Category: media

The idiots in my line of work

Stephen L. Miller:

Everything wrong with journalism and our media was on display last week at the University of Chicago, where the Atlantic held what they threatened would be an annual conference on “Disinformation and the Erosion of Democracy.”

The roster at the conference included Atlantic editor Jeffrey Goldberg, who has yet to follow up on anonymous accusations against Donald Trump that he published two years ago. According to the Atlantic, Trump called soldiers who died at Normandy “suckers and losers.” After the story was challenged, Goldberg promised more reporting and sourcing, yet nothing else was ever released.

Also appearing at the conference was Atlantic writer Anne Applebaum, who was confronted by students during a question and answer session on her prior dismissal of the Hunter Biden laptop investigation, a story that Twitter subsequently blocked. Applebaum said she still isn’t interested in the laptop, despite recent polling that shows 52 percent of the country believes it is an important story that the media attempted to suppress on the eve of a national election.

The press’s treatment of the Hunter Biden revelations was itself a massive disinformation campaign, even as White House press secretary and future MSNBC host Jen Psaki labeled it Russian disinformation. Yet Psaki has still not addressed this — and don’t expect anyone at the Atlantic to confront her about it anytime soon.

Also appearing at the conference, on a panel alongside the Dispatch’s Stephen Hayes, was the one and only Brian Stelter from CNN, who was confronted by another sharp student on several stories his network had either gotten wrong or pushed into an agenda narrative. The student cited the Jussie Smollett hate crime hoax as one example. Another was CNN’s settled lawsuit with Covington Catholic High School student Nicholas Sandmann, and another was the network’s addiction to fabulist anti-Trump lawyer Michael Avenatti. Stelter refused to address any of these stories, instead pivoting to recently deceased Fox News cameraman Pierre Zakrzewski, who was killed in action in Ukraine.

The next day saw a discussion with Dispatch editor Jonah Goldberg, who also waved away the Hunter Biden laptop story, which he later stated on Twitter that he did not believe “on it’s face.” Goldberg’s flippant attitude and smug gatekeeping was a perfect example of how so many pundits and thinkers are now more interested in hearing what each other have to say and bathing in self-satisfied pontifications rather than in serving their audiences.

But the ultimate irony is that former President Barack Obama was a special guest, appearing onstage alongside Jeffrey Goldberg. Breitbart reporter Charlie Spiering later summed up his comments on Twitter: “At Atlantic forum, Obama defines ‘disinformation’ as ‘a systematic effort to either promote false information, to suppress true information, for the purpose of political gain, financial gain, enhancing power, suppressing others, targeting those you don’t like.’”

That’s true and it should have been a rare moment of self-introspection for the former president. Among Obama’s own disinformation campaigns were blaming the Benghazi terror attacks on a video and Politifact’s lie of the year that “if you like your plan you can keep your healthcare plan. If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor.” Yet no one from the Atlantic, CNN, or the Dispatch saw the deep irony in appearing alongside Obama at a conference about the dangers of disinformation.

The media’s full-fledged embrace of Obama as a sage old rock star is everything that’s wrong with journalism today. And while mainstream reporters might be expected to nod along with him as they have for years, the depressing part is that they are now joined by former conservatives.


Half-defense and counterattack

Matt Taibbi:

The New York Times ran a tepid house editorial in favor of free speech last week.

A sober reaction:

Arguably the worst day in the history of the New York Times.

One might think running botched WMD reports that got us into the Iraq war or getting a Pulitzer for lauding Stalin’s liquidation of five million kulaks might have constituted worse days — who knew? Pundits, academics, and politicians across the cultural mainstream seemed to agree with Watson, plunging into a days-long freakout over a meh editorial that shows little sign of abating.

“Appalling,” barked J-school professor Jeff Jarvis. “By the time the Times finally realizes what side it’s on, it may be too late,” screeched Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Will Bunch. “The board should retract and resign,” said journalist and former Planet Money of NPR fame founder Adam Davidson. “Toxic, brain-deadening bothsidesism,” railed Dan Froomkin of Press Watch, whowent on to demand a retraction and a “mass resignation.” The aforementioned Watson agreed, saying “the NYT should retract this insanity, and replace the entire editorial board.” Not terribly relevant, but amusing still, was the reaction of actor George Takei, who said, “It’s like Bill Maher is now on the New York Times Editorial board.”

The main objection of most of the pilers-on involved the lede of the Times piece, which really was a maladroit piece of writing:

For all the tolerance and enlightenment that modern society claims, Americans are losing hold of a fundamental right as citizens of a free country: the right to speak their minds and voice their opinions in public without fear of being shamed or shunned.

There’s obviously no legal right in America to voice an opinion without being criticized, so this line is indeed an error and an embarrassing one, for a labored-over first line of a major New York Times editorial. On the other hand, a lot of great liberal thinkers decried shaming tactics as utterly opposite to the spirit of free speech, with John Stuart Mill’s warning of a “social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression” being just one example. So, while the Times technically screwed up, cheering shaming and shunning as normal and healthy elements of life in free societies is a pretty weird gotcha. In any case, this bollocksed lede introduced a piece that had been in the works for a while, and came complete with a poll the paper commissioned in conjunction with Siena College.

Its premise, tied to the uncontroversial observation that America has become dangerously polarized, is that “the political left and the right are caught in a destructive loop of condemnation and recrimination.” Citing a poll that 84% of Americans (including 84% of black Americans) who said it was either a “very serious” or “somewhat serious” problem that people are now afraid to voice opinions out of fear of “retaliation or harsh criticism,” the Times said “when speech is stifled or when dissenters are shut out,” that “a society also loses its ability to resolve conflict, and… faces the risk of political violence.”

The Times piece is pretty transparently a marketing ploy, designed to regain a foothold with the slew of demographics lost to the paper in recent years. It’s a campaign that deserves to fail if it somehow doesn’t. The internal Times debate over whether or not to broaden its ideological horizons has for years run along humorously obnoxious lines, like “Should we hire one never-Trump Republican columnist, or none?” Even this latest offering wringing hands about America’s lack of ideological tolerance doesn’t wonder at the paper’s own near-total absence of columnists and reporters positively disposed (or even just indifferent) to Bernie Sanders, or really any political viewpoint outside the two dominant theologies.

Still, the Times was careful — conspicuously, agonizingly, excessively careful — to point out that the speech issue was not exclusive to one political side or another. They wrote that Republicans, “for all their braying about cancel culture, have embraced an even more extreme version of censoriousness” in the form of official bans on certain books or classroom ideas. Their approach here was similar to the now-infamous open letter in support of free speech in Harper’s from two summers ago, in which a handful of academics, authors, artists, and journalists, including Noam Chomsky, Salman Rushdie, J.K. Rowling, Wynton Marsalis, and others decried “a new set of moral attitudes and political commitments that tend to weaken our norms of open debate and toleration of differences in favor of ideological conformity.”

In an effort to head off blowback, the Harper’s letterauthors went to absurd lengths to create the most inoffensive conceivable statement in support of free expression, to the point where more than a dozen mainstream outlets ranging from The Daily Beastto the Washington Postto The New Yorkerand beyond (as well as at least one of the signatories) used the term “anodyne” to describe it.

“We went through dozens and dozens of drafts with a lot of input from various signatories to strike as nuanced a balance as possible,” says Thomas Chatterton Williams, one of the authors of the “Harper’s letter.” This was done, he said, “to make it clear that it wasn’t a one-sided attack on the left but an attempt to call attention to a problem that transcends the political binary.”

The caution not only didn’t help, but made things worse. The letter stimulated a host of bizarre controversies, including complaints from Vox staffers that kinda-sorta led to the exit of signatory/co-founder Matt Yglesias, whose crime was co-appearing on the Harper’s letter with people whose views on trans issues were deemed objectionable. Several signatories withdrew when they found out who else was signing (seeming to defeat the purpose of making a statement in favor of tolerating differing views, as signatories like Malcolm Gladwell pointed out). There were so many freakouts in the letter’s wake that Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland commented it “might be a rare example of the reaction to a text making the text’s case rather better than the text itself.”

This Times editorial is watered down almost the level of a public service announcement written for the Cartoon Networkor maybe a fortune cookie (“Free speech is a process, not a destination. Winning numbers 4, 9, 11, 32, 46…”). It made the Harper’s letter read like a bin Laden fatwa, but it’s somehow arousing a bigger panic. Its critics view the mention of Republican legislative bans in conjunction with canceling as a monstrous affront, a felony case of both-sidesism. Obviously any implication that there’s any moral comparison between Republicans banning speech by law and Democrats doing it by way of informal backroom deals with unaccountable tech monopolies is unacceptable. Beyond that now, much of the commentariat seems to believe the op-ed page has outlived its usefulness unless it’s engaged in fulsome denunciations of correct targets. …

“We need more shaming and shunning, not less,” is how Froomkin put it, putting the names of opinion editor Kathleen Kingsbury and deputy opinion editor Patrick Healy up near the top of his piece “for the record,” in case anyone wanted to know who needs teeing up for the next #FireARandomPerson campaign.

