About tylerhersko

Ventura County Star journalist and pop culture blogger. Additional bylines in the Los Angeles Times and the Reno Gazette-Journal. My work for the latter has appeared in the Associated Press and USA Today. 2015 recipient of the Nevada Press Association “Best in Entertainment Writing” award.

Just call them racists (part two?)

 

Last week I wrote about how President Donald Trump is a racist and argued that it was indefensible for news organizations to not factor that into their reporting.

I stand by that, but as embarrassing as having such a blatantly racist head of state is, it must be emphasized that that’s almost never the most pertinent political news of the moment. Trump and many members of his inner circle are clearly racist and generally unhinged individuals, but none of that means that they are ineffective at passing political policies. Journalists that criticize Trump or the GOP as ineffective and dysfunctional are setting a dangerous example because…It’s just wrong.

Much ado was made about the Republican Party’s inability to kill the Affordable Care Act, but where that failed, the GOP had a banner year in numerous other areas. Net neutrality is dead. Trump’s travel ban on Muslim-majority countries seemed to go into effect rather quietly in December, and now Salvadorans are also in conservatives’ crosshairs. It doesn’t take much Googling to see that throughout all of this, ICE has been busy rounding up undocumented — mostly, but it turns out the department isn’t too picky as long as you look like a Mexican — immigrants for deportation. Also, the Republican tax bill passed, and that legislation included language that targeted abortion rights and the Affordable Care Act, so…There’s also that to keep an eye on down the road.

Last week’s headlines were almost exclusively centered on Trump’s “shithole” comment, along with some news about how he had consensual sex with a porn star once. As I’m writing this list about recent Trump news, I literally just received a push alert about Trump’s physical state. He’s fat and balding. Thanks, al.com. But does any of this nonsense really matter?

Less discussed was that the Trump administration plans to allow Medicaid programs to require Medicaid recipients to be employed. This is, of course, horrifying on multiple levels. For one, it more or less states that only working men and women should be entitled to basic health care, which any remotely not-cruel person would agree should be a guaranteed right in any civilized and modern society. Furthermore, it’s a blatant dehumanization that assumes that any unemployed person is in such a state for purely selfish reasons.

Let’s hear what Kentucky — the first state in the nation to go through with this —  governor Matt Bevin has to say.

“Since the expansion of Medicaid to able-bodied people of low financial means, we have seen that number go from 20, 25, 30 and now fully a third of our population,” Bevin said in a Monday interview with PBS. “So what is it we’re looking to change is, we simply want, for those that are able to be engaged in their own health outcomes, we want them to be, because there’s dignity and self-respect that is offered to people through the ability for people to do for themselves.”

Ignoring the terrible PR-softness of PBS’s headline for that article, Bevin’s quote implies that all unemployed people lack “dignity” and “self-respect” and aren’t worthy of basic medical services is just…morally horrifying. It reminds me of when Fox News evil person Stuart Varney argued that “(poor people) have things, what they lack is a richness of spirit.

My point is that the Medicaid thing could have terrible and tangible repercussions for many Americans and is supported by vile politicos whose elitist beliefs are genuinely psychopathic. Compare this to Trump’s “shithole” comment. It was racist and stupid, yes, and quite possibly a major detriment to foreign relations with those countries, but does this compare to a fifth of the nation’s states potentially barring its poorest residents from a basic human service?

More briefly, it’s also worth noting that FISA — the United States’ disturbing program that allows for widespread domestic NSA surveillance — was extended with bipartisan support. Here’s Nancy Pelosi’s terrible statement. I don’t know anyone on either side of the political spectrum who likes the extent of the NSA’s surveillance capabilities. This should, and would hopefully have been, in a less insane news cycle, a major story. This is an issue that warrants extensive discussion, but for the sake of staying somewhat focused, let’s just note that it happened, it’s bad and coverage of it was overshadowed by pundits freaking out over the “shithole” comment.

