I was thinking the other day about a satisfying feature of the old Gawker.com that I call the Gawker Appositive. Blogs on the site usually kicked off with a subject, followed by a pithy detail that revealed something informative and that reflected the writer’s sympathies. A good example might be something like: “Recently, Donald Trump — a rapist whose second appearance in The New York Times was for violating the Fair Housing Act by refusing to rent to Black people — was found guilty by a New York jury on 34 counts of felony fraud.”

Specifically, I was thinking about how many Gawker Appositives I won’t see during the 2024 presidential election campaign. About how much unalloyed reality is going unsaid as a matter of course, dismissed as old news or testily dispatched with an ancient link long since subsumed by a tide of specious balance. All of these forms of omission serve the game of describing Donald Trump and Joe Biden as “sort of the same if you hit yourself in the head with a hammer hard enough.” This presents as journalism, but feels more like a Cronenbergian exploration of how cowardly minds unmake themselves in the dark. You know, where the democracy dies.

Mainstream journalism’s cynical self-imposition of limits on what publications may presume to know mimics fascism’s opportunistic ignorance while acting as its handmaiden. Even if your personal education never brought you to a term like “manufacturing consent,” you know how it works. It is considered axiomatic that the GOP is still “the grownup party,” despite a half century of homicidal rhetoric about the press and the opposition party. Universal Basic Income, meanwhile, is invariably dismissed as marginal to the discourse by the same organs that create the discourse, despite its demonstrated efficacy in, well, pick any trial conducted anywhere in the country for a quarter century. 

All of these forms of omission serve the game of describing Donald Trump and Joe Biden as “sort of the same if you hit yourself in the head with a hammer hard enough.”

The 2020 Democratic primary offered a masterclass of this performed ignorance. Media and debate moderators demanded Bernie Sanders account for how he’d come up with the $32 trillion that the Office of Management and Budget estimated as necessary to give every American cradle-to-grave health care over the next 10 years — despite contemporaneous studies showing it would overall cost less than our current bankruptcy-inducing public-private system. It was simultaneously morally offensive to charge Americans $32 trillion for lifetime care, and reality-based to charge them more for something comprehensively worse that actively destroys people. It’s killing someone right now. It is the same selective outrage that allows Elise Stefanik to be the star of a committee rooting out antisemitism while sounding indistinguishable from a Great Replacement mass shooter’s manifesto. 

But legacy media’s trend-whoring-with-a-pinky-extended affinity for affected stupidity reaches its apotheosis in its coverage of Donald Trump. Forty-five men have served as president of the United States — but only one is a convicted felon, and he is also the only one designated a rapist by a court of law. Every time those one-of-a-kind details take an identification backset, what you are seeing is a choice. And once you understand that, the choices behind omissions scream off the page.

Every time it is reported that Donald Trump called his opponents, critics, arresting officers and judges dishonest, without also noting, “Donald Trump, a man who told over 30,000 documented lies during his term of office…” you are seeing a choice.

Every time it is reported that Donald Trump has called his opponents crooked, but isn’t paired with the phrase, “Donald Trump, a man with 3,400 documented conflicts of interest while in office,” you are seeing a choice.

Every time a reporter covers Trump and abortion — or Trump and birth control or civil rights — without describing how he farmed out his judicial picks to an organization founded to overturn Roe and roll back the Warren Court, who then flipped the majority into doing just that, buddy, you are seeing a real sick kind of choice.

Every time he obviously dog-whistles to Q-Anon, and a reporter doesn’t include context like “campaign adviser George Nader, who was a three-time sex offender and convicted pederast before his hiring,” or “Donald Trump, a man who talks about Ivanka Trump like he’s her stepdad at Brazzer’s Dot Com” — that too is a choice. 

Legacy media’s trend-whoring-with-a-pinky-extended affinity for affected stupidity reaches its apotheosis in its coverage of Donald Trump.

Anytime Donald Trump — a man who has not read anything since David Lee Roth was in Van Halen the first time but nevertheless kept a book of speeches from Adolf Hitler on his end table for ages — talks about being a victim, but the account does not pair it with notice of the staggering number of his critics who have gone into temporary hiding, is a choice of massive cowardice. Every editor or reporter who doesn’t acknowledge that Trump endangers countless lives by uttering their names through his stochastic terror megaphone is choosing to normalize the terror for the next witness, the next whistleblower.

Anytime Donald Trump talks about political extremism and a reporter doesn’t mention that he is the candidate of America’s fascists, Neo-Nazis, Neo-Confederates and all-around white supremacists — who’ve committed 95% of non-Islamist domestic political murders in the last decade — you are seeing a choice. Boy, howdy, is that publication making a choice.