It would be ironic if Kingsbury were forced out for running a lukewarm editorial in support of free speech, since she replaced the last Times opinion editor beheaded in the wake of a social media and staff meltdown, James Bennet. The latter’s offense two years ago was running an editorial by Republican Senator Tom Cotton that called for invoking the Insurrection Act to deploy troops during the George Floyd protests.

When I asked Froomkin if the idea was to keep cycling through Times opinion editors “until you get one who’s appropriately focused in the direction you like,” he replied: “Yes, I would like them replaced with people who stake out bold, defensible, not-brainless positions, while publishing a very wide range of perspectives from others.” He then linked to an essay of his arguing that publishing “wide perspectives” would essentially entail coating any articles with which the “bold” op-ed board disagreed all over with warnings pointing out where they’re wrong, arguing in bad faith, or are “morally abhorrent.” (This incidentally is how the Cotton piece looks online now, a 970-word op-ed preceded by a 300-word Editor’s Note explaining why it sucks and shouldn’t have been published).

This is the same terror of uncontextualized thought that’s spurred everything from the campaigns to place more controls on Joe Rogan to the mountains of flags and warning labels platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube pile on all kinds of content now (“Are you sure you want to read this debunked wrongthinker? Click yes/no”) to the bizarre new “fact-checking” movement that takes factually true statements and objects to them at length for “missing context.”

The underlying premise of all these formats is the conviction that the ordinary schlub media consumer will make the wrong decision if the correct message isn’t hammered out everywhere for him or her in all caps by mental superiors. This idea isn’t just insulting but usually incorrect, like thinking Lord Haw Haw broadcasts would make English soldiers bayonet each other rather than laugh or fight harder. Even just on the level of commercial self-preservation, one would think media people would eventually realize there’s a limit to how many times you can tell people they’re too dumb to be trusted with controversial ideas, and still keep any audience. But they never do.

There may be plenty of reasons to roll eyes at the Times piece, but the poll numbers in there speak to this exhaustion, with what Chatterton Williams calls the “consensus enforcers who feverishly insist there’s no problem, and the fact that you disagree is evidence that you should resign your position.” It was crazy enough when jobs were lost over the Harper’s letter. But calling for firings over this? An editorial that drives two miles an hour down the middle of the middle of the middle of the road? If this is anybody’s idea of a taboo, we really have lost it.

What did the Times say that was so horrible?

For all the tolerance and enlightenment that modern society claims, Americans are losing hold of a fundamental right as citizens of a free country: the right to speak their minds and voice their opinions in public without fear of being shamed or shunned.

This social silencing, this depluralizing of America, has been evident for years, but dealing with it stirs yet more fear. It feels like a third rail, dangerous. For a strong nation and open society, that is dangerous.

How has this happened? In large part, it’s because the political left and the right are caught in a destructive loop of condemnation and recrimination around cancel culture. Many on the left refuse to acknowledge that cancel culture exists at all, believing that those who complain about it are offering cover for bigots to peddle hate speech. Many on the right, for all their braying about cancel culture, have embraced an even more extreme version of censoriousness as a bulwark against a rapidly changing society, with laws that would ban books, stifle teachers and discourage open discussion in classrooms.

Many Americans are understandably confused, then, about what they can say and where they can say it. People should be able to put forward viewpoints, ask questions and make mistakes and take unpopular but good-faith positions on issues that society is still working through — all without fearing cancellation.

However you define cancel culture, Americans know it exists and feel its burden. In a new national poll commissioned by Times Opinion and Siena College, only 34 percent of Americans said they believed that all Americans enjoyed freedom of speech completely. The poll found that 84 percent of adults said it is a “very serious” or “somewhat serious” problem that some Americans do not speak freely in everyday situations because of fear of retaliation or harsh criticism.

This poll and other recent surveys from the Pew Research Center and the Knight Foundation reveal a crisis of confidence around one of America’s most basic values. Freedom of speech and expression is vital to human beings’ search for truth and knowledge about our world. A society that values freedom of speech can benefit from the full diversity of its people and their ideas. At the individual level, human beings cannot flourish without the confidence to take risks, pursue ideas and express thoughts that others might reject.

Most important, freedom of speech is the bedrock of democratic self-government. If people feel free to express their views in their communities, the democratic process can respond to and resolve competing ideas. Ideas that go unchallenged by opposing views risk becoming weak and brittle rather than being strengthened by tough scrutiny. When speech is stifled or when dissenters are shut out of public discourse, a society also loses its ability to resolve conflict, and it faces the risk of political violence.

The Times Opinion/Siena College poll found that 46 percent of respondents said they felt less free to talk about politics compared to a decade ago. Thirty percent said they felt the same. Only 21 percent of people reported feeling freer, even though in the past decade there was a vast expansion of voices in the public square through social media.

“There’s a crisis around the freedom of speech now because many people don’t understand it, they weren’t taught what it means and why it matters,” said Suzanne Nossel, the chief executive of PEN America, a free speech organization. “Safeguards for free speech have been essential to almost all social progress in the country, from the civil rights movement to women’s suffrage to the current fights over racial justice and the police.”

Times Opinion commissioned the poll to provide more data and insight that can inform a debate mired in extremes. This editorial board plans to identify a wide range of threats to freedom of speech in the coming months and to offer possible solutions. Freedom of speech requires not just a commitment to openness and tolerance in the abstract. It demands conscientiousness about both the power of speech and its potential harms. We believe it isn’t enough for Americans to just believe in the rights of others to speak freely; they should also find ways to actively support and protect those rights.

We are under no illusion that this is easy. Our era, especially, is not made for this; social media is awash in speech of the point-scoring, picking-apart, piling-on, put-down variety. A deluge of misinformation and disinformation online has heightened this tension. Making the internet a more gracious place does not seem high on anyone’s agenda, and certainly not for most of the tech companies that control it.

But the old lesson of “think before you speak” has given way to the new lesson of “speak at your peril.” You can’t consider yourself a supporter of free speech and be policing and punishing speech more than protecting it. Free speech demands a greater willingness to engage with ideas we dislike and greater self-restraint in the face of words that challenge and even unsettle us.

It is worth noting here the important distinction between what the First Amendment protects (freedom from government restrictions on expression) and the popular conception of free speech (the affirmative right to speak your mind in public, on which the law is silent). The world is witnessing, in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, the strangling of free speech through government censorship and imprisonment. That is not the kind of threat to freedom of expression that Americans face. Yet something has been lost; the poll clearly shows a dissatisfaction with free speech as it is experienced and understood by Americans today.

There is no other permissible position for a news media outlet to take. The fact that this got criticized says all you need to know about the critics of free speech.

“You work your side of the street and I’ll work mine.”


Even as he juggles an awards-season campaign for West Side Story and post-production on his semi-autobiographical pic The Fablemans, Steven Spielberg looks to be getting that future dance card in order. Sources tell Deadline that he is attached to direct a new original story centered on Frank Bullitt, the iconic character played by Steve McQueen in the 1968 thriller Bullitt. Spielberg will also produce the pic along with Kristie Macosko Krieger, with Josh Singer on board to pen the script. The film is set up at Warner Bros.

Sources do add that with no script and deals being finalized, this would likely not be the next project Spielberg directs.

Sources were adamant this is not a remake of the original film but a new idea centered on the character. In the original film, Frank Bullitt is a no-nonsense San Francisco cop on the hunt for the mob kingpin that killed his witness. Considered one of McQueen’s more iconic roles, the film delivers one of the most famous car-chase scenes in cinema history.

Steve McQueen’s son, Chad ,and granddaughter Molly McQueen will exec produce the new movie.

Insiders say Spielberg had been toying with the idea to direct a film based on the character for some time and came close last year to making it his follow-up to West Side Story, but head to negotiate with the McQueen estate for rights to the character before he would attach as a director. With the negotiations taking longer then expected, Spielberg shifted his focus to directing The Fablemans, the film loosely based on the director’s childhood growing up in Arizona, and moved off of this film.

Once filming wrapped on Fablemans, he circled back to the Bullitt project and recently tapped Singer to pen the script.

Readers know that “Bullitt” is my favorite movie (based, as was “Dirty Harry,” on the same San Francisco detective), so of course this piques my interest. Quoting from myself:

A review I read suggests the ending suggests there could have been a “Bullitt” sequel. There are few successful sequels to the original, of course, although sequels can still be entertaining. It’s tantalizing for this fans of this movie to wonder about “Bullitt II,” including how you could possibly top that car chase. Others here suggested, believe it or don’t, Ryan Phillippe (with Bisset as his mother), Nicholas Cage, Lawrence Fishburne, McQueen’s real-life son Chad (who was in a movie that featured, surprise!, a 1968 Mustang), and even Sandra Bullock as Bullitt’s long-lost daughter. Of course, Ford decided to make a sequel to the Bullitt Mustang, the latest of which is available at a Ford dealership near you.

This being imagination-challenged Hollywood of the 21st century, there apparently were plans a decade ago to remake “Bullitt” with Brad Pitt in the lead, allegedly because “Brad shares a lot of the same passions as Steve McQueen – including a love of motorbikes and fast cars — so it was a dream role for him.” Or not. Perfection (though the movie is not perfect) cannot be remade. If you’re going to do that, then why not put Bullitt and Dirty Harry together, since the same detective inspired both, and the great Schifrin set both to music?

