A reporter I knew in the nineties had a similar joke about newspaper editorials. He said there were five op-eds: Crossroads moment, Seismic shift, Reach across the aisle, Cautiously optimistic, and One thing’s for sure, time will tell.
In the eighties and nineties and early 2000s, punditry was so formulaic, you could spot future stars just by scanning the newsroom for the person least inclined to original thought. One glance at David Brooks or Thomas Friedman had editors thinking, kerching!
A few of us were embarrassed to be pulling paychecks for work this crude — even the proudest blowhard cringes after writing “Concerns mount” for the fiftieth time, and I speak from experience there — but the shame was tempered by the fact that journalists as a group tended to be broke, drunk, and able to laugh at themselves.
This is changing. As we saw this week, the intramural disputes in the sandbox we used to call the liberal media have become comically, insanely toxic. The ongoing spat between Cenk Uygur’s The Young Turks and comedian Jimmy Dore — which saw Uygur accusing Aaron Mate of being “paid by the Russians” and finger-flipping co-host Ana Kasparian threatening to out Dore as a sexual harasser — has been freakish to follow, recalling Sinaloa chainsaw videos or the girl-scout-on-girl-scout bar brawl epic in Airplane!
For ages the joke about media beefs was a variation of Sayre’s law about academic politics, i.e. they’re vicious “because the stakes are so low.” This dynamic is different. People are trying to destroy each other. They’re flinging career-ending epithets like traitor, racist, and abuser across cyber-space in the sincere hope they stick.
Our target reader used to be the person sipping coffee at a moment like the present, a cool Saturday morning, lazily turning pages as birds chirped outside the window. Our target reader now is a rage addict who read this morning’s news five times over already last night, furiously scrolling through a phone for “receipts” to fire back at some troll on Twitter… wait, that was me.