each other up for money like 21st century gladiators? The owner class throwing money at the entertainers like…yeah, you get it. Somehow I doubt you’d get a lot of advertisers buying time on “ESPN’s Wide World of Poetry”.
  • Ridiculous.  People don’t break out into song to explain their feelings.  Cancel Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist.  Keeping up with the Kardashians?  Only the 1% lives like that.  Not realistic.  Cancel it.  Brooklyn 99?  Please.  Cancel it.  Don’t even get me started on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Bottom line?  The common folk can’t distinguish between fantasy and reality.  Our betters need to protect us from it.  Thank God Alyssa Rosenberg is here to lead us out of the morass.
  • Let’s assume I agree with the writer (which I do not). How would one address the nearly 250,000 a year malpractice deaths ? Or alchohol related deaths ? Cancel any show that has booze or doctors saving lives ? Maybe make a show called “Law and Order: Malpractice” or “Law and Order: SJW”, oh wait SVU is already too political. Fact is, television and movies and video games are ENTERTAINMENT. They aren’t there to provide life lessons, ideology or political commentary. They are an escape from real life, which is horrifying enough. Thankfully, neither the writer or anyone commenting here will change the way hollywood does things. It’s about the money… 
  • Yes stop all tv and movies you don’t like now. They brainwash everyone who can’t reason or think for themselves. Right. In my experience intelligent people don’t have a view of real world reality primarily from fictional tv shows or movies. Tv and movies are by design full of intentional drama, caricatures, intentional exaggerations and beyond the pale provocation.  Sometimes they hit the mark and do reflect the life experience of many, but much is exaggerated farce. Thinking people know “reality” to the degree they can from life experience and all the ways we can educate ourselves from many sources. Only unthinking people get their view of reality primarily from fiction. Censorship per the thought police is not the way. Education through life experience, self effort and self reflection is. Most people know that.
  • Sure.  Censorship is always a good idea in a free country.  The Supreme Court has already opined on this matter.  Read about it.
  • Plato uses the same logic in the Republic when he demands that the poets be banished. Is entertainment properly understood propaganda for the masses? How do people get paid to write this stuff?

The last comment is the question of the day.

 

The media’s self-beclowning

As someone who has worked in the media now for five decades, I have to wonder who the hell is in charge in major media outlets.

The past Riot Weekend demonstrates that some people shouldn’t be working in this line of work.

First, The Right Scoop reports:

In calling on Democrat mayors and governors to get tough around the country yesterday, Trump said “these people are anarchists”, referring to the rioters around the country:

Personally I wish Trump wouldn’t turn so many of his tweets into a political attack on ‘Sleepy Joe’ during a time of such nationwide distress over what’s going on. But I digress…

In response to this tweet, PBS White House reporter Yamiche Alcindor actually tweeted the following: “”These people are anarchists,” President Trump says without providing any evidence.”

Has Yamiche been watching the news this weekend? Has she not seen all the fires raging, stores broken and looted all around the country? Has she not seen all the cop cars with broken windows and graffiti all over them? Has she not seen members of the press being attacked? Trump doesn’t need to provide evidence, it’s all over the country.

This just goes to show how far the media will go in their hatred of Trump to defend these thug mobs and Antifa groups.

Ted Cruz hit Yamiche late last night:

Here’s a few more:

If it walks like a duck, talks like a duck and randomly destroys property …

Some people learn from others, and some people learn only from experience. And so The Post Millennial reports:

A news editor for a small, independent newspaper was in support of the protests-turned-riots, until they broke into the paper’s office and she had to take cover from looters and vandals in the basement.

Leigh Tauss, an editor for the progressive news outlet Indy Week in North Carolina, was stunned to find that the protesters-turned-rioters did not look favorably upon her business when they swept the area.

She tweeted out on Saturday, saying “the crowd is extremely peaceful and groups and many are wearing masks and trying to keep distance.”

It was only a few short hours later that Tauss tweeted again about the protests.  This time her tone was difference.

