EDITORS’ NOTE: Happy Sunday! We are thrilled to introduce this week’s guest editor, Bruce Arthur. Bruce is a Canadian, and also an award-winning sports columnist for the Toronto Star. Before joining the Star, he was a sports columnist at the National Post for eight years, and a national columnist for the Postmedia chain for four. Bruce does some TV and radio for TSN, appeared on Around The Horn once and won, and generally spends too much time worrying about America. Who doesn't, these days?
We're going to hand the mic over to Bruce now, but you'll want to stick around for Don's podcast conversation with SLR contributor Glynnis MacNicol, who recently published a memoir about her fortieth year called No One Tells You This.
Ok Bruce, the floor is yours...
My first newspaper job, we worried. Well, not at first, because the National Post was three years old and flamboyant as hell. It was sending overpaid lifestyle columnists to Australia for one story about surf school, and had a drinks cart on Friday afternoons that was sometimes accompanied by entertainment like a mariachi band, or the former pro wrestler who went by Val Venus. The drinks cart vanished not when they realized some editors were laying out sections half-sloshed, but because someone pointed out that with a suburban office, getting employees loaded when most of them drove was rather a lot of liability, even for something as grand as a national Canadian newspaper.
Of course, the fall came. I was personally laid off 17 days into my full-time employment, after my summer internship, on Sept. 17, 2001. The Post had burned through far too much money too fast and sold the whole thing to some suckers who owned a TV network, so the sports and arts sections got chopped, along with the magazine. People said they were planning to execute the layoffs on Sept. 11, but life, as it does, got in the way.
So when the section came back the next year and they hired me and some others to staff it, we worried. More than once there was a TV crew in the parking lot, waiting for the closure of the newspaper. It never came, but we couldn’t have known that. The paper lost people, bled budget, wobbled but didn’t fall. I used to joke that we were the newspaper of the future: lean, and mean.
I wish I’d been wrong. Journalism is a lot of things, but at newspapers it’s mostly desperation and anxiety. It always was, of course, but the worries were smaller back when newspapers were buying Picassos. The anxieties were routine, manageable, small enough that you could fit them in a drawer. Deadlines were better, but they still loomed, a daily axe. The unknown of journalism — the chase, the waiting, getting the right person, getting lucky, putting it together, avoiding the mistake that will eat a hole in your stomach — is built to make anyone doubt. That, along with the fun of the endeavour, is probably one reason so many of us drink.
But journalism as an industry has become like climate change as a science: there’s an avalanche of news about it, and almost none of it is good. Papers shrink, cut staff and bureaus and travel, pile up sandbags against the flood. There are so many professional funerals. You should hire this person immediately, we journalists say when another industrious, big-hearted, clever, smart, even brilliant journalist gets laid off. Someone needs to hire this person.
So who will hire them? Where do people hide from the storm? For every Los Angeles Times, bought and given hope by the richest man in Los Angeles, or for every Washington Post, bought and revitalized by the richest man in the world, or every New York Times that becomes indispensable, there is ... well, the existential terror of life, in media. The first town to lose its sole for-profit paper was said to be Ann Arbor, when the Ann Arbor News was filleted and sold for parts in 2009. Every extinction starts somewhere.
But the Internet is entirely remaking our culture and rewiring our brains, and the old profit-eating newspaper minds were caught stone-footed in the shift. An architecture of mendacious, malicious propaganda designed to dupe the gullible and feed the hate-filled has been constructed across America, and it is only growing, because there is an audience. Facebook, the site that ate the world by leveraging our need to connect to other humans, is still hosting conspiracy theorists like Infowars and state media like Fox News after saying they would crack down on fake news. Twitter deletes millions of fake accounts, but verifies the white supremacists. YouTube has become a radicalization engine for the worst people in society. The current President and his party attack honest journalism as partisan because their people will believe it, as part of what has become the endless tribal cage match of American politics. I don’t want to be alarmist, but this is literally how societies fail.
So: anxiety, yeah. There’s the idea of losing your job, which permeates everything. A lot of us have families, mortgages, lives we want to keep on living, because the media is mostly people who just love doing this for the right reasons and want to keep doing it. I mean, I write sports: it’s mostly fun. But the point of the sports section at a newspaper is to make people pick up the paper, because then they might read the really important stuff in there, too. It’s been said before, but if journalists wanted to get rich, they wouldn’t be journalists. It doesn’t mean we don’t want to keep our jobs.