I was relieved to see that this is not a remake.


Jim Geraghty:

Ten days ago, this newsletter noted that the opening days of the Genocide Games — er, the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing — had generated a “cataclysmic loss of audience” for NBC. Over the past week or so, the audience size hasn’t gotten any better — and it’s not just here in the United States:

Television ratings for the Beijing Olympics are off by 50 percent from PyeongChang levels in 2018, which themselves were well below the levels of Winter Olympics past. But to hear the International Olympic Committee tell it, there’s no problem, no problem at all. . . . In the United States, though, with the exception of the post-Super Bowl bump, ratings for the Games have bounced off the bottom of the ocean floor at historic lows.

No, it’s not only a viewer boycott of China that’s driving the low ratings, but it’s hard to believe that it’s not a factor. Viewers around the world have a lot of reasons for antipathy toward China these days — from the ongoing Uyghur genocide, to the crackdown on Hong Kong, to the aggressive moves towards Taiwan, to that virus that started in Wuhan which has killed almost 6 million people around the world officially and perhaps many, many more.

There are no live audiences or cheering crowds at the events, a television correspondent got dragged away on airwaiters and bartenders in the hotels are wearing full hazmat suits, and there’s not even the usual pretty scenery — the ski-jump platform was built next to a steel plant with structures that reminded American audiences of nuclear reactors. There’s something absurdly dystopian about this whole debacle.

For a long time, the IOC insisted to the world, and perhaps to themselves late at night, that autocratic regimes such as Russia and China were challenging but worthwhile partners who helped make the games a truly global event. It contended that the long history of blatantly unethical behavior by these regimes, inside and outside the field of play, shouldn’t be a reason for concern and certainly wasn’t a reason to exclude those countries’ athletes or bar them from hosting the games. Whatever Beijing and Moscow lacked in ethics, they made up for in money and the authority to build stadiums quickly.

These games brought another embarrassing and outrage-inducing scandal, this one involving Kamila Valieva, the 15-year-old Russian figure-skating prodigy. Valieva tested positive for the heart drug trimetazidine on December 25 at the Russian nationals; the test results were only delivered from a Swedish lab last week, after Valieva helped Russia win gold in the team figure-skating event. “The IOC ruled there would not be a medal ceremony for the team event, in which Russia won gold and the U.S. won silver. If the Russian team is eventually disqualified over the positive drug test, the Americans will move up to gold, Japan will win silver, and Canada will win bronze.” When Valieva competed in her free skate, she fell apart, falling twice and finishing in fourth place.

No one believes that a 15-year-old girl would obtain and take a performance-enhancing substance on her own; someone had to have supplied it to her.

You know a situation is bad when the usually mild-mannered Mike Tirico, NBC Sports’ anchor for the Olympics coverage, calls out the IOC on-air for utterly failing to protect Valieva or to mitigate Russian cheating and rule-breaking:

Something undeniable is the harm to the person at the center of it all: a fifteen-year-old, standing alone, looking terrified on the ice before her free skate. This image, maybe more than anything else, encapsulates the entire situation — the adults in the room left her alone. Portrayed by some this week as the villain, by others as the victim, she is in fact the victim of the villains — the coaches and national Olympic Committee surrounding Kamila Valieva, whether they orchestrated, prescribed or enabled, all of this is unclear. But what is certain is they failed to protect her.

Guilt by association is often unfair, but it’s called for here. Russia has been banned from using the name of its country the last three Olympic Games, because of the systemic state-run doping program that was uncovered after they hosted the Sochi games in 2014. The deal that was broken was supposed to ensure a level playing field while giving clean Russian athletes a chance to compete, but that scenario totally broke down here.

Now, a failed drug test from one of their athletes has tarnished one of the marquee events of the games and taken away from every skater’s moment. In the name of clean and fair competition, Olympians and gold medalists from across the globe have spoken up and IOC president Thomas Bach, at his end of the games press conference in the last hour uncharacteristically openly criticized Valieva’s entourage for their quote ‘tremendous coldness’ at the end of her skate and said that those involved should be held responsible

But now it’s time for the IOC to stand up — whether it’s about blocking Russia from hosting events for a very long time or stringent and globally transparent testing for Russian athletes going forward, if swift action from the top of the Olympic movement does not happen quickly the very future of the games could be in jeopardy.

Olympic gold medalist Tara Lipinski, an NBC figure-skating analyst, added that, “It makes me angry that the adults around her weren’t able to make better decisions and be there for her, because she is the one now dealing with the consequences and she’s just 15 and that’s not fair. . . . Again, with that being said, she should not have been allowed to skate in this Olympic event.”

Give NBC Sports a little credit for calling out the IOC on air. Maybe NBC is concluding that operating as a de facto public-relations firm for a spectacularly corrupt and increasingly incompetent Olympic committee just isn’t worth it anymore. The ratings aren’t high enough, the advertisers aren’t happy enough, and NBC Sports employees no doubt want to broadcast unforgettable human triumphs — not to try to polish a turd and implausibly assure viewers at home that the games are fair, free, and abiding under the rules.

Discussions involving Valieva keep spurring the comment that, “It’s not her fault.” Yes, that’s precisely the point, and that’s why the Russian Olympic team used her in this manner. The people who run her career know that the IOC and the world will feel hesitant to judge and rebuke a tearful, angelic-faced 15-year-old girl. That’s why they’re attempting to cheat by using a 15-year-old girl! If this were an adult man, all of us would be reacting much less sympathetically. Our inner conflict about punishing a teenage girl for the actions of others is what the Russians were counting on; they figured that gave them a better chance of getting away with it.

All of these lessons apply to the other big controversy involving Russia going on this week. Some regimes just don’t give a hoot about the rules and will do whatever it takes to win. You can’t trust them, you can’t negotiate with them without verifying that they’re keeping their promises, you can’t rely on their good faith or good will, and if you make a concession in the name of comity, they will pocket it and ask for more.

These games have been a debacle, and the IOC was warned. Adam Kilgore, the Washington Post’s correspondent in Beijing, wrote this morning that the games are concluding under “a pall of pervasive joylessness” and noted that “athletes, officials and media members [are] shuttled from hotels to venues, forbidden to see the host city except out of windows.” What was the point of selecting Beijing, then? These games could have been held anywhere.

Dan Wetzel, a Yahoo Sports national columnist, sees the Russian coaches’ heartless on-air verbal abuse of a terrified 15-year-old girl as the natural fruit of a long string of bad IOC decisions and a refusal to confront national Olympic teams that are systemically abusive: “This is the Olympics that Bach, who has been president nearly a decade, has built. This is it. He just happened to see it in all its depravity on his television Thursday. He was disgusted at what he saw. Join the club.”

The only silver lining to this mess is that Xi Jinping didn’t get much of a propaganda victory out of it all.

R.I.P. P.J.

Nick Gillespie:

No one did more to mainstream libertarian ideas about peace, love, and understanding over the past half-century than P.J. O’Rourke, who has died at the age of 74. And like Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, and Sid Vicious, P.J. did it his way: by taking a blowtorch to the sacred cows of both the left and right.

“The Democrats are the party that says government will make you smarter, taller, richer, and remove the crabgrass on your lawn,” he warned. “The Republicans are the party that says government doesn’t work and then they get elected and prove it.”

Writing in popular outlets such as National LampoonRolling Stone, and The Atlantic, and appearing on NPR’s Wait…Wait Don’t Tell Me!, O’Rourke distilled the insights of Milton Friedman, Ayn Rand, and Friedrich Hayek with far more oomph.

“Giving money and power to the government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys,” wrote O’Rourke. “When buying and selling are controlled by legislation, the first things to be bought and sold are legislators.”

What A-Rodg thinks and therefore says

Kevin Van Valkenburg:

SITTING IN WHAT has become the most famous living room in football, sipping a scotch and wearing a half-zip with a Masters logo, Aaron Rodgers couldn’t stop grinning.

Peyton Manning and Eli Manning had just asked him, as part of their ManningCast that streams during Monday Night Football, what some of the books were on the bookshelf behind him. What had he been reading? Rodgers, who frequently does interviews from his home, with his bookshelf in the background, was happy to share his tastes with the world.

“I’ve got ‘Atlas Shrugged’ here by Ayn Rand,” Rodgers said, trying hard to suppress a smile. The look on his face was a fairly obvious tell, especially to those who watch him being interviewed weekly. But this was intended for a different audience.

The truth? He had never read “Atlas Shrugged.” Rodgers wasn’t even aware of how to properly pronounce Rand’s first name. He picked it because it was the book with the biggest spine on his bookshelf. He suspected that alone might annoy certain people.

He was right. Social media erupted with chatter, thousands ripping into Rodgers because they assumed he was celebrating Rand’s most famous novel, a libertarian laudation of capitalism and rugged individualism. But in different circles, the selection was applauded, and Rodgers was hailed as an independent thinker. Rodgers found the whole episode painfully predictable.

