BROOKE GLADSTONE A new president, a new day, not quite yet.
NEWS REPORT And I know a lot of you would rather never think about him again and just move on, but the wreckage he left behind will be with us for years. [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE From WNYC in New York, this is On the Media, I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD And I'm Bob Garfield. The press contributed to Trump's mess. To clean it up, what should we learn or unlearn?
JAY ROSEN For example, what the president says is news. By obeying that convention, journalists cooperated in their own demise.
BROOKE GLADSTONE But growth is possible. In honor of our 20th anniversary, we look back at how far the show has come.
[SINGING] There were waves in the air that were barely regulated.
BOB GARFIELD Oh, the memories. It's all coming up after this.
BROOKE GLADSTONE [SINGING] Broadcast was new.
BROOKE GLADSTONE From WNYC in New York, this is On the Media, I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD And Bob Garfield. So Brooke, how was your week?
BROOKE GLADSTONE Not bad. Yours?
BOB GARFIELD Busy, not as busy as some.
NEWS REPORT Joe Biden signing 17 executive orders hours after moving into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Among them, rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement, mandating mask wearing to combat the covid-19 crisis and halting further construction of Donald Trump's centerpiece policy, the border wall with Mexico. [END CLIP]
NEWS REPORT A requirement for people to wear masks in airports, and on many trains, airplanes and buses as well as federal buildings. The establishment of a covid testing board. What's your focus on dealing with shortfalls as well? And directing FEMA to use disaster relief funds to reimburse states for costs associated with emergency supply efforts. [END CLIP]
NEWS REPORT Using the Defense Production Act to increase supplies of PPE vaccines, testing supplies. [END CLIP]
NEWS REPORT Repeal former President Trump's Muslim travel ban. [END CLIP]
NEWS REPORT The US is to rejoin the World Health Organization and Paris Climate Accord, and the Keystone oil pipeline is being scrapped. [END CLIP]
NEWS REPORT On the economy. President Biden extended a pause on student loan repayments until September and a moratorium on evictions. [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE This Wednesday, two Wednesdays after bloody insurrection one Wednesday after impeachment number two, I heard cheers outside the window of my Brooklyn bubble. I mean, I don't want to mediate anyone else's experience, but I do know that the shepard tone we invoked some years back. That ascending, never resolving sound of nerves stretched to the breaking point that ever tightening band of pressure on the brain – basically the soundtrack of the last five years – for most Americans, seemed finally to switch off. A momentary reprieve.
BOB GARFIELD Momentary indeed, on the reality based front, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Republican California, falsely claimed he did not vote to deny Joe Biden his electors. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell signaled that he would hold Biden's nominees and legislative agenda hostage until Democrats agree to cede some of their newly won power, and President Biden's stimulus package seems to have no Senate Republican support. So it seems the filibuster may have to go after all. Bare knuckles are coming out, the honeymoon never happened. Not to harsh anyone's mellow, but majority rule doesn't have much purchase in Congress. So business as usual so far.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Meanwhile, we could likely see the covid death toll here reach half a million next month, and when it comes to our social, political and cultural maladies, well, we've merely shed a symptom, not the cause, or causes. Those are for journalists to expose, but are they – I mean we – up to it? It's a crucial question. Have we been vaccinated against our own unproductive reflexes, blinders and conventions; the ones that bogged us down for so long? We'll take a deep dive into lessons learned in the next segment. But first, a status report on the condition the 45th president left journalism in. Turns out, being called “enemy of the people” and “scum of the Earth” for five years was sometimes scary, but it wasn't all bad. It offered some of us, especially those from elite mainstream outlets covering the White House, some lucrative career opportunities.
MCKAY COPPINS The fact that Donald Trump was trying to turn reporters into villains made them heroes to half the country. I say this as somebody who benefited, however inadvertently, from it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE McKay Coppins is a staff writer at The Atlantic. How did he benefit?
MCKAY COPPINS Well, when I would, you know, write a story that was skeptical of Donald Trump, I would get, you know, invited to go on The Daily Show. I would get offered speaking engagements. My stories would, you know, be retweeted and travel all over the world. You basically had this huge global cheering section.
BROOKE GLADSTONE You had this great line in your piece that once obscure correspondents were recast in the popular imagination as resistance heroes.