But the idea of both big and little newspapers dying out, of mass extinction, is a different, bigger terror. It would be different if something was springing up to replace them as civic institutions, as watchdogs of good government and societal malfeasance. But nothing really is, because it took decades to build them in the first place. The recentstudy from Notre Dame and the University of Illinois at Chicago showed that “The loss of monitoring that results from newspaper closures is associated with increased government inefficiencies ... higher government wages, employees, and tax revenues.”
That’s kids’ stuff, though. What if it’s worse? What if instead of relatively garden-variety governmental corruption, which is indeed having its moment on the national American stage, the propaganda architecture wins? Along with the good people and the courts and the act of voting itself, journalism is one of the pillars of a healthy society, and the little papers are as important as the big ones. America is the most important country in the world; the newspapers are the most vital part of honest media. When democracy dies anywhere in the world, they go after the press. There’s a reason. If you're not careful, every empire falls.
So we say, hire this person, and someone should. We mourn the people who get canned or shoved in a box by the soulless newspaper chains, or the voracious hedge funds, or whatever finally got hold of the knife.
But there needs to be an audience for the real stuff, for truth, for actual journalism, and until there is it will feel like there are no safe places anymore. Who safeguards facts, in the future? Newspapers are dying, slow or fast. I don’t want to find out what dies with them.
The great pull of Instagram and Facebook and Twitter is the human need for connection and validation in a world that’s getting more lonely for its young people. I spend too much time on Twitter, myself; it's a drug, but I almost have it under control. This piece explores something else: how some of the kids who are lost in the wash of this chaotic digital generation find places and ways to exist. Ice Poseidon is a young man who streams most of his life to what seems like a predatory hive of people who seem just as lost as he was. It damages him; it reveals damage; it damages everything. Chen is a Gawker alum who has explored some of the darkest, strangest parts of the Internet, which has replaced a lot of how some of us actually live. When walls come down, you find out a lot about what was hiding behind them.
Forrest Lucas is a rich man who pushed for the pardon of two convicted criminals who set fire to public lands that could have killed firefighters, while he wasn't fighting bills to regulate puppy mills or funding anti-environmental information for kids. He is probably best viewed as one nasty, rich, propagandistic piece of America's rural-urban split, which is still in its relative infancy as far as splitting the nation apart goes. The pardoned arsonists caught a ride home on Lucas’s plane, by the way.
This is another view of that split, which as populations move to less rural states will cause major problems with representative democracy. The fires of the west are getting bigger as the global climate warms, and there is a deep and nasty clash between science, safety, government, corporate interests, and people’s desire to live wherever and however they please. How we understand nature, and what we choose to do about it, is one of the central challenges of our age.
This story on cockfighting in a small Arkansas town, and how it fits into an America where ICE is ratcheting up the deporting of people who pose no threat, goes places you wouldn’t necessarily expect. “You couldn’t have found a better hundred and thirty-seven people if you went and drug them out of a church.”
This is just really good public-service data journalism, which is such an underappreciated part of the business. More SUVs mean more pedestrians die, and federal safety regulators have known since 2015, but not a whole lot has been done to stop what is essentially a form of unnatural selection.
“There is something deeply unsatisfactory about the Rupert Murdoch story — the lack of consequences, the triumph of cynicism — and it trips those who tell it into making the same mistakes over and over again.” With all the awfulness that explodes into the news cycle every day, it’s easy to forget just how much damage Rupert Murdoch has done to Australia, England, and the United States. Not all media tries to be honest, is the problem.
Hollywood is a progressive engine in America, but even beyond the dirty disgrace of Me Too, it remains a place full of secrets. It’s funny: sometimes I wonder if it would be easier to be an openly gay superstar athlete than it would be to be an openly gay movie star and leading man in Hollywood.
"Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes are now both briefer and more enduring than ever: Instances of fame, now, can be transformed into eternities. People themselves can be transformed into those eternities. For a product you are, and to a product you shall return." Sometimes I think that there should be classes in school on the lost virtue and value of privacy, and on how to handle smartphones. This same topic is explored here, by Ella Dawson.
