Making the click-through worthwhile: Apparently MSNBC’s Joy Reid has an eternal get-out-of-consequences-free card; the Washington Post demonstrates exactly what you’re not supposed to do when writing about a school shooter; the National Spelling Bee stirs some memories; and an inspiring new book is worth checking out.
Joy Reid’s Eternal Free Passes for Controversial Statements
Roseanne’s gotta go, but MSNBC host Joy Reid gets a pass for homophobia AND 9/11 Trutherism? Man, being a liberal provides more protective armor than does an Iron Man suit.
MSNBC host Joy Reid encouraged readers of her now-defunct blog to watch an infamous 9/11 conspiracy documentary, according to recently discovered posts shared with BuzzFeed News.
A March 22, 2006, post to her weblog, Reidblog, archived by the Wayback Machine and titled “The official story,” links to Loose Change 9/11, a viral 80-minute web video originally released in 2005. Loose Change, which was produced in part by Infowars’ Alex Jones, alleged that the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center were in fact planned by the US government. The central claims in Loose Change have been widely debunked.
“The fundamental question is: do you believe the official story of 9/11?” the post reads. “If you do, great. If you don’t, then everything that happened after that is called into serious question. Even if you’re agnostic, or you tend to believe that al-Qaida attacked the World Trade Center and Pentagon and that the government had no warning such a thing could happen, it’s worth taking a second look.”
Neither Reid nor MSNBC responded to requests for comment.
Yeah, I’ll bet they didn’t. Everybody who gets caught in a scandal tries to wait out the storm, betting that the media will eventually move on to some other story. How difficult Joy Reid’s life gets in the coming weeks and months depends almost entirely on how other media organizations feel about looking into this story. They could, if they wanted to, turn it into a drumbeat that makes Reid radioactive at MSNBC — “to keep Reid on the air is a de facto endorsement of 9/11 conspiracy theories, no better than Alex Jones,” etc. — or they could give her a pass. She’s part of their crowd, it was a long time ago, and everyone forgets that in 2006, polling found that more than half of Democrats agreed “people in the federal government either assisted in the 9/11 attacks or took no action to stop the attacks because they wanted the United States to go to war in the Middle East.” (“It was the mid-Aughts, man, everybody was a Truther back then.”)
Also, a note about this detail:
MSNBC and representatives for Reid have both pointed to an ongoing federal investigation into the hacking allegation to defer more questions about the host’s claims.
Does this sound familiar to anyone else?
We’re all in agreement that Donald Trump’s claim that he can’t release any of his tax returns because he’s being audited is mostly nonsense, right? First of all, he’s legally permitted to release his tax returns, even if he’s being audited. Second, while it’s possible Trump is being audited and has been audited every year for several years, it’s unlikely that he’s being audited for every year going back decades. Thirdly, Trump himself in the first presidential debate with Hillary Clinton made it sound like it was minor and likely to be resolved soon: “”I’m under a routine audit, and it’ll be released, and as soon as the audit is finished it will be released.” Then by May 2017, in an interview with The Economist, Trump said, “I might release them after I’m out of office.” He never mentioned an audit, although Hope Hicks did.
One could be forgiven for doubting that there was ever an audit, or at least a particularly long-lasting one. I’m similarly skeptical that there’s a long-lasting federal investigation into the “hacking” (I cannot put scare quotes large enough around that word) of Joy Reid. When you don’t want to answer questions, make up some sort of inquiry involving a federal agency that doesn’t like to confirm or deny specifics about what it’s investigating, and then hide behind that.
Fascinating that someone who so obviously detests the president would borrow from his playbook when she’s in trouble.
The Washington Post Ignores the Problems with Covering School Shooters
As mentioned yesterday, there’s a growing consensus among criminologists that quite a few school shooters are motivated, at least in part, by a desire for notoriety and the extensive media coverage their horrific crimes generate. News articles and reports that discuss the shooter’s life in detail are inadvertently glamorizing the shooters in the eyes of similarly disturbed and angry teenagers. While the news media obviously needs to cover school shootings when they happen, they need to be more careful to ensure that their work does not carelessly cultivate a greater incentive for other troubled young men contemplating the same path.
