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.

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.

OPINION: Why do news organizations employ political pundits?

Credit: The Hollywood Reporter

Credit: The Hollywood Reporter

By definition, news organizations are supposed to present factual and unbiased information, so isn’t employing individuals whose sole job is to color and politicize information anathema to the core goal of journalism?

Public distrust of the news is at an all-time high and we’re in an age where our nation’s political leaders would like nothing more than to clamp down on freedom of the press. Therefore, it’s more important than ever for news organizations to practice hard-hitting, unbiased political reporting and regain public trust, and one of the best ways of doing so would be to stop giving pundits a legitimate platform to manipulate public opinion.

The influence pundits and columnists hold in comparison to straight news reporters is wildly unbalanced and simply cannot be overstated. To start with the obvious: Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity are two of the most well-known and powerful individuals in media and are basically celebrities, but unlike popular athletes or actresses, O’Reilly and Hannity’s more-or-less sole job is to manipulate information and push a political agenda. They work(ed) at a business that styles itself as a news organization and command followings that real reporters could only dream of.

Hannity boasts 3.2 million Facebook followers, around 600,000 more than the Los Angeles Times, one of the world’s largest newspapers (full disclosure: I used to intern there). He has a staggering 1.2 million more followers than MSNBC. Hannity is only outmatched in the followers department by a handful of the biggest newspapers and television networks, and in a social media-driven journalism environment, that says much about his influence.

Social media numbers are a fairly good way of judging a news item’s reach, and it doesn’t take much digging to see that columns, especially political ones, tend to perform much better than straight news articles when shared on social media. Just check the social media pages of any major news organization.

There are two major issues with this. First, the dominating reach of columns over news pieces promotes the idea that these major news organizations have political bias. These social media posts are usually an excerpt of the opinion piece or an otherwise brief summary, followed by a note that the link is to an opinion article. Pretty much all opinion articles in both print newspapers and online are categorized under a clear opinion section. But that distinction doesn’t matter, or at the very least doesn’t do enough.

“Donald Trump, Our First Millennial President.”

Besides the fact that that headline is…not a very good hot take, the actual column is just a weak recap of some of Trump’s blunders that offers no legitimate insights or particularly thoughtful information. What purpose do these columns serve other than to drive page views? These kinds of dull, pointless columns attacking Trump just reinforce the viewpoints of liberal readers in a news bubble, even though simply continuing to report on the many ongoing horrors his government regularly propagates would accomplish an actual journalistic purpose without the ridiculous bias. On the other hand, such articles further embolden far-right readers, who use these columns as weapons to discredit these news sources.

It’s not like you have to go out of your way to find thinkpieces like this. The above column was written earlier this week and these kinds of articles are constantly being published by every major news source. Seriously, how many columns have you seen in the last year attacking Trump or the GOP? They’re crammed into the news cycle to the point that it’s nearly impossible to differentiate them, yet not of them offer any legitimate journalistic value.

Moreover, for many, simply seeing the opinionated teaser or headline next to the Washington Post’s name is enough to assume editorial bias. It doesn’t matter that the social media post notes that the article is an opinion piece. It doesn’t matter that the link says “Column” and it doesn’t matter that the website states that all opinions are those of the writer and are not endorsed by the publication.

I’m a full-time journalist who constantly consumes media and has a keen eye for differentiating between hard news and opinion, but sometimes even I mistake a column or “political analysis” for a news piece. Can we really blame the average reader for getting mixed up more often than someone such as myself?

When it comes to pieces published by an editorial board, it also doesn’t matter that a news organization’s editorial board is separate from said organization’s reporting staff. Most readers are unlikely to be aware of the distinction between an “editorial board” and actual editors, and assuming that they should be aware of such intricacies is worryingly arrogant.

Then, on the other end of the media spectrum, there are organizations such as Fox News. Picking on Fox News is easy, but it’s important to realize how successful the organization is at masquerading pundits as legitimate news sources to manipulate the flow of information.

As mentioned above, it’s unrealistic to assume that readers are sufficiently aware of, or at least care about, the separation between news articles and columns. The same can be said for pundits such as Hannity. Hannity has repeatedly stated that he is not a journalist. That’s irrelevant, because his television show, website, social media pages and overall brand generally convey the persona of a newsman, and it’s an image that his legions of followers are happy to buy into. This also applies to Tucker Carlson, any of “The Five’s” co-hosts or any of the network’s other GOP mouthpieces.

Of course, this all works fantastically well for Fox News with regards to both financial success and political and general news influence and condemning the organization for editorial bias is an exercise in laughable futility. This is, after all, the network that successfully markets itself as “America’s #1 cable news network,” yet constantly derides the mainstream media. But if actual news organizations would stop running pundits and editorials that similarly push naked political ideology, maybe — just maybe — there’d be a greater awareness that Fox News is a blatant political advocacy organization as opposed to a legitimate news source.

