Democracy Dies in Darkness: Spotlight and the Trump Presidency

When it won the Best Picture Oscar a year ago, Spotlight’s message about journalism seemed important. With Trump in the White House, it is essential.

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Last year’s Oscar winner

It is hard to feel sorry for a film that won Oscars for Best Picture and Best Screenplay, was nominated for four others and grossed $90 million. However, a year after Spotlight surprised many by winning the most prestigious Academy Award, it is hard not to think it arrived just a little too early to be truly appreciated.

It tells the story of a team of journalists investigating one of the largest criminal cover-ups in American history. For decades, Catholic priests in Boston abused children. Confronted with this fact, the church hierarchy acted not to protect the victims but the perpetrators. It used its enormous informal influence in the city to keep allegations away from both the criminal justice system and explicit public attention. But Spotlight’s real focus is not on the priests or the church. Rather it is on the city of Boston itself. The film’s contention seems to be that abuse was widespread that most Bostonians knew it was happening. But it was easier to tacitly accept it, than to face the fact that a key ingredient of the social glue holding the city together, was in fact toxic to children. At one point a character opines that: “If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.”

Even some of the journalists shown acting heroically to uncover the scandal, are shown to have been willing to partake in this silence, until pushed to confront that truth. That push comes, perhaps inevitably, from outsiders. Thus, in a film that is in large part about Catholicism, key narrative roles are played by non-Catholics. There is Mitchell Garbidian, an Armenian-American litigation lawyer played by Stanley Tucci, who specialises in representing victims of clerical sexual abuse, and who keeps trying to raise the alarm about quite how many clients he has. But most compellingly there is Marty Baron.

Though Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams were nominated for Oscars for their performances, the best performance in the film comes from Liev Schreiber as Baron. The real Baron grew up in Florida, the son of immigrants from Israel. He worked at a number of America’s most prestigious newspapers before returning to Florida, to edit the Miami Herald, before moving to Boston in 2001 to do the same job for the Globe.

Spotlight repeatedly underlines the importance of his status as a Jew in a Catholic city. From his trying to learn about the city’s baseball team from a book, to his being handed a Catechism by Archbishop Law, the film’s ‘big bad’. On multiple occasions native Bostonians at the Globe are leaned on by Diocesan officials to convey to Baron that the digging he has instigated is not ‘how things are done round here’. Yet it is precisely because he is not invested in the city and its dominant religious institution, that he understands that something untoward is occurring. It is he, who forces his journalists to investigate the abuse allegations, and to focus on the church rather than individual priests.

The revelations that resulted would force Archbishop Law to resign, provoke institutions well beyond the Catholic Church into taking stronger measures to protect children, and end much of the deference previously showed towards the Church. It would also win Baron and his colleagues a Pulitzer Prize.

Fact and fiction

Writing about seeing himself on the screen, Baron wrote that:

Liev Schreiber portrays me as the newly arrived top editor who launched that investigation, and his depiction has me as a stoic, humorless, somewhat dour character that many professional colleagues instantly recognize (“He nailed you”) and that my closest friends find not entirely familiar.

But he also saw a broader significance in the film’s depiction not of him but of his profession:

Aside from the acclaim of critics, “Spotlight” already has delivered one gratifying result. In emails, tweets and Facebook posts, journalists have declared themselves inspired, buoyed and affirmed. That is no small matter in this badly bruised profession. We have felt the traumatizing financial effect of the Internet and been berated by just about everyone, especially politicians in a campaign season that has seen us cynically labeled “scum.”

One journalist wrote me that “the story that inspired the movie serves as a wonderful, wonderful reminder why so many of us got into this business in the first place and why so many stayed despite all the gloom and doom and all the left hooks that landed squarely on our chins along the way.”

A reporter for a major national publication said he had gone to the movie with his entire family. “My kids suddenly think I’m cool,” he said.

Especially heartening has been the reaction of some publishers. One in California rented a theater to show the movie to the paper’s entire staff. Another wrote me on Facebook: “You and the Spotlight team . . . have reenergized me to find a business model to support this critical work.”

Cut to the present

Marty Baron is no longer at the Boston Globe. Since 2012 he has edited an even more august publication: the Washington Post. That has made him an important player in the unsettling confrontation between the media and President Trump.

The print publication that Trump appears to have the most animosity towards is the New York Times. However, it is arguably Baron’s journalists who’ve unearthed the most damaging revelations about the new president.