I didn’t hear about any of these things last week, outside of some minor outrage on the Medicaid issue in my mostly far-left Twitter news bubble last week. Certainly, nobody in my newsroom was talking about these things last week. I feel like I mostly fit the Always Online stereotype, so that I didn’t hear more about these massively controversial news stories disturbs me.

Maybe it was a personal failure. Maybe I’m completely reading the journalism environment incorrectly and people are aware of these things and I’ve just been off my game in the last week. But this seems to be a recurring issue, where major news sources exhaustively cover offensive but ultimately unimportant Trump gaffes instead of the quieter, albeit deeply sinister, policy changes that are being pushed by the administration.

My point is, Trump might be a racist and unhinged person, and that should definitely factor into political reporting, but the focus should almost always be on substantive policy and things that will actually have a real impact on human beings. Publishing “shithole” on the front page of a newspaper or blaring it on TV headlines is funny and dramatic and likely to attract viewers, but from an actual journalistic standpoint, it’s essentially malpractice to emphasize the latest sensational racist gaffe over the actual policies being pushing that will likely to significant harm to ordinary American citizens.

Just call them racists

While declaring President Donald Trump’s “shithole” remark as unprecedented is debatable — this is Trump, after all, and you don’t need to be a historian to dredge up terrible quotes or policies from Nixon, Reagan and other politicos — it’s definitely the first time I’ve seen mainstream news organization publish something as crass as “shithole” uncensored.

The significance of news organizations using “shithole” uncensored and what it means for future Trump coverage is similarly debatable. I’m in the camp that thinks it was a definite good move by the industry, because it clearly and accurately showcases Trump’s blunt racism without obscuring it with hyperbole, punditry or political analysis that would ultimately dilute the fact that yes, the president of the United States is an astonishingly racist individual.

The verbatim reprinting of Trump’s comments about Haiti and African countries were good and it’s the kind of thing news media should be encouraged to do more. But beyond that, we need to perfectly cognizant about who people like Trump are, and be prepared to factor that into all manners of news reporting.

Let’s be straight: Donald Trump is a racist. This is an irrevocable fact. Donald J. Trump, president of the United States, is a racist. This is not editorializing. That’s not his only negative trait but for the sake of being concise, let’s just focus on his racism here.

This is the man who launched his presidential campaign by referring to most Mexicans as rapists and criminals. He has successfully instituted a travel ban on Muslim-majority countries. He pardoned Joe Arpaio, a man who made a career out of terrorizing minorities. One of the first newsworthy acts of Trump’s life was about a federal lawsuit that accused him of racial discrimination

Donald Trump is a racist. This isn’t a new discovery, but it’s a truth that the news media has been relatively hesitant to confront. Rare to nonexistent are the mainstream news articles that directly refer to Trump as a racist.

There are plenty of Trump quotes that are referred to as “racist remarks” by third-party interviewees or pundits in news articles, but few reports directly state that Trump is a racist. The news media has no problem referring to Kim Jong-un as a dictator or Osama bin Laden as a terrorist and should have no qualms about describing Trump as a racist. The facts are no less salient.

Crucially, this is not something that should be relegated to op-eds. For one, those aren’t helpful. Secondly, Trump’s racism is fact, not opinion, and only referring to Trump as a racist in editorial pieces undermines that.

Hand-wringing about Trump’s latest racist gaffe or letting politicians with similarly repellent (but more politely masked) views write weak denouncements, both popular tactics in America’s second most popular conservative newspaper, are bad solutions. We need strong, evidence-driven reporting on Trump’s racism and reporters and editors that are willing to openly and clearly stand against bigotry.

That said, I wasn’t a fan of 2016 Huffington Post’s decision to add an angry footnote to the end of each of their hard news articles about Trump. It came off as preachy and arrogant. I don’t believe that every news article about Trump or his political party needs to blatantly note that they — in the latter’s case, a noticeable number, anyway — are racist, but it’s a truth that reporters must acknowledge and consider when reporting on the news.

