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I Guess Not
We must massively recalibrate our assumptions about the press after their hypocritical and cowardly coverage of Israel and anti-Semitism
November 6, 2023
Dateline: The day it appeared we got our first look at the long-suppressed Nashville shooter’s manifesto
Watching this week…
— Cowardice and hypocrisy of the press
— Eroding trust is bad news for all
— Depressingly predictable coverage of violence
— New random speaker, same story
— Great Moments in Twitter Addiction Journalism
The reality of the last month of Israel and anti-Semitism coverage means we must recalibrate
On the morning of October 21, a 40-year-old synagogue president in Detroit named Samantha Woll was found stabbed to death outside her home. It appeared she had been attacked inside, and stumbled outside before being discovered the next morning.
In the wake of the horrific October 7 Hamas terror attack in Israel, it was inevitable that people would conclude anti-Semitism was at least a potential motivation. But the police chief knocked that down almost immediately. In fact, the lack of evidence for it being a hate crime was the specific way the national press treated the story on the day after she was found. “No Evidence of Hate Crime Has Emerged in Killing of Synagogue Leader, Officials Say,” was the New York Times headline, but they were far from alone. We also learned, by the following day, that police were “just short” of naming a person a suspect — an indication they knew a potential motive, and the reason they were able to swiftly rule a “hate crime” was out of the equation. The story then essentially disappeared from the headlines.
That was on October 23. Two weeks later, no suspect has been identified, or arrested. Thanks to a local Detroit outlet that has stayed on the case while the national press has moved on, we know the police don’t appear to have any real leads either — at least not that they’re discussing publicly. Also in this article it appears one of the pieces of evidence for it not being an anti-Jewish hate crime in the first place was that a “large Israeli flag in Woll’s home…was left untouched, which indicated to them that this likely wasn’t an antisemitic-driven attack” — a sentence that quite literally makes no sense to any rational observer of crime, “hate” or otherwise. (A great Commentary piece from Abe Greenwald put the story back on my radar last week.)
Perhaps Woll’s murder had nothing to do with her occupation, or religion. But we certainly have not seen anything to prove that. And yet the story has evaporated. The Samantha Woll coverage — or lack of coverage — is just a single example of a disturbing trend I’ve witnessed in the one month since October 7.
I try to stay fairly emotionless when covering the media, and I’d like to think I generally succeed. I’m finding it more and more difficult to do that over the past month. It’s not just that I’m Jewish — I’d like to think I’d feel the same way if I wasn’t. But the coverage has been so disappointing — and deleterious. Sure, there’s the overt anti-Semitism from some on the left, and right. That’s almost easy to dismiss. Then there are the more subtle examples that we see bubble up throughout the press.
And then there’s the almost willful ignorance on Israel, Hamas, Gaza, and our own American anti-Semitism problem. The Woll story fits that category. The national media disappeared it from the headlines. Having it occupy space in the national discourse would disrupt the preferred narrative. So they took the police’s word — a common problem on all sorts of stories when it comes to the press — and moved on.
Or take the continued reliance by our corporate media on the “Gaza Health Ministry” to provide accurate data on how many have been killed in the fighting between Israel and Hamas. It’s a constant, from the way the press was spun in the “hospital bombing” story, to more recent examples. Outlets like the Associated Press and the Washington Post have gone out of their way to try to justify their reliance on the Hamas propaganda.
Are they simply lying to themselves, or do they know better? And if they’re lying to themselves, isn’t it obvious to the public that they will lie to you too? It’s a topic I addressed in a recent column for TheHill, centered around the woefully botched Gaza hospital story, and the continued fallout from so many in the press that want to continue the lie that Israel — and not Hamas — targets civilians.
But in this moment, I err on the side of knowing. I want to see all the anti-Semites in America reveal themselves, whether they work in media, in government, on college campuses. We shouldn’t censor them. As I wrote in another TheHill column, let the anti-Semites speak freely, so we can adjust accordingly.
I’ve adjusted. I see the industry differently now — the cowardice, and the hypocrisy. We don’t have to get into an argument about whether it’s anti-Semitism or just simply anti-Israel sentiment to be instinctively distrustful of everything Israel says and immediately trusting of Hamas, or to see an Acela Media situated where anti-Semitism is quite obviously prevalent every time a bratty kid rips down another hostage poster barely cover the rise of this hatred in our country. Whatever the motivations, or incentives, we have seen rationality abandoned by the press, in favor of placating those who wish Israel simply did not exist — in story after story over the past month.