A staff reporter named David Farenthold revealed that despite Trump claiming to be a generous donor to charity, he actually gave hardly anything away. Most of the money possessed by his charitable foundation was donated by other people, and that was frequently used not for charitable purposes but to enrich Trump. For example, to pay out of court settlements arising from the misdemeanours of Trump’s businesses.

Then Farenthold also got hold of the so-called ‘Access Hollywood tape’ in which Trump makes a succession of crass comments about women, including that being famous allowed him to ‘grab them by the pussy’, which was interpreted by many people, including me, as an admission of committing sexual assault.

Most recently, it was Post reporters who revealed that Trump had been warned that his National Security Advisor, Mike Flynn, had been communicating with Russian diplomats. Something the administration had previously denied.

This has naturally not escaped Trump’s attention. His ire appears to be directed not at Baron but at Jeff Bezos, the Post’s owner and a co-founder of Amazon. Before the election, he complained about “purposely negative and horrible and false articles” the Post was writing and warned that he might take his revenge on Bezos by going after Amazon. At one point saying: “Believe me, if I become president, oh do they have problems, they are going to have such problems” and intimating that he might target Amazon for tax and anti-trust investigations.

Shooting the messenger

At a conference in 2002, Professor Mary Ann Glendon, a future US Ambassador to the Vatican would proclaim that: “…if fairness and accuracy have anything to do with it, awarding the Pulitzer Prize to the Boston Globe would be like giving the Nobel Peace Prize to Osama bin Laden.”

You see, the tendency to deride good reporting that you find inconvenient as ‘fake news’ is not new.

For almost a century journalists have been reciting variants of the saying that “News is what somebody does not want you to print. All the rest is advertising.” One such variation replaces the word ‘advertising’ with ‘public relations’. And as Mark Harris of Vulture has written because Trump’s interaction with the media has primarily been in the context of the entertainment industry, he’s primed to thinking that journalists should indeed act like publicists:

Every entertainment journalist will, sooner or later, be told by a PR representative, “Hey, we’re all in the same business here.” For the journalists and quasi-journalists Trump encountered during his decade-long run as The Apprentice’s star and co-producer, that was uncomfortably close to the truth. Trump thought they needed him more than he needed them, and believed that if they stepped out of line or off of the publicity game plan, he could punish them by cutting them off. And the evidence he chose to see backed him up. For proof, you have only to think back to the perfectly titled Access Hollywood and ask yourself what put Trump on that bus in the first place and allowed him to talk so freely. The answer: It was a safe space, a faux-journalistic enterprise produced by NBC, the network that aired The Apprentice, in which different house rules prevailed. The “interview” was a publicity segment, the “journalist” was a douchey wingman, the actress unwittingly roped into being their tour guide was a performer on Days of Our Lives, an NBC daytime soap on which Trump was about to do a cameo, which would help Days of Our Lives, which would help The Apprentice, which would help Access Hollywood. Hey, we’re all in the same business here.”

This is Trump’s understanding of journalism; it’s the bubble in which he lived for the decade before his campaign began, and it shocks and enrages him when journalism decides to be something other than flattery-for-access.

The result Harris argues is that real journalism of the kind done by the Boston Globe or the Washington Post looks to him like bad journalism. He complains that it is not only ‘fake’ but also ‘nasty’ and bemoans that it relies on leaks of confidential information. He has also accused the media of representing ‘special interests’ rather than ‘the people’.

Baron has suggested that, in this context:

It is no wonder that some members of our staff at The Washington Post and at other news organizations received vile insults and threats of personal harm so worrisome that extra security was required. It is no wonder that one Internet venue known for hate and misogyny and white nationalism posted the home addresses of media executives, clearly inviting vandalism or worse. Thankfully, nothing that I know of happened to anyone. Then there was the yearlong anti-Semitic targeting of journalists on Twitter.

Renewed relevance

It is, therefore, regrettable that Spotlight came out last year rather than now. Many of this year’s nominees can be seen as gaining relevancy from Trump presidency. But broadly speaking, they do so with a general message about tolerance of minorities. Spotlight appears inadvertently much more specifically directed at our present moment.

At the time of its Oscar triumph, Spotlight’s message was considered worthy but not controversial. Objecting to the value of investigative journalism would have seemed as silly as attacking helping the unlucky or striving against the odds. Now it is a divisive political issue. The President’s chief strategist has openly questioned the right of the media to investigate his boss and said the media should ‘keep its mouth shut‘.