I am under no illusion that factoring Trump’s racism into news reporting will sway his most hardcore supporters, but it doesn’t need to. If we provide clear, logical reporting on politicians’ most egregious traits, that will do far more to sway the quieter center-left and center-right majorities than hysterical think pieces or political analyses from detached media elites with no grasp on contemporary culture.

Alright, it’s been a bit over 24 hours since the “shithole” news broke, and my newsroom’s friendly neighborhood CNN television is still covering the controversy in breathless detail. While the the last 24 hours of CNN guest pundits have been as insufferable as usual, it absolutely must be noted that Don Lemon clearly stated that Trump is a racist. This is fantastic, and an encouraging sign that some people are willing to step up.

There’s work to be done, but news coverage of the “shithole” comment makes me cautiously optimistic about future political reporting. I hope that the last 24 hours emboldens the industry to further sink their hands into the muck and expose these monsters for who they are. Despite what some journalists think, there’s no ambiguity about these people’s beliefs, and it’s long past time to stress that.

On not giving a Nazi sexual predator free publicity

Shining’s “X: Varg Utan Flock” was the first major metal album to be released in 2018 and I was excited to review it for Metal Injection. “V – Halmstad“ was one of the first black metal albums I really got into, and this was a chance to cover a high-profile band. Win-win.

Anyway, I wrote the review. Full disclosure: I’ve always known about much of the band’s “questionable” history and I attended a 2017 show on their alt-righty-titled “No More Safe Space” tour, where the NS merchandise should’ve been a glaring red flag that giving the band free publicity wouldn’t be a superb idea. Still, I’ve always thought that while frontman Niklas Kvarforth seems like a moderately insane prick, at least some of his persona was just a shtick to sell his band’s edgy brand. But…

It wasn’t until I was fact checking my review of Shining’s new record that I read the news about how Kvarforth allegedly drugged a woman’s drink, seig heil’d and otherwise acted like a not-so-cool dude. I also didn’t know he had an NS tattoo.

There’s a fine line between having a “dark” image and just being a terrible person and Kvarforth seems to have crossed well beyond that point. I requested to have the article pulled at the last minute and received full support from the publication’s editor (so props to Rob, thanks for understanding). I don’t think I’m a paragon for social justice or political correctness, but I also don’t think it is possible to justify giving free publicity to such a hateful and morally decrepit individual. I write a lot about hypocrisy in media coverage of political issues and I think I would’ve absolutely been part of the problem if I published this review.

Still…I should’ve done better. I should’ve done my research before pitching the review and I should strive to be as socially conscious as possible about the artists I choose to cover going forward. This is a touchy subject in the heavy metal world, but if you’re giving free publicity to a Nazi sexual predator, something is clearly wrong.

I believe that my Shining issue is part of a broader issue that warrants serious discussion in the heavy metal community, especially with regards to journalists that cover the genre.

I’ll be clear: Despite all I’ve just said, I am still likely part of the problem. For example, I love Dissection’s music and believe that “Storm of the Light’s Bane” is one of the top five black metal records ever recorded. But frontman Jon Nödtveidt was an accessory to a murder motivated by homophobia, spent seven years in prison and was a devout Satanist (and not the hip, atheist Church of Satan kind). He was, by all accounts, an absolute monster. But I still greatly admire his music — maybe because the crimes happened when I was in kindergarten, and therefore just read like old history to me — and Dissection is generally considered to be required listening for the genre. This is an uncomfortable thing for me to admit and I genuinely don’t know how reconcile this issue.

Another one: Pretty much every metal fan I know — including the most diehard lefties — revers Emperor. But how can we reconcile that with the fact that Faust, a dude who literally stabbed a man to death for no other reason than that he was homosexual, played with the band on some recent reunion concerts? Shouldn’t we be up in arms? I know that he’s since been replaced on shows, but still. Should the decision to ever let him perform with the band again mean something? Does it taint the band’s legacy? I don’t know.