MCKAY COPPINS Yeah, I mean, that was, I think, the strangest part of it. Right. Honestly, journalists tend to do their best work when they're not seen as heroic figures, when they're actually kind of obnoxious, a little too nosy and a little bit on the fringe of whatever world they're covering and they're not glammed up. Instead, they're kind of just these rumpled observers of American life. I think that's kind of the sweet spot for journalism, and so it was kind of uncomfortable when in the imagination of one half of the country, it was almost like we had capes on, right? That, I don't think, is actually where the best journalism is produced, and I think the best reporters and journalists of this era did all they could to resist that.
BROOKE GLADSTONE You quote New York magazine's Olivia Nuzzi saying that she could write in a piece, quote, Donald Trump is the biggest a*hole to ever live and he is a terrible human being and a bleepy president, and like, he's ugly and no one would be mad at me except the same people who are mad at me anyway for existing.
MCKAY COPPINS Right. That's the other thing that was happening here, which is that in the Trump era, a lot of the conservatives who had spent time in the past criticizing the mainstream media for being biased and who had a certain amount of pull among, frankly, editors at Washington publications. A lot of leaders of newsrooms really cared about conservatives complaining of bias. That changed in the Trump era, in part because a lot of those conservative critics went so fully off the deep end, frankly. Where it was no longer a debate about whether something was biased or a story should have been framed a different way. Instead, it became just dismissing every inconvenient story as fake news. Inventing facts wholesale. What happened was that a lot of reporters and editors got desensitized to these criticisms and kind of stopped paying attention. You know what I think Olivia was describing there is that when you have conservatives who are going to be mad at you, no matter what you write every day, you end up kind of tuning out what they're saying, and you pay more attention to the rest of the country, which exists somewhere from the center to the left. There's a kind of direct language where you're actually not just trying to convey clearly what's happening. You're trying to kind of preach to the choir, but it's only your audience. It's not the whole country. And I think that making our audiences uncomfortable is often our job. Right. We have to reflect how they're feeling and what they're thinking, but also present them with information and stories that will challenge how they think. That's something that we have not always done well. And I hope we can figure out how to do it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE What lessons will stay with you now that Trump's gone?
MCKAY COPPINS I'm going to be better about not letting the political figures I write about set the terms of my coverage, right? One of the things about the past five years is that Donald Trump wanted a culture war with the media and too many of us in the media, gave him one. We kind of centered ourselves in this story in a way that a lot of readers and people out there in the public found insufferable, and I think rightly so. Look, it's hard because all the audience incentives again and all the book deals and the cable news contracts and the Twitter followers flow to reporters who are at the center of political drama, but we've hopefully realized, I know I have, that placing myself at the center of every story is not actually usually a service to the reader. And I hope that will all be a little bit more self aware as we move forward.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Do you think Trump was good for the journalism business or bad?
MCKAY COPPINS Well, from a bottom line perspective, almost certainly good.
BROOKE GLADSTONE At least Washington journalism, not local journalism.
MCKAY COPPINS And in the short term, right? I think it's yet to be seen what kind of damage he's done long term, both to the incentive structure for journalists and also to the credibility we have with the public. You know, there was already a credibility problem, Donald Trump was not the originator of it. But I think it's safe to say that four years after he was sworn in, it'll be much harder to reach vast swaths of the country than it was before he became president.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Are you worried about journalism's bottom line? As you say, in the short term, some legacy news outlets have benefited, but in the long term, will people lapse into a general complacency, forgetting what brought them out into the streets and that complacency will spill over into even more harm to journalism's ability to inform and to hold power accountable?
MCKAY COPPINS Yeah, I think we're going to have to expect that to happen. How do we move forward when you don't have a president who's shattering norms and breaking precedent and doing outlandish things every day when the stories are more wonky and policy oriented and not so soap operatic as the Trump years have been. Not every story that comes out of Washington is going to be as exciting, to put it crassly, as the last four years have been. And it's really important that we not have our business models depend on that being the case, because if they are, all of us are going to be pushed to insert artificial drama into every story we do. And that's not good for anyone.
BROOKE GLADSTONE McKay, thank you very much.
MCKAY COPPINS Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE McKay Coppins is a staff writer at The Atlantic.
BOB GARFIELD Coming up, as promised, lessons learned. Can journalists do better? Sooner?
BROOKE GLADSTONE This is On the Media.
BOB GARFIELD This is On the Media, I'm Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE And I'm Brooke Gladstone. Now we talk about lessons learned or to put it more accurately, lessons we should have learned. Like back before the 2016 election, it may have seemed reasonable to assume that some aspiring candidates were losers because of their standing in the party, their lack of organization, their limited appeal.
DAVID LEONHARDT It lets you, in the press, cover the real battle that's going on among Walker and Bush and Rubio and others to get the nomination.
