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When The Media Narratives Meet Reality
Three stories the woke-captured press have struggled to explain.
There are times when I actually feel some pity for the editors in mainstream media. In the last few years, pressured relentlessly by young, super-leftist staffers, they have slowly and then precipitously dropped the goal of objectivity and news in favor of subjectivity and narratives. The struggle against white supremacy has become too urgent for news that may not advance “social justice.” Here’s a glimpse of what the old guard is dealing with, in a leaked transcript of a NYT staff meeting in 2019. An early question from a NYT reporter was:
I’m wondering to what extent you think that the fact of racism and white supremacy being sort of the foundation of this country should play into our reporting. Just because it feels to me like it should be a starting point, you know? … I just feel like racism is in everything. It should be considered in our science reporting, in our culture reporting, in our national reporting. And so, to me, it’s less about the individual instances of racism, and sort of how we’re thinking about racism and white supremacy as the foundation of all of the systems in the country.
And, as you can see every day, this is what the NYT subsequently did. Distilled that year with The 1619 Project (now airing on Hulu!), everything was and is parsed through the lens of critical race/gender/queer theory — from birdwatching to knitting to “literally abolishing the police.” It’s their foundation.
The same ideological fervor swept over the WaPo, of course — right down to the racist birds! And this week, the former executive editor, Len Downie, a near-icon of the old school, published a report on journalism and found a broad consensus among his colleagues that, in the words of one editor-in-chief, “Objectivity has got to go!” So every story now assumes “white supremacy” as the core truth of the world.
So what happens when stories arrive which, on the face of it, seem to refute that entirely? Take three recent events: two mass killings of Asian-Americans within two days in California by an Asian-American (in Monterey Park) and a Chinese national (in Half Moon Bay); five black police officers in a majority-black police force with a black police chief all but lynched and murdered an innocent black man; and a trans woman was convicted of the rape of two other women with the use of her penis.
How on earth do these fit into the pre-arranged “white supremacy” template?
They can’t of course. They reflect a reality far more complex than the crude racial hierarchies beloved of actual white supremacists and woke activists alike. They show individual actors, with a range of possible motives, in unique moments that will always escape predictable narratives. Maybe racial prejudice is present; maybe not; or maybe mixed into a range of other possible factors. You work empirically from the ground up.
But if the facts don’t fit the narrative, you move on quickly to a story that will. So with the Asian-American massacres, after some initial excitement, the MSM lost interest as soon as a white man could not be blamed. (Contrast that with the days-long feeding frenzy over the Atlanta spa massacre, despite zero evidence of any anti-Asian motive from the white killer.) Or they try to force it into their narrative anyway.
An Asian-American “Wellness” reporter for USA Today wrote, “So yes, this time, the tragic shootings might not have been out of racism. But that doesn’t negate the constant harassment, violence and hatred we battle on a daily basis.” Note the “might.” Michael Luo, of The New Yorker, immediately saw the “spectre of anti-Asian violence”:
I thought about a massacre that had taken place about a hundred and fifty years earlier in Los Angeles, just a few miles west of the site of the Monterey Park shooting. On the evening of October 24, 1871, an angry mob, bearing knives, pistols, and clubs, surrounded the city’s Chinese quarter and began dragging out terrified residents … Had I been paranoid? Too quick to believe that a racial motivation might be the cause? I returned to the history in front of me.
So no, he was right to suspect anti-Asian white supremacy. When a non-white person does something awful, it’s called “multiracial whiteness” — a term made famous by the WokePo.
Then we had the horrific murder of Tyre Nichols. The five black cops, we were told, killed another black man because they had internalized white supremacy: “If you think the Memphis police officers had to be white in order to exhibit anti-Blackness, you need to take that AP African American Studies course Ron DeSantis just banned,” Mondaire Jones, a former congressman, explained, referring to critical race theory, which posits exactly that.
For The Atlantic’s Jemele Hill, the murderous cops were non-white people “carrying water” for whiteness:
I need so many people to understand this regarding Tyre Nichols. Several of the police officers who murdered Freddie Gray were Black. The entire system of policing is based on white supremacist violence. We see people under the boot of oppression carry its water all the time.
In the words of The New Yorker’s Jelani Cobb: “The most pernicious effects of American racism were to be seen in what happened in the absence of white people, not in their presence.” So we instantly knew this was not about bad individuals, or bad training, or bad policies, but about white supremacy. Because everything is always about white supremacy. The unfalsifiable nature of this assertion is key to its popularity.
It’s reminiscent of the moment Ta-Nehisi Coates saw the true depths of white evil, when a black cop killed a black friend. Coates explained the real culprit: “The Dream of acting white, of talking white, of being white, murdered Prince Jones as sure as it murders black people in Chicago with frightening regularity.”