"The facility’s list of no-no’s also included this: Do not touch another child, even if that child is your hermanito or hermanita — your little brother or sister. Leticia had hoped to give her little brother a reassuring hug. But 'they told me I couldn’t touch him,' she recalled." The United States is still jailing children away from their parents to fix a border crisis that doesn't exist.
Again, public service journalism that matters in a community. I am reminded of S. L. Price’s essay in this newsletter, about how when he worked at the Miami Herald 25 years ago, having money allowed them to take on the biggest, baddest targets without fear, because they could afford to.
Police reform is a major issue in America, or should be, and this piece illuminates how the pushback against blatantly malicious policing has affected Baltimore. A reminder, by the way, that the current administration pulled Department of Justice investigations into police departments, after investigations that had been carried out during the Obama administration had revealed and were resolving civil rights lawsuits in 19 cities.
Ramona is so good at these. There was little public information on LeBron’s decision this time; he didn’t do The Decision, didn’t partner with Sports Illustrated. He just sent a press release, like Michael Jordan coming out of retirement in 1995. LeBron as a Laker will be a fascinating coda to his career.
While it is important to avoid falling into conspiratorial rabbit holes, it is difficult to ascribe Trump’s actions towards NATO, NAFTA, Britain and Russia to other things. Well, other than he is the most useful idiot in world history. That’s also possible.
As a Toronto resident, I would contest the glowing reviews of Byford’s work with the TTC, at least a little, but it seems like he faced a similar task in New York: rebuilding a vital public resource despite the people elected by the public. This is so illuminating in terms of electoral realities when it comes to public transport, and how maintenance is still the thing humans hate to do most.
“The text messages that begin arriving on June 28 end my ordinary life.” I don’t even know how you write this. Grief never manages to impact the American gun debate, no matter how visceral and howlingly sad. Empathy shouldn’t lose to fanaticism, but it does.
It's like Kevin Van Valkenburg said in this very newsletter in December, when he was talking about the layoffs in this industry: “There are no words of comfort that feel like they’ll make any difference to those left scrambling, but I’ll say these anyway: This business won’t love you back, but the people in it will. You’re one of us forever.” The Capital Gazette shootings are the darkest version of this; this story, and the last one, almost made me cry. We can be better. We should be.
All this current talk about spies reminded me of this classic by Carl Bernstein from the mid-1970s that describes the chummy relationship between the Central Intelligence Agency and some leading journalistic outlets. Over the years, Bernstein has promised a book-length treatment on the topic but has yet to deliver.
Oh yes. This is The Nod’s first oral history, with the members of Crime Mob describing how “the perfect ‘say it with your chest’ song” came together. I love this, first and foremost for the push towards cutting out the narrator entirely (I am extremely pro limited-narrator) and for the depth and joy of the stories. Perfect summer listening. (And hey, while we’re at it, over at FiveThirtyEight we did an oral history a while back, about a very different topic, but I happened to re-listen to it randomly this week and maybe you can too!)
Jody Avirgan is the host of FiveThirtyEight's politics podcast and is heading up the new "30 for 30" podcast documentary series from ESPN.
Glynnis MacNicol wisely says about writing that "not telling the truth leads to bad writing." She's spot on about that and quite a few other things in her new book, "No One Tells You This," which she discusses with Don on this week's episode. The two talk about her 40th birthday, solo travel, and how Glynnis once ended up eating steak for breakfast. Her book is a memoir about being 40, single, and childless, and although her stomach turns slightly at the phrase "deeply personal," Glynnis has received lots of praise for her book's honesty and clarity, which comes across in this week's episode.
You might not guess from looking at him that Rob Wielgus was until recently a tenured professor of wildlife ecology. Wielgus likes to spend time in the backwoods of the American West that lie off the edge of most tourist maps, and he dresses the part: motorcycle leathers, tattoos on both forearms, the stringy hairs of a goatee dangling like lichen from his lower lip. Atop his bald head he often wears a battered leather bush hat of the type seen at Waylon Jennings concerts. A Camel smolders in his face like a fuse. The first time I called him, he told me that he couldn’t chat because he was riding his Harley home from the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota.
"She's also fiercely loyal to the president. She is a true believer in this president, and she took her role seriously to ensure he received the most complete and accurate information to make a decision. She has fought to correct misleading information about refugees and migrants provided to the president by Miller and the DPC," the former White House official said.