“I was laughing about it before,” Rodgers said in an exclusive interview with ESPN two days before the Green Bay Packers were set to play the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC divisional round. “I was moving some books over and replacing some things behind me, I was like, ‘Oh dude, I could never read this book.’ It’s however many pages. That’s how stupid this thing is. I’m reading some mentions or Twitter stuff and these people are loving me up. They’re like, ‘Oh yeah, libertarian, blah, blah, blah.’ I’m like, ‘What the f—?’ And then the people on the other side canceled me. ‘That’s kind of trashy, he’s reading Ayn Rand.’ I’m like, I haven’t read it! And even if I did, who gives a s—? It’s a book. I can read something and not immediately have it overtake my personal ideologies. And that’s the problem with society, is everything is triggering and offensive. It’s wild.”

It was the perfect anecdote to explain a season that has, in myriad ways, been a distillation of Aaron Rodgers’ entire being. Both in his cleats and from the confines of his couch, he has behaved as though he feels blissfully unrestrained at age 38.

On the football field, Rodgers has flexed his gifts so frequently and with such brilliance, it is the rare season of quarterback play that feels like he has left behind mechanics of the position and transformed them into something closer to art. His stats (4,115 yards, 37 touchdowns, 4 INTs) barely scratch the surface of explaining what it’s been like to witness. Every game, Rodgers seemed to make a handful of throws that felt like a testament to his genius: throws where he was off-balance, throws where he was falling down and throws where he couldn’t see his receiver, where the ball would whistle through the arms of four defenders, land in someone’s arms, and the difference between euphoria and disaster could be measured in fingernails.

Off the field, he has been equally brazen, leaning into culture wars, showing the world he is unafraid to fight back or denounce anyone he believes has lied about him or wronged him. Just as there appears to be no single throw he won’t attempt, there is also no opinion he will back down from if he feels he is right.

The two sides of Rodgers felt intertwined, each fueled by the same flood of self-confidence and unapologetic joy. At the start of the year, he looked miserable and frustrated with his own team, and admitted he’d contemplated retirement. Now he seemed as happy as he’d ever been.

Last week I sent an email to the Packers, wondering whether Rodgers would agree to speak on the phone, and I crafted some questions I thought might intrigue him. To my surprise, he said he did want to talk, and called on Thursday afternoon. He was blunt when I asked him why.

“It seemed like you’re thinking about writing a hit piece,” Rodgers said. “So I just want to make sure that you got questions answered from me before you went ahead and did that.”

I had spent all season studying his interviews, watching his games and reading books he’d recommended on “The Pat McAfee Show.” The impression I got was that he wanted to be understood, but he didn’t feel like most people (particularly his critics) were even willing to listen.

Rodgers explained that he didn’t think he was right about everything. He was saying it was essential we listen to opposing views, and then be allowed to debate.

“We isolate ourselves into these echo chambers where we’re only going to listen to things or read things or watch things that confirm our initial thoughts about things,” Rodgers said. “That’s no way to grow; that just keeps us divided even more.”

His entire season, on some level, had been about this: He wasn’t going to back down from anything.

LET’S START WITH football. Do you remember Rodgers’ fiery, cathartic fist pump against the 49ers?

It’s OK if you missed it. The season was just getting started. So much happened before and after. But it’s an important part of the journey.

The Packers weren’t a juggernaut back in September. No one was sure, early on, how engaged Rodgers was going to be, particularly after his failed offseason rebellion. The team looked listless in a season-opening 38-3 loss to the Saints, and Rodgers looked awful, throwing two interceptions, playing one of the worst games of his career. One of his ex-teammates, Jermichael Finley, went on ESPN Radio in the days after the loss and declared Rodgers didn’t have the hunger to win another championship, then also speculated that he wanted to quit. Boomer Esiason mocked his “man bun” and his search for “inner peace.” Nate Burleson said Rodgers looked bored on the sideline. Bill Cowher questioned his commitment to continue playing football and said he looked selfish.

An easy win over the hapless Lions in Week 2 offered only minor reassurances. During his weekly appearance on “The Pat McAfee Show,” Rodgers made it clear he did not appreciate the baseless critiques of his mental state and suggested the “blue check marks” on Twitter were trying to use him to get famous. He wanted to make it clear he wasn’t going to listen to people lie about him and stay quiet. Not anymore.

“I think for so long in my life, I was very private about everything and didn’t like really a whole lot of anything out there,” Rodgers told me. “And I still do enjoy a separation of private life and [professional] life, but there were far too many people who were trying to write the narrative of my life and writing things or speaking for me that perpetuated this idea about who I was or what I felt or what the truth was that was just patently false. So, it wasn’t so much about caring what people said about me, it was wanting to halt narratives about me that are just, at their core, not true.”

It wasn’t until Week 3, a Sunday night game in San Francisco, that the real narrative of the season began to take shape.

With 37 seconds left, the Packers looked like a boxer trying to stay upright after absorbing a flurry of punches. Jimmy Garoppolo had just thrown a touchdown to give the 49ers a 28-27 lead, and the Packers had no timeouts. Levi’s Stadium was thunderously loud. Rodgers paced the sideline alone, all emotion drained from his face. Even early in the season, it felt like a moment.

What happened next was as audacious as it was mesmerizing. The 49ers came out in a four-deep zone, prioritized cutting off any passes thrown toward the sideline. Middle linebacker Fred Warner, among the best linebackers in football, retreated to the middle of the field. For half a second, he leaned the wrong way, and that was all Rodgers needed. Standing at his own 14-yard line, he lasered a pass with a flick of his wrist. The playcall was one he and Matt LaFleur had made up just days prior. Rodgers wasn’t throwing the ball to Davante Adams as much as he was flinging it toward a spot only he could envision, a tiny pocket within the 49ers’ defense, trusting Adams to be there. Warner jumped as high as his body would allow, his right arm straining and fully extended. But the ball whizzed past his fingertips and into Adams’ arms at midfield. An extraordinary throw made to look mundane.

“He’s just calm, cool and collected,” Adams said, describing after the game what Rodgers is like with the game on the line. “He’s intense, but he doesn’t say much.”

Another completion to Adams followed, then a spike to stop the clock with three seconds left. As Rodgers ran off the field, ceding the stage to kicker Mason Crosby for the winning field goal, he uncorked a vicious fist pump in the direction of the Packers’ sideline. He was energized and ebullient; he’d just reminded the world there is no one else like him.

“It gives us some legitimacy,” Rodgers said after the game. “It felt like in the locker room that we finally had the energy I’ve been waiting to see. It felt like a growth moment for us. It feels like, ‘OK, now we’re on our way.'”

In his postgame news conference, Rodgers took a break from X’s and O’s talk to field one philosophical question: Why was he still capable of so much magic, especially considering how poorly regarded he was as a high school prospect?

“I always felt like there are things you can’t measure,” he said. “I’m not the tallest guy, I’m not the fastest guy by any means, but I feel like I have the intangibles. And I’ve grown over the years. All great competitors have to be first critical of themselves and look for growth opportunities, and there are things I’ve said and done that I wish I’d done better over the years. But I’ve always tried to lead with authenticity and stay true to who I was.”

He didn’t wear a mask when he met with the media, and hadn’t done so all season, a violation of the NFL’s protocols for unvaccinated players. But that wouldn’t become clear until a month later, when Rodgers tested positive for COVID-19 and had to miss the Packers’ game against Kansas City. (He was eventually fined $14,650 by the NFL.) Asked in the preseason whether he was vaccinated, Rodgers uttered what may go down as four of the most infamous words of his career: “Yeah, I’ve been immunized.”

The phrasing, he said on Thursday, was not misleading. It was in fact purposeful and specific.

“I had a plan going in for that question to be asked,” Rodgers said. “It was a pseudo witch hunt going on — who was vaccinated, who wasn’t vaccinated. I was in a multimonth conversation that turned into an appeal process with the NFL at that time, and my appeal hinged on that exact statement [immunized]. So what I said was, No. 1, factually true. I went through a multi-immunization process. And at the end of that, I don’t know what you would call it, I would call it immunized.”

Why did one of America’s most highly regarded athletes, a former “Jeopardy” host, no less, thrust himself into the center of the vaccine debate? The clues, if you were looking, have always been there. This is who Rodgers has long been — skeptic, alternative thinker and contrarian — dating all the way back to his childhood growing up in Chico, California.

He doesn’t think he’s a jerk, as some people have implied. All he’s doing, in his mind, is being true to his beliefs.

“I don’t want to apologize for being myself,” Rodgers said. “I just want to be myself.”

AS A TEENAGER, he felt like a boy adrift between cliques despite being a star quarterback for Pleasant Valley High School. The colleges where Rodgers wanted to play football had no interest in him, most of them convinced any high school football played north of Sacramento wasn’t worth the effort it would take to scout. Florida State wouldn’t even look at him. Illinois told him he could walk on. When he sent Purdue some tape, someone on the staff replied with a polite letter explaining their lack of interest that contained the line: “Good luck with your aspirations in college football.” The innocuous line enraged him. Rodgers highlighted it and stewed over it for years. His favorite band, Counting Crows, became the perfect soundtrack for his ruminative teenage brooding.

