Things I’m Verbing: Cold War throwbacks, A-list blackouts and the new underground

It’s the Friday before Christmas, and… this is where we are, basically:

About that:

  • Yeah, Trump still hasn’t moved beyond “if we have nuclear weapons, why shouldn’t we use them?” Max Fisher clarifies the tweet (ugh) that set it all off this morning for the New York Times.
  • Trump’s inauguration is basically turning into a talent blackout — no one of note is willing to associate with him or celebrate him. Which is what makes it cool that the union representing the Rockettes is forcing them to perform.
  • North Carolina just earned a 58/100 score from the Electoral Integrity Project, putting it somewhere in the neighborhood of “authoritarian states and pseudo-democracies like Cuba, Indonesia and Sierra Leone,” according to the report’s creator. Pair with Atlanta artist Cory Thomas’ comic “The weirdness of being black in white spaces after the election.”
  • There’s never been a better time (other than the past) for media literacy, and the Establishment breaks down your 2017 guide to overthrowing the media. Complements 99 Ways to Fight Trump and the Indivisible guide, now available in a nice/easy-to-follow PDF.
  • Finally, just unrelated and interesting and engrossing and affecting, “Before We Were Good White” by Jennifer Niesslein for Full Grown People, about family history, poverty and class in America. Also, an unsolved murder amid Prohibition-era bootlegging.

Stay brave, friends. And as we go into the weekend (and the holiday, for all you celebrants out there):

 

Things I’m Verbing: Falling down a chimney, lighting the oil and rereading history

The news keeps being heavy. I’m trying not to burn myself out, but it feels unbearable in its own way not to be a witness and speak out against this. If you want to stop here, that’s totally fine; here’s a first-person account of falling down a chimney for clicking over, which I appreciate. For something more apolitical, you might enjoy “Wishing Away the Wish List,” about the holidays and the desire to be known; for something about education, try “‘How Old Is the Shepherd?’ The Problem That Shook School Mathematics,” about liberating students from stupid pedagogy.

Here comes the rest:

Stay brave, friends.

Things I’m Verbing: Insurance conspiracies, gatekeeping whiteness and how linguistics could save the republic

I love getting to kick off with an announcement of new work, and I’ve been especially excited about this piece for a while. Earlier this year, while I was trying to find a psychiatrist who actually took my insurance, one doctor sighed and said that I didn’t hear it from her, but insurance companies definitely pad their online networks to make it look like they provide exponentially more coverage than they really offer. I got curious, especially because my insurance is very, very low-income, and I wondered if this was a feature of low-income versus high-income plans.

Turns out it was something else entirely, much less sinister but immensely more frustrating. And that story found a home at Vice’s new health section, Tonic, which — I can’t state enough how good the work has been there. I’m so looking forward to seeing how it grows. For now: Why It’s Such a Struggle to Find an In-Network Therapist.” Please feel free to share far and wide, obviously, and I’d love to hear what you think.

And if any outlets out there want to hire me and give me better insurance, by all means, let’s please chat.

  • Yesterday I finally had the experience of being not at all bothered by a story that was sending my Twitter feed up in arms. However, if you understand that antisemitism is racial hatred and that the Holocaust was about racial purity, it will not shock you very much that “Are Jews White?” is a real question the Atlantic is asking. It’s an excellent piece by Emma Green, and it’s a question many Jews online have been discussing for some time. Green addresses concerns from the left and the right in a follow-up post with poise and precision; this article is not what you think it is going in, and I applaud it.
  • On a related note, the Guardian’s “Google, Democracy and the Truth About Internet Search” starts off with a simple question: Are Jews evil? It autofilled in the search field, after all. And so Carole Cadwalladr takes us down a rabbit hole about who owns and controls information, as well as the literally viral nature of the right-wing web. An absolutely phenomenal piece, which has already — well, had some real-life effects.
  • Meanwhile, you’ve got to read BuzzFeed’s wonderful Charlie Warzel on where Donald Trump gets his news. This is a visual, data-driven effort that just…. well, it proves a point about wide-ranging media diets, while also pairing with the above piece on the right-wing web rather well.
  • There will never not be a place for post-election processing. I refuse to believe “we’re all moving past that now” and that people are sick of it. Exhibit A: Aliza Layne’s comic about queer artists and the forces that want to shout down their art, their self-expression and their very being. Exhibit B: author Chuck Wendig’s explanation of the “white working class” psyche, as exemplified by his father. Exhibit C: my photo up top; people haven’t stopped leaving encouraging post-its all over subway stations along 14th Street in New York. I do hope this continues.
  • On the Media spoke to a cognitive linguist this week about how the very act of talking about Trump normalizes him. It sounds horrible, but it’s fascinating, and more than that — there’s something actionable within it that journalists and citizens can do to fight.