Spotlight is a great dramatisation of the case for why this must be challenged with the utmost intensity. A tale of journalists breaking a story, based in part on leaks of confidential information,  about the wrong doing of people in power, that must have seemed ‘nasty’ to those powerful people, who disparage it as ‘false’ even though the carefully assembled evidence shows it is true, is something we could really do with seeing on the screen right now.

Baron recently authorised a change in the Post’s masthead. Underneath the paper’s title now sit the words ‘Democracy Dies in Darkness’.  Spotlight dramatises the truth of that sentiment for its audience. It illustrates that only by having powerful people asked awkward and potentially ‘nasty’ questions, can those with less power be protected from having ‘nasty’ things done to them.

There will always be men like President Trump and Archbishop Law. Let us hope there will remain journalists with the freedom to investigate them.

A familiar face makes an appearance on the Daily Show

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Regular readers of this blog will have come across my friend and fellow campaigner Robin McGhee before. I’ve featured his writing on subjects as diverse as atheism, Orwell and Russell Brand. But now he’s made an appearance in a much more widely seen arena: the Daily Show.

And here’s more of the Daily Show on the General Election.

Why conservatives aren’t funny

“Although it is not true that all liberals are funny, it is true that most funny people are liberal.”

In a feature for the Atlantic, Oliver Morrison asks why comedy seems to lean to the left. He focuses on America where he observes there are few conservative equivalents of the Daily Show and Colbert Reports and that those there are have few viewers. We can see the same thing in the UK where the likes of Eddie Izzard, Stephen Fry, Jeremy Hardy, Sandi Toksvig, Mark Steele, Mark Thomas, Stewart Lee, David Mitchell etc. are off set by Jim Davidson and…..ummm…he’s basically it. Morrison wonders if this is because politics is correlated with personality type and different personalities are drawn to different kinds of humour:

At the end of the 1990s, when Jon Stewart took over The Daily Show, conservatives dominated one form of entertainment media: talk radio. Liberals have never managed to equal conservatives’ success in that arena. The Air America network—whose talent included Rachel Maddow, as well as Saturday Night Live alumnus and future Senator Al Franken—filed for bankruptcy at the beginning of 2010. Even MSNBC has never been able to attract as large an audience as Fox News, the televised version of conservative talk radio.

Could it be that American political satire is biased toward liberals in the same way that American political talk radio is biased toward conservatives? Dannagal Young, an assistant professor of communications at the University of Delaware, was looking into the lack of conservative comedians when she noticed studies that found liberals and conservatives seemed to have different aesthetic tastes. Conservatives seemed to prefer stories with clear-cut endings. Liberals, on the other hand, had more tolerance for a story like public radio’s Serial, which ends with some uncertainty and ambiguity.

Young began to wonder whether this might explain why liberals were attracted in greater numbers to TV shows that employ irony. Stephen Colbert, for example, may say that he’s looking forward to the sunny weather that global warming will bring, and the audience members know this isn’t what he really means. But they have to wonder: Is he making fun of the kind of conservative who would say something so egregious? Or is he making fun of arrogant liberals who think that conservatives hold such extreme views?

As Young noticed, this is a kind of ambiguity that liberals tend to find more satisfying and culturally familiar than conservatives do. In fact, a study out of Ohio State University found that a surprising number of conservatives who were shown Colbert clips were oblivious to the fact that he was joking.

In contrast, conservative talk radio humor tends to rely less on irony than straightforward indignation and hyperbole. When Rush Limbaugh took down Georgetown student and birth-control activist Sandra Fluke in 2012, he called her a “slut” in order to drive home his point about state-mandated birth control. After the liberal blogosphere erupted with derision, Limbaugh responded with more jokes, asking that Fluke post videos of her sex online so taxpayers could see what they were paying for. (After a few days, he offered a public apology, insisting that he “did not mean a personal attack” on Fluke.)

These examples formed the kernel of Young’s theory that liberals and conservatives look for and see different kinds of humor. Connover, the producer of [right leaning satrical show] The Flipside, has already voiced skepticism about Young’s hypothesis. “That’s another way of saying that liberals are smarter,” Connover said. “And clearly that’s not the case. Liberals are some of the dumbest people to walk the earth.” Young insists that hypothesis is not about intelligence; it’s about a preferred structure of jokes. She maintains that there’s nothing inherently better about liking ironic jokes over exaggerated ones.