This is why, in pieces devoted to the disproportionate number of black men in jail for murder, the MSM never provide data on the disproportionate number of black male murderers. You’d think that would just be logically relevant. Ninety percent of those convicted of murder are men — but we don’t view the system as biased against them, because they commit 90 percent of the murders! Similarly, if black men — around six percent of the population — have been responsible for more than 50 percent of all murders over the years, you can see why they might be over-represented in prison, without any reference to any system of “whiteness” at all.
But with critical race theory, the black officers didn’t actually kill anyone. Whiteness did — by infesting their brains and souls, like the fungally-challenged people in “The Last of Us.” CRT denies human agency to members of minorities, strips them of choice, renders them inert as individuals. They are only ever instruments of the “system.” They may identify as black, but they’re all Clayton Bigsby underneath.
The same goes for a convicted rapist of two women, Isla Bryson, who became a woman after his arrest, and was thereby slated to go to a women’s prison in Scotland. The Scottish first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, takes the view — and has passed a law to the effect — that a trans woman is a woman in every respect on two conditions: if the person says so, and if she can show she’s been living as a woman for three months. Bryson passed that test. So to the women’s prison Bryson goes.
But then, after a huge public outcry, Sturgeon reversed course and said she thought Bryson should, after all, be in a men’s prison. But why? If trans women are women in every single respect, as the ACLU often reminds us, then how can you make an exception for Bryson?
Here’s a transcript of a car-crash interview Sturgeon then conducted:
Nicola Sturgeon: Trans women are women, but in the prison context, there is no automatic right for a trans woman —
Reporter: So there are contexts where a trans woman is not a woman?
NS: No, there are circumstances in which a trans woman will be housed in the male prison estate.
R: Is there any context in which a woman who was born a woman will be housed in a male estate?
NS: Look we’re talking here about trans women —
R: I’m now asking about women who were born as women.
NS: I don’t think there are circumstances there, but —
R: So it’s different for trans women?
NS: Well yes! And I’m not —
R: So they’re not equal?
It’s important for me to note that some aspects of the critical theory worldview may have resonance here. Very, very, very few trans women are rapists — and some might be housed in some female spaces without terrible consequences (my radical feminist friends will go apeshit on me for writing that). Black men, like any other minority, can of course harbor self-doubt or racial shame — and the vast majority, especially over the age of 30, commit no crimes. Asian-Americans can internalize hatred of other Asian-Americans. All worth taking into account.
My point is simply that every case is different, that multiple explanations of each are possible, that racial animus can go in every direction from every racial group to any other racial group, and that the fiction that someone with a dick is in every respect indistinguishable from a woman born as female is bound to come undone at some point. Because it just isn’t true.
We live in the freest, most multiracial democracy in the history of the planet. Of course traditional prejudices linger, ebb and flow, and the past has helped define the present. But they do not come near to definitively describing the infinitely fascinating interactions between all of us, in every possible combination, our shared humanity, the cross-racial friendships and marriages, our individual personalities, our different upbringings. They cannot account for the extraordinary changes since the 1960s. The transcendence of race and sex and orientation happens all around us every day — and reducing our entire world to these allegedly irreconcilable abstractions of “hate” is a pathological distraction from reality.
And reality is so much more interesting than the dogma the MSM now brings to almost every story, almost every time. You don’t have to ignore racism’s enduring effect in society. But you can see the world in a lens other than the neo-Marxist vision of permanent, zero-sum group-warfare in which some groups are always the oppressor and some the oppressed.
Journalists used to do this — searching for truth rather than enforcing pre-existing narratives, alert to the surprising “specific” more than the predictable “structural” and “systemic”; and be alert to the twists and turns of this diverse culture, rather than constantly returning to history to insist it’s always repeating itself. And you know what? Readers were interested, rather than bored, engaged rather than condescended to — and the press thrived.
Now look at it. The US media has the lowest credibility — 26 percent — of 46 nations, according to a 2022 study by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. And “moral clarity” journalists seem intent on driving it even lower.
(Note to readers: This is an excerpt of The Weekly Dish. If you’re already a subscriber, click here to read the full version. This week’s issue also includes: my long chat with Ben Appel about him breaking free from both a Christian cult and woke cult; many reader dissents over my column on DC schools and urban violence, plus amazing stories from DC teachers and parents; six notable quotes from the week in news, including an Yglesias Award for anti-CRT foe of DeSantis; 14 pieces on Substack we recommend; an Mental Health Break of a skier on some sick pow; a striking view from downtown Denver and a heavenly one from Korea; and, of course, the results of the View From Your Window contest — with a new challenge. Subscribe for the full Dish experience!)
From a Dishhead who couldn’t resist the temptation:
You finally got me to subscribe. I had to hear the rest of Rod Dreher’s sex story in the full version of your episode.
