Journalism—the “professional” kind, the sort taught at the Columbia School of Journalism—is dead. Yet, zombie-like, it shambles on, eating the brains of both its consumers and its practitioners.
There is a short but brutal chapter on journalists in Nassim Taleb’s Skin in the Game. You can trust Taleb’s judgment for the most part because he has all the right enemies: Saudi Arabia, Bob Rubin, bureaucrats . . . . and others whom he memorably calls IYI’s (intellectuals yet idiots). The problem with the establishment media, he points out, is that it has an “agency problem”—journalists are judged and rewarded not by their customers but their peers. A comical case in point is Tina Nguyen’s recent car wreck of an article in Vanity Fair, “Inside the Red Pilling of Kanye West.” Apparently, Nguyen made the not-very-perceptive decision to pledge her troth to establishment Leftism and cement the trust of her colleagues, but earn the mocking scorn of nearly everyone else.
As Jonah Goldberg hilariously recounts, Nguyen has written one of those “explainer” pieces, an anthropological travelogue “about how Kanye West walked off the trail and got seduced by the conservative natives.”
Nguyen’s article contains a line that would be funny if it was ironic, but in its earnestness is a gift of laughter beyond the dreams of avarice. In discussing PragerU, a site that produces and distributes educational videos with prominent conservatives, Nguyen writes: “What unifies these disparate voices on PragerU, my sources tell me, is a sense that P.C. politics are fundamentally divisive and restrictive.” Here’s Goldberg:
“My sources tell me”? Did Nguyen really need to drop some Benjamins on the shoeshine guys of the “far right” to get this inside skinny? “Well, Tina, ya didn’t get it from me. But I hear that what unites the disparate voices of that conservative website [looks around, whispers with his hand over his mouth] Prager University is that the people who record videos there actually don’t like political correctness.”
Taleb predicted in his book that mainstream journalism’s agency problem will be it’s undoing because “its interests will keep diverging from that of its public until the eventual systemic blowup . . . .” Perhaps we have already witnessed this blowup, with Michelle Wolf’s routine at the White House Correspondents Dinner. I suspect that 2018 will mark the last such dinner, and in retrospect, Wolf’s performance will not be remembered for the low-brow jibes against Sarah Huckabee Sanders, but as a kind of demented funeral jig on journalism’s grave.
Part II, coming tomorrow, “But How Can There Be ‘News’ Without the New York Times?!”