Legacy media’s selective pursuit or recognition of the truth isn’t entirely a passive construction; sometimes, baby, it just feels right. A.G. “Dash” Sulzberger — a man who worked tirelessly to exist on a chronological basis until the point he could inherit his ancestors’ newspaper — has gone on the record parroting the sort of free-thinking, open-debate pieties that make you one of the 100 Most Compelling Silicon Valley Race Realists on Substack. But Silicon Valley’s sophisticated-sounding debate-me skepticism is just Social Darwinism smuggled in under the same rhetorical mechanism as “alternative facts” — which is to say, another way of determining what we are allowed to know and must debate, who gets the presumption of being right and who must constantly prove and re-prove their case, despite the data having been in for generations. 

“Dash” allegedly nurses a farcical, petty and perfectly Timesean vendetta against Joe Biden for not having a sit-down with a paper that has been relentlessly hostile and disingenuous to Democrats for 30 years. He might not be able to find his ass with two hands, two Sherpas and a GPS, but you couldn’t stop his outfit bird-doggin’ that “Biden is senile” coverage in a race where his opponent started out dumber’n a sack of hair, appears completely gassed despite a four-hour workday with a two-hour trial-nap in between, and sounds like a walking carbon monoxide leak stuck in 1987, who thinks it’s a shame America isn’t talking about the beautiful Suzanne Somers, because she’s got a new show called “She’s the Sheriff,” and it’s just terrific, and Janet and Jack were very sad to see her go, I can tell you that much.

Like the lady in “Repo Man” said, “It happens sometimes, people just explode. Natural causes.” And sometimes you can debate what happened all you want, but reality is reality, and there’s viscera on your face. Grinning through the gore is what made Times editor-in-chief Joseph Kahn barf up the money quote of the cycle so far in an interview with Ben Smith:

Good media is the Fourth Estate, it’s another pillar of democracy… To say that the threats of democracy are so great that the media is going to abandon its central role as a source of impartial information to help people vote — that’s essentially saying that the news media should become a propaganda arm for a single candidate.

This ignores Donald Trump’s threat to democracy and the Times’ obligation to defend democracy by disgracefully reframing “stopping Trump” as a choice between partisan interpretations of democracy — not a fight between democracy and a domestic insurrectionist and international shakedown artist’s protection racket, immunized by a money laundering operation that runs a sideline in the appellate courts, the House majority and a Senate filibuster. 

While beating his straw man to a pulp, Kahn manages to miss the point that you can’t be a pillar of democracy without the democracy. You can still be a pillar, but your only purpose will be maintaining your last purchase on being a signifying ruin. It’s very beautiful, and very, very exclusive, everyone is humbled by it, but you’re the dedication to Ozymandias and nothing more. Those sure are some nice words, but I’m looking around, and I don’t see your works. Someone must have shut them down. It’d be ironic if it turned out to be you.

Not calling a white-collar criminal a felon at every opportunity when it’s the most connotatively descriptive thing about him is a coward’s choice.

Kahn represents less of a scandalous outlier of legacy media suicidality than its most clonelike gray avatar. Sclerotic nostalgia’s a hell of a drug, but you don’t have to choose to hold his ostensible job in equal contempt. In the late 2000s, Domino’s Pizza admitted their food was vile and overhauled their recipes, and some people flipped out. If Joe Kahn wants to chain himself to the door to prevent anyone from shoving anything but the same old shit down everyone’s throat, that’s between him and his mortician. He can choose ordure.

Not calling a white-collar criminal a felon at every opportunity when it’s the most connotatively descriptive thing about him is a coward’s choice. Quoting a man whose exclusive output is lies, whose documented lies could fill almost every seat in a major league ballpark is a choice. Reprinting a corrupt fraud without pointing out that he condemns everyone he sees like he’s stuck in a room lined with mirrors is a choice, as is quoting him accusing his opponents of (nonexistent) radical political violence without mentioning he’s a hero to everyone in the country who’d fail the psych exam for the SS.

If there are two sides to every story, then it is an immense luxury that Donald Trump — a law-and-order president and rapist convicted of 34 counts of felony fraud with over 50 other criminal indictments pending trial — saves you legwork by providing both of them. To paraphrase T.S. Eliot: Between the claim and reality falls your job. If nothing else was said about the most criminal president in American history than that is what he is, it would be enough. Anything less, to paraphrase Timothy Snyder, is surrendering in advance.

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