How about Deafheaven’s guitarist’s apparent homophobia? How about any of the ungodly number of awful things that Mayhem has done? What does it say about our values if journalists provide free press to these kinds of bands? What does it say if record labels and PR officials support them? I really don’t think I’m reaching here, the results of this kind of complicity are quite noticeable. Just take a look at the ghastly comments on this Orphaned Land photo. I’ll also note that despite the recent news, it should go without saying that every person that included Decapitated’s “Anticult” on their AOTY lists is a horribly tone-deaf moron at best, and knowingly complicit in sexual violence at worst.

While the metal community has collectively shunned Varg Vikernes – I guess being an especially brazen psychopath who hasn’t made a good record in two decades + creates batshit Nazi sexist tabletop RPGs is where we draw the line — the disparity in acceptance of these kinds of individuals is concerning. It warrants discussion, at the very least.

To be clear, I’m not saying that we should burn all our copies of “In the Nightside Eclipse” or exclusively listen to expressly antifascist bands such as Dawn Ray’d. I don’t think there’s any easy answer to this issue, and as mentioned, I’m far from the perfect dude to talk about this topic, but I believe it’s something that absolutely must be discussed if the metal community is going to have a positive and progressive scene going forward.

Top 15 records of 2017

OK, 2017 is over. I wrote a top 15 list for Metal Injection. You should read it here. Buy the music from the bands on the list. Buy their merchandise. Go to their shows. Give them excessive amounts of money and attention because they deserve it.

Working with Metal Injection has been one of the highlights of my year. I started 2017 writing reviews for an audience of literally nobody, and the dozens to ~hundred hours I put into it bore no fruit for months. That sucked, but I pretty much knew that was how it was going to go. I’m glad to have a major platform in Metal Injection to promote my heavy metal writing and it’s nice to see my material actually get decent online circulation. Hopefully I’ll be able to expand on that in 2018.

I’m also genuinely glad to know that there’s a chance — however minor — that my writing for Metal Injection has positively impacted the metal music scene. Like everyone else that writes about this kind of music, I have a few bands that basically nobody else knows about and having a chance to rep them on a website as large as Metal Injection might connect them to a swath of new fans. With luck, anyway.

Anyway, if I had time, I would’ve liked to expand this to a top 20 list. Unfortunately, being sick and covering the Thomas Fire in Ventura County strapped me of both time and creative energy. As for the music in my list’s “Honorable Mentions,” I’m confident that the “NieR: Automata” soundtrack would’ve placed fairly high on my actual list if I had had more time to listen to it. Ah well. That’s a phenomenal game with a phenomenal soundtrack. As mentioned, you should buy it.

That’s all. See you in 2018.

My Thomas Fire coverage for the Ventura County Star

It’s just as well that I didn’t budget time for non 9-5 articles this month, because covering the Thomas Fire for the Ventura County Star has taken up most of my energy. I’d like to say that it’s been a trying few weeks for the newsroom which is true but it hardly compares to the trauma that county residents who have been displaced are going through.

I’d hesitate to call this a “good” journalism experience for me personally because that just sounds insensitive. Still, it can sometimes be hard to feel like anything I do in the industry matters, do I ever make a positive difference, nihilism and so on.

When something terrible like the Thomas Fire happens, I can at least say it feels good to be able to spotlight individuals and organizations that are genuinely trying to create positive change in response to the tragedy. I was briefly interviewed by a Santa Barbara radio station due to my work so I’d like to think I’m helping and making a difference in some small way.

Looking back, I wish I was a bit more measured in the live videos I Tweeted and I would’ve liked to have the time to cover the agricultural damage sustained during the fire sooner. Maybe I should’ve taken the initiative and done some super up close and personal photos when the fire had started. Marcus Yam’s photography for the Los Angeles Times was nothing short of incredible. Unbelievably inspiring stuff. But all things considered, I think I did Good.

