Imagine that you’re trying to do actual investigative journalism at, say, the New York Times or Fox, and you propose a story that threatens the interests of your outlet’s audience or advertisers. Chances are you’ll be shut down by your editors, if not fired and blacklisted for going beyond the boundaries of permissible reporting.
Your response to this might depend on your place in the journalistic ecosystem. If you’re just building your career or trying to hold on to a mid-level niche, you’ll probably go along to get along, since it’s not clear where else you can go and still make a living.
If you’re near the top of the food chain, however, you now have options, in the form of new platforms that allow you to speak directly to your audience without mediation by corporate censors. One such platform is Substack, which is gaining popularity with prominent reporters fleeing what they see as increasingly outrageous mainstream censorship. Two quick examples:
Glenn Greenwald was the reporter Edward Snowden contacted when the latter was trying to expose blatantly unconstitutional NSA spying on US citizens. A few years later, Greenwald founded The Intercept as a home for old school “adversarial” journalism.
But the people he hired were eventually co-opted by corporate media, and when he tried to mention the Hunter Biden corruption allegations in a post, they rebelled. Greenwald left (see more on that acrimonious split here) and set up shop at Substack, where he is now a top-10 draw. Here’s a short excerpt from his latest:
A Long-Forgotten CIA Document From WikiLeaks Sheds Critical Light Today on U.S. Politics and Wars
One WikiLeaks document that particularly caught my attention at first: a classified 2010 CIA “Red Cell Memorandum,” named after the highly secretive unit created by Bush/Cheney CIA Director George Tenet in the wake of the 9/11 attack.
What made this document so fascinating, so revealing, is the CIA’s discussion of how to manipulate public opinion to ensure it remains at least tolerant of if not supportive of Endless War and, specifically, the vital role President Obama played for the CIA in packaging and selling U.S. wars around the world. In this classified analysis, one learns a great deal about how the “military industrial complex,” also known as the “Blob” or “Deep State,” reasons; how the Agency exploits humanitarian impulses to ensure continuation of its wars; and what the real function is of the U.S. President when it comes to foreign policy.
What prompted the memo was the CIA’s growing fears that the population of Western Europe — as evidenced by the fall of the Dutch Government driven in large part by the electorate’s anger over involvement in Afghanistan — was rapidly turning against the War on Terror generally and the war in Afghanistan specifically. The CIA was desperate to figure out how to stem the tide of anti-war sentiment growing throughout that region, particularly to shield France and Germany from it, by manipulating public opinion.
The Agency concluded: its best and only asset for doing that was President Obama and his popularity in Western European cities.
Matt Taibbi built a following as Rolling Stone’s political correspondent, where he routinely insulted both other reporters and the political hacks they covered. He also took on Wall Street, famously referring to Goldman Sachs as a “vampire squid.”
His book Hate Inc explained how the modern news media has jettisoned the search for truth in favor of reinforcing the preconceptions of narrow target audiences. The book’s cover enraged his colleagues by including a picture of MSNBC’s Russiagate superstar Rachel Maddow alongside Fox News attack dog Sean Hannity.
This, among many other things, poisoned the well at Rolling Stone, and Taibbi moved to Substack, where he, like Greenwald, is a big draw. From his latest:
For What Are America’s Wealthy Thankful? A Worsening Culture War
Self-described “elected DNC member” and Washington Monthly contributor David Atkins tweeted this last week, garnering a huge response:
David Atkins @DavidOAtkins
No seriously…how *do* you deprogram 75 million people? Where do you start? Fox? Facebook? We have to start thinking in terms of post-WWII Germany or Japan. Or the failures of Reconstruction in the South.
You have to read the full thread to grasp Atkins’ argument, a greatest hits collection of DNC talking points. Conservatives, Atkins writes, have no beliefs, being a “belligerent death cult against reality and basic decency.” There’s no reason to listen to them, since the “only actual policy debates” are “happening within the dem coalition between left and center-left.” He had over 61,000 likes last I checked.
Meanwhile, as Donald Trump kept describing the election as a “hoax,” newly re-upped South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham tweeted this, perhaps offering a preview into Republican messaging in the post-Trump era:
Lindsey Graham @LindseyGrahamSC
I can understand why the Squad doesn’t want me in the Senate – because I’m going to bury your agenda. You’re a bunch of Socialists. You would transform America and make it Venezuela. I’m gonna stand in your way. I’m not going anywhere!
From the “vast right-wing conspiracy” through the “basket of deplorables” to now, the Democratic message increasingly focuses on the illegitimacy of the ordinary conservative voter’s opinion: ignorant, conspiratorial, and racist, so terrible that the only hope is mass-reprogramming by educated betters.
On the other hand, Republicans from Goldwater to Trump have warned that coalitions of “marauders” from the inner cities and “bad hombres” from across the border are plotting to use socialist politics to seize the hard-earned treasure of the small-town voter, with the aid of elitist traitors in the Democratic Party.
Spool these ideas endlessly and you get culture war. Any thought that it might abate once Trump left the scene looks naive now. The pre-election warnings from the right about roving bands of Pelosi-coddled Antifa troops looking to “attack your homes” haven’t subsided, while the line that Trump voters are not a political group but a stupidity death-cult is no longer hot take, but a mandatory element of mainstream press analyses.
Though the oft-predicted breakout of Yugoslavia-style sectarian violence hasn’t happened yet, it’s not for want of trying on the part of both politicians and the bigger media organizations, which couldn’t get enough of the stories of “on edge” and “nervous” citizens boarding up storefronts on Election Night. They keep playing up these tensions as click-generating theater, not caring about the consequences of wishing actual sectarian battle into existence.
Substack is just one of many new platforms and technologies that are offering real reporters an end-run around both left-and-right-wing corporate media. Stay tuned for profiles of some of the others.