Links and Comments: Reputable News Sources; Conservative Animus toward Obama

Several interesting links from the past couple days, but let’s start with the most general, and pertinent.

Current Affairs: The Truth Is Paywalled But The Lies Are Free.

This makes the apt point that responsible journalism on the web is often paywalled. There are exceptions like CNN, supported by its cable network, but others, like those listed in the article, require subscriptions to see more than three or four articles a month on their websites. Where as certain…. other sites… presumably have hidden motivations, or some other way to make money (selling ads that appeal to the people who would read such sites, as Facebook does), and so provide their content for free. Here’s the opening of this (long) article, where I’ve captured all its links in the second paragraph.

Paywalls are justified, even though they are annoying. It costs money to produce good writing, to run a website, to license photographs. A lot of money, if you want quality. Asking people for a fee to access content is therefore very reasonable. You don’t expect to get a print subscription  to the newspaper gratis, why would a website be different? I try not to grumble about having to pay for online content, because I run a magazine and I know how difficult it is to pay writers what they deserve.

But let us also notice something: the New York Times, the New Yorker, the Washington Post, the New Republic, New York, Harper’s, the New York Review of Books, the Financial Times, and the London Times all have paywalls. Breitbart, Fox News, the Daily Wire, the Federalist, the Washington Examiner, InfoWars: free! You want “Portland Protesters Burn Bibles, American Flags In The Streets,” “The Moral Case Against Mask Mandates And Other COVID Restrictions,” or an article suggesting the National Institutes of Health has admitted 5G phones cause coronavirus—they’re yours. You want the detailed Times reports on neo-Nazis infiltrating German institutions, the reasons contact tracing is failing in U.S. states, or the Trump administration’s undercutting of the USPS’s effectiveness—well, if you’ve clicked around the website a bit you’ll run straight into the paywall. This doesn’t mean the paywall shouldn’t be there. But it does mean that it costs time and money to access a lot of true and important information, while a lot of bullshit is completely free.

This recalls a heuristic I’ve seen before: pay more attention to news sources that charge money for their content, than those who provide it for free, since the latter presumably have some hidden motivation for giving you free content. Another not-quite-equivalent way of saying this: trust news sources that existed before the internet, more than all the opportunistic sites that take advantage of their ability to provide “free” content. And another apt analogy: pay as much attention to what you put into your brain, as what you put into your body; avoid junk food, and junk news. Facebook posts are mostly junk news.

(Coincidentally, an analogous effect has been seen in the most popular science fiction award, the Hugos, over the past decade with the rise of free fiction websites like Lightspeed, Clarkesworld, and Uncanny; nominees in short fiction categories for many years now have been dominated by stories from those sites, rather than the traditional print magazines, which of course require payment to buy, like Analog, Asimov’s, and F&SF. The result as been a degradation of the awards to the point of meaninglessness, as debated in an online forum I see every day. The best stories of any year are rather to be identified by the anthologists who produce “best of the year” volumes, since those editors read everything, and select by quality, not by whether stories are free.)

For my part, I subscribe to the New York Times, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and (online only) Washington Post, as well as Time, The Week, Scientific American, National Geographic, Free Inquiry, and Skeptical Inquirer. Many other sites that are paywalled allow you to read 3 or 4 articles a month for free; and they all allow you to see their homepages, see their lead stories and how they frame them, for free, every single day. (Thus, you never saw any of these reputable sites mention that nonsense Pl*nd*m*c video except in articles about baseless conspiracy theories.) I keep refining the sites I look at each day, more or less, based on what I see from compilation sites, and from excerpts in my favorite print magazine, The Week (its website is a pale counterpart). It’s also worth checking out sites like BBC and Guardian to get British takes on American news, since they have a different political alignment than the US Democratic/Republican split.

As a general rule of thumb, as I think I’ve said before, check out the Media Bias Chart (there are several versions floating around out there) and avoid the extremes. (Though I tend to think that, as the saying goes, Reality has a liberal bias; or perhaps, Liberals have a reality bias; conservatives are committed to ideology despite evidence. And so I do look at some sources toward the left of this chart, and none of those toward the right.)


One more for today. Given the conservative outrage over former President Obama’s eulogy for the late civil rights leader John Lewis, Damon Linker at The Week examines Why Obama still drives Republicans nuts.

It’s not just racism. Longish article, but here’s the key passage, considering Bernie Sanders and Obama:

Yet the difference remains: Sanders doesn’t provoke rage like Obama does. While some might point to race, I doubt those made apoplectic by a Black politician would be comparatively forgiving to a septuagenarian Jewish social democrat with a thick Brooklyn accent. Something else is going on, and I think it’s that the right accepts that Sanders just pushes his factional agenda from the socialist left and doesn’t presume to speak from outside of or above the partisan fray.

Obama, by contrast, doesn’t know how to speak in any other rhetorical register than above and beyond the partisan fray. He invariably sounds reasonable, his tone fair-minded, objective. He speaks of the grand sweep of American history, renders Solomonic judgments, and looks down on the disputants on the field of battle, even as his proposals invariably advance the liberal-progressive side of the clashes taking place below him.

That is what drives — and has always driven — the right nuts about Obama. It’s his supposed pretense to elevation, to speaking in dispassionate terms about “us,” about what’s morally righteous and true, and rendering sometimes severe moral judgments of his opponents. He’s a master of using a rhetoric of elevation to ennoble himself and his allies while casting implicit moral aspersions on his political foes, whom he portrays as self-evidently dishonorable, all the while sounding as if he’s merely reciting the indisputable facts of the case. His tone at all times is that of a disapproving parent: You should be ashamed of yourselves.

Obama speaks to the entire nation, as an adult, while Trump speaks to his supporters as a petulant child, and considers all his non-supporters enemies of the state. If some foreign adversary wanted to install a candidate to erode the American commitment to democracy, they might well have installed Trump. I don’t really believe this; it’s a conspiracy theory, and Trump and his minions aren’t smart enough to have participated in such a conspiracy. Yet Putin took advantage of their gullibility, and he’s the one who’s winning.

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