BROOKE GLADSTONE When New York Times stalwart David Leonhardt ran the paper's data driven Upshot blog, he thought it was frankly a disservice to readers to waste their time on the fun and games afforded by a crowded field of GOP contenders. Much better to come clean and lay out what the available data and past history made manifestly clear.
DAVID LEONHARDT And I think that saying that to readers without going so far as to saying there is no scenario under any situation, no matter what, in which the nominee will be someone other than Jeb Bush, Scott Walker and Marco Rubio is a way to level with readers and to be honest with them about what we know and what we don't know.
BROOKE GLADSTONE The New Yorker's Masha Gessen, who grew up in Russia and who tracked the rise of Putin, told us shortly after Trump's election that the inability of our elite media to see him coming was a failure of the imagination.
MASHA GESSEN We need to start imagining what happens if he becomes president. There is an intricate system of checks and balances that will force him to mobilize things through rhetoric. And that basically means, I think, that we have to start imagining witch hunts. We have to start imagining kind of wars at home. We have to start imagining what kind of groups he's going to start blaming for all his problems and all our problems, whether real or imaginary.
BROOKE GLADSTONE So your advice to the news consumer?
MASHA GESSEN My advice to the news consumer is imagine the worst.
BROOKE GLADSTONE In 2016, Gessen offered rules for imagining. Among them, believe the autocrat. He means what he says, and that mountain of lies? Therein lay a larger message.
MASHA GESSEN And I think that the larger message there is, I claim, the right to say whatever the hell I please. That's a really important thing to understand. That the lying is the point, not in the sense that Trump really wants you to believe that millions of people voted illegally. The point is, I will say whatever the hell I want, and that is also a component of my power.
BROOKE GLADSTONE But you still want the media to call them out, right? I mean, you did take some comfort, for instance, in The New York Times’ willingness to call a lie a lie. The headline that comes to mind is Donald Trump clung to birther lie for years and still isn't apologetic. I mean, that's a new tack altogether.
MASHA GESSEN Oh, absolutely. No, I completely agree with that. I don't mean don't call him out on his lies. I mean tell the bigger story. So that headline is brilliant because it points to the bigger story of his being consistent in lying. The attack in the normalization tendency is to say, oh, you know, all of that stuff that he said was just campaign rhetoric, it's hyperbole. And now he's going to become a normal politician, you know, wishful thinking, simple and clear. We have to believe the autocrat. He is going to be creating this cacophony of nonsense precisely to undermine our ability to exist in a fact based reality. We as journalists really need to be listening to that. The other thing is that he's actually been consistent on his sentiments, if not on the specifics. His anti-Muslim sentiment has been consistent. His racist sentiment has been consistent long before he even became a politician.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Mhm
MASHA GESSEN His anti-immigrant sentiment has been consistent. And so when...
BROOKE GLADSTONE Might as well throw in his misogyny while you're at it?
MASHA GESSEN Oh, yeah, we can we can look and go with his misogyny. His legitimation of violence in many different forms has been consistent.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Gessen told us, to resist the impulse to normalize. That institutions won't save us, that it took Putin four years to dismantle Russia's electoral system and it took less time in Turkey and Poland. Yes, said Gessen, America's institutions and its media were much stronger, but we needed to stop regarding our nation as so exceptional. It was but part of a worldwide trend. Turns out we were trying to find clues in an airbrushed picture of ourselves while blinkered. There's a lesson there: find people with clearer vision.
YAMICHE ALCINDOR As someone who's covered racial justice, I find it hard to think of an era where I didn't question official lines of how things happened or what the information is.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Yamiche Alcindor is the White House correspondent for the PBS News Hour.
YAMICHE ALCINDOR Black reporters, Latino reporters from the very moment President Trump descended into escalators and started talking about Mexicans as rapists and criminals, they were warning people, saying there is something completely different about this president. I think of Jemele Hill, who left ESPN based off of possibly the pushback that she got for calling the president a white supremacist.
NEWS REPORT ESPN anchor Jemele Hill is leaving SportsCenter to head the undefeated ESPN's site about the intersection of sports, race and culture. Hill made news in September for tweets that she posted about President Trump, calling him a white supremacist. [END CLIP]
YAMICHE ALCINDOR Diversity cannot at all be something that's just like what we do after we've built our newsrooms in the core of our newsrooms together. It can't be that you think you're doing a black journalists or Latino and Asian journalists a favor by hiring them. You need that expertise, much like you need the expertise of people who live in different parts of the country. And just like you need the expertise of people who are different ages, all of that will make our newsrooms better.