A quick story. Billionaire George Soros is a political lightning rod, and I’d argue one of the more misunderstood figures by those who love and loathe him. And whenever he’s criticized for some progressive left-wing policy or action, the anti-Semitism charge ultimately is invoked.
In a fascinating, and disturbing, 60 Minutes interview in 1998, Soros revealed how he hid his identity as someone who was raised as a “Hungarian Jew” by pretending to be a Christian in Nazi Germany, actually stealing from the Jews in order to keep up the facade. In that same interview, Soros was asked if he believed in God, and he said answered no. “I believe god was created by man, not the other way around,” he said.
Soros is an atheist. He was raised Jewish, but he’s not Jewish. Similarly, imagine if you were raised as a vegetarian, and yet now, as an adult, you eat burgers and bacon and any other sorts of meat. No one would still call you a vegetarian. Being Jewish is not an immutable characteristic, like your race or ethnicity (some would argue against that being immutable too).
Well, I’m sure we’ve all heard the trope that Jews control the media. After this month? I guess not.
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The bipartisan erosion in “mass media” trust should alarm everyone who cares about America
As readers of this newsletter know, I’m often critical of the media. But I don’t want to see it destroyed — I want it to get better. It benefits us all to have a media we trust — a media that’s worthy of our trust. Sadly, in so many instances, we don’t have it.
The reason for this is partially the fault of the press themselves, devolving in significant ways. But the other reason is that the audience has gotten smarter, and more attuned to the errors of the media that’s supposed to represent them, as a check on power and a conduit to the people.
Which brings us to the latest Gallup poll on “trust in mass media,” the gold standard yearly poll that has tracked this metric for more than 50 years. In 1972, 68% of Americans said they had trust in their media, while 24% said “not very much” and 6% said “none at all.” In 2023? Those numbers are practically reversed, with a record high of 39% saying “none at all,” a record low of 32% saying they have trust in the media.
These trends are even more alarming when you look at the partisan breakdown:
Yes, Republicans maintain a dismal 11% trust in the “mass media,” while independents ticked up slightly to 29% from the previous record low of 27% last year. But look at how that Democrat line that has fallen off a cliff. Since 2022, Democrats’ trust in the press went from 70% to 58%, a drop of 12% in a single year.
For those in the media, these numbers should not be dismissed. And the only way back is actual humility and introspection, of which we sadly are not accustomed to seeing in the Acela Media.
A mass shooting in Maine, and the depressingly predictable corporate media coverage of violence
CNN’s Shimon Prokupecz did an excellent job covering the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, and in the two weeks since the Maine mass shooting, he once again is doing great work asking challenging questions of authorities about how this killer was able to commit his horrifying crimes — especially after police were specifically warned about him and the potential for a “mass shooting” weeks earlier.
There was some coverage of this shooting, and almost all of it centered on gun control. Could it be a “turning point for gun reform,” wondered Vanity Fair, for example.
One of the most terrible parts of the media is how predictable it has become. And out of all the stories we see covered by the national press, mass shootings and other gun violence is perhaps the most predictable. It was a topic I addressed in my Fourth Watch Podcast, which you can find in full on Spotify, on Apple, or wherever you get your podcasts.
On this episode, I spoke with three different guests, on a variety of topics, and all included some conversation about guns. With my friend Buck Sexton, co-host of The Clay Travis and Buck Sexton show, we talked about the way certain kinds of gun crime are covered and others are ignored, as well as his time at CNN in 2015 and 2016 (which you can watch here). Then I talked with Sharyl Atkisson, the great journalist and host of Full Measure News, about guns as a cultural blindspot for the press, as well as her experience with the Obama White House. And I had some fun with my friend JT from Dallas, in the latest “Temperature Check” on a few different stories in the news.
Next episodes in November include interviews with Mark Halperin and Brian Stelter — more to come!
There’s a new random Speaker of the House, but we’re going to get the same old coverage
I’ve written about Jay Rosen before, the NYU journalism professor who perhaps more than any individual represents what’s wrong with the state of the media — and by the nature of his job, the future of the media. Last week he was busy proving my point again in a tweet about the new Speaker of the House, a random dude named Mike Johnson. Rosen shared a tweet from an account called “Capitol Hunters” which shared some breaking news that Johnson’s podcast with his wife had been scrubbed from the internet.