The second major issue of pundits is that the simple fact that they’re employed or otherwise paid by news organizations means that less resources and attention are being directed to issues that actually matter. As mentioned, columns attacking some part of the political spectrum are endlessly published en masse by every major news organization.

What if all of the resources used to pay such ideologues was redirected to hiring more reporters and editors? What if the New York Post dropped their pundit that apparently believes sexual harassment is excusable if the predator is now a 90-year-old man in a wheelchair and replaced his position with a reporter who could perhaps cover our society’s pervasive sexual violence issues? (John Podhoretz has since deleted that Tweet). Pundits make up a seemingly not-insignificant minority of many news organizations, and in an era where most journalism organizations are in the financial pits, it is inexcusable that layoffs would ever affect an editorial department that still has political columnists on payroll.

Public awareness is another crucial resource that pundits are sucking away. One of last week’s biggest political stories centered on Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) announcement that he would retire at the end of his current term due to his opposition to Trump and the contemporary Republican Party. Flake’s speech was breathlessly covered by pundits across the media spectrum in excruciating detail.

Less advertised was news that the Senate voted — Flake voted party-line, by the way — to roll back regulations that allowed consumers to sue their banks. That news broke in the evening and was out of the news cycle by next morning, while various thinkpieces about Flake still surfaced to the forefront of many newsfeeds. Most journalism organizations covered the Senate vote, but the reporting was overshadowed by a deluge of pundit columns about comparably unimportant issues.

The Senate vote concerning banks could have grave consequences for civil liberties, but it’s far from the first sinister thing the current administration has pushed, and it won’t be the last. Journalism organizations absolutely must dedicate themselves to fully covering these injustices to the fullest extent possible, and they must take all possible measures to make sure their reporting is front and center in the public eye. Pundits are an active detriment to both of these goals. Get rid of them.

OPINION: The Entertainment Industry’s Duplicitous Support of Progressive Ideals

Credit: The Washington Post

Credit: The Washington Post

The Emmys may be over, but the awards show proved that the entertainment industry’s leading stars’ staunch support of the progressive Resistance movement shows no signs of slowing.

I mean, I assume that that was the intention. Steven Colbert made some Trump jokes. So did Donald Glover and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Sean Spicer made a surprise cameo to share some self-deprecating laughs and kiss James Corden.

None of this should surprise those that closely follow political and entertainment news, but it you’re opposed to President Donald Trump and his policies, it should be cause for significant concern. The lines between entertainment and news are more blurred than ever, and the former plays a leading role in influencing public opinion. I’m fairly certain that more of my friends spend more time watching the popular news satire and late night shows than they do reading actual news publications. If you’re also a millennial, the same probably holds true for your friends.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with politicized entertainment, but the duplicitous nature of the industry is certainly doing more harm than good. And let’s not pretend that the Emmys wasn’t a political event, because pretty much all media outlets agree that it was. The event’s tapping of Steven Colbert as host was an obvious political move, and the massive success of “Saturday Night Live” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” was clearly not a coincidence.

If the entertainment industry genuinely aimed to champion progressive values and showcase solidarity with the marginalized people it claims to support in endless advertisements and late night monologues, why was Spicer invited? Spicer, whose tenure as White House Press Secretary drew more than a few allusions to “1984’s” doublethink wickedness, spent the night guffawing with the media figures that have spent much of the year criticizing him. Giving the man an opportunity to humanize himself and stay in the public eye was anathema to every possible sort of legitimate Trump Resistance efforts.

If those aforementioned values were truly supported Sunday night, Trevor Noah wouldn’t have won an Emmy. Noah’s viral interview featuring Tomi Lahren received widespread praise and his show has enjoyed major spikes in popularity this year. But does debating—some might argue giving a platform to—an influential racist make up for the time when Noah denigrated young Bernie Sanders voters hesitant about voting for Hillary Clinton as children or referred to Antifa as “Vegan ISIS?” He should’ve been lambasted. It’s that kind of smug pretentiousness and ideological hypocrisy—where the racist is seriously debated but potential forces for progressive progress are shrugged off—that played a key factor in Trump securing the presidency in the first place.

Promoting thoughtful and diverse dialogue is necessary and good, but the entertainment industry’s efforts are neither of those things. While industry leaders playing nice with their supposed ideological opponents is not a new development—see Jon Stewart’s interviews with Bill O’Reilly and the former’s appearances on Fox News—it’s a politically insolvent move if any of them actually support serious Resistance efforts. Both ongoing polls and last year’s election results have made it clear that the public has little interest in centrism or compromise, but the entertainment industry has yet to catch on.