More to come but in the meantime, I’ve linked my articles related to the Thomas Fire below:

Home insurance proves invaluable to Ventura County fire victims

Volunteer program providing healthy meals to displaced families

Downtown Ventura’s businesses look to bounce back from Thomas Fire losses

People displaced by Thomas Fire navigate Ventura County housing market

OPINION: Uncritical news coverage of racists doesn’t help anyone

Credit: Johnstowncafe.com

Michael Cruse’s Politico feature on a depressed Pennsylvania town is one of the most frustrating news stories I have read this year.

Kruse interviews a variety of President Donald Trump’s supporters, most of whom are still loyal to the president, despite his administration not improving the town’s dire condition. Several of them are openly bigoted and seemingly unhinged from reality. There are several shocking quotes that are certain to offend and disgust readers and the feature is a generally disheartening and hopeless read that offers no practical solutions to anything.

You’ve probably this article, or one exactly like it, several times this year.

Please understand, I have nothing against Politico or Kruse in particular. Though it’s worth noting that several of the town’s community leaders, including the mayor, published a sharp criticism of Kruse’s report in a letter to Politico, that hardly means Kruse misinterpreted the Johnstown community. I’ve never been to Johnstown so I can’t speak to the accuracy of the article. The problem is, accurate or not, the article’s uncritical coverage of racists who have no grasp on reality is a prime example of staggering editorial malpractice.

These kinds of deep dives into the psyches of Trump’s most repellent supporters, such the unrepentant racists who were quoted using a racial epitaph at the end of Kruse’s piece, are worse than useless, yet major news outlets have an apparent fetish for endlessly churning out such articles. Just last week, CNN published a profile on a town whose supporters “just weren’t ready for a woman president.” Though its focus was somewhat different, the New York Times’ recent puff piece on a literal Nazi was similarly aggravating due to its sheer pointlessness.

What do we learn from these pieces? To focus on Kruse’s feature, we learn that vehement racists and other diehard Trump loyalists will support the president whether or not he keeps his campaign promises. That might be true, but that doesn’t mean it’s newsworthy.

Beyond revealing the obvious fact that racist people are…racist, Kruse’s article doesn’t really raise any other points. Reasonable people reading his article have cause for frustration, given that Trump supporters quoted in the article claim that the president has kept his promises when that is clearly not the case in reality. It presents the Johnstown population as dogmatic and racist yokels that cannot be reasoned with. These kinds of harmful stereotypes about the populations of small town American cities are gleefully perpetuated in the news media, and they’re only hurting the industry’s credibility.

Instead of focusing on the fact that racist people are indeed racist, it would’ve been more productive for Kruse to ask his interview subjects if Trump’s implemented policies — or, as the author suggests, his failure to keep campaign promises — have had a direct, meaningful impact on their lives. I’m an advocate for Briahna Joy Gray’s’s insightful Current Affairs article that discusses how to talk to white supremacists. That’s not to imply that the people Kruse interviewed fall under that ideology, but the ideas that Gray raises still apply. Focusing on the basic fact that racist people are racist isn’t insightful (from a journalistic standpoint, anyway) and doesn’t help us learn anything, so there’s no reason to do it. If we’re going to interview these kinds of people, we need to be asking productive and critical questions.

If there was something timely about Johnstown that justified Kruse’s article, he made no mention of it. There’s no real sense of how Trump’s administration has impacted the community or how the president’s policies could affect Johnstown going forward, and there’s certainly no analysis of what Johnstown’s residents’ apparent beliefs mean on a national scale.

These articles aren’t improving The Discourse. No mildly intelligent political strategists, social activists or reasonable people in general believe that you’re going to convince Pepes or other diehard Trump supporters that they’re wrong by quoting facts about the Trump administration. No Klan members are hanging up their robes for Black Lives Matter apparel because of these features. On that level, weak overviews of right-leaning communities such as Kruse’s Johnstown piece are clear failures that contribute nothing to serious cultural or political conversations.