The interest he did have was from Division III schools such as Occidental College, Lewis & Clark and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps. He contemplated quitting football entirely. It wasn’t until Craig Rigsbee — the burly, affable head coach at Butte Community College — begged Rodgers to play for the Roadrunners, the junior college just south of Chico, that he figured out his nontraditional path forward.

“His mom said, ‘No son of mine is going to junior college,'” Rigsbee said. “I said, ‘Look, our general ed classes are the same as they are anywhere, whether you’re at Stanford, Cal or Harvard. The War of 1812 doesn’t change just because you’re at Butte College. Those classes will transfer anywhere in the world. Your degree isn’t going to say Butte College.'”

That resonated with Rodgers, who agreed to enroll at Butte as long as he could compete for the QB job as a freshman. By the end of preseason two-a-day practices, Rigsbee named him the starter, giving him the nod over a senior who’d been with the program for three seasons.

“That other guy was a really good player, but he ended up quitting, and his mom wrote me the most scathing letter,” Rigsbee said. “She said, ‘Coach, you’re an offensive lineman, you don’t know s— about quarterbacks. My son is 10 times the quarterback Aaron Rodgers is, he’ll never do s—. You wait and see.'”

A year after leading Butte Community College to a 10-1 record, Rodgers was playing at Cal. Two years after that, he was a first-round NFL draft pick. It’s a story that’s been told many times, but it’s one that is crucial to understanding him. Chico and Butte are where he learned to trust his own instincts and learned that knowledge could come from anywhere. It’s where he drifted away from what he considers the dogmatic religious views of his family.

“Ultimately, it was that rules and regulations and binary systems don’t really resonate with me,” Rodgers said on a 2020 podcast with then-girlfriend Danica Patrick, discussing how he came to see himself as spiritual rather than religious. “Some people just need structure and tradition. That works for them. I don’t have a problem with it. It just doesn’t resonate with me.”

Rigsbee has, over the years, remained close with Rodgers. Maybe not in his inner circle, but something not too far outside it. The coach, now retired, thinks of the quarterback almost like family. He has two signed jerseys of Rodgers’ hanging in his rec room, one thanking him for believing in him when no one else would. They text off and on, and Rigsbee tries to see him play in person at least once a year. Rodgers has even taken him backstage at Counting Crows concerts. It’s not something many people from Rodgers’ hometown can say. In order to become the man he wanted to be, Rodgers decided to leave certain pieces of Chico behind, an evolution that’s not uncommon for aspiring intellectuals but one that isn’t without complications and sadness. Rodgers hasn’t spoken to his parents or his two brothers in several years, for reasons he has declined to disclose.

“Aaron’s traveled the world,” Rigsbee said. “He’s seen a lot. He’s not some little Chico, California, boy anymore. He’s seen people be phony to him, he’s seen his good friends dog him, his relatives dog him. You end up really shrinking your inner circle of friends.”

Rigsbee says he wasn’t surprised when his former player became embroiled in a controversy over the COVID-19 vaccine. “He’s a true independent thinker,” Rigsbee said. “He doesn’t want to be anyone’s activist; he’s not a Democrat or a Republican. He believes you should be able to think for yourself. I think the press is mad at him because they didn’t follow up when he said he was immunized. They should have said, ‘What does immunized mean? Are you vaccinated or are you not?’ I think the press is mad because they think he’s saying he’s smarter than them. Well, guess what? He is smarter than them. He told the truth. They didn’t ask the right questions. I was proud of him.”

There is a lot of skepticism of the COVID-19 vaccine in Butte County, where only 51% of residents are considered fully vaccinated, one of the lower rates in the state. Oroville, a city of 20,000 just south of Chico, made national headlines this past November when its city council and mayor declared it a “constitutional republic” that would not enforce Gov. Gavin Newsom’s statewide vaccine mandates. Rodgers’ father, Ed, a chiropractor in Chico, has been highly critical of vaccine mandates on Twitter, frequently calling out “brainwashed liberal idiots” who are “destroying their organs” by taking the vaccine. (Ed Rodgers did not respond to an interview request from ESPN.)

Rigsbee, though, didn’t hesitate to get vaccinated. He believed it was the right decision for him considering his age and overall health, but it was a decision that put him in the minority among his friends.

“My best friend in the whole world was a big anti-vax guy,” Rigsbee said. “He was a small-business owner, had a really successful roofing company. He would come over every day and work out with me, and we’d walk our dogs together. He kept saying, ‘Riggs, I’m not getting vaxxed, it’s just the government trying to track you.’ I teased him: ‘I hate to break it to you, buddy, but no one gives a s— about tracking you.'”

One day at breakfast, Rigsbee says his friend started coughing but insisted it was just a cold. The next day, he and his wife were admitted to the hospital with COVID-19. Three days later, his friend died of a heart attack after a blood clot formed in his lung.

“My buddy Greg, he ended up giving it to three of our friends,” Rigsbee said. “All three of them almost died. Only one guy in our group didn’t get it. Guess who that was? Me. It doesn’t take a genius to figure that out.”

What happened was crushing, Rigsbee said, but it didn’t change how he felt about Rodgers’ own vaccination decision.

“Who am I to condemn someone for what they believe?” Rigsbee said. “If you don’t want to have a vaccination, [who] am I to tell you that’s wrong? Obviously he’s a healthy athlete in his prime. He actually has a very high level of doctors, physicians, physiologists working for him. He’s not the average guy. When he says he did his own research, it’s actually true. He has access to a level of medicine most people don’t. He’s not like one of my buddies who is going on the internet and thinking they found something no one had ever discovered before.”

IF YOU VIEW football as human chess played at bone-rattling speeds, and the personal lives or political views of players are meaningless to you, it’s possible none of what Rodgers has said this season matters. Does anyone care, now, that Picasso was a narcissist? Or that J.D. Salinger cut people out of his life with little explanation? In the end, their talents gave them an easy path to absolution in the eyes of history. Hubris, as Michael Jordan taught us, is often just the backbone of ambition.

Aaron Rodgers did not have his best game of the season against the Chicago Bears when the teams met at Soldier Field in mid-October. He threw for just 195 yards and two touchdowns. But he might have given us the season’s signature moment with 4:38 left in the fourth quarter, the Packers leading 17-14.

From the Bears’ 6-yard line, Rodgers dropped back to pass, pump-faked to his left, then began dancing in the pocket. Everything was covered. He started to look flustered, his eyes darting in every direction. Rodgers scrambled to his right, desperate to find someone freelancing a route in the other half of the end zone, but all he could see was a wall of white jerseys suffocating the green ones. He pump-faked again, then decided to make a feverish dash toward the corner of the end zone. At the pylon, Bears safety Eddie Jackson reached him a step late but lowered his shoulder and knocked Rodgers off his feet anyway, sending the quarterback half-stumbling, half-sliding to the turf. Touchdown. Ballgame.

“I own you! All my f—ing life, I own you!” Rodgers roared, staring down a sea of rowdy Bears fans. “I still own you! All my life!”

He said he could not remember, after the game, what he had shouted.

“Sometimes you black out on the field in a good way,” Rodgers said, unable to suppress a smirk. “I looked up in the stands, and all I saw was a woman giving me the double bird. I’m not exactly sure what came out of my mouth next.”

The Rodgers Tour of Audaciousness was just getting warmed up.

“That’s A-Rod,” Packers running back Aaron Jones said. “I love it. What can you say? He’s right.”

ONE OF RODGERS’ favorite self-help books, “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz, urges readers to not make assumptions and not take anything personally. It is an aspirational life philosophy, but those two tenets have sometimes been difficult for Rodgers. He takes many things personally. He has friends who alert him to slights big and small. He is unafraid to clap back at those who he feels have wronged him.

He likes discussion but does not particularly care for scrutiny, which is part of what made appearing on “The Pat McAfee Show” every Tuesday for the past two seasons such a comfortable fit. It is a safe space where Rodgers can opine on the existence of UFOs or recommend books that have been important to him, such as “The Four Agreements,” Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist” or Mark Manson’s “The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F—,” as a part of the Aaron Rodgers Book Club.

“We need more people reading books instead of sitting on their asses watching TV,” Rodgers said, kicking off the book club.

McAfee — a former punter with the Colts who became friends with Rodgers after he retired and started a podcasting career — likes to crack jokes, likes to tell stories, likes to talk about gambling, and he hosts nearly every show bouncing on the balls of his feet, in a tank top, with the manic energy of a stand-up comedian or auctioneer. No topic is off-limits, or seen as a waste of time, no matter how trivial. The conversations are typically not meant to be serious, even though Rodgers, at times, likes to address serious topics. It’s part of a new media paradigm that has given the world access to Rodgers that, in previous years, would have been unfathomable.

“This really does take the guessing out of it because you can now watch the interview, you can see my expressions, you can understand when there’s sarcasm — for most publications,” Rodgers said Thursday. “It’s harder to take what I’m saying out of context because most people that see it will probably look at a clip or watch the show instead of reading the transcript. So I do enjoy that. I enjoy Pat and A.J. [Hawk] and the boys, I enjoy talking football with him and then talking not football with them as well.”