Since I’m in London in vacation, I thought I should highlight one of The Guardian’s short documentaries—The Trap. This gripping film takes the audience inside prisons across the U.S. to expose how sex traffickers target women as they are about to be released. The pimps are beyond devious, the women vulnerable and the system ripe for exploitation.
When you read this quote — “It took the internet 30 years to get to 1 billion users. It took Facebook 10 years. The crucial thing about Facebook is that it’s not a service or an app — it’s a fundamental platform, on the same scale as the internet itself” — just remember, again, that Facebook (and Google and Twitter) considers toxic conspiracy filth like Infowars worthy of their platform. It’s a dangerous world out there.
THE SUNDAY STILL
L.A.-based Reuters photographer Patrick T. Fallon positions himself to show firefighters working on a fire near the landmark Griffith Observatory in the hills overlooking the Hollywood Sign in Los Angeles. The stream of water, the helicopter and the juxtaposition with the iconic sign give us an apocalyptic picture of the urgency of the work being done. Addendum: The mesmerizing story of the week was the Thailand cave rescue. Fortunately for the boys, the Thai Navy SEALs demonstrated phenomenal rescue — not photography — skills. We’ll have to be content with government-issued images celebrating the heroic rescue.
Patrick Farrell, the curator of The Sunday Still, is the 2009 Pulitzer Prize-winner for Breaking News Photography for The Miami Herald, where he has worked since 1987. He is currently a Distinguished Executive-in-Residence in Emerson College’s Department of Journalism.
On June 27, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his intent to retire. Justice Kennedy -- who joined the Supreme Court in 1998 after being nominated by President Ronald Reagan -- was confirmed by the Senate by a unanimous 97-0 vote. The vote to confirm Justice Kennedy's replacement will almost certainly be much closer. Last year, Cornell law professor Josh Chafetz published an essay in the Harvard Law Review that traced prior "judicial confirmation battles."
Founder, Curator: Don Van Natta Jr. Producer, Curator: Jacob Feldman Producer, Curator: Étienne Lajoie Senior Recycling Editor: Jack Shafer Senior Long View Editor: Justine Gubar Senior Photo Editor: Patrick Farrell Senior Limerick Editor: Tim Torkildson Senior Podcast Editor: Jody Avirgan Senior Editor of Esoterica: Ryan M. Rodenberg
Digital Team: Nation Hahn, Nickolaus Hines, Megan McDonell, Alexa Steinberg Podcast Team: Peter Bailey-Wells, Cary Barbor, Julian McKenzie, Jonathan Yales Campus Editor: Peter Warren
Contributing Editors: Bruce Arthur, Shaun Assael, Nick Aster, Alex Belth, Sara J. Benincasa, Sara Blask, Greg Bishop, Taffy Brodesser-Akner, Chris Cillizza, Anna Katherine Clemmons, Rich Cohen, Pam Colloff, Maureen Dowd, Charles Duhigg, Brett Michael Dykes, Geoff Edgers, Lea Goldman, Michael N. Graff, Maggie Haberman, Reyhan Harmanci, Virginia Heffernan, Matthew Hiltzik, Jena Janovy, Bomani Jones, Chris Jones, Peter Kafka, Paul Kix, Mina Kimes, Peter King, Michael Kruse, Tom Lamont, Chris Lehmann, Will Leitch, Glynnis MacNicol, Drew Magary, Erik Malinowski, Jonathan Martin, Betsy Fischer Martin, Ana Menendez, Kevin Merida, Heidi N. Moore, Eric Neel, Joe Nocera, Ashley R. Parker, Anne Helen Petersen, Jo Piazza, Joe Posnanski, S.L. Price, Jennifer Romolini, Julia Rubin, Albert Samaha, Bruce Schoenfeld, Michael Schur, Joe Sexton, Jacqui Shine, Rachel Sklar, Dan Shanoff, Ben Smith, Matt Sullivan, Wright Thompson, Pablo Torre, Kevin Van Valkenburg, John A. Walsh, and Seth Wickersham
Header Image: Louise Pomeroy
You can read more about our staff, and contact us (we'd love to hear from you!) on our website: SundayLongRead.com. Help pick next week's selections by tweeting us your favorite stories with #SundayLR.