KEITH ELLISON Anybody from the Democratic side of the fence who's terrified of the possibility of President Trump. Better vote, better get active, better get involved. [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison with ABC's George Stephanopoulos in 2015.
KEITH ELLISON This man has got some momentum and we better be ready for the fact that he may be leading the Republican ticket next.
STEPHANOPOULOS I know you don't believe that, but I want to go on. [END CLIP]
YAMICHE ALCINDOR I'll just say I think that another big lesson of the Trump presidency has to be diversity isn't something that you do because you think it's going to make you feel better and you think it's going to be a nice thing to put in a glossy pamphlet in H.R. Diversity is necessary to telling stories that are accurate and that are fair.
BROOKE GLADSTONE That's a big lesson in understanding that the gatekeepers of our mainstream media, often people who came of age in a cocoon of white privilege, are likely prey to failure of the imagination. Another lesson for the institutions of journalism discard traditions that no longer serve. For instance, the blanket ban on having an agenda.
JAY ROSEN American journalism has always seen itself as essential to democracy. It's going to have to grow up and draw the necessary conclusions that today requires a far more aggressive defense of the institutions of democracy than perhaps they signed up for in journalism school 20 years ago.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Jay Rosen, a media critic who teaches journalism at New York University and writes at PressThink.org thinks that's the most important lesson.
JAY ROSEN So I would like to see more news organizations, for example, declare themselves to be pro participation, pro voting, meaning that they stand for the proposition that more Americans should vote and they help that along by making it as clear as possible how you vote, but also by exposing and holding to account those forces that are trying to make it harder to vote. And I think this is a natural role for American journalism. It's an extension of its willingness to fight for freedom of information and transparency. It should also fight for voting.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Another tradition ripe for the refuse bin? The whole approach to political coverage.
JAY ROSEN Well, I just think it's interesting that the networks and major news organizations like The Washington Post and ABC and CNN announce who's going to be covering the next administration without saying a word about how they're going to cover the next administration. As if it's obvious or –
BROOKE GLADSTONE – They're just covering it! That's all.
JAY ROSEN Just covering it! Like, how are we going to cover Biden? By covering Biden. That idea that practice is stable and that we don't need to reform it. It's just like a curiosity to me that you name the team, but the game remains the same.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Reporters and their editors should resist the reflex to put the lion's share of their resources, uncovering the powerful from the perspective of the powerful.
JAY ROSEN Earlier this week, Evan Osnos of The New Yorker said something very interesting about political journalism going forward. He said now there can be space and time for it to begin from the experience of the people on whom these policies are landing. Maybe it should start with people affected by the moves of the power players, rather than begin with the maneuvers of the power players themselves.
BROOKE GLADSTONE To shift the emphasis from those who wield power...
JAY ROSEN ...To those on whom politics is landing. Do you remember in 1991 with the first Gulf War when CNN emerged on the world stage with its coverage of the invasion?
BROOKE GLADSTONE Yeah.
JAY ROSEN Well, if you recall, there were CNN reporters in hotel rooms in Baghdad when the American bombs started dropping on the city.
CORRESPONDENT Why don't we see if we can make that light go out. If we have to smash it, let's do it, let's get that light. There is one light on at our room, which makes us more visible than we might like to be as we report. So, that was a bomb that came down fairly near our hotel. You could feel it shaking the building a little bit of it came down. [END CLIP].
JAY ROSEN They were reporting on the American invasion of Iraq from the position of the people on whom the bombs were landing. Maybe there's a shift like that required today in White House reporting.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Rosen says political journalism went wrong long ago, when it exalted what he's dubbed the savvy style, the insider style that flaunts proximity to power. It often creates fatuous reporting focused on spats and gaffes, irrespective of why or if any of that matters. It reduces our democracy to a petty game. Take the approach to Biden's plea for national unity; to the savvy that meant calling the innings on his efforts to woo the intractable congressional GOP. His loss was foregone. The savvy coverage assumed the new president had targeted his remarks, principally to that implacable contingent. But were they?
JAY ROSEN His notion of unity is fairly nuanced. He also says that unity is among the most elusive things in democracy. It's really hard to find it. And so if you take that seriously, then simply calling his unity campaign a failure because the Republicans didn't cooperate today is extremely superficial. But there's no doubt that we're going to see that. We probably might even see it before the end of the day. In my view, the savvy style was a wrong turn, taken in journalism decades ago, and the price for it was seen during the last four or five years of chaos. And so maybe we'll see the emergence of a new style. Possibly from the young reporters who are reporting on disinformation at the grass roots. You know, they're political reporters, but they're starting from the way at the opposite end of the story.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Now we move from the institutional to the individual, and listeners you can play at home. It's not just for journalists, it's for you and about you. What lens do you bring to the coverage and what do you see? How is it framed? What's missing, who's missing? What words are used to convey simple truths? Every journalist I spoke to raised the issue of language – specifically euphemism.