If this view is accurate then I’m afraid it doesn’t reflect well on conservatives and their ability to govern. The world is a place replete with uncertainty and our politics has to be able to cope with that. If you can’t handle the ambiguity you find in an episode of the Colbert Report then you’re going to find the Syrian Civil War utterly impossible.

Understanding Jon Stewart’s British fans

My formative political influences seem to retiring on mass at the moment. Andrew Sullivan gave up blogging last week and now Jon Stewart has announced he’s leaving the Daily Show. To give you an idea of how big a deal the Daily Show was for me, I actually used a quote from him to introduce my GDL thesis on whether the British legal system discriminates against Christians:

On one level my fascination with Stewart is even stranger than mine with Sullivan. Stewart’s perspective was arguably even more American. The Daily Show did occasionally send correspondents abroad but that was invariably to countries like Egypt and Iran that were prominent in American political discourse. When Tony Blair appeared as a guest Stewart both made and had jokes made at his expense about his ignorance of British politics.

Yet as a British teenager and undergraduate I couldn’t watch enough of the Daily Show: I not only viewed new episodes but also combed through the back catalogue on the Comedy Central website. And I wasn’t alone in my love. Weak rating might have lead Channel 4 to stop showing the series but what its British fans lacked in numbers we made up for in ardour. Jokes from the show were a common part of how a certain young political obsessive talked about the subject of our obsession.

So why did this (admittedly very narrow subsection) of Brits find a man from New Jersey talking about a politics we were not part of so interesting?

Part of it obviously was that Stewart and the Daily Show team were really good at what they did. The show was not only funny but also informative, and Stewart’s was very convivial company.

It was also the case that we were in denial about not being part of the American debate. We might not know who the German finance minister was or which party was in power in Slovakia but give us a map of a swing state in a US presidential election and we’d draw on the Republican and Democrat leaning precincts with ease. And the Daily Show made that a little more true. Take the recent disgracing of NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams, who took an RGP to his career and credibility by exaggerating the degree of danger he was exposed to while embedded with US troops in Iraq. While much of the British media has had to run pieces explaining who Williams is and why he’s such an important figure in America, Daily Show fans already knew. He was a regular guest on the show and the sheer weirdness of a comedian masquerading as a news anchor while also sort of being one interviewing a news anchor who does a pretty good turn as a comedian.

The show arrived on Channel 4 in 2005 at a point where British politics was dominated by intentionally bland Blairism. In this context, the grotesqueness of the Bush presidency had a certain perverse appeal. Plus it felt like the one genuine controversy of that era, the Iraq War, had been dropped on us from the US. We wanted to see the authors of that catastrophe satirised and as they were in Washington not London that made turning to an American comic a logical choice.

One could also make a case that in a roundabout way Stewart was talking about British politics. To see why compare the Daily Show with John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight. Oliver is often intensively parsing social issues or policy questions. That was less Stewart’s (and indeed Colbert’s) focus. Their jokes were primarily about the sorry state of America’s political culture and language. They would dissect or lunge at the mendacious way politicians tended to speak, the media’s tendency to work itself up into a storm about trivialities and to create generate non-stories from feeble evidence and most of all the tendency of just about everyone to apply lower standards to people on their own side than to the other. This is all lamentably recognisable to anyone who follows British politics. So while we were watching Stewart take apart American cable news, we were getting a primer on how to do the same to British tabloids.

The meaning of Andrew Sullivan

There’s a good chance you’ve never heard of Andrew Sullivan or his blog the Dish, and will therefore regard the news that he is giving up blogging as not especially worthy of note. But for me this is a momentous announcement. I’ve been reading about politics online for a decade now yet the Dish remains perhaps my most treasured discovery. It took me from being a rather straightforward Orange Book liberal to something rather stranger. This was even though he rarely wrote about the UK. Instead what he did was expose me to a very peculiar worldview.

Indeed peculiarity was perhaps Sullivan’s key trait. Political writing is generally a very tribal enterprise yet he was utterly individual. He was: an American literary institution who grew up in East Grinstead, a Tory boy and self-described conservative who was an early Obama booster and came to hate the Republican Party with a fury few left-wingers could and most perhaps strikingly he was a conservative Catholic who is now married to another man. This made him so much more interesting than most political bloggers: you usually guess the contents of their posts before reading them, that was impossible with Sullivan.