Good luck out there, friends.

Things I’m Verbing: “We Reject the President-Elect” and a WPA for Journalism

I marched in my first take-over-the-streets mass protest Wednesday night. Conveniently, I’d scheduled therapy for the day after the election, but I’d done all my crying before that. I’d heard there was going to be some sort of protest at Union Square, about a 10-minute walk from my therapist’s office, so I grabbed a pita from the halal food truck parked on Sixth Avenue and planned to go eat in Madison Square Park before joining in. But I heard the roar of the crowd just then; the front of the march streamed past me. “Join in!” someone yelled. So, carrying my Gatorade under one arm and my styrofoam plate of chicken and hot sauce in my other hand — I did.

What is there to say? I’ve never felt the national mood change so direly before, and I include 9/11 in this. I’ve been glued to Twitter; it seems like the only place I can rage and grieve right now, and make no mistake: this is grief. Last night I had dinner with a dear friend; we ordered three very hot dishes by accident, but neither of us cared, because at least we could feel something, as we joked.

I’ve been thinking about this tweet a lot:

I’ve started speaking up more now. I don’t feel so constrained by the fear of getting into online fights with other people’s conservative friends and relatives. The stakes are too high. Donald Trump has spent the past year and a half promising he’s going to harm the most vulnerable among us, and I believe him.

This is not normal. I’ve never seen my nation this scared. Only one-quarter of eligible voters elected this man, and Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. Children are terrified. Minorities and queer people are terrified. White nationalists are openly celebrating; antisemites are getting bolder; our enemies abroad are pouring champagne. Trump voters are getting angry that they’re being called out for supporting bigotry, passively or tacitly. They were only 25%. They had voter suppression and intimidation on their side, whether they like it or not. They have no right to hold us hostage like this.

I see the desperate petitions for President Obama to simply appoint Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, for California to secede, to eliminate the Electoral College, for the electors to go rogue and simply not empower such a profoundly dangerous, unethical and uninterested candidate. I don’t know what I believe can and will happen anymore.

Earlier this week I said I believed that “objectivity,” whatever that means in journalism, is a copout and that supporting or at least not challenging Donald Trump puts everything I hold dear in danger. I stand by that more than ever now. I know we in the media are supposed to be soul-searching right now, to be less snide and presumptive. I wonder how many have simply forgotten j-school in a bumper sticker: Afflict the comfortable, comfort the afflicted. Moreover, as I think going back through this blog will show, the media did tell the truth about Donald Trump. Voters simply didn’t care.

I am a journalist, and I believe journalism should be a force for good in the world. Over the next few weeks, I want to talk to people who can help me make that happen. I’ve discovered that I’m not the only one who wants a 1930s approach to media — a New Deal, a Civilian Conservation Corps, a Works Progress Administration. I grew up in Appalachia, in “flyover country.” I will go back if someone invests in sending me. I call on media companies to put their money where their mouth is. I don’t need to be in New York to do great work. You have a surplus of immensely qualified journalists here. I suggest you use them.

Obviously this will mean figuring out what a WPA for journalists would look like. I’ve spent a lot of time outlining questions — who will these journalists serve, local or national audiences? What kind of journalism do communities really want? How can we support the journalism that’s already out there, but suffocating from being understaffed, devalued, hated, underpaid? What could we do to support journalists who expected to make it in New York, but would find themselves in communities they don’t recognize? What’s the desired end result, and is it achievable? How do you compete with for-profit journalism that simply tells audiences what they want to hear?

Please email me if you want to talk about this further: esther.bergdahl@gmail.com. I want your help, your ideas, your energy. A lot of people are out there doing good works today. This is going to be my thing. Let’s fix what we can, no matter how small the steps.

