Excerpted from Matt Taibbi’s Substack:
The year 2020 will be remembered in the real world for a terrifying pandemic, mass unemployment, a nationwide protest movement, and a historically uninspiring presidential race. The year in media, meanwhile, was marked by grotesque factual scandals, journalist-cheered censorship, and an accelerating newsroom mania for political groupthink that was equal parts frightening and ridiculous.
The tiniest violations of perceived orthodoxies cost jobs. Reporters and editors were whacked en masse in uprisings at the New York Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Wall Street Journal, Vox, the Miami Herald, and countless other places.
Some of the purges were themselves amazing news stories. Reporter Sue Schafer was fired after her paper, the Washington Post, published a 3,000-word expose about a two-year-old incident in which she attended a Halloween party dressed as Megyn Kelly, who herself had been fired from NBC for defending blackface costumes. Schafer, in other words, was fired for dressing in blackface as a satire of blackface costumes, in an incident no one heard of until her own editors decided to make an issue of it. This was one example of what the New Yorker recently exulted as the “expensive and laborious” process of investigative journalism, as practiced in 2020.
Raymond Chandler once said that when he ran out of ideas, he just had a character burst into a room with a gun. 2020 op-ed writers in the same predicament could insert random nouns into a Mad Libs template: “Is/Are _____ Racist?” Everything from knitting to Jesus to botanical gardens to women to dieting to mermaids to Scrabble and perhaps a hundred other things made the cut, to the point where it became a bottomless running gag for inevitable cancel targets like the satirical Twitter personality, “Titania McGrath.”
A few of these stories were interesting, but most were indistinguishable from pieces in the Onion, whose satires of media have been rapidly gaining on reality for years, the gap tightening to less than a year in 2020 (see the 2019 Onion piece, “Man’s Existential Terror About Country’s Slide Towards Authoritarianism Sublimated Into Campaign To Get Journalist Fired For Tweet”).
If in looking at the following list it strikes you to wonder, “Where were the editors?”, it turns out an atmosphere in which even senior New York Times bosses have to be afraid of staff is almost like having no editors at all! Given their importance in preventing the scourge of what the New Yorker called “journalistic individualism,” i.e. reporters allowed to operate outside the “collective interest,” this was really too bad. In honor, then, of that sacred covenant between writers and editors — well, the ones not purged, reassigned, or forced out this year — here’s a shortlist of the most remarkable (and presumably edited) articles of 2020, the year of the woke headline:
15. Fast Company, June 15: “5 thoughtful ways to approach discussing racism at work.”
After the murder of George Floyd on May 25, offering white readers literary guidance on how to suppress their inner conquistador in diverse company became an extremely popular genre, both in books like smash #1 bestsellers White Fragility and Antiracist Baby, and in press treatments like this Fast Company piece. The latter contained the following advice:
DO BE MINDFUL OF OPENING UP MEETINGS AND INTERACTIONS WITH QUESTIONS LIKE “HOW ARE YOU?” OR “HOW WAS YOUR WEEKEND?” Recognize that by doing so, you can potentially be re-triggering what your Black colleagues are experiencing or dismissing their experience by pretending all is normal. It’s not and hasn’t been for a long time.
Don’t ask “How are you?” — just assume the answer is, Same as it’s been for 400 years, jackass, and keep walking to your cubicle. Welcome to 2020!
14. Deadspin, June 22: “We’ve Lived with ‘The Masters’ Name Long Enough.”
2020 was a big year in renaming. The Washington Redskins and Cleveland Indians monikers, recognized as offensive decades ago, were finally tossed in the dustbin of history. Infamous Republican Louis Gohmert, offended on behalf of removed Confederate symbols, tried to woke-trap the Democratic Party by introducing a bill demanding it change its name, given its genuinely racist history and “ties to slavery.” That was a nice try! Gohmert managed to squeeze a sympathetic quote or two out of a few Democratic members, but the gambit otherwise stalled for lack of coverage.
Then there was the idea floated on Deadspin by sports legend Rob Parker — the man Fox hired to make sure they had someone on staff to out-meathead Skip Bayless in a pinch — who said it was time for “The Masters” golf tournament to change its name. “When you hear anyone say the Masters,” he wrote, “you think of slave masters in the South.” Did it matter that “The Masters” was named for people who’d mastered their craft, much like Master titles in chess, or Masters tournaments in tennis, ping-pong, angling, and dozens of other pursuits? Of course not! As Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf noted, when deciding this past summer to pursue a hate crime investigation against a Black man named Victor Sengbe for hanging tree swings she said looked like nooses (they didn’t look like nooses), “Intentions don’t matter.” Or, as Parker put it, “When has anyone mastered golf?”
Parker might have been outdone by a British petition to rename the actually white White Cliffs of Dover, the old name being a “microaggression against people whom ‘white’ does not describe,” but it appears that campaign was one of 2020’s many not instantly discernible satires.
13. San Francisco Chronicle, September 8: “Wine’s diversity starts with the way we talk about the taste of wine.”
Is wine exclusionary because its “vocabulary… is nearly exclusively rooted in flavors and aromas common to Western Europe”? A Blanc de Blancs, the Chronicle noted, tastes like Brioche, while inky Cabernet sauvignons recall cassis, “a flavor of ripe, black currants.” Meanwhile, “Grenache blends have the distinctive taste of garrigue — a specific blend of herbs like lavender and sage that grow near the Mediterranean coast.” In other words, French wine culture comes from France. One of many entrants in the “rethinking enjoyable benevolent things” genre perfected in the next entry:
12. Vox, September 16: “How Beethoven’s 5th Symphony put the classism in classical music.”
You may have thought Beethoven’s famous DUN-DUN-DUN-DUN symphony was an inspiring metaphor for the composer’s resilience in the face of incipient deafness, but Vox had a different take …
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