He’d had an impressive career before taking up blogging. His 1995 book Virtually Normal made him one of the first people of note to call for equal marriage. This might be a mainstream, and in some circles even trite, position but then it was a confounding notion. It offended not only those who thought the gay community was not worthy of response but many within that community who saw it as caving to the norms of a hetro-orientated world. He also had a controversial tenure as editor of the New Republic.

However, it is blogging that defines his legacy. This is in part because he was one of the first to use it as a medium to discuss politics: not many other people were blogging about Bush v Gore. But it was also a product of the individuality I discussed earlier. Such a quality is perhaps easy to generate when you have plenty of time to reflect on your position and thousands of words to convey your personal twist on it. Doing the same in a medium like blogging that involves rapidly producing reactive bursts requires a truly huge personality.

And when I encountered that personality a decade it was a revelation. His biggest intellectual influence was the Conservative philosopher Michael Oakeshott. Sullivan described him as:

“While not denying that the truth exists, the [Oakeshottian] conservative is content to say merely that his grasp on it is always provisional. He begins with the assumption that the human mind is fallible, that it can delude itself, make mistakes, or see only so far ahead.” In light of this extreme fallibility, human beings should err on the side of inaction. Claims to certainty—in religion, or political ideology—are invariably hubristic. We have to build our politics on “the radical acceptance of what we cannot know for sure”.

What made Sullivan fascinating was that he saw in this not an argument against the left. He would attack those who held to a position dogmatically almost regardless of what that position was. For example, he criticised both Pope Benedict and Sam Harris. However, the group whose dogmatism he appeared find most objectionable were those people in America who also called themselves conservatives. He came to see the invasion of Iraq as a classic case of violence being used in the service of a utopian project. And he clearly found the spectacle of the likes of Sarah Palin luxuriating in their ignorance and close mindedness almost unbearable.

I don’t, however, mean to make him sound like a man just spitting bile. Reading his posts gave one the impression not of listening to someone shouting at the TV but rather of eavesdropping in an erudite conversation. Like his friend Christopher Hitchens, he had a talent for inserting poetry into his pugilism. There was also a pleasantly self-reflective quality to his blogging. Writing constantly led to what he called “grotesque over-sharing”. We, therefore, read in his own words about his foibles, doubts and demons. This was a refreshing antidote to the smug certainty that too often percolates online. And Sullivan’s blog avoided the worst repository of the smugness: the comments section. He handled conversations with his readers via emails, some of which he posted extracts from and his responses to in posts.

The result was that the blog became more than the sum of the parts. Individual posts were well written and interesting but the real fascination came from seeing how it all came together to make Andrew Sullivan’s worldview, and how that in turn interacted with the community that emerged around the Dish.

This is why there is something epochal about Sullivan stepping away from his keyboard. As Ezra Klein explains for Vox:

Sullivan was the closest we had to someone trying to run a blog with real scale. He was trying to make his blog — and its sizable audience — into a business. But blogging, for better or worse, is proving resistant to scale. And I think there are two reasons why.

The first is that, at this moment in the media, scale means social traffic. Links from other bloggers — the original currency of the blogosphere, and the one that drove its collaborative, conversational nature — just don’t deliver the numbers that Facebook does. But blogging is a conversation, and conversations don’t go viral. People share things their friends will understand, not things that you need to have read six other posts to understand.

There’s a lot of truth to this. As my own reading grew increasingly mediated by Facebook and Twitter, I read the Dish less regularly. And that frankly is clearly a loss. You would be searching for a long time before you found an individual post that was as interesting as Andrew Sullivan as an individual.

AFTERTHOUGHT: I’d recommend Johann Harri’s profile of Sullivan.

If it happened there

For several months now Slate has been publishing a column called ‘if it happened there.’ It writes about events within the US in the way the American media reports on other countries.

So it covers Michael Bloomberg’s rule in New York City like this:

Under his control, the city has grown wealthier, safer, and healthier (though with a level of income inequality rivaling that of Honduras), and he has left his mark with a number of popular public works projects. Intriguingly, this native of the hated rival city of Boston—who makes regular but mysterious visits to his walled-off estate on a tropical island off the country’s shores—has managed to cast himself as a consummate New Yorker, respected by wide segments of the city’s population.