Some episodes, Rodgers doesn’t grant interviews on the show as much as he uses them to deliver sermons about life. Regular listeners will quickly grasp that McAfee and Rodgers are playful pranksters, and that trolling the casual listener is sometimes part of the fun. Media that choose to aggregate pieces of the show and repurpose that for their own content (a regular occurrence) may do so at their own potential peril, because in McAfee’s universe, context is everything. Strip it away, by accident or on purpose, and you might end up with Rodgers and McAfee calling you out on the following show. That’s roughly how The Wall Street Journal ended up writing a 900-word story based off a throwaway joke McAfee and Rodgers made about the quarterback having a painful case of “COVID toe.” (He actually had a broken pinkie toe but declined to explain how the injury occurred.)

The story, which The Wall Street Journal’s Twitter account shared to its 19.3 million followers at 7:30 a.m. on Nov. 24, rippled across social media and was retweeted or shared by thousands of people over the next several hours.

One of those who shared it was Molly Knight, a journalist and author who has written about baseball for The Athletic and ESPN and now has her own Substack. Knight was getting ready to participate in an outdoor SoulCycle class in Los Angeles when she opened her phone and saw that “COVID toe” had been trending for hours. Curious, she clicked a link and read the Journal piece. It seemed credible. It quoted doctors. It was from a reputable news organization. She shared it to her own feed, adding what she knew was likely a well-worn joke: This is what happens when you get medical advice from Joe Rogan.

“I think I was the 1 millionth person to make that joke,” Knight said. “I was definitely late to the party.”

She followed it up with a tweet encouraging people to take the pandemic seriously and please get vaccinated. She thought little of it from there. It wasn’t until hours later that she noticed Packers fans bombarding her mentions, telling her they hoped she would die.

“At first, I thought it was just another day of being a woman online in sports,” Knight said. “I even argued a little with a few of them, not knowing that Aaron Rodgers had publicly called me out in a press conference and said I owed him an apology.”

Rodgers, based on some texts from friends, was convinced Knight had written the piece. Noticeably agitated, he went after her during his weekly Zoom with the media, at one point thrusting his bare foot in front of the camera to prove it didn’t have the lesions mentioned in the story.

“That’s actually called disinformation when you perpetuate false information about an individual,” Rodgers said. “I have a fractured toe. So, I expect a full apology from Molly Knight and whoever her editor was.”

Knight, after she finally unpacked what had happened, was baffled. Her mentions and direct messages were being overwhelmed with venom. She even got a few death threats. The New York Post emailed to ask whether she had any comment. Knight deleted the tweet and typed up a message in her Notes app trying to explain that she wasn’t the author of the piece, but it only slowed the harassment.

“It honestly felt like the walls were closing in and I couldn’t breathe,” Knight said. “I felt like I had to explain myself to all these people, but there would be people who would only ever hear his press conference. They’re never going to figure out that it wasn’t me. They’re just going to hate me forever.”

Rodgers showed no remorse when he learned, in the coming days, that Knight wasn’t the author of the story. He said he had a “respectful conversation” with Andrew Beaton, the Journal staffer who wrote the erroneous piece, and appreciated him reaching out to the Packers to clear things up. “I still don’t believe there wasn’t an ulterior motive, but we had a nice conversation,” Rodgers said. But he felt Knight was “definitely not without blame.” He offered no apology, called her “opportunistic” and implied she tried to use the situation to her advantage.

Knight, meanwhile, was having panic attacks. Not only were Packers fans harassing her, so was the anti-vaccination crowd. She left her apartment for five days to stay with her mom, terrified someone might be inspired to track down her address and harass her in person. To Knight, it was the perfect example of one of the most popular plays that men run on the internet: If facing a sea of criticism, find one woman among your critics, single her out, then let your followers take it from there.

“Does he think that’s what I deserve for making a joke about him and Joe Rogan?” Knight said. “He had to know what would happen, that people would come after me. It horribly impacted my mental health. I think it would have horribly impacted anyone’s mental health.”

I ask Rodgers, months after the incident, if there was any part he wished he would have handled differently, given time to reflect.

“In retrospect, I should have read it first, and maybe it would have been different,” Rodgers said. “I wouldn’t maybe have mentioned her name. But she was piling on. It was a perfect storm for her to jump on this anti-vaxxer, flat-earther who ended up getting COVID toe and he’s got lesions on the bottom of his feet. So, she chose her platform to run with an absolutely ridiculous story.”

HE BECAME BOLDER with his throws as the season went on.

In a 36-28 win over the Los Angeles Rams at Lambeau, he hit Adams in stride on a throw down the left sideline late in the second quarter that, if you studied it closely, seemed to defy the laws of physics. He’d let it fly without even planting his foot. The ball went 45 yards in the air, landing where only Adams (despite being double-covered) could catch it.

“Both his feet were in the air,” said Dan Orlovsky, an ESPN analyst who has been friendly with Rodgers for 20 years. He called the pass to Adams his favorite Rodgers throw this season. “He just has this ability to throw with very little windup. I think most of us were taught as kids to think of throwing a football like throwing a hammer, but with Aaron, it’s like he’s throwing a dart. His ability to control the football is outrageous.”

To cope with the pain of his broken toe, he needed occasional pregame painkilling injections. But getting jabbed by team trainers seemed, to Rodgers, like an acceptable trade-off to stay on the field.

“Getting shot up before a game does a pretty good job of minimizing the pain,” Rodgers said.

He grew bolder with his opinions as well.

“I don’t want to apologize for being myself. I just want to be myself.”Aaron Rodgers

Rodgers wore a sweatshirt on McAfee’s show with the words “Cancel Culture” on the front, but with every letter crossed out, a gift from his friend Dave Portnoy, the founder of Barstool Sports. In December, he was not happy when President Joe Biden, while taking a tour of tornado-ravaged towns in Kentucky, joked with a woman wearing a Packers jacket that she should tell Rodgers to get the vaccine.

“When the president of the United States says, ‘This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated,’ it’s because him and his constituents, which, I don’t know how there are any if you watch any of his attempts at public speaking, but I guess he got 81 million votes,” Rodgers said Thursday. “But when you say stuff like that, and then you have the CDC, which, how do you even trust them, but then they come out and talk about 75% of the COVID deaths have at least four comorbidities. And you still have this fake White House set saying that this is the pandemic of the unvaccinated, that’s not helping the conversation.”

(Editor’s note: The CDC study found that in a group of 1.2 million people who were fully vaccinated between December 2020 and October 2021, 36 of them had a death associated with COVID-19 — and that of those 36 people, 28, or about 78%, had at least four of eight risk factors.)

On New Year’s Day, Rodgers went on Instagram to recommend a three-hour interview Rogan did with Dr. Robert Malone, a virologist who had been recently banned from Twitter and YouTube for repeatedly violating policies on spreading what was labeled as “vaccine misinformation.”

“3 hours you won’t regret,” Rodgers wrote, sharing a link to “The Joe Rogan Experience.”

Malone — who was involved in the early development of mRNA vaccines and DNA vaccines but says his role was “written out of history” by the hundreds of scientists collectively credited for their invention — believes that vaccine side effects are being withheld or suppressed by the U.S. government, likely at the request of pharmaceutical companies. He also believes what’s going on in America is a term called “mass formation psychosis,” akin to German citizens being manipulated by the Nazi Party in the 1920s and 1930s.

At Rodgers’ suggestion, I listened to the podcast, trying to weigh its assertions with an open mind. But I was more interested in what Rodgers wanted people like me to take away from it. He gave an answer so impassioned, I could hear his voice in my head hours later, the steady drumbeat of his speech.

“When in the course of human history has the side that’s doing the censoring and trying to shut people up and make them show papers and marginalize a part of the community ever been [the correct side]?” Rodgers said Thursday. “We’re censoring dissenting opinions? What are we trying to do? Save people from being able to determine the validity on their own or to listen and to think about things and come to their own conclusion? Freedom of speech is dangerous now if it doesn’t align with the mainstream narrative? That’s, I think first and foremost, what I wanted people to understand, and what people should understand is that there’s censorship in this country going on right now.

“Are they censoring terrorists or pedophiles? Criminals who have Twitter profiles? No, they’re censoring people, and they’re shadow-banning people who have dissenting opinions about vaccines. Why is that? Is that because Pfizer cleared $33 billion last year and Big Pharma has more lobbyists in Washington than senators and representatives combined? Why is the reason? Either way, if you want to be an open-minded person, you should hear both sides, which is why I listen to people like Dr. Robert Malone, Dr. Peter McCullough. I have people on the other side as well. I read stuff on the vaccine-hesitancy side, and I read stuff on the vaccines-are-the-greatest-thing-in-the-world side.

“When you censor and make pariahs out of anybody who questions what you believe in or what the mainstream narrative is, that doesn’t make any sense.”

It sounded like what he was saying mattered to him as much as any football game he’d ever played in, if not more.