New On The Dishcast: Ben Appel
Ben is a gay writer in New York. After working as a hairstylist for over a decade, he got a creative writing degree from Columbia University, where he first encountered today’s campus culture. Brought up in a Christian cult, he’s finishing a memoir, Cis White Gay, about his liberation from both that cult and what he calls the Church of Social Justice. You can also read Ben on his substack. I find his story a fascinating glimpse into our fast-changing world.
Listen to the episode here. There you can find two clips of our convo — why women bond with gay hairdressers, and what queer theorists and Iran’s theocrats have in common. That link also takes you to commentary on last week’s episode with Rod Dreher. It converted this listener:
I joined the Dishcast last night (after a year of listening for free) because of the conversation with Dreher. I wanted to hear it all. I loved listening to him and your questions because it solidified why I don’t believe as Dreher does anymore. I am 70 years old, grew up Southern Baptist and have been Episcopalian since 1977. It is such a trap for one to say they believe the Bible literally. Dreher is divorced now. Not very long ago he would have been shunned from the Catholic and Baptist churches. Times change. But one thing remains: God is love.
Another listener on a different episode:
Not sure if you’ll read this, but I have to respond to your Matt Taibbi convo. I was RIVETED! So much that was discussed spoke to me directly. I don’t think I’ve ever sat and listened to a 90-minute audio convo before. Ever.
Matt’s personal story is amazing, and his views on virtually everything political and cultural were so clearly stated, and completely in sync with my views. I forwarded the convo to a friend who freelances for the dastardly New Woke Times. His battles with editors there are exactly as you and Matt described. I don’t see how this chat can be topped, but promise I’ll keep listening to see if it’s possible.
Browse the entire Dishcast archive for an episode you might enjoy (the first 102 episodes are free in their entirety). Next week is Nicholas Wade on the lab leak theory.
Dissents Of The Week
A reader writes:
Trans is NOT conversion therapy for gay kids. For the love of god, can you please stop saying this? If it was true, you would expect to see a decline in gay identification among youth, but that’s not what surveys have shown. In fact, according to Gallup, both gay male and lesbian identification among Millennials and Gen Z (the generations you are most concerned about) are DOUBLE that of prior generations, and they’ve increased from Millennial to Gen Z. Please stop with this line of fear mongering (though to be fair, you are mostly throwing this out on Twitter, where you’ve admitted you have less thoughtful interactions).
Read my long response to that dissent, along with another on urban schools, here. More dissents are over on the pod page — on urban violence and the underperforming DC school district pushing “equity.” Several other readers share their fascinating first-hand accounts as DC teachers, DC parents and DC crime reporters. Don’t miss it.
And as always, keep the dissents coming: email@example.com.
In The ‘Stacks
This is a feature in the paid version of the Dish spotlighting more than a dozen of our favorite pieces from other Substackers every week. This week’s selection covers subjects such as police reform, psychedelic legalization Down Under, and the age of the Girlboss. Below is one example, followed by a brand new substack:
Radley Balko tackles the claim by Tucker Carlson that affirmative action led to the death of Tyre Nichols.
You can also browse all the substacks we follow and read on a regular basis here — a combination of our favorite writers and new ones we’re checking out. It’s a blogroll of sorts. If you have any recommendations for “In the ‘Stacks,” especially ones from emerging writers, please let us know: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The View From Your Window Contest
Where do you think it’s located? Email your guess to email@example.com. Please put the location — city and/or state first, then country — in the subject line. Proximity counts if no one gets the exact spot. Bonus points for fun facts and stories. The winner gets the choice of a VFYW book or two annual Dish subscriptions. If you are not a subscriber, please indicate that status in your entry and we will give you a free month subscription if we select your entry for the contest results (example here if you’re new to the contest). Happy sleuthing!
The results for this week’s window are coming in a separate email to paid subscribers later today. Below is a note from one of our weekly contributors — the one who surveys the local cuisine and makes a dish for his family every Sunday (the latest was Bean-Hole Baked Beans cooked in a Dutch oven, along with Maine Brown Bread):
Last week’s contest results were especially poignant one for me. Thanks for creating this space where I can share my memories with a wonderful community. (I mean, siphonophores, who knew? I love the Milwaukee super-sleuth!) I love all the super- and not-yet-super-sleuths, and the quiet lurkers, and the occasional random guessers, and the oh-my-fucking-god-I-was-there-last-weeks, and Chini and Giuseppe (OK, a bit jealous there), and the Berkeley super-champ’s ruminations on history and movies, and the postcards from A. Dishhead, and everybody who teaches me things I never knew about the places we visit, and all the other random motley crew you have assembled.
Join the motley crew here. And here’s a preview of the chef’s entry this week:
The window photo takes me back 41 years, when we were in [redacted] for my wife’s thesis research. Below are some pictures of me (the partially obscured bearded guy) buying produce and fish with one of her colleagues at the base of the [redacted] Bridge in 1982, a 20-minute walk from this week’s window. Even then I was a foodie, before the term had been coined.
See you next Friday.