KAREN ATTIAH The R word for racism.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Karan Attiah is Global Opinions editor at The Washington Post.
KAREN ATTIAH Racially tinged or racially charged? Like no, just say it's racist.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Can you tell me about the first time you used the phrase white privilege in an opinion piece?
KAREN ATTIAH This had to have been like 2014, probably. And I remember some feedback that that's leftist term. I don't see left or right when it comes to issues of power and race and oppression. I just see issues in terms of how race operates. And now here we are and white privilege is in headlines. There's whole pieces dedicated to it. I mean, so there has been a change. I mean, things that were once in the realms of critical race theory and academic thought to understand and describe how race and power and even gender work in this society.
BROOKE GLADSTONE The biggest decision any journalist or news organization makes is what they choose to cover or not cover. Attiah says we have to reconsider the sunlight versus oxygen argument. The one that asks when confronting toxic ideas or reprehensible people, do we stand with the view that sunlight is the best disinfectant or that coverage is oxygen that feeds the cancer? Attiah is pretty clear on where she stands.
KAREN ATTIAH It wasn't only Trump that many of us watched in horror getting oxygen. I'm also thinking of profiles of white supremacists. Specifically, I'm thinking of a Mother Jones profile of Richard Spencer, one of the prominent white supremacist white nationalist, sort of saying, well, he's dressed well, he's got a cool haircut. He's very articulate. Here's a guy who wants to try to make racism cool. And there were others, you know, about profiles of kind of a white supremacist next door who, just like you, goes to the grocery store, buys pasta at a discount rate. I would see that and be horrified. And it's not to say that white supremacy or racism, white nationalism shouldn't be talked about, but it's a matter of giving oxygen to noxious ideas, because at the end of the day, white supremacy and racism is a violent ideology. It requires the silencing, the erasure, the exclusion of fellow Americans, right?
BROOKE GLADSTONE I love what you said about, you know, these white supremacists, these Nazis. They go to the store and buy cornflakes just like us, as if it were some sort of flipside of celebrity culture. So it isn't as if these white dominated news organizations didn't think that these characters were gross, but they didn't take them seriously.
KAREN ATTIAH Yeah, it's almost almost like this curious spectacle, like you're kind of covering your eye as like, OK, this is kind of terrible, but you're sort of leaving like a couple of fingers open because you kind of want to see what's going on. And it was this endless pursuit of like we just want to understand them and we can't fight them if we don't understand them. And I always thought the word we was doing a lot of work in those conversations. A little too much work. Who is needing is that really what's happening? Because in so many ways, these ideologies and these forces are as old as the country itself. But the rationale, again, was, well, clearly this was an unheard segment of the population, and the way to defeat it is through sunlight is to by exposing how they think, because the idea was if we expose what they think, it's obvious that the racism is so ridiculous. It's obvious that the xenophobia and conspiracies are so ridiculous, people will reject it outright.
BROOKE GLADSTONE You're saying that's not what's happening or that isn't what is happening, even if that is your intention when you profile a guy like Richard Spencer?
KAREN ATTIAH Well, it's very difficult. I have always likened it to handling hazardous materials. I think largely it's not understanding in so many ways how these ideologies spread, and I think for those of us who are in large mainstream media organizations with the large reach, we have to worry that by even bringing them on air and giving them a chance to air their views without, say, other experts to counterbalance, does it mean that a live interview is the right way to go? I think that in terms of the right way to handle such hazardous ideologies, there should be different protocols. But to get back to your statement about sunlight –.
BROOKE GLADSTONE That's the classic argument.
KAREN ATTIAH Yeah, but it's also like sunlight and oxygen – could we replace those words with legitimizing? With normalizing. With basically saying this is somebody whose views you should consider?
BROOKE GLADSTONE That's when these stories come in under the aegis of balance, or presenting both sides, as if each side had a point. When they don't.
KAREN ATTIAH Is there is there a point to racism?
BROOKE GLADSTONE Mainstream media have learned some of these lessons that some people are better suited than others to see round the bend in a changing world, the gatekeepers and the practitioners now have ample evidence of that. The question is, how prepared are they to acknowledge it for the sake of their audience and for democracy in general. The media, after all, are buffeted by the same tides that have so terrified those who have taken to the streets with guns to prevent the inescapable reality and the moral imperative to cede power and resources to those so long denied them. It's not just up to politicians, but to those who tell our nation's story, to prepare America to face our inevitable, more equitable future. And to teach the most important lesson: that it benefits all Americans to share.
