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The New York Times has jumped the shark

The “Old Gray Lady” is turning blue…code blue.

The once venerable New York Times – supposedly the nation’s premier newspaper – today published an op-ed calling for the harassment of low-level government employees as part of the ongoing immigration issue at the border.

Let that sink in. This is not some radical partisan ragsite like Vox or Infowars. It was The New York TimesAmerica’s “newspaper of record” did this.

image.pngThey provided a platform on their opinion pages for an open-throated call to identify, shun and – let’s be realistic here – harass ICE employees at all levels. The article specifically noted that “foot soldiers” (low-level employees) should also be targeted. The author – a humanities professor and attorney in the United Kingdom – claims she is not calling for doxxing. Apparently, she naively believes that her recommendation would not lead to doxxing, cyberbullying and perhaps even violence.

The author’s dangerous and objectionable suggestion is not what primarily concerned me, reprehensible though it was. The fact that such a reckless call to action could find sanctuary in a presumably responsible newspaper is what raised red flags. Is this what journalism and media at the national level in America has come to?

Multiple polls like this one show that Americans increasingly distrust media sources. Even polling that reflects modest rebounds still show an anemic level of trust in American news media. I would argue that this sentiment is both understandable and appropriate if we are talking about the national news media in America – i.e., national newspapers and the national news broadcasters. I would also include most online “news” sites in this assessment. (I still maintain that local journalism is a profession where reporters are producing a good product that gets it right more often than wrong. The “elite” in the national and online news media could benefit from emulating their local peers more often.)

And what has happened to make the media seem so untrustworthy? A number of factors are involved, but I would posit that a large part of the dynamic is financial. In an age where more and more pressure is placed on news media organizations and the journalists within them to turn a profit, standards seems to be increasingly giving way to an emphasis on website visits and social media engagement – i.e., “clicks” – which can be monetized vis a vis ad revenues. This might explain why a presumably responsible editorial board like the one at The New York Times would provide a platform for a de facto incitement to harassment and perhaps even violence. Then again, maybe they like what the author suggested. It is impossible to say.

Of course, op-ed columns do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editorial boards that approve them. But does the editorial leadership not ultimately decide what does and does not get space on their pages, digital and otherwise? Presumably, they have criteria and standards they apply to this decision-making process, and they don’t let just anybody argue their cases in their opinion section. Whether Times editors agreed or disagreed with the positions that this author took is immaterial. But do they actually believe that her commentary was responsible…particularly in the context of today’s hyper-polarized, tinder box environment? Or, has the need to drive clicks and revenue pushed even the Times to the point where such questions are secondary?

The column in question makes me wonder.

If this is the beginning of a trend, what is next? For example, I noticed recently that there is an emerging debate in and around the LGBT community about promoting children in drag. It came up several times in recent weeks during the Pride Month observance. (As with the immigration issue in the Times op-ed piece, I do not mention this to take sides on the issue of drag kids. Both issues are separate from the point of this blog post.) However, the drag kid controversy suggests an informative analogy here. While responsible newspapers and media outlets can and should provide a platform for commentary on both sides of the day’s issues, where should the line be drawn regarding what is acceptable fare? The reprobates at NAMBLA have been vocal on the drag kid issue. Would America’s newspaper of record offer a spokesman for that organization a byline on its pages? Until recently, I would’ve laughed at an idea like that. Now… I’m not laughing. Whatever else one could say about a NAMBLA-bylined op-ed in a major newspaper or outlet, it would unquestionably prompt a tsunami of clicks, social media buzz, and so on if it were allowed. And that seems to be the overriding goal in more and more of what the national and online news media do.

image.pngMost Boomers and GenXers know the origin of the phrase “jump the shark”. It stems back to an episode of the once-wildly popular ABC series “Happy Days”. Long story short – “jumping the shark” is shorthand for when a TV show starts engaging in desperate (and sometimes embarrassing) attempts to maintain its viability. Over time, this phrase has evolved for use beyond the small screen.

If today’s New York Times column is an indication of things to come, perhaps the Old Gray Lady and the editors at some other once-prestigious media outlets should start waxing their water skis.

 

Rorshach 2.0’s first tweet

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Twitter is indifferent to me. I’ve seen its true face. The TLs are extended gutters, and the gutters are full of hot takes; and when the trends finally fade away, all the vermin will drown in their menchies.

The accumulated filth of all their GIFs and tweets will foam up about their keyboards, and all the pundits and blue checks will look up and tweet “Save us!”

…and I’ll log on, and subtweet “Why even bother?”

Rorshach 2.0’s digital journal, October 12th, 2019

An open letter to my Twitter troll

Interesting experience this week: For only the second time since I got on Twitter six or seven years ago, I started getting harassed by an honest-to-goodness troll. He/she is literally the kind of tweeter that opens the conversation with vulgarity and then goes down from there. In this case, my troll opened with an image of a toddler extending the middle finger. My offense, in his/her eyes, was that I criticized Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign. This apparently makes me a “fascist, cuck, Trumpian, etc.” who should “eat him”. (I mean, I voted for Johnson and have denigrated Trump since the turn of the millennium, but who am I to say who I actually support?) Needless to say, I was dealing with a class act with a razor-sharp intellect. He/she kept tweeting discourse-free bile and rage at me despite me repeatedly making it clear that I didn’t want to engage.

Finally, even though I’m no fan of blocking, muting or reporting accounts – it seems inconsistent with my free discourse mindset on social media – I finally had to do the latter two. This troll would not let up – he/she has been stalking my posts since Wednesday despite knowing that I reported him/her to Twitter.

Anyway, once I stopped being annoyed with my troll, I started to think about the life such people must lead, and I started feeling really depressed for him/her/them.

I spend a lot of time on social media. I often debate issues with people, sometimes pointedly, so I know how even restrained interactions like that can get to feeling a little toxic over time. That’s why I occasionally take a sabbatical for a few weeks from all social media. So when I thought about what it must be like to live on social media like my troll does, endlessly engaging in pointless bile…

I’m not a particularly sentimental person, but I felt legitimately heartsick for people like my troll when that thought hit me.

“…once I stopped being annoyed with my troll, I started to think about the life such people must lead, and I started feeling really depressed for him/her/them.”

I suspect that my troll is reading this, given the aforementioned stalking of my Twitter feed. Thankfully, I won’t know if he/she replies, given the mute. Regardless – and I am speaking directly to my troll now – I meant what I said above. I genuinely feel badly for you. Life is too short, dude (or whatever the feminine is for “dude” these days). Give yourself a break and find a healthier way to channel your views/angst/etc.

Look, I’m all for advocating the positions I believe in on social media and trying to raise awareness of/persuade people on the matters I care about. But what you’re doing is nothing of the sort, whether you realize that or not. I hope at some point you realize that what I’m saying here really is not meant as a cheap shot or dig. You need to seriously reassess how you’re spending your time online. Get off the computer more, and go interact with real people – maybe even some people who you disagree with. Learn to phrase your arguments in ways that might actually further the causes you care about. Most of all, find a way to channel your feelings in a manner that can actually make you happy.

Because if you think that what you’re doing now makes you happy…that’s a really troubling sign.