IN EARLY JANUARY, the NFL announced that unvaccinated players, even with new guidelines released recently by the CDC, would still be tested daily by the NFL leading up to the Super Bowl. Rodgers, who is currently exempt from that testing because he contracted COVID-19 in the past 90 days, will see that exemption expire soon, before the championship. A scenario in which Rodgers tests positive in the days leading up to a postseason game would be a nightmare scenario for the Packers and the NFL, but with the omicron variant spreading rapidly through the American population, it’s certainly conceivable. In a season with so much madness surrounding Rodgers, the biggest twist might be yet to come. If that does occur, scientists like Dr. Angela Rasmussen, a renowned virologist and research scientist at the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization, shudder to think about how the debate will be framed.

“It will be, ‘Was Aaron Rodgers so selfish that he cost his team in the playoffs?'” Rasmussen said. “But it’s not about the playoffs, it’s about the playoffs of ending this pandemic.”

The influence of public figures who are staunchly anti-vaccination — despite no background in science or medicine — has played a role in prolonging the pandemic, Rasmussen believes.

“It’s profoundly selfish for Joe Rogan and Aaron Rodgers and their followers to say this is just a decision about you,” Rasmussen said. “Vaccines do provide individual benefits, but the bigger benefits of vaccines and masks and all the measures we’ve been taking is reducing the prevalence of COVID overall so we can end the f—ing pandemic. That’s what gets missed. This becomes all about Aaron Rodgers and what the risk is to him, and whether he’s being selfish or not, rather than something that affects all of us as a community.”

As eager as Rodgers has been this season to speak his mind and launch counterattacks against his critics, he insists he is closer to zen than he is to a state of permanent resentment. He has been dropping little hints, all throughout the year, that he has been savoring certain moments, just in case they are his last in a Packers uniform. He’s vowed to make a decision about his future not long after the season ends.

In Green Bay’s 31-30 win over the Ravens in Week 15, Rodgers gathered the offense together before the final kneel-down and delivered a short speech. He wagged his finger for emphasis as he spoke. He later explained to reporters that he wanted the players to savor the moment, to remember this emotion. True, they might have bigger goals, but the future could wait. Try to enjoy this, he urged them, at least for a few minutes. A career can rush past in the blink of an eye.

As I watched the scene play out, it reminded me, oddly, of a line from Rodgers’ favorite show, “The Office,” where Ed Helms’ character laments in the final episode: I wish there was a way to know you were in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.

I asked Rodgers whether that quote had been bouncing around in his head lately, and he admitted it had been. He’d rewatched the series in its entirety (his third time through) early on during the pandemic, and a lot of it had been lingering ever since.

“Definitely that quote was on my mind,” Rodgers said. “That moment has always stuck with me, when Ed turns to the camera. Because just talking to some guys who moved on and retired that I was close with, that’s a common thread. … I think it’s just good perspective to have that we are in the midst of moments that we’re going to be talking about in 10 or 15 years. So let’s treasure these conversations, these lessons, these times of adversity, times of joy. So that it means a little bit more when we’re sitting on that bench in 20 years talking about the good old days.”

After 28 minutes of talking, our conversation had come to an end. He told me he appreciated the chance to answer my questions. Now it was time for Rodgers — controversial social commentator, former “Jeopardy!” host, media critic, free speech advocate, occasional troll and book club founder — to return to his day job: trying to win an important football game.

Some Packers fans are not fans of Rodgers because of his capacity for independent thought. That used to be a valued trait among Americans. For instance, Sports Illustrated reports:

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has gotten plenty of attention for his play on the field this season in leading his squad to a 13–4 record and the NFC’s top seed for the playoffs. But he’s also made several headlines off the field due to his COVID-19 vaccination status—and his stance on the matter.

Friday, via a fascinating feature on Rodgers by ESPN’s Kevin Van Valkenburg, Rodgers again made waves, this time by taking aim at President Joe Biden.

Rodgers, in a 28-minute phone call with Van Valkenburg, covered several topics, including his experience on the ManningCast, his relationship with Joe Rogan, his frequent appearances on The Pat McAfee Show and, of course, football. But it was a few lines about the commander in chief that generated the most reaction among readers.

According to TMZ, Biden was revealed to have told a Packers fan he wants Rodgers to get the vaccine while visiting Kentucky after a week of deadly tornadoes back in December.

Rodgers reportedly caught wind of the incident and was not happy. In the ESPN feature, he criticized Biden for classifying the pandemic as a “pandemic of the unvaccinated,” something the president said back during an official White House statement Sept. 9. He also expressed distrust of the CDC and commented on Biden’s public speaking ability.

The quote, via ESPN, includes an editor’s note about a CDC study regarding the effectiveness of the vaccine:

“In December, he was not happy when President Joe Biden, while taking a tour of tornado-ravaged towns in Kentucky, joked with a woman wearing a Packers jacket that she should tell Rodgers to get the vaccine.

“When the president of the United States says, ‘This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated,’ it’s because him and his constituents, which, I don’t know how there are any if you watch any of his attempts at public speaking, but I guess he got 81 million votes,” Rodgers said Thursday. “But when you say stuff like that, and then you have the CDC, which, how do you even trust them, but then they come out and talk about 75% of the COVID deaths have at least four comorbidities. And you still have this fake White House set saying that this is the pandemic of the unvaccinated, that’s not helping the conversation.”

(Editor’s note: The CDC study found that in a group of 1.2 million people who were fully vaccinated between December 2020 and October 2021, 36 of them had a death associated with COVID-19—and that of those 36 people, 28, or about 78%, had at least four of eight risk factors.)

In this case, Rodgers was responding to Biden, who should have kept his mouth shut about things that are not Biden’s business.

It would be most amusing if Biden had to speak to Rodgers at a White House ceremony honoring the NFL champion Packers.


(Insert backup alarm sound here)

First, The Score in Chicago Tuesday morning:

Myles Simmons:

Longtime reporter and Associated Press MVP voter Hub Arkush started a firestorm by saying in a radio interview on Tuesday that he wouldn’t vote for Aaron Rodgers for reasons unrelated to his on-field performance. …

But Rodgers himself had plenty to say on the matter when asked what he thought of the comments to begin his Wednesday press conference.

“I think he’s a bum. I think he’s an absolute bum,” Rodgers said. “He doesn’t know me. I don’t know who he is. No one knew who he was, probably, until yesterday’s comments. And I listened to the comments. But to say he had his mind made up in the summertime, in the offseason that I had zero chance of winning MVP — in my opinion, that should exclude [him from] future votes.

“His problem isn’t with me being a ‘bad guy’ or ‘the biggest jerk in the league’ — because he doesn’t know me. He doesn’t know anything about me. I’ve never met him. I’ve never had lunch with him. I’ve never had an interview with him. His problem is I’m not vaccinated. So if he wants to go on a crusade and collude and come up with an extra letter to put on the award just for this season and make it the ‘Most Valuable Vaccinated Player,’ then he should do that.

“But he’s a bum. And I’m not going to waste any time worrying about that stuff. He has no idea who I am. He’s never talked to me in his life. But it’s unfortunate that those sentiments — it’s surprising that he would even say that, to be honest. But I knew this was possible. I talked about it on McAfee weeks ago. But…crazy.”

Rodgers did mention in one of his regular appearances on the Pat McAfee Show that he figured he’d be “canceled” for lying about his vaccination status. But the reality has been different, as the vast majority of criticism has been directed at Arkush after he shared why he disqualified Rodgers from his MVP vote.

Rodgers is the frontrunner to win his second consecutive AP MVP award and fourth overall. In 15 games, he’s completed 69 percent of his passes for 3,977 yards with 35 touchdowns and just four interceptions. He currently leads the league with a 111.1 passer rating.

Arkush was singing a slightly different tune Wednesday:

So in case you haven’t heard, I’ve spent the better part of the last 24 hours making a pretty nasty mess.

Actually, and much to my surprise, that may be the understatement of the year. There is absolutely nothing clever or remotely entertaining about it.

I made a terrible mistake. It was completely my fault. There is no one else to blame, and I am here to try and apologize.

I own this and I couldn’t be more sorry.

I expect some clarity on exactly what I am apologizing for might be relevant and welcome.

There is no more respected bastion of journalism in the world than the Associated Press, and from where I sit there are few greater honors in my business than being chosen one of the 50 members of its panel that selects the NFL’s annual All Pro teams, MVPs, etc.

It has been my privilege to be a member of that team for some time now and Tuesday I violated a trust.

Our marching orders are to cast our votes as reasoned and thoughtfully as possible for those we believe to be the most deserving in our own considered judgment. All that is asked of us is not to discuss our votes publicly until after the awards have been announced.

On Tuesday, at 670 The Score in Chicago, where I am regularly employed as an analyst and host, for reasons that I am still trying to come to grips with but were completely my responsibility, I allowed myself to be walked into a conversation about an MVP candidate I knew I would not be voting for. I said some things that while not unreasonable in the context they were said, I voiced them in totally inappropriate ways.

I couldn’t possibly be more sorry for joining the conversation at all and some of the childish things I said about Aaron Rodgers.

Most of the other 49 AP voters are acquaintances, many are friends, and the reason we are asked not to do what I did is it now puts undo pressure on some of them to comment, not comment, agree, disagree or take grief for doing the right thing and remaining silent.

