Part 4—Rachel’s latest tale: Brave new voices are everywhere in the rapidly changing media landscape.
The world of American journalism is changing before our eyes. Consider the report in yesterday’s New York Times about the storied New Republic, whose owner says it’s no longer “liberal,” or even a “magazine.”
The New Republic is now one hundred years old. Yesterday, Jennifer Scheussler reported some of the changes which have occurred under Chris Hughes, “the Facebook multimillionaire who bought the magazine in 2012.”
The new owner is 30 years old. The New Republic isn’t going “lowbrow,” he was quick to assert:
SCHUESSLER (11/19/14): Eyebrows were raised last year when Mr. Hughes, a former organizer for Barack Obama, introduced the redesigned magazine with an editor's letter that omitted the words ''liberal'' or ''liberalism.'' These days, while he says he remains committed to print, he is also ready to jettison ''magazine.''Hughes doesn’t want to go lowbrow! He just wants “to increase the digital audience…by focusing on a broader range of topics and on new forms of digital storytelling that ‘travel well’ on the web.”
''Twenty years ago, no question, it was a political magazine, full stop,'' Mr. Hughes said in a joint interview with Mr. Vidra in New York. ''Today, I don't call it a magazine at all. I think we're a digital media company.''
Mr. Hughes (who gave up the editor in chief title but remains publisher) and Mr. Vidra dismissed speculation that they wanted to take the magazine in a more lowbrow, BuzzFeed-like direction. But they did say there was room to increase the digital audience to as much as ''tens of millions'' of unique monthly visitors by focusing on a broader range of topics and on new forms of digital storytelling that ''travel well'' on the web.
All around the media world, a lot of people are refusing to go lowbrow in precisely this fashion. At the new Salon, they keep adding kid reporters who churn reports of this type:
WEDNESDAY, NOV 19, 2014 10:19 AM ESTSilman graduated from McGill in 2012. Today, as Salon’s new “deputy entertainment editor,” she’s engaged in that sort of digital storytelling.
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A lot of storytelling is being offered as the new media grow. Consider the story Rachel told at the start of last night’s program.
Rachel’s story took us almost seven minutes into her program, depending on when you want to stop counting. The storytelling started like this:
MADDOW (11/19/14): Good evening, Chris. Thank you. Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.Randy Scheunemann’s name is hard to pronounce. It’s definitely hard to spell!
Do you remember a guy named Randy Scheunemann? Randy Scheunemann, he was the top foreign policy adviser to the McCain-Palin campaign in 2008. That’s him, the guy with the beard there.
He doesn’t have that memorable a face. I don’t mean that in a bad way. I just mean, he doesn’t— You don’t see him and instantly know who he is.
He also has a name that is kind of hard to pronounce, definitely hard to spell. Honestly, Randy Scheunemann has never been a super famous guy in politics.
He doesn’t have that memorable a face. With that, we were off to the fair.
To watch the whole segment, click here.
As noted, Maddow’s story wound on for a rather long time. Soon, she was discussing the story of the ski lift fight which, she said, The Daily Beast had broken this very week:
MADDOW: John McCain did not win the presidency and Randy Scheunemann went back to being a standard Washington foreign policy guy. And you don’t hear much about him anymore.You won’t be surprised to learn that Maddow’s chronology was already wrong.
You haven’t heard much about him since then. Until this week.
Until this week, a really, really weird story about Randy Scheunemann was broken by The Daily Beast. It turns out Randy Scheunemann belongs to a private skiing club in Montana.
I did not know there was such a thing as a private skiing club. I thought like, you know, you buy a lift ticket, then you go ski on a mountain with other people who are skiing on the mountain and that’s skiing! I—
Apparently, there are places you can do it privately, without the riff-raff. And Randy Scheunemann apparently belongs to one of those.
And on the ski lift, at his private skiing club, The Daily Beast and a number of other outlets now report that Randy Scheunemann got into a fight.
In fact, The Daily Beast didn’t break this story this week, a claim Maddow kept repeating. Maddow’s web site didn’t provide the link, but you can read the Daily Beast report here.
It’s dated October 18, 2014. That was a month ago.
In truth, that doesn’t enormously matter. But as Maddow continued to entertain us with her thoughts about private ski clubs, her storytelling continued to struggle and flail.
Her first six or seven minutes were devoted to this dreck. With apologies, here’s how her story continued:
MADDOW (continuing directly): And on the ski lift, at his private skiing club, The Daily Beast and a number of other outlets now report that Randy Scheunemann got into a fight. He got into a fight on the ski lift with a white supremacist, specifically with this guy, who is sort of America’s foremost white supremacist.That’s enjoyable storytelling. It’s also largely inaccurate.