The Washington Post . . . apparently has not gotten the message. They wrote an article about three video recordings made by the Parkland, Fla., school shooter, in which he announces his plans and gloats about his coming infamy. (I debated whether to include a link, but here it is, so you can decide for yourself whether to watch it.)
The reporters and editors are somehow oblivious enough to write that the shooter declared in a video, “when you see me on the news, you’ll all know who I am,” and then write, “yet even as it emerged after the massacre that he was a troubled young man with a pattern of disturbing behavior and alleged violence, what motivated him to open fire remains unanswered.”
It’s not unanswered anymore! He committed this massacre because he knew that institutions like the Washington Post would write articles like this, and that some of the post-atrocity discussion would focus upon, “what was he thinking? What drove him to do this?” The shooter would instantly be transformed from an unknown troubled teenager to a widely-known figure, studied at length, with every detail of his life reviewed by police, teachers, criminologists, jury members, and the horrified public at large through the media.
(Am I adding to the problem by discussing what the Post wrote? How do I criticize this decision by the Post without inadvertently giving more attention to the shooter? At least I won’t name him.)
The “what drove him to do this” question lets the shooter off the hook, at least inadvertently. We’re looking for a cause, a trigger, some sort of action that causes a reaction. Except there’s no action that justifies this, and the common narrative around school shootings tends to oversimplify and distort the actual events. The Columbine killers were not social outcasts, bullied by jocks. The school shooter in Marysville, Wash., was elected homecoming prince.
As you can gather, I hate the term “drove him to do this.” This isn’t an Uber. It wasn’t someone else who put him in that school with that gun. Every shooter who terrorizes a school made a choice to do something evil. He’s never forced to do this, never pulled along by some sort of unavoidable sequence of events and fate. Every last one of us has bad days, and times when we feel like we’re at the end of our rope. Very, very, very few of us decide the best way to handle our problems is to pick up a gun and shoot as many people as possible.
Of course, most of us are horrified by the thought of infamy and being remembered for doing something terrible. Not all of us think like that. And in a culture where “not being famous” has somehow become one of the worst imaginable fates, news organizations have an obligation to ensure that as they do their jobs, they aren’t giving the worst among us exactly what they want.
The High Stakes for Journalism Interns at the National Spelling Bee
The National Spelling Bee finals begin today at 10 a.m. Eastern. I’m really glad ESPN covers it live; it’s one of the few times our media culture celebrates young people being smart as much as it celebrates when they’re athletically gifted.
I don’t know if things still work this way, but back when I was a reporter tadpole, the National Spelling Bee was the one big assignment for the interns at the Washington bureaus of newspapers. Back in 1996, I was interning in the D.C. bureau of the Dallas Morning News, fetching lunches, collecting faxes and haplessly trying to not spill toner in the photocopier. My first news article anywhere is in those archives on yellowing paper somewhere, detailing how a young girl from the Dallas area made it into . . . I think the fifth or sixth round, which was pretty good. I think she’s a doctor now.
Of course, the National Spelling Bee was one of the harder events to cover, because you inevitably had to list the words the kids spelled correctly and what they meant, and there was nothing more embarrassing than having a spelling error in an article about the National Spelling Bee! I still remember the copy-editing desk calling me after hours, asking me if I was absolutely sure about the spelling of a word that they couldn’t find in the dictionary. (I hate to show my age, but the Internet was just getting started then, kids. Google didn’t exist yet!) All of the interns covering the event wanted the kids from their home paper’s circulation area to win, because then your story would run on the front page. I think my story about the bee’s second day, when she was eliminated, ran on the front page of the Metro section and I was elated.
ADDENDA: National Review’s old friend Ericka Anderson has written an astounding and deeply personal nonfiction book, Leaving Cloud 9: The True Story of a Life Resurrected from the Ashes of Poverty, Trauma, and Mental Illness. It’s the story of her husband, Rick Sylvester, and his long, difficult rise from some of the worst circumstances imaginable. You name the social ill, he endured it. If you’re looking for a story of the triumph of the human spirit, enduring and overcoming some of the most hopeless-seeming moments possible, this is the book for you.