Worse yet, I’ve apparently unleashed a small army of self-styled social media and talk radio experts who have no clue what they’re talking about to challenge the quality of the voting process and would attempt to invalidate any vote or thought process that doesn’t agree with their own.

A sign of the times I guess.

To everyone in any way associated with the AP awards, you couldn’t possibly do the job any better or be more respected by anyone who actually cares more about getting it right than getting what they want

To any player or coach that’s ever won an AP honor, you couldn’t possibly be more deserving and don’t ever let anyone call that into question.

To Aaron Rodgers, you are one of the greatest players of this generation and one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.

Whether or not you are this year’s MVP is up to the 50-member panel, neither me, nor my critics.

I couldn’t possibly be more sorry for dragging all of you into my mess and I hope you will accept my apology.

Why or how this became a national news story I don’t understand, and while I would love to be able to explain what I meant to say and butchered so badly, any further conversation about my own vote now would just throw another log on the fire and cloud what matters at the moment

I was wrong, I own it and I couldn’t be more sorry

I’ll be happy to discuss my vote and my reasoning with whomever would like to after the awards have been announced.

For now please don’t tarnish anyone else with my mistake. Think of me as you will, but I hope my responsibility and regret are clear.

As always, the way to avoid having to apologize in public is not to have done something that required an apology in the first place. Note, though, that Arkush is apologizing primarily for causing his fellow AP voters problems and for possibly besmirching the AP’s NFL awards in some people’s eyes, not for his bad take about Rodgers’ being a “bad guy.”

Some readers might say that Arkush is entitled to his opinion. But Arkusb has more responsibility than someone sitting on his couch on social media while drinking beer to know what he’s talking about, since Arkush’s readers assume he knows what he’s talking about.

Wrong opinions are the result of bad information and/or a bad thought process. In a league that has employed domestic abusers, illegal drug users and, in two cases, murderers (see Carruth, Rae, and Hernandez, Aaron), what about Rodgers makes him a “bad guy” in Arkush’s opinion? Because he apparently disagrees with Arkush about the pan(dem)ic? (Rodgers’ teammates certainly have moved on from “immunized” vs. “vaccinated.”) Because he reportedly doesn’t get along with his family? Because of the media-generated sturm und drang that began this season over where Rodgers wanted to play? Nothing Rodgers has done, including being an independent thinker, warrants a “bad guy” label.

Bill Huber adds:

What’s funny is, other than probably postgame interviews for his duties writing about the Chicago Bears and national radio broadcasts for Westwood One, Arkush probably doesn’t know Rodgers at all. So how does Arkush believe Rodgers is a “bad guy” when his coaches and teammates say otherwise? Has he not listened to Davante Adams and others talk about Rodgers? Did he not see Lucas Patrick hoist Rodgers in the air after Rodgers broke Brett Favre’s touchdown record? Has he not talked to former Packers receiver James Jones, who is part of the same Packers pregame segment? Is he unaware of the millions of dollars he’s given for various charitable causes? …

For those who scoffed at Rodgers’ talk of “cancel culture” just because he doesn’t share the mainstream opinion, isn’t what what’s at play with Arkush? He doesn’t like Rodgers, for whatever reason, so is choosing to ignore the fact that Rodgers has led an injury-plagued team to the best record in the NFL while leading the way in passer rating, touchdown percentage and interception percentage?

The interesting side part is that Arkush has a segment on Packers’ radio pregame. (Arkush used to do color for Da Bears when Wayne Larrivee announced for Da Bears. I generally don’t listen to pregame shows, but this one might be wroth a listen, assuming the Packers don’t tell him to not work Sunday.

Arkush may be done with the Packers since WTMJ radio won’t be the Packers Radio Network flagship after this season, and Arkush committed the formerly cardinal sin of a reporter’s becoming the story.



Grow a pair, or buy a gun

Jason Rezalan writes ni the Washington Post:

The year 2022 is not looking particularly promising for press freedom. In fact, the United States is one place where journalists could start seeing an increase in the types of threats that many of our colleagues in many illiberal societies already face.

If we don’t take corrective measures quickly to increase media literacy and slow the spread of disinformation, journalists working in the United States will become bigger targets for those who disagree with the information and perspectives we disseminate.

It’s already happening.

Last month, a judge in New York sentenced a man to three years in prison for threatening dozens of people, including journalists and members of Congress, for accurately reporting the results of the U.S. presidential election. The man, Robert Lemke, 36, sent text messages and voice mails, including pictures of the gravesite of CNN reporter Brian Stelter’s father and a message that described his mother’s house, implying Lemke was there.

Lemke believed the “big lie” and was prepared to threaten others for disagreeing with his demonstrably false views.

Traditionally journalists have wanted to stay away from the center of the stories they cover. Most of us would like nothing more than to do our jobs of chronicling and analyzing events with some measure of privacy. But that’s becoming impossible.

The pressure is on to make our work stand out, as success is increasingly linked to web traffic. And as journalists’ profile and perceived influence rise online, leaders with authoritarian mindsets, and their followers, see the reach and independence as a threat to their power.

Many journalists have endured years of online harassment and abuse in silence. The industry has become desensitized to these attacks, accepting them as an occupational hazard. We see the opportunity to inform a wide audience as a privilege that comes with responsibility — and you have to have thick skin, we tell ourselves.

The stakes, though, keep getting higher as our society becomes more polarized. Of course, this was most evident on Jan. 6, when Trump supporters attempted a coup at the U.S. Capitol.

Acknowledging the gravity of the moment, Post publisher Fred Ryan honored 38of our colleagues who covered the Jan. 6 insurrection with The Post’s annual Ben Bradlee Award for Courage in Journalism.

The award honored their commitment to carrying out the job in a volatile and dangerous environment, and also acknowledged the tremendous personal risk they took. These journalists need recognition, but they also need care and support. We tend to forget that as an industry.

We don’t talk enough about the trauma many journalists endure — in large part because we are not supposed to know about it: Journalists never want to eclipse the subjects and broader themes at the heart of our stories.

As journalists covered the insurrection, documenting the most direct threat to our democracy since the Civil War, people hurled threats and insults in their direction. “Murder the media” was scratched into a door of the Capitol. Some in the mob chanted “CNN sucks” as they destroyed equipment owned by the Associated Press.

“I’ve covered conflict abroad and it wasn’t until reporting on social unrest throughout 2020 that I had to consistently go out with a military-grade gas mask, a bulletproof vest and eye protection,” Maranie Staab, an independent journalist who has been covering protest movements that erupted in different U.S. cities, including Pittsburgh, Portland and Syracuse, told me.

Staab says she witnessed “countless instances where the press was targeted, attacked and obstructed by law enforcement as well as groups on the far right and factions of the far left.”

Without proper accountability, we are bound to face more and better organized assaults on our democratic institutions. And that includes the free press.

I have written about the decline in press protections in Mexico, Iran and many other countries. The dehumanizing treatment of critical journalists by the nationalist Indian government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has led to India becoming one of the deadliest places in the world to report. In 2021, four journalists were murdered and no one has been held accountable for those crimes.

We monitor press freedom to shine a light on those who want to obstruct the free flow of information in different societies. And that knowledge offers important tools for press freedom defenders across the world.

The United States, which prides itself of having a constitutionally enshrined right to freedom of the press, is seeing the tactics of dehumanization and intimidation long deployed by nondemocratic states.

Discrediting the press isn’t new, but this country is entering a new and darker chapter. President Donald Trump didn’t write it, but his brand of hateful showmanship was uniquely successful at fanning the fire. Putting it out will be difficult and, frankly, less “catchy” — headlines about disinformation and attacks on public figures don’t get a lot of sympathy, or clicks. But that’s precisely why it has to be a priority. Because if press freedom crumbles in the United States, if journalists feel threatened and vulnerable for speaking truth to power, then the outlook for democracy — here and abroad — will become bleaker than it already is.

In other countries, journalists get killed, beaten and imprisoned. That is not generally the case in this country, which makes journalist fears for their skin rather over the top. (I write that as someone whose skin actually has been threatened, in contrast to most in my line of work, and as someone who has had to stand up to authority in person, in contrast to most in my line of work.)

My suggestion is that journalists learn self-defense, including buying and learning how to shoot a gun if necessary. That, and figuring out that more than one-third of voters are not the enemy, in contrast to what this writer believess.

This didn’t age well, did it, Colin?

With the Packers’ 37–10 win over Minnesota last night Green Bay finished as NFC North champions for the third consecutive season and with the number one seed in the NFC for the second consecutive season.

Last night’s win also improves coach Matt Lafleur’s regular-season career record to 39–9. with one meaningless game left in this season.

Which means this 2019 take from alleged sports expert Colin Cowherd was full of cow … well, you know.

Yes, Lafleur hasn’t won.a Super Bowl (which places the Pack in the same place as 30 other NFL teams the past two seasons), and there are reasons to believe the Packers won’t win the Super Bowl this season. But Cowherd’s opinion has been proven spectacularly wrong, and not for the first time.

I used to think Cowherd knew more than, say, Stephen A. Smith or Brainless Skip Bayless. I may have been mistaken about that.

This is why I neither listen to nor watch sports talk. Too many opinions, too few informed opinions, and far too little  insight.


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