However, the billionaire politician has also courted controversy by ramming through new election laws to keep himself in power and turning the city’s security services into a vast intelligence apparatus empowered to search citizens without warrant. He has also provoked amusement with highly publicized campaigns aimed to improve the eating habits of New Yorkers. These heavy-handed efforts were often resisted by large swathes of this ethnically diverse city known for its greasy street-corner sausages and carb-heavy bread-based delicacies.

And Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty’s homophobic outbursts like this:

Robertson’s low-brow public image might make him seem an unlikely leader, but after all, this is a country where a professional wrestler can become the governor of a populous Northern state, and an actor who once co-starred with a chimpanzee could become president. The events of the past month could be an indication to the nation’s elites that this backwoods insurgent with a massive popular following and extensive access to firearms may now have become too powerful to stop.

The Federal Government shutdown:

The current rebellion has been led by Sen. Ted Cruz, a young fundamentalist lawmaker from the restive Texas region, known in the past as a hotbed of separatist activity. Activity in the legislature ground to a halt last week for a full day as Cruz insisted on performing a time-honored American demonstration of stamina and self-denial, which involved speaking for 21 hours, quoting liberally from science fiction films and children’s books. The gesture drew wide media attention, though its political purpose was unclear to outsiders.

And now UK based Think Africa Press has joined in with this mock coverage of the Scottish Independence referendum:

The Scottish have long had a strong presence in this island nation. Local legends describe a Scottish chieftain called James seizing the English throne, which doubtless explains the antipathy between the two groups today. The last two premiers of the UK, Brown Gordon and Anthony Tony Lynton Blair, were both of Scottish background, and depended on support from Scottish voters to retain their grip on power. However, current Premier Dave Mister Cameron is considered English, despite his ethnically Scottish name.

Now, a growing separatist movement, led by the charismatic demagogue Salmon Alexander seeks to change the status quo. Tensions have bubbled up, and though no violence has yet been observed, concerns are growing. Given that the army is divided on tribal lines, with ethnically Scottish and English regiments, the possibility of civil war cannot be ruled out.

Posts I wish I had written – the Sun gets burned by Buzzfeed

With the Daily Mail hogging the nation’s ire by slandering a dead WWII veteran, the Sun needed to do something pretty vile to get back onto the media naughty step. Well it managed it with its lurid front page claim that 1,200 people had been killed by ‘mental patients’ in the past decade.

This is a claim that has been pretty thoroughly smashed by a number of sources. However, for my money the clearest exposition of what is wrong with the Sun’s claim came from Buzzfeed:

In other words, almost half of those who committed the homicides that made up The Sun’s 1,200 figure were not “mental patients”, their illness cannot be shown to have caused the homicide, and for most of that group, the mental health system could have done nothing to prevent the death.

And even those that were classed as “patients” were not necessarily “high-risk” patients, as The Sun claimed – just anybody who had contact with the mental health system in the previous year. According to Paul Farmer, the Chief Executive of the mental health charity Mind, that’s a figure of around 1.2million people.

This post is impressively concise, written in language wholly devoid of pomposity and leaning more on images than text. In short, its strength is that it is written in much the same way that Buzzfeed would write about cats or Miley Cyrus.

Buzzfeed’s surprising political role has not gone without notice. In the run up to the last presidential election, New Republic wrote an article about “How Buzzfeed is remaking campaign coverage.” This was not a trend it wholly welcomed:

The site has also had some difficulty distinguishing between real stories and manufactured ones. In June, BuzzFeed reported that Romney failed to find the word for “doughnut” while pointing at “chocolate goodies,” and the post was all that political junkies on Twitter could talk about for hours (even if it was absurd: Romney clearly knows what a doughnut is). New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait, hardly a Romney apologist, argued persuasively that the item was a perfect example of what’s wrong with a certain kind of political coverage. He suggested that BuzzFeed’s reporters weren’t thinking like journalists, who try to create stories and build context, but like opposition researchers, who are hungry to paint an unflattering picture of the opposing candidate. (Obama’s team could hardly do it better: Romney doesn’t know what doughnuts are because he’s an out-of-touch plutocrat.)

This is broadly speaking correct – as is most of what Chait says. However, it seems beside the point. Clearly it would be best if all news sources had the journalistic standards of the New Yorker. But given that there will always be a demand for populist news, I’d rather it came from Buzzfeed than from papers that have the gutter ethics and reactionary politics of the Sun.