BOB GARFIELD Coming up, On the Media considers its past. All 20 years of it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE This is On the Media.
BOB GARFIELD From WNYC in New York, this is NPR's On the Media, I'm Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE And I'm Brooke Gladstone. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD Holy mackerel. 20 years ago, that was our very first sign on. Since Brooke and I inherited a small, under-resourced program from our heroic WNYC colleague Brian Lehrer in January 2001. We've hosted more than a thousand shows and hundreds of standalone podcasts, along with our staff of fierce and curious producers, not to mention 400 some public radio stations, we have walked together in that two decade long journey, although, you know, we did most of the work. We've interviewed journalists, academics, activists, politicians, authors, and here and there, the odd demagogic clown seeking insight, perspective and accountability.
BOB GARFIELD Well, where is your market? And quick follow up question. What's the purpose of the great 2016 Glenn Beck empathy tour?
GLENN BECK This is the most remarkable interview I've ever done, and I've done some remarkable interviews.
BOB GARFIELD Thank you. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD We are, after all, ostensibly media critics. So as we celebrate our 20th anniversary, we should acknowledge at the outset our long history with varying degrees of patience, of finding fault, such as the moment in 2005 when Brooke confronted the CNN U.S. president, Jonathan Klein, about the channel's fascination with the so-called runaway bride.
JONATHAN KLEIN Oh, we've done all sorts of things. Anderson Cooper went to Lebanon and Syria to really chart the birth of democracy there. So we're running the gamut.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Well, let's talk about the other end of that gamut then. Let's talk about Monday, May 2nd, CNN Daybreak, The rundown had runaway bride; American Morning, Runaway Bride could face criminal charges; Live from CNN, runaway bride back home; Crossfire's, should runaway bride face charges. Anderson Cooper, Paula Zahn, Larry King, Aaron Brown, all of them devoted at least part of their program to Jennifer Wilbanks, the runaway bride. And, Jonathan, I have to ask you, does this fit into the roll up your sleeves storytelling that you have in mind? [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD But we've never limited ourselves to media in search of a straight answer. This was an encounter with an Exxon spokesman asked about the company's funding of climate denial groups.
EXXON SPOKESPERSON We don't find those groups. As the science has emerged and become clear, we're more committed than ever to researching this important topic.
BOB GARFIELD We don't fund them or we didn't fund them? You got out of the funding business 2009 or some such, but for 20 years before that, you poured –.
EXXON SPOKESPERSON I'm going to finish my thought here, Bob.
BOB GARFIELD Please clarify this for me. Are not funding or did not fund them?
EXXON SPOKESPERSON We are not funding. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD And of course, sometimes we break into song.
BROOKE GLADSTONE [SINGING] There were waves in the ai, that were barely regulated. They were barely regulated, broadcast was new.
BOB GARFIELD [SINGING] Days of yore, 34, rules and regs were then enacted, but were almost all redacted. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD Let the record reflect that Brooke is endowed with certain gifts and I with certain others, like parallel parking. This whole deal in the various dimensions of On the Media has been trying to meld our complementary skills, interests and worldviews without obscuring our differences, for 20 years. Like a marriage minus the joint checking account. Even with a spat here and there. This is from an episode we released the morning after Donald Trump's election in 2016.
BOB GARFIELD What I most hope is that we are not all passengers on the ship of fools.
BROOKE GLADSTONE What the F* does that mean?
KATYA ROGERS Me neither.
BOB GARFIELD What does it mean?
BROOKE GLADSTONE Why would you want to end on the line of we're all going to hell?
BOB GARFIELD Perhaps I misunderstood, but if you wanted to know what I'm thinking and feeling and that's how we do, I have just told you. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD But long before the Trumpiclysm, OTM was in the business of chronicling and adapting to a series of revolutions - including the digital one. Which vastly helped with the finding of information, but also devastated newspapering. We talked about that so much we made a jingle about it.