Rosen used this to make a convoluted point. “Quite a confession when you think about it. The podcast he did with his wife is too damaging to remain online,” he tweeted. “That communicates to the Members who chose him. it coheres with the opposition’s most effective argument (MAGA extremism.) He’ll have to avoid reporters questions.”
Rosen would go on to delete this tweet, because it was pointed out to him, by me and others, that Johnson’s podcast had not, in fact, been removed from the internet. It was freely available for all to listen to on any podcast platform. And then, upon discovering his politics-brain-infected-disinformation-spreading, he moved on to teach his journalism class or something.
But the instinct he displayed is important to remember. As was Jen Psaki’s first reaction to the news on MSNBC. ‘Make this random new Speaker dangerous and extreme.’
I wrote about Johnson and Dean Phillips, another generic name Congressional backbencher who has suddenly risen to a level of power in 2023. What’s behind this rise of the NPC (“non-playable character”) on our political and cultural scene? Here’s my theory in my latest TheHill column.
WATCH IT… I hadn’t heard of comedian Nate Bargatze before his recent Saturday Night Live hosting gig, but he was a breath of fresh air, particularly the way he opened the show with a comedy set-like monologue on everything from hotel showers to grandmas to Afrin nose spray. Totally unexpected, but a nice respite from the news cycle.
HEAR IT… I’ve been a fan and “contributing editor” to The Sunday Longread newsletter for a few years now, and I’m glad to see the podcast is fired back up again now too. Veteran journalist Don Van Natta’s conversation with Maureen Dowd is a fun one, and shows Dowd in a setting you rarely get to experience — in audio form rather than print.
READ IT… A must-read in The Atlantic that disrupts a variety of talking points on Israel, headlined “The Decolonization Narrative is Dangerous and False.” We need more opinion journalism like this, especially in this time and on this issue — extremely knowledgeable, rational, argued pointedly but respectfully. A great long piece on the lengthy history, and today.
Are USA Today and other Gannett publications using AI with made-up names to write product reviews in the publications? It certainly appears so.
Jon Stewart’s Apple streaming show has ended, after what appears to be “creative differences” stemming from the former Daily Show host wanting to do a show about China, among other topics, and getting pushback.
From a former late night host to an up-and-coming future one — 30-year-old Taylor Tomlinson will take over the vacant slot after Colbert on CBS.
End of an era — CNN has officially closed their Atlanta HQ (where I made a dozen or so trips in 2012), which was attached to a mall and hotel.
Pat McAfee reveals he does in fact pay Aaron Rodgers “millions” for his weekly appearances on his show, and explains (convincingly, to me) why it’s not a big deal.
New Republican debate is happening this week, on Wednesday, and many conservatives are not happy it’s going to be in partnership with NBC News.
According to Semafor, President Biden himself was not happy with the New York Times’ shoddy coverage of the Gaza hospital story.
In the “why” category, Sesame Street will be getting “reimagined” for its 2025 season, complete will all sorts of buzzwords that I’m sure will have no effect on the little kids like my two-year-old daughter who love Elmo.
⏪ REWIND // FAST FORWARD: Self-Promo Edition ⏩
⏪ Back in July, I was on NewsNation talking about the White House cocaine and the UAP/UFO story over the span of one week. It was a good indication of the sort of open-minded curiosity of the network.
⏩ That was just random appearances — I’ve officially joined NewsNation as a contributor, which affects this Fourth Watch hobby / side gig a bit, as I wrote about last week in more detail.
The New York Times reported last week that a new analysis found the latest COVID vaccine “may be linked” to a “slight increase” in stroke risk for older Americans when combined with the flu shot. A separate analysis found a “small increase” in seizures for kids between the ages of 2 and 5 after the vaccine. While minor in framing, the fact that it even exists feels like a major crack in what will, I predict, be a much bigger story in the press in the weeks and months (and years) to come. The COVID vaccine reporting from 2021 and 2022 will be an excellent case study, but what’s important in the short term is the press focusing on the reality now — as we continue to learn more — for the safety of all Americans.
GREAT MOMENTS IN JOURNALISM
Mehdi Hasan has been in and out on MSNBC over the past few weeks since October 7, but always finding opportunities to be as anti-Israel as possible. He did recently announce he was taking “a break” from X… and yet proceeded to tweet or retweet more than two dozen times in the subsequent five days. Twitter is a hell of a drug…
Thanks for reading, stay safe, new Fourth Watch Podcast comes out next week…