Resistance journalism had a good run and made a lot of people in the media very wealthy and well known within the industry. The journalists who made a name for themselves attack Trump were showered with book deals and became minor celebrities themselves on the left. But with Trump leaving the White House in less than a month, what are all those scrappy journalists planning to do now? Not surprisingly, the answer for many of them appears to be to bring it down a notch (or ten) during the Biden administration.
Olivia Nuzzi tries not to dwell on the unsavory fact that her career took off because of Trump. A lively writer who covered the 2016 campaign for The Daily Beast, she joined New York magazine around the time Trump took office, and quickly became known for her caustic profiles of the president’s hangers-on. TV appearances and awards shortly followed, and in 2018 Nuzzi announced a major book deal with Simon & Schuster…
Nuzzi can already tell that the dynamic will be different in the incoming administration. “On a purely social level, I don’t know that reporting critically on Joe Biden will feel as safe for reporters,” she told me. “You’re not going to get yass queen–ed to death.”
No reporter, with the possible exception of Rachel Maddow, became more emblematic of the resistance to Trump than Jim Acosta. Like Nuzzi he got a book deal for a book all about his battles with the Trump administration.
The drama has made him famous, but Acosta said he doesn’t expect to bring the same crusading style to his coverage of the next administration. “I don’t think the press should be trying to whip up the Biden presidency and turn it into must-see TV in a contrived way,” he said.
If that sounds like a double standard, Acosta told me it’s not partisan—it’s a matter of professional solidarity. In his view, Trump’s campaign to discredit the press has constituted a “nonstop national emergency,” one that required a defiant response. “If being at the White House is not an experience that might merit hazard pay,” he said, “then perhaps it is going to be approached differently.”
PBS’ Yamiche Alcindor, who has given Acosta a run for his money this year, says she hopes the suspicion of government seen from the press corps during the Trump era continues into the Biden administration. “I don’t think it’s going to be boring,” she said. Maybe not but it’s hard to believe Alcindor will stirring things up. She has already swooned over Biden’s cabinet picks, comparing them to superheroes. Alcindor was a reporter during the Obama years as well. You probably never heard of her back then. There’s a reason for that.
But celebrity resistance journalism isn’t the only problem with the progressive media these days. Matt Yglesias has an interesting piece up at his new self-funding blog site which makes a point about this summer’s COVID relief package while also making a larger point about the warped incentives in progressive journalism. He starts with the question of why the “CARES superdole” was treated as a big success by the left. Here’s his explanation:
…there’s a norm in American progressive politics of looking at every glass as half empty.
Basically, the understanding is that whoever can paint the darkest possible portrait of the status quo is the one who is showing the most commitment to the cause. And you see this norm at work across climate change, health care, criminal justice reform, the economy, and everything else. If you’re not saying the sky is falling, that shows you don’t really care. A true comrade in the struggle would deny that any progress has been made or insist that any good news is trivial.
I tend to think this approach to politics is counterproductive — it’s psychologically and emotionally exhausting, out of touch with people’s lived experience of the world, and ultimately demoralizing and un-motivating. But even if it does in some sense work, it’s simply not true.
Yglesias isn’t calling this resistance journalism but hopefully his comments about “commitment to the cause” and “the struggle” show it’s pretty similar. Psychologically what he’s describing isn’t much different from what Acosta and Alcindor are doing at the White House, i.e. stoking the sense this is an emergency and part of a battle between us (the good people on the left) and them (everyone else).
As Yglesias points out, it’s possible to believe climate change is a serious threat without taking the extreme position that it’s going to wipe out humanity and turn the earth into a superheated clone of Venus. But finding some sort of reasonable middle ground on any issue the left takes up doesn’t garner as many eyeballs and doesn’t make stars out of as many progressive writers as treating everything as an ongoing, world-threatening emergency. Everything is always as bad as it can be, therefore every effort to resist and obstruct is justified, even if it’s not true. It’s the logic of Extinction Rebellion climate change protesters and it’s increasingly being applied to everything all the time.
You may remember Extinction Rebellion as a the extremist mob that blocked traffic and trains in London earlier this year. As former members of that group have pointed out, any kind of nuance or middle ground is seen as compromise. I’ve posted this video of Extinction Rebellion spokesperson Zion Lights before but here’s what it looks like when the media actually does their job and holds progressive catastrophists to account. We haven’t seen much of this in America in the past four years.
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