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“On independent media.”
A note to readers.
17 FEBRUARY—“I am floored by the MSM black out of the Justice Dept findings that HRC paid ppl to spy on a sitting Prez. It’s close to an explicit admission that they are not news agencies at all but PR firms for a powerful sector of the ruling class.”
That is Kathy Woods, a supporter of our endeavors, generous of spirit, quick of mind and wit, on Twitter the other day. She was responding to Glenn Greenwald’s Twitter note about the Durham investigation’s filings last Friday, which indeed accuse the Clinton campaign of illegally spying on the Trump campaign in 2016 and the Trump White House in 2017. “See if you can find liberal outlets covering this,” Greenwald concluded.
My reply to Ms. Woods was brief: “At this point they’ve swept more under the carpet than there is on top of it. This is not, by definition, long-term sustainable.”
For the record, The New York Times finally published a piece on the Durham filings—on Tuesday, four days late—so far as one can make out because this was simply too big a lump to hide under a rug. As those who follow The Times would naturally anticipate, this is a classic case of the once-but-no-more newspaper of record twisting itself into a pretzel to obscure what other publications effectively forced it to report.
My favorite passage in the Times report is three paragraphs in. “These narratives… tend to involve dense and obscure issues,” the report states, “so dissecting them requires asking readers to expend significant mental energy and time—raising the question of whether news outlets should even cover such claims.”
Can you think of a clearer invitation to readers to stop right there? It is all too complicated to follow, The Times wants us to know, so we don’t think much of the idea of reporting this story.
I think I understand.
In truth, the Durham filings—which, to be clear, allege or accuse but do not prove anything or convict anyone—are immense by way of their factual discoveries and significance. The only thing complicated about the matter is the Times piece, an exquisite example of purposeful obfuscation. We covered it, they are now able to say on Eighth Avenue, even as they didn’t.
The Times piece, here, was written by Charlie Savage. Charlie Savage was a well-above-average reporter with The Boston Globe before The Times picked him up. Then he started covering Russiagate and other stories of consequence to the national security state, and Charlie Savage’s ethics and professional standards went right to hell.
I am not prepared to call Charlie Savage—the gravest of charges here—a lying dog-faced pony soldier. Certainly it would be wholly unfair to single him out: He is just one of countless in the craft, and far from the worst, who collect their checks for not doing their jobs. For performing very like lying dog-faced pony soldiers, this is to say.
This is how it happens in the “MSM.” This is how an earnest-enough news reporter becomes a clerk for Washington’s propaganda-spinning elite. This is how the corporate-owned press lets us down—forsakes us to wander in a state of ignorance they dedicate their resources to creating.
This is why the responsibilities of independent media grow larger by the day. And this is why I now address The Scrum’s readers.
For a long time, weeklies and dailies not part of the corporate-owned press were called “alternative.” Those old enough to recall the underground press scene in the 1950s and 1960s will know the term well enough. The East Village Other was “an alternative newspaper.” The L.A. Free Press, the Freep, was “alternative.” There were lots of these around. The “alternative” paper in Atlanta was called The Great Speckled Bird.
I never cared much for the term “alternative media” and avoid using it now even in conversation. There are only media, in my view. They are of greater or lesser quality, integrity, and reliability; they have greater or fewer resources at their disposal and greater or lesser reach. Our media have more or less power, one to the next, and a larger or smaller place in public discourse.
But “alternative,” a term that seems to have arisen among other-than-mainstream media themselves, is a great disservice. It places the “alternative” in a diminished position next to supposedly standard-setting superiors, so casting them as perennially in opposition to a prior version of events. This is no longer remotely the case, if ever it was. Soi-disant alternative media are emphatically for now, not merely against—for perfectly ordinary, discernible truths, for genuine accounts of events that stand on their own two feet.
Nomenclature is always important. You have to name things properly to understand them properly. What were once “alternative media” we now call “independent media.” Two realities are instantly clear.
One concerns the matter of responsibility, as just suggested. Independent media—the best of them, anyway—now bear burdens few of us working this end of the garden would’ve anticipated even a decade or so ago. With the collapse of the mainstream’s ethics and professional standards and the consolidation of the press’s relationship to power, the journalist must answer to himself or herself: If one wants to keep working and preserve one’s integrity, there is no choice but to step beyond the fence posts marking out the permissible and take the consequences, which can be severe.
As the splendidly vulgar LBJ would have put it, you’re either inside the tent pissing out or outside the tent pissing in. Independent journalists stand in the latter location because it is where they must be to carry on.
That is one kind of responsibility. The other, larger responsibility is to readers and viewers. Given the state of things—the unexpectedly dire state of things, I will say—independent journalists owe their readers and viewers. They have a debt to them. It is not a small debt. It was a Fox News report last Friday that put the Durham filings in front of television-viewing Americans. The Times then dismissed Fox News as right-wing media. (And I now see that NPR has Fox down as “far-right media.”) But it is Greenwald and a few others who defend the truth of the Durham court filings with only one label: They are independent.
This responsibility, this debt, what is owed runs all the way through what Americans read and see every day. Independent journalists are absolutely essential now to keep the record straight on foreign affairs. Just today a piece from Jacobin came across reporting on the Biden administration’s perverse determination to privatize Medicare by the end of this decade. I knew nothing of this when I awakened this morning because corporate-owned media are leaving the story uncovered. Now I know: An independent publication reported it.
Now to the second reality that naming independent media accurately makes clear. None of us enjoys the support of large corporations or dreadful human beings such as Jeff Bezos. (And what Washington Post staff tell themselves they are doing with their lives as they get out of bed each day is quite beyond me.) Being independent means we have to find our ways to solvency or as close to it as we can manage by way of support from readers and viewers.
No, it is not easy. No, we wouldn’t have it any other way, things being as they are. Yes, we now ask for your support.
We began publishing The Scrum in the final months of 2020, naming it to honor a group of us who gathered as regularly as we could in New York. This group included Steve Cohen, the celebrated Russianist, and Sherle Schwenninger, a wonderful friend and an excellent mind, who had passed away within a few days of one another. We since have done our best to hold to the principles and ideals that bound us all together as we cover foreign affairs, economics, social questions, intellectual currents, the media, and other such topics. Among our principles have been these: nothing is too complicated for the general reader providing one takes the time to write it well, and clear language is beyond negotiation.
We couldn’t be more pleased or grateful for the group of supporters who have voted in favor of the work. We count these friends, and a number of them good friends. We take great pleasure in our exchanges with these readers. Now we want to go further, with more of them.
And we take our responsibilities to our readers very seriously. The E.V.O., The Bird, and the underground press were one thing and long ago. The stakes are far higher now. Is it too much to say what is at issue is our polity, our shared village green, the dismantling of our empire? We don’t think so.
In the course of our new year we want to publish more and vary the mix—with pieces “on the news” and “off the news,” in newspaper parlance. My aspiration for some years has been the blur the line between the 700–word column and the longer essay. We think our times call for this kind of writing and want to do more in this line, time-consuming as essays often are.
We also plan to bring other voices into the publication. We have already begun to do this, but we insist on paying contributors to the best of our resources. This is high among our several priorities.
So it is that we appeal to readers to join us as paid subscribers. And we put to all of you a larger thought, simply stated: Support independent media, whichever your preferences may be. The Scrum needs the support of those who find what we do worthy. And we are not alone in this. We want to grow—and to grow along with a sustainable independent press. It is where journalism’s future lies—and so everybody’s.