And now, a few links, though I hope you’ve also been browsing those included above:

Things I’m Verbing: Giant Meteor 2016

Growing up, I always wanted political lawn signs at our house, and I was always disappointed we didn’t have any. It’s not like it would have been a drastic statement of any kind. We lived in a college town surrounded by some of the last New Deal Democrats of an increasingly red Ohio. Was anyone going to be surprised if we had a Clinton/Gore or a Ted Strickland placard out front?

I mentioned this to my dad the other day. “Well,” he said, “we wanted to, but your mom didn’t think her patients should have to worry about how their therapist was voting.” I don’t know why that never occurred to me, and it makes all the sense in the world. Now, as a journalist, I’m also in a profession that asks me not to declare allegiances when it could create a conflict of interest in my reporting. I understand the instances in which I’d want to be a blank slate for my sources, to be as neutral a palette as possible for them to speak their truths to, and I admire those who can.

This year, however, I do think a vote for Donald Trump is a vote against everything I stand for, as a journalist, as a Jew, as a woman, as an American, as a human being who lives in a wider world. I’m not just saying that as a lifelong Democrat; this year, we’ve been given plenty of evidence by both major candidates about fitness for office. Today’s link roundup is already a bit backward-facing. Poynter, for instance, has already listed its choices for top political journalism of the year. But like a lot of my friends, I think Roxane Gay speaks for me: “This anxiety is exhausting to watch,” she writes for the New York Times. “But regardless of this election’s outcome, Tuesday will not and cannot be the end of the world. We don’t have that luxury.”

Here are some big-picture pieces to tie up the discovery phase of this election, plus some other things — because we have to remember that, in fact, there’s still more in heaven and earth, &c.

Go vote.

Things I’m Verbing: Science smackdowns, Trump-loving grandmas and what even is a Playborhood?

While you weren’t looking, Scientific American posted one of the most damning, a-plague-on-everybody’s-house political broadsides I’ve maybe ever seen. Right, left, objective, biased, it doesn’t matter: Everyone gets the unfunny version of “being read for filth.” You need to read “A Plan to Defend Against the War on Science” for so many reasons, but the root of it is this: When science becomes subject to politics and not observable facts, whether that’s denying climate change or misunderstanding GMO foods or even choosing what observable facts even are, that opens the door to a situation like, well, Donald Trump, where baldly lying to gain absolute power becomes the new normal.

A family friend mailed this out this morning, and I’m so glad, honestly — because even This American Life is getting anxious about the state of truth and lies in this country. Major points off for uncritically using the term “illegal immigrants” over and over, Ira Glass, but on the other hand, this episode also gives us Hamilton star Leslie Odom Jr. singing in character as President Obama, courtesy of composer and singer Sara Bareilles, and… it’s actually really, really good.

  • The economics of the news industry have undoubtably contributed to the rise of partisan facts. Part of that is the sterility of media ownership: It’s limited and homogenous and desperately underfunded, in most cases. To demonstrate the extent of the problem, the University of North Carolina has issued an important report on the rise of new media barons, as well as an interactive website to help answer an all-important question: Who owns your hometown paper?
  • There’s a whole genre of “trying to understand the other side” pieces, of “how could nice people vote for X candidate?” essays. Amy Kurzweil, who has just published her first graphic memoir, about her Holocaust-survivor grandmother and how that experience plays out through three generations, has added a wonderful addition to the mix. Imagine said Holocaust-surviving grandmother announcing that she liked Donald Trump.
  • Speaking of Donald Trump, opinion pieces and brilliant women, read Alexandra Petri’s “Nasty Women Have Much Work to Do.” Hilarious, powerful and beautiful don’t begin to describe it.
  • Ah, parenting. Ah, helicopter parenting? Ah, Silicon Valley dads who think the best solution to kids being too controlled by their parents to take risks is… something called a Playborhood. There’s a lot that’s interesting about this article, because it’s true: How are you going to break free of over-scheduled kid syndrome if your kid is the only one breaking free? But also… this seems like the perfect example of a Silicon Valley dude thinking that “disruption” is the best and only solution to just about anything he doesn’t like.
  • I haven’t been able to shake “We Have Tried Every Kind of Death Possible.” Raed Saleh used to buy and sell electronics in a small town in Syria. Now he’s the head of the White Helmets, volunteers who rush to extract survivors from bombed buildings. Every platitude about how heart-wrenching his account of this life is falls flat in the face of the fact of it.

Image Credit: NASA/Goddard/Debbie Mccallum