BOB GARFIELD We covered the rise of social media and the communities they enabled, healthy and toxic and the incestuous amplification of conspiracy and grievance in countless echo chambers leading to the post-truth age of alternate facts. And then finally, the big lie of a stolen election and adjacent poisonous delusions. These last four years have been especially unsettling. Trying to cover Donald Trump's assaults on truth without howling at the moon ourselves, which Brooke mostly succeeded at, and I often did not. But Trump and Trumpism did not solely define the period or our responsibilities. Only eight months before the president incited the attempted insurrection on Capitol Hill, George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police, propelling formerly disengaged Americans into the streets under the banner of the Black Lives Matter movement. Anguish, civil disorder and cell phone video had combined at long last to peel the denial of structural racism and economic justice, laying bare the shaky architecture of our national ideals. But this reveal wasn't or shouldn't have been a surprise. This was Brooke's 2016 conversation with BLM co-founder Patrice Cullors.
PATRICE CULLORS We are front line news. It's terrible that it's black death, that's front line news, but the exposure has allowed for a new vision for what black life can actually look like. This is our moment to try to get it right. So that in 30 years, my child can say I'm living in a better world because of the work of Black Lives Matter. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD All of these convulsions fundamentally altered the work of the media that we were chartered to observe. So it was all on our beat. If we were to define today's OTM, it might be examining and cross examining the narratives of our time, which is a pretty far cry from where we began on our first show together. Back in January 2001, Brooke walked with a melancholy veteran of the New York Post's death beat. A relentless stream of fires, defenestrations, shootings and robberies gone wrong.
BROOKE GLADSTONE You don't like your job?
REPORTER I like it and I don't like it. The thing I like about my job is that it's infinitely challenging. It’s a total 100% IQ test, 100 percent of the time. Outwit all of New York City and get the story in the paper. What I hate is empathizing with the people whose children have been hurt, and when people like that are just so stricken with grief that they can't talk and they can't cry, they make this sound they call it the Cri-du-chat; the cry of the cat. It's like a non-verbal, internalized, anguished wail that freezes in their vocal cords. And that stays with you, it, like, stains you. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD And in a weird foreshadowing of the collapse of mainstream media to come, I documented the slow death of, obviously, Modern Ferret Magazine.
TRAINER So you come out and make a noise? You have to just wait for them. So he's got his little – he's having a little itch break.
BOB GARFIELD Also, it's a weasel and it doesn't understand what you're saying. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD At OTM's birth, yeah, a bit of mirth, but nine months later, nothing seemed funny.
NEWS REPORT We have a very tragic alert for you right now. An incredible plane crash into the World Trade Center here at the lower tip of Manhattan. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD Things changed and so did we. Suddenly, and for eight years, we were cleaved to a project of skepticism and warning. A time when Dan Rather declared fealty not to truth, but to our leadership.
DAN RATHER This is a time for us and I'm not preaching about it. George Bush is a president; he makes the decisions, and, you know, it's just one American. Wherever he wants me to line up, just tell me where. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD Yikes. We weren't seeing the wisdom of journalists charging up that particular hill, and so one of my earliest primal screams.
BOB GARFIELD The issue is objectivity and credibility. If TV news wants to be genuinely patriotic, it must continue to be the skeptical voice envisioned by the country's founders. Journalism's job is to unravel, not to unfurl. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD The wars came nonetheless, and with them the creeping incursions on speech and privacy. We did an entire hour on the USA Patriot Act where Republican Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner acknowledged that the Bush administration took a murky piece of legislation and treated it as carte blanche for a security state.
SENSENBRENNER I was the chairman of this committee on September 11 and the author of the Patriot Act. I can say in no uncertain terms that Congress did not intend to allow the bulk collection of Americans records. The government's overbroad collection is based on a blatant misreading of the law. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD Misreading, of course, can be a sin of commission or omission. We ourselves did not wish to view the world through our own assumptions and desires, and certainly not through a made in the U.S. soda straw. As the years went on, narratives came flying in from every corner of the world, so when we could afford to, we went.
BROOKE GLADSTONE I'm Brooke Gladstone reporting this hour from Liberia.
BOB GARFIELD I'm Bob Garfield, and those are street musicians on Rio de Janeiro's Copacabana Beach.
BROOKE GLADSTONE First stop, the city of Ramallah, seat of the Palestinian Authority.
BOB GARFIELD This is the ferry boat crossing the Bosphorus from Asia to Europe.
BROOKE GLADSTONE In Shanghai, it's all in the skyline. Colonial stone soaring, steel spires sagging. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD Also Russia, Jordan, South Africa, England. Yes, OTM crossed frontiers, but so did everyone else. Through the Internet, our news and our culture became borderless, requiring, among other things, a fundamental recalibration of journalistic assumptions. This we learned right here in our studio and a conversation Brooke had with New York Times reporter Donald McNeil about the movie Black Hawk Down. He had screened it in Mogadishu and witnessed the disconnect of Somalis trying to understand the heroic Americans storyline.