Bill Maher has been sharply criticized this year, and for good reason. His softball, simpering interviews with Tomi Lahren and especially Milo Yiannopoulos were reprehensible, as was his bizarre and wildly inappropriate use of a racial slur during an interview with Senator Ben Sasse. Maher may not have won an Emmy, but he was still nominated for one. Some of the arguments in favor of Noah are understandable, and Colbert rightfully slammed Maher’s usage of the racial slur Sunday night, but the fact that Maher was even nominated in the first place is genuinely inexcusable.

Maher might not have received an Emmy, but “Saturday Night Live,” which has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity due to its heavy political themes and Alec Baldwin’s terrible Trump impersonation, won big Sunday night. I think The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel summed it up best. Trump was also a guest on Colbert’s show, and though the “Late Night” host later expressed regret for that, hindsight is 20/20. It turns out that such publicity is pretty helpful.

Though this last one is unrelated to the Emmys, remember when Conan O’Brien filmed an episode with Joe Arpaio, a man who has drawn serious comparisons to Adolf Hitler and the North Korea regime? The segment is mysteriously difficult to find online, but we can assume that given recent events, it hasn’t aged especially well.

This all might read like especially harsh criticism of an industry event that, on the surface, is little more than rich actors and actresses patting each other on the back. That said, it’s absolutely crucial to avoid discounting the political importance of both the entertainment industry and events such as the Emmys.

First and most obviously, Trump rose to prominence through his mastery of the entertainment medium, and a significant portion of his campaign’s success stemmed from the fact that many individuals simply laughed him off for not being a traditional politician. Trump aside, the personalities and shows that were present at the Emmys have a profound impact on the nation’s political discourse. These things are incredibly influential, which should make anyone that hopes to push any semblance of a legitimate progressive agenda, incredibly concerned. The Emmys might have preached the Resistance, but the result was the same moral scolding and egotistical complacency in the face of very real political adversaries that has disillusioned so many leftist voters.

This is a systemic issue and the publicly left-leaning entertainment industry is hardly the only one at fault here. The New York Times hiring Bret Stephens, a noted climate change denier, and CNN’s revolving door of shrieking lunatic pundits, such as Corey Lewandowski’s brief tenure at the network, are the laziest possible ways a news organization could go about fostering diverse conversations and constructive cross talks. What goal is actually being accomplished here? Did any conservatives that consider The New York Times to be #FakeNews change their minds when Stephens was hired? His extreme pro-war opinions and factually incorrect views on climate change should immediately discount any notions that it was a move for journalistic integrity. So why?

The answer is likely the same for both the entertainment and news industries: Money. That’s a cynical take, but it’s backed up by facts. Tony Maddox, a CNN executive, openly noted that Trump was “good for business,” and it doesn’t take much research to see that other networks and shows that bombard viewers with 24/7 Trump coverage are also enjoying record levels of success. Colbert’s “The Late Show” suffered a slow start, but has exploded in popularity in the last year due to the host’s increasingly political takes. Though still one of the kings of late night programming, Jimmy Fallon is no longer the undisputed viewership champion, no doubt due to his show’s comparably apolitical themes.

It pays to appeal to one side of the political spectrum, but offering substantive support to the cause is a more difficult, and potentially divisive endeavor. That could equal less money, and therefore isn’t a recommended business strategy.

It’s probably going too far to assume that none of these people could completely care less about the politics they espouse. Most of these individuals have done good work to promote progressive causes and there are definite positive outliersI’ll make a strong argument for the genuine news and political value of John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight”but at some point, you need to draw the line. High viewership numbers and the funds that follow are the dominating force behind these weak partisan declarations and duplicitous Resistance support, and the Emmys were but the latest proof that the entertainment industry is anything but a proponent for serious political change, despite what one of Maher’s ghastlier, cringe-inducing 2016 monologues suggested. The notion that politicians should have tabled trans rights in order to appeal to more moderate voters is the kind of disgusting and horrifying centrism that is actively hurting the progressive movement. Though that is one of the more blatantly ugly examples of how major industry personalities are betraying the values of the people they claim to support, it’s far from the only one.

Going forward, it’d be more constructive for leftist activists to seek out other industries and organizations that are willing to serve as a genuine vehicle for progressive interests. Abiding by and wallowing in the mainstream entertainment industry’s elitist, self-serving arrogance is a prime example of why so many voters consider the Democratic Party to be out of touch, and if sincere efforts aren’t made to change that perception, that sentiment will almost certainly speak for itself again next in the next election cycle.

“Overwatch” champions inclusiveness in a divisive age


Blizzard released a comic strip revealing that their perpetually cheery video game hero Tracer is a lesbian last month.