This is a guy named Richard Spencer. He was recently forcibly deported from Budapest when he tried to organize an international white supremacist conference and the nation of Hungary caught him trying to sneak into their country even though they had banned him. He calls for the creation of a white homeland. He runs an organization called the National Policy Institute, to try to advance the goal of a white homeland. His group is based in Whitefish, Montana.
He’s also founded a few online white supremacist magazines and Web sites, including this one, which is called Alternative Right.
And apparently, making a career as a white supremacist leader these days is a pretty remunerative thing. At least the dude is making enough money to belong to the same private ski club that Randy Scheunemann does in Montana.
Who even knew there were private ski clubs? Anyway, there are! And apparently, the two of them got into a fight on the ski lift.
Insults were exchanged. Punches were threatened. And the reason it all broke out in the news this week is because that private ski club in Montana, it’s called the Big Mountain Club, they apparently at some point in this fight between two of their members felt they had to decide between them, which of these two guys was going to be allowed to stay as a member of their private ski club:
Randy Scheunemann, Washington policy adviser guy, adviser to John McCain? Or the Aryan Nation white supremacist guy who’s trying to build a homeland for the endangered white race from his home base in Montana?
The Big Mountain Club in Whitefish, Montana, decided they’d go with the white supremacist. They kicked Randy Scheunemann out and kept the Ku Klux other guy! Yeah!
And so now, in the wake of that, you have Whitefish, Montana city council meetings that have suddenly gotten very crowded. They look like this, totally packed with local residents who apparently now realize they have the leader of a white nationalist movement living in their town, getting in fights on their ski lifts.
A local anti-racist effort has sprung up in Whitefish. They’re trying to figure out basically some way to force this guy out or at least maybe pass an anti-discrimination ordinance of some kind that maybe would annoy the guy enough that he might leave on his own.
It’s turning into this big to-do in Montana.
According to the Daily Beast, the incident which kicked this thing off occurred “in early 2013.” That was almost two years ago.
According to Scheunemann, it involved a brief argument as he and Spencer got off the ski lift. There never was a fight.
According to The Daily Beast, the story jumps ahead to the ski club’s annual Christmas party last year, in December 2013. According to Scheunemann, he and Spencer briefly argued again that night. According to Scheunemann, he told the leaders of the club that Spencer had to leave the club or that he, Scheunemann, would.
Spencer didn’t leave the club. For that reason, Scheunemann did, almost a year ago.
This story didn’t break “this week.” That’s clear from The Daily Beast report, to which Maddow provided no link.
Maddow did link to a recent news report about that city council meeting in Whitefish. According to the news report, the jam-packed meeting had nothing to do with any “ski lift fight,” or with the ski club at all.
Back to the Daily Beast:
In the (month old) Beast report, Spencer is quoted saying that Scheunemann’s account of the incidents in question involves “a gross mischaracterization of events.” Leaders of the club refused to comment to the Daily Beast.
Last night, there was no sign that Maddow or anyone on her staff had tried to speak with anyone concerning what actually happened in the two-year-old “ski lift fight.” She simply embellished Scheunemann’s account, jumbling her chronology in major ways as she did.
Increasingly, that's how Maddow performs storytelling of a weekday night.
Maddow’s is a Brave New Voice. As with Hughes’ version of The New Republic, she’s deeply involved in “storytelling.” On the other hand, she’s partisan to the point of being a propagandist.
Why did Maddow waste everyone’s time with last night’s embellished, inaccurate story? Largely, because it set up a scary framework with which she was shouting boo at her viewers.
That said, Maddow’s entire program last night was a tribute to propaganda. There are numerous ways to dumb the world down. Maddow is working on hers.
Much of Maddow’s propaganda involves the omission of facts. Persistently, she simplifies the world to make you feel politically scared and morally extra good.
Last night, she clowned her way through a denunciation of the “schizophrenic” American public, based on responses to a recent NBC poll. She then feigned ignorance concerning decisions by the broadcast networks to avoid televising presidential speeches.
To be clear, we assume she was feigning ignorance. With Maddow, it’s increasingly hard to tell.
Our media are changing before our eyes. Increasingly, Maddow is getting wealthy and famous by dumbing the world way down.
To our ear, her Brave New Voice sounds a lot like Sean’s. It's hard to believe that a modern nation can actually function this way.