Once upon a time, journalism was written by tough working-class guys who smoked cheap cigars and drank cheap whiskey — often on the job. They’d never been near a college and certainly had never taken a journalism class. They learned reporting by doing it, working their way up from the local crime beat to more ambitious fare, and their idea of good reporting was embarrassingly simple: try to get the facts right. Today, of course, journalists are much more — what’s the word? — oh yes: sophisticated. They come from well-off families (probably in the suburbs), attend universities and even grad schools, and they have a nobler idea of their professional role than those old-fashioned pressmen did. For them, the purpose of journalism is to advance politically correct ideology and to try to bring down anyone who dares to dissent from it. Facts? Truth? Don’t be ridiculous. Such preoccupations are so twentieth-century — so pre-postmodern, as it were.
Say, for example, that you wanted to write a profile of Andrew Torba, the CEO of Gab, the social network to which many users have relocated after being banned from Twitter, Facebook, or other sites for violating PC strictures. (Full disclosure: Ḯ’ve never had the slightest contact with Torba and while I’ve signed up for Gab, as well as for several other social networks, I have yet to post on it.) What title would you give the piece? “Meet Andrew Torba, Founder of Gab”? Heavens, no. Try this on for size: “The CEO Trying to Build a White, Christian, Secessionist Tech Industry.” Yes, that’s the headline on a piece in the August 23 issue of the New Republic. The author: Jacob Silverman, B.A. Emory, 2006; M.A. NYU, 2015. (Full disclosure: I never heard of him until the other day.)
Silverman kicked off his piece by quoting a notorious white Christian secessionist — namely, Senator Rand Paul. In a video, Paul called on viewers to stand up, in the name of individual freedom, to COVID-related mandates and restrictions. Because Paul had been suspended from YouTube for “spreading misinformation about masks,” he posted the video on Gab. How to use this video to smear Gab? Like this: “the video … perfectly expresses Gab’s editorial line: a mix of faux expertise (Paul is a former eye surgeon), populist outrage, and selective analytical insight that invariably lands in a place where the elites are lying to you, America has lost its way, and white Christian values are under attack.”
Note how Paul, a surgeon, becomes a “former” surgeon just because he’s not currently practicing. Brilliant! Note how his expertise thereby becomes “faux” — as opposed, of course, to the expertise of the techies at YouTube who decided his video was anti-science. Note Silverman’s use of the word “populist,” a good all-purpose label for anyone who doesn’t toe the establishment line. And note Silverman’s glib dismissal of the notion that elites might ever actually lie to the general public or that America might legitimately be seen as having lost its way. Then there’s the wonderfully inspired suggestion that Paul, a libertarian who has no racial or religious ax to grind, is obsessed with “white Christian values.” Perfect!
Silverman’s next few sentences describe Torba in a way to which he probably wouldn’t take exception — for example, he “wants to build ‘alt-tech’ alternatives that are immune to the censorship, government influence, and monopoly power of Silicon Valley,” and he “seems better positioned” than other new-tech guys not just to make a go of it but to topple the big boys. Sounds good, no? But we want to make Gab look scary. So how do you make a platform that isn’t subject to government or Big Tech censorship look scary? Easy: call it, as Silverman does, “a hotbed of bigotry and racial hatred.” Of course, if Gab is a platform that actually acts like a platform — in other words, a public square — then there’ll inevitably be some ugly stuff on it.
Moving on: “Gab’s guiding principle is to preserve free speech.” No, Silverman didn’t write that. He wrote this: Gab “seems to have few principles beyond preserving a certain vision of free speech at all costs.” Note the difference. Note how Silverman made the idea of free speech sound somehow dubious. But what principles should such a social network have other than to preserve free speech for users with all kinds of principles? Next point: Gab lets everybody thrive on his or her own terms. But Silverman put it this way: Gab provides “a way for disinformation artists and hate-mongers to thrive on their own terms.” Yeah, everybody, including them. Gab, Silverman goes on, is Torba’s “own alternative techno-political reality, based on pique toward non-Christian elites and a merging of QAnon-style and Covid-skeptic outrage.” The point he slyly omits to make here is that while all kinds of people are banned from Facebook and Twitter for all kinds of reasons, the “non-Christian elites” appear to be welcome on Gab.
Silverman then serves up some beautifully hysterical scare-mongering rhetoric about “the fetid swamps of social media–borne disinformation” and about Gab’s lack of “any sort of formal accountability.” “Formal accountability,” of course, is nothing more than a synonym for “censorship” that makes it sound benign. Silverman reports that the New York Times recently “singled Torba out for spreading a baseless rumor that members of the military would be court-martialed for refusing to accept the Covid vaccine.” I seem to remember that the Times itself spent much of the last several years spreading a baseless little rumor about Trump and Russia. I recall as well that when a well-documented story about Hunter Biden’s laptop appeared in the New York Post, the Times refused to cover it — and the major social-media honchos banned any mention of it from their sites. Needless to say, Silverman doesn’t bring up any of this.
Anyway, on he goes, with more splendidly hyped-up references to “free speech fundamentalists” (horrors!), to Gab content containing “sexism, racism, and homophobia,” and to Torba’s own description of the typical Gab user as “a Conservative Christian with a family and interests in hunting, fishing, cars, camping, news, politics, rural living, homeschooling, privacy, free speech, cryptocurrency, guns, and cooking” (a catalogue of deplorableness that for Silverman, apparently, speaks for itself). Silverman then delivers the coup de grâce: he pins the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue massacre on Gab, because the perpetrator had previously posted comments on Gab. Naturally, Silverman omits to mention that the Taliban is still on Twitter. (Also, it now appears that the Taliban’s use of WhatsApp, owned by Facebook, was critical to its successful reconquest of Afghanistan.) Hamas is on Twitter, too. Oh, and al-Shabaab used Twitter to plan the 2013 Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi. But, hey, at least none of these folks are promoting “white Christian values”!
Speaking of which: while woke folks like Silverman would never try to demonize Muslims for being pious, he repeatedly smears Torba for being a devout Christian. Near the end of his piece, Silverman even accuses Torba of being a man driven by “militant Christian duty” to take on Big Tech in “something akin to a holy war” — but then, in a strange stumble, he quotes Torba’s own rejection of violence: “They want to gaslight us into violence. Don’t fall for it.” Instead of fighting, Silverman writes, Torba encourages his allies to “sit back and watch as the woke American Regime consumes itself.” Oddly, Silverman doesn’t acknowledge — or maybe doesn’t even notice? — that this call for non-violence is utterly at odds with his contention that Torba is some kind of holy warrior.
Oh, well: even Homer nods. In any case, this slip-up only highlights by contrast the skill with which Silverman, in the rest of his article, does a consistently terrific job of maligning Gab and its founder. If you’re looking to become a successful woke journo, check the whole piece out: it’s a model of sophisticated 21st-century woke journalism. It has nothing to do with telling the truth, and everything to do with mendacious mudslinging in the name of an ideology whose adherents don’t want to debate honestly but to smear, to sideline, and — with any luck — to silence.