This is groundbreaking, as many news organizations have accurately reported. Tracer is featured on the cover of “Overwatch,” Blizzard’s much-loved first-person shooter, and is essentially the game’s mascot. Though queer characters and their relationships have been somewhat touched upon by video games in the last few years, none have been so prominently displayed by major companies such as Blizzard.

“Tracer is a lesbian on the LGBTQ+ spectrum. As in real life, having variety in our characters and their identities and backgrounds helps create a richer and deeper overall fictional universe,” Blizzard said in a December statement to multiple publications. “From the beginning, we’ve wanted the universe of ‘Overwatch’ to feel welcoming and inclusive, and to reflect the diversity of our players around the world. As with any aspect of our characters’ backgrounds, their sexuality is just one part of what makes our heroes who they are.”

This is an obvious win for progressive values and the comic strip enjoyed widespread coverage. What’s been less reported is that beyond last month’s Tracer surprise, “Overwatch” is generally one of the entertainment industry’s most inclusive and relentlessly positive outputs in recent memory.

Pop culture is what many of us use to distance ourselves from the dreary slog of day-to-day life but I’d argue that the general entertainment medium has spectacularly failed to provide relief, much less clarity, to the political and social madness of the last year.

However, “Overwatch” has continued to champion social acceptance and tolerance in a mature and subtle fashion since its May release. Given our culture’s increasing divisiveness, the game’s inclusive themes are all the more relevant today.

Though “Overwatch” celebrates its characters’ diversity, it doesn’t do so in a manner that comes off as preachy or contentious. Tracer is a lesbian, but that’s just one part of her character design and is never unduly spotlighted or advocated. If she’s a caricature, she’d fit the “spunky comic book heroine” mold far better than a social justice warrior stereotype.

Tracer is a video game character, but she feels more human than some of the flesh-and-blood pundits that argue about social issues in real life. Parallels could also be drawn to Korra’s bisexuality in Nickolodeon’s excellent “The Legend of Korra” series, which featured a relatable and natural romantic progression as opposed to self-righteous social rhetoric. That’s a good thing.

Compare this to another major entertainment blockbuster of yesteryear:

Despite its innocuous nature, “Ghostbusters” resulted in unbelievable levels of harassment and hatred between so-called “femnazis” and “misogynists.” Which side was right or wrong isn’t the point — the fact is that for all the presumed themes of diversity and female empowerment, the film spawned far more conversations concerning divisiveness and sexist vitriol.

Conversely, gamers, who are generally not considered a socially progressive bunch, have celebrated “Overwatch’s” diversity. Tracer isn’t the only example: “Overwatch’s” humanism extends to much of its cast.

Lúcio is a dark-skinned man from a Brazilian slum, McCree is an American cowboy and Genji is an honor-obsessed Japanese cyborg ninja. That might seem like a collection of stereotypes but it never comes across as such. The characters are varied and realistic but Blizzard isn’t afraid to address difficult topics such as bigotry in their interactions.

The robotic Omnics are widely distrusted in the game’s lore, and that quasi-racism extends to Genji. But when other characters bring up his machine half, Genji responds with reassurance and positivity.

In most other cases, the characters are ecstatic to interact as a team and work towards a common goal. Happy, motivational quips are yelled throughout matches and characters frequently complement one another on their differences.

Little exchanges like this are peppered throughout the game and are so fleeting that they probably don’t even register consciously. In the sole instance that Blizzard received criticism regarding exploitation and insensitivity — a sexualized victory pose for Tracer available during the game’s beta — the company quickly issued a statement and changed the pose. That “Overwatch” manages to do all of this without igniting a social media firestorm about political correctness or social justice is one of its greatest strengths as a truly inclusive entertainment product.

The care Blizzard has put into “Overwatch’s” messaging is palpable and reflects on the community, which is far more positive and engaging than those of similarly popular shooters.

Of course, there’s still plenty of arguing and raging in-game, but it’s usually restricted to insulting one another’s gaming skill and is no worse than the usual lighthearted banter and trash talk that’s rooted in competitive gaming culture.

The average conversations I’ve experienced in games such as “League of Legends” would make most Twitter trolls cringe and I’ve been the victim of calculated, sustained harassment in MMO games in the past. I’ll take harmless badmouthing of someone’s kill/death ratio in “Overwatch” over that any day of the week.

If there was ever any doubt that positive, reserved messages of diversity and legitimate tolerance in gaming were not worth the effort, let “Overwatch” stand as a remarkable example of their success. In an age where pop culture has been infected by hatred, bigotry and closed-mindedness, “Overwatch” stands as a shining champion of inclusiveness done right and the greater entertainment medium would be wise to take note.