“I went into the hallway. I heard someone l enter the office and what sounded like smashing inside. We are a small newspaper with a handful of desktops. I’m now hiding in the basement.”

And then on Sunday morning, Tauss posted what had become of her office at the hands of the rioters, tweeting “I’m devastated. We are a progressive newspaper. Last night I was inside when the first brick was thrown.”

similar scenario happened with ESPN sportswriter Chris Martin Palmer, who encouraged rioters to burn down a low-income housing area in Minneapolis. But when they showed up to his place, he did not hold back in referring to the rioters as “animals.”

Tauss marked the escalations on Twitter.

She went on to record the late night actions.

Tauss ended the day thanking those who reached out.

A related media moron moment comes from Information Liberation:

Former ESPN reporter Chris Martin Palmer celebrated rioters burning down a $30 million affordable housing complex in Minneapolis on Thursday, writing: “Burn that s**t down. Burn it all down.”
He changed his tune after the “gated community” down the street from him came under attack.
“They just attacked our sister community down the street,” Palmer tweeted. “It’s a gated community and they tried to climb the gates. They had to beat them back. Then destroyed a Starbucks and are now in front of my building. Get these animals TF out of my neighborhood. Go back to where you live.”

…and then… pic.twitter.com/mCPExCsiD9

— Sean O (@Sean_O_914) May 31, 2020
Palmer deleted his tweet celebrating the affordable housing complex being burned down after widespread mockery.

Palmer should be fired.

 

The Generation X song?

Kyle Smith:

In Cameron Crowe’s Say Anything… (1989), Lloyd Dobler sketches out a stumbling, uncertain-but-nevertheless-determined path for his and my generation:

“I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed.” “We’re not sure what we want, but not this,” was a strange but endearing generational rallying cry. Few of us who saw the film in our teens or early twenties failed to laugh with recognition.

Ascribing common traits to an entire generation of tens of millions of disparate Americans is a dubious exercise, even a fool’s errand. So call me a fool, I won’t take it personally.

For instance, assuming everyone in a particular generation has seen a particular movie. Except probably for the original “Star Wars.”

Still, a few characteristics unique to Generation X did become clear as the decades passed. Gen X was notably the first generation to have to deal with the mistakes of the Baby Boomers, and the first in which interracial relationships and homosexuality enjoyed widespread acceptance. Gen X-ers were also more emotionally damaged by divorce than the children of any previous or subsequent generation. There was fragility within us as we faced a joyous historical moment when American ways had indisputably been proven superior to those of the Soviet empire and affluence had become, for the first time, available to a huge proportion of Americans. No previous generation could simply choose wealth, but Gen X discovered that a master’s in business or a law degree was a virtual ticket to the upper class. And this created a conflict, given the anti-materialist shibboleths of the John Lennon-led Boomer culture we’d all inherited: Did access to wealth mean we ought to pursue it? Could we achieve it in some Doblerian way that preserved our sense of self? The natural optimism and excitement of youth were tinged with doubts.

Steeped as we were in Boomer rock music, we sensed it was full of questionable advice. Turning away from, or blowing up, the existing power structures so we could “get ourselves back to the garden,” as Crosby, Stills and Nash sang in Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock,” was not an option we considered. We were not revolutionaries. The country that awaited us not only didn’t require radical overthrow, it seemed pretty good. Our first votes were likely to be for Reagan (61 percent of the youth vote in 1984) or George H.W. Bush (53 percent in 1988). We advanced into adulthood as cautious idealists, a little hopeful and a little confused.

When I arrived at college in 1985, U2 and Talking Heads were very much the bands of the moment, but there was a palpable sense that Bono and Co. still hadn’t quite fulfilled their promise, that their best days, like ours, were yet to come. Junior year, just as we returned from spring break to a New Haven that flipped overnight from gray slush to Monet efflorescence, U2 delivered its hoped-for masterpiece in The Joshua Tree, instantly and obviously the defining rock album of the decade.

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