So why do news organizations push these stories? We’re well past the point of editorial impartiality being an acceptable excuse. The New York Times is widely regarded a liberal organization and hiring racist climate change denier Bret Stephens or the similarly psychopathic Erick Erickson isn’t changing that perception, nor is publishing the aforementioned profile of a random Nazi. Hiring or covering individuals with views that are widely agreed to be horrific is the laziest form of diversification imaginable. Furthermore, if providing uncritical coverage of racists, sexists and literal Nazis is considered balanced, ethical journalism, then the industry has become far too complacent. Simply being racist, sexist or otherwise openly awful shouldn’t be a news hook.

Is it a financial thing? I’ll admit, the New York Times’ “Nazi Next Door” profile sounds sexy from a marketing perspective. It’s dramatic and scary, much like the racial epitaph quoted in the end of Kruse’s article, which means it has a good chance of drawing high web traffic or newspaper sales. For many, it’s understandable that “Look at How Racist This Person Is!” might be much more exciting than a complex investigative analysis of how poor black Americans could be especially disadvantaged by certain aspects of the GOP tax plan. But that’s a really cynical take, so let’s try not to put too much credence into it.

Whatever the reason, it’s worth considering how the resources funneled into these pieces could be put to better use. We can probably assume that Politico had to pay for Kruse and his photographer to travel to Johnstown, not to mention room and board. There’s also the fact that the feature must’ve taken a considerable amount of time to report on, write about and edit.

Rather than giving people such as Richard Spencer or the no-namers in Kruse’s article a legitimate platform to espouse their horrible ideologies, what if those resources were instead used to analyze how underrepresented communities are being impacted by the nation’s current political climate? What if the resources spent on the Johnstown story were instead used to spotlight political or social activists that are trying to create positive change in such depressed communities? Certainly these kinds of stories would be superior, right?

Covering and reaching out to these kinds of individuals and communities can be important for both journalists and political activists but going forward the reporting needs to be more nuanced than “bad people are bad.” Instead of wallowing in despair about the worst adherents to a political ideology, let’s focus on producing stories with meaningful angles that can actually result in positive change.

Album review: Dawn Ray’d’s ‘The Unlawful Assembly’

The Unlawful Assembly

The Unlawful Assembly

Hey friends, a bit late on this, but I reviewed Dawn Ray’d’s killer debut “The Unlawful Assembly” for Metal Injection last week. Holidays+sickness=a bit of a posting delay. It’s not perfect, but it’s still pretty great and you should check it out. The record, I mean. The review is obviously perfect. Read it here.

That wraps up the reviews I’m going to be publishing this year. Going to be working on my “Albums of the Year” list for Metal Injection now, and I’m absolutely beyond excited that my list is actually going to be published on a mainstream website and get some real traction. The lists I’ve written for the last few years got nothing because I had no real platform, and this is going to be an awesome change of pace. That, and it means the underground bands I love will actually get some good attention. Seriously, I can’t wait.

I’ve posted a bit less this month and December will probably be the same. Been writing a few other things, but not the kind of things that’d be published publicly. That, plus the holidays+sickness. Still going to try to stick with the “minimum three articles a month,” but I’ve been especially prolific recently and that aforementioned stuff+I gotta pace myself and whatnot. Already making plans for reviews of stuff in January and regular writing schedule will resume soon.

ANYWAY, this Dawn Ray’d review was interesting. I expected a bit of backlash when noting and more-or-less endorsing the band’s strong political stances, and I think writing about bigotryand let’s not sugarcoat it, nazism—in metal is worth an in-depth article in the near future. We’ll see.

For what it’s worth, it’s not that I ignore NSBM-related or ex-NSBM-related artists such as Nokturnal Mortum or White Death that put out stuff this year. I listened to those albums. I just didn’t think they were particularly good or worth covering, regardless of ideology. Didn’t even know about White Death’s political stances until after I listened to the record. Dawn Ray’d made a killer debut. They also happen to have a progressive stance. It’s the quality of the music that warranted coverage.

I’d like to explore this topic more in the future, but in the meantime, listen to Dawn Ray’d’s debut. It’s really good. And read my review.

Unless you’re a nazi punk. In that case, fuck off.