There’s an alarming trend occurring in journalism right now. Woke scolds are no longer content simply to fire those with forbidden points of view. They also want the power to decide who is entitled to call himself a journalist.
The newsletter platform Substack is the latest to undergo this fascinating phenomenon. Because it is home to unconventional thinkers, those who are uncomfortable with diverse points of view have tried to apply pressure to the platform itself. The idea that if you don’t like something you can simply not read it has crumbled. Now if you don’t like something, it must not exist. Tactics used by the cancellers make Saul Alinsky look like a Girl Scout.
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Glenn Greenwald, the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who has spent his entire career opposing big government surveillance, sometimes to the point of jeopardizing his safety, has somehow been targeted as a transphobe. Liberal science journalist Jesse Singal had the audacity to mention (and did so in the most apologetic and diluted way possible) the fact that some teenagers who seek sex reassignment surgery eventually regret the decision. For his apostasy, he has earned a relentless and coordinated attack so vicious and persistent that it’s indistinguishable from the bullying some lunatics on the right have employed against journalists they dislike.
Naturally, California is not only not immune from this unfortunate phenomenon of journalists trying to silence journalists, it is a world leader.
On Friday night CalMatters ran a story attacking the California Globe and other publications. The premise is that this publication and others do not meet CalMatters’ licensure requirements. And what neutral source do they turn to for proof? Gil Cisneros, the recently defeated Democratic Congressman, who lost his re-election bid in Calif 39 to Republican Young Kim.
Cal Matters quotes Cisneros saying, “It is unfortunate that there are outlets out there that are claiming to be legitimate media outlets and they’re not, whether it is the California Globe or Breitbart, which are just an extension of the Republican agenda. They’re not there to tell legitimate news stories or to report the news.”
In fact, the Globe employs two full-time California-based journalists and dozens of freelancers and has broken many important stories of public interest. We also happen to take fairness seriously. Just this week, we found ourselves in possession of a very juicy, properly sourced tidbit about a top Democrat. We decided to let it bake a little longer as we weighed the risk of losing the scoop vs. the public interest of a story that would possibly hurt those involved. But, whatever.
The CalMatters story also quotes Brookings Institute Senior Fellow Elaine Kamarck, a former Al Gore advisor, who tsk-tsks that “On the internet, you can pretend you’re a reliable source, that you’re a real newspaper, and people believe you.”
Perhaps it’s no surprise that CalMatters quotes two high-profile Democrats in a story about how biased its rivals are. But the troubling part about this—in case you don’t consider journalists trying to de-platform other journalists troubling enough—is that the example CalMatters raises in hoping to cancel the Globe is completely wrong. From the point of view of journalism ethics, the Globe did everything correctly, while in its own story about our sins, CalMatters committed one of the most egregious and obvious ethical breaches in all of journalism.
Here’s what happened.
In September, the Globe ran a story by our editor in chief Katy Grimes that noted several stock sales made by Congressman Cisneros. Soon after publication, Katy heard from a lawyer representing Cisneros named Andrew Werbrock, which challenged our story. Although what we reported was correct and true, he noted that our failure to contextualize the sales — which the congressman had indeed made — made the transactions seem more fishy than they actually were.
Katy brought the letter to my attention. This was the first time I’d heard of this issue or seen her story, and she and I discussed it. We reviewed together the emails she had sent to Cong. Cisneros press office prior to publication, asking for comment. We decided that the lawyer was essentially correct. Although what we printed was true, it was misleading and thus we decided to remove the story rather than just append one of those small-print corrections. We did so immediately, within hours of hearing from Werbrock, and he wrote to us to say “Thank you, Ken,” and added, “I appreciate the prompt response.” Given the speed of journalism, errors are inevitable. But that’s the right way to handle this kind of thing — reach out for comment before publication and quickly address legitimate requests for correction.
A few months later, CalMatters began asking Katy about this story. Ludicrously, the main question from Freddy Brewster was “Where did the information for this story come from?” I don’t know how CalMatters practices its journalism but at the Globe our sources know that when they speak to us, they do so in confidence. Brewster also wanted to know “How closely does Ken Kurson work with the California Globe?” My involvement is hardly a secret. Anyone who’s dying to read my stories about how AB5 affected California’s musicians or my scoop about Pacific magazine closing can find those and all my articles on my author page.
But the CalMatters story commits a much more fundamental breach of journalistic ethics. The story mentions me four times. The authors of the story never reached out to me for comment.
I accept that my links to high profile political figures is a fact of my existence. Journalists understand search engine optimization and the value of shoehorning names like “Jared Kushner” and “Donald Trump” into their stories, regardless of how little those people have to do with the matter at hand. And my own stupid behavior has certainly added to the irresistibility of using my name for clickbait. But how the hell do you write a story that negatively mentions me four times without asking me for comment? Especially in a story that scolds the Globe over our right to practice journalism?
The Globe gave CalMatters the opportunity that CalMatters failed to offer me. I asked Freddy Brewster why he hadn’t contacted me for comment. Brewster told me after he learned from Katy Grimes that I hadn’t been involved in the Cisneros story, he decided it wasn’t “relevant to contact you for comment.” I don’t agree with that conclusion, but I was heartened to learn that he’d at least given the matter some thought.
These little media feuds are never as interesting to real people as they are to journalists. The CalMatters story didn’t land any punches, and this reply won’t either. But I’m worried about something much more important than the hurt feelings of a few media types. The goal of powerful institutions is not just to win in the marketplace of ideas, it’s to hold a monopoly.
For years, complaints about the obvious leftward tilt of Twitter were met with, “Well if you don’t like it, start your own.” So Parler starts, and the instant people object to what’s being said there – and I don’t like a lot of it either – the giant monopolists literally unplugged the entire platform. Our little site here is doing OK with about 1 million page views a month. But the idea that we’re a threat to the very serious people at CalMatters is a joke. They don’t want to beat us in traffic or influence. They want us not to exist. That ought to concern all fair-minded people, including those who dislike what they perceive as our political bent.
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