DONALD MCNEIL The film is told entirely from the side of these fabulous American heroes shooting their way through a continent of savages or a city full of savages. I mean, you know, and everybody is called skinnies, which is the equivalent of calling them dinks and slopes. Which is quite ugly as a portrayal of the Somalis. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD It was the kind of obvious that makes you slap your own forehead. But it was also a foreshadowing, a glimpse in 2002 of the OTM we produced today. Examining narratives for obscured perspectives, especially once obscured by chauvinism and myth. That approach was eventually to find its fullest expression in Brooke's exhaustive 2016 reconsideration of poverty in America in five parts. Among those she spoke to was a young Cleveland mother who'd lost her job over her need to care for her premature infant and who was reduced to selling her blood plasma to survive.
MOTHER To have a needle in you sucking the blood out of you and then taking the nutrients and then pushing blood back into you and repeating the cycle is very uncomfortable. But feeling sad and feeling sorry for myself is not going to help the situation, is it? Does it upset me? Yeah, it upsets me. It frustrates me. But I am that person that takes responsibility for their actions. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD There's a texting abbreviation I- R- L; in real life. Brooke brought that home. Of course, the abbreviation is meant to distinguish flesh and blood brick and mortar from the virtual world of zeros and ones. But as we have all only too recently been reminded in the virtual spaces lurk life and death as well.
RALLY Jews will not replace us! [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD That was the deadly Unite the right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. Vice news journalist Elle Reeve recalled for us how she saw those seeds planted online two years earlier.
ELLE REEVE I was on 4chan the day that Microsoft launched a chat bot called Tay. She's supposed to be on Twitter and Instagram and learn from how people talked and interact with them to talk more human. And within, I don't know, maybe 18 hours, 4chan figured out how to turn her into a Nazi, and it was incredible. These guys all working together with this collective inside joke that was horrible. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD When we started in 2001, Mark Zuckerberg was a junior in high school. The Internet reached about six percent of the world's population. Twitter was a bird call. The cloud was where rain came from, but as we clicked our way through the aughts, the ramifications of these technologies for journalism, privacy and democracy began to pile up and piled further until it had engulfed newspapers, much of our civic discourse, and eventually even truth itself. When I traveled to Silicon Valley to size up digital dystopia. What did I find but a dark irony and a classic case in the annals of unintended consequences.
BOB GARFIELD Back in the 1940s, the computer age itself was ushered in largely according to the ethos of the philosopher mathematician Norbert Wiener, father of cybernetics. Wiener, says Stanford University communications professor Fred Turner, sought safe haven for democratic discourse in the wake of 15 years of fascism via the same architecture we now disparagingly call the filter bubble.
FRED TURNER In which freedom was imagined as being able to build your own feedback loops, as being able to enter into the world, seek the information that you needed, learn from it, and then change your action accordingly. In many ways, Google is the dream of Norbert Wiener from the 1940s realized. The trouble is once realized it doesn't necessarily bring us democracy, it brings us a new and different mode of authoritarian enclosure. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD In some, our coverage aimed to unravel the double helix of technology and politics in service of our very hearts and minds. I guess you could say over 20 years we've appointed ourselves not just watchdogs of the watchdogs, but chaperones on a journey toward just plain remaining honest and free. Yes, not to get too sappy about it, a journey with you along for every step of the way. You know, over the years, you may have noticed we just love Wizard of Oz analogies. So one more time, here we go. Especially at this particular moment in history, I think of little Dorothy arm-in-arm with friends traversing the splendid and harrowing yellow brick road, pulling back the curtain and eventually finding the truth.
DOROTHY Oh Auntie Em, there's no place like home.
BOB GARFIELD Wait, did you say OTM? I think she did! "Oo-T-M," we'll look into that.
That's it for this week's show. On the Media is produced by Alana Casanova-Burgess, Micah Loewinger, Leah Feder, Jon Hanrahan, Eloise Blondiau and Rebecca Clark-Callender with help from Alex Hanesworth. Xandra Ellin writes our newsletter, and our show was edited... By Brooke. Our technical director is Jennifer Munson. Our engineers this week were Sam Bair and Adriene Lilly.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Katya Rogers is our executive producer. Bassist composer Ben Allison wrote our theme on the Media is a production of WNYC Studios. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD And I’m Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE And to you, Bob, a remote clink of champagne.
[GLASS CLINKS; SINGS]
BROOKE GLADSTONE Cheap glass.
New York Public Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline, often by contractors. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of programming is the audio record.