‘The Pub’ #86: Journalism and diversity under the Trump presidency

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Murthy, Ramsammy (Ramsammy photo: Adam Ragusea)

Murthy, Ramsammy (Ramsammy photo: Adam Ragusea)

When Reveal interviews a neo-Nazi like “alt-right” founding father Richard Spencer, is public media giving a platform to hate? Or is it shining a disinfecting light on a movement that has multiplied in the shadows?

Public media veteran Rekha Murthy and I argued that question on Facebook the other day. Afterward, she wrote a piece for MediaShift: “In These Uncertain Times, Public Media Should Stand Up for Truth and Democracy.”

In fleshing out her argument on The Pub, Murthy told me that public media do need to do stories about “alt-right” figures who now have a seat in the incoming Trump administration, but someone like Spencer probably shouldn’t get a full-on interview.

“We need to have more aggressiveness on maintaining a certain level of acceptable public discourse,” Murthy said.

This week on The Pub, we contemplate public media’s proper role in the coming Trump presidency. In addition to my conversation with Murthy, I offer a counter-argument to KUOW’s policy of replacing the term “alt-right” in its reporting with “white nationalism.”

Also, Andrew Ramsammy — another pubmedia veteran — lays out a vision for how pubcasters should value and pursue diversity in the Trump era. Ramsammy has recently founded a consultancy focusing on diversity in public media. I ask him: Who does public media need to try to include now? The people who elected Trump, or the people imperiled by his policies and rhetoric?

Please subscribe to The Pub in iTunes or your favorite podcast app, and leave us a rating and a comment! That will help boost our search results and allow people to find the show more easily.

We welcome your feedback on the show: You can reach me at adam@current.org or @aragusea on Twitter; my supervising producer at Current, Mike Janssen, is at mike@current.org; and you can contact Current generally at news@current.org or @currentpubmedia on Twitter.

If you’d like to offer a comment to be used in the program, please send on-mic tape (recorded in a studio, with a kit, a smartphone, anything) to adam@current.org either as an attachment or through Google Drive. Please keep it short!

Adam Ragusea hosts Current’s weekly podcast The Pub and is a journalist in residence and visiting assistant professor at Mercer University’s Center for Collaborative Journalism.

  • TomKaz

    Wow. And that’s not a complementary “wow”.

    I’ve never heard the term “alt right” until a couple months ago. When was the first time you heard the term Adam?

    Here are some questions you should ponder:

    – Is it beyond the realm of possibility that Steve Bannon’s definition of “alt right” is different than Richard Spencer’s? Is it at all possible Bannon used the term “alt right” (alternative right) as a label to differentiate his political beliefs from “establishment Republicans”? You know, beliefs like opposing illegal immigration, supporting strong borders, opposing foreign interventionism, supporting more favorable trade agreements, and supporting “extreme vetting” of refugees from countries that are home to terrorists? Or do these views make someone a racist or xenophobic?

    – Richard Bachtell, national chair of the Communist Party USA, encouraged his followers to vote for Hillary Clinton. Does that make Clinton a Communist? The MSM and NPR sure like to point out “Bannon’s appointment has been cheered by leaders of the Ku Klux Klan, the American Nazi Party and other white nationalist groups.”

    – Where is the actual evidence that Steve Bannon is a racist, misogynist, or anti-Semite? Does a column by a David Horowitz (Jewish) calling Bill Kristol an “extreme Jew” make Bannon an anti-Semite?

    – If Bannon is an anti-Semite, I suppose we’re going to see icy relations with Israel, and maybe an Oval Office brawl between Bannon and Jared Kushner, right?

    – Why is it “hilarious” that those who worked/went to school with Bannon say he’s not a racist/anti-semite?

    – How many Americans agree with Spencer’s kooky views, or have ever heard them?

    – Does the Trump Administration really “pose a grave threat to our Democracy”? How so?

    – What is “acceptable public discourse”? Is calling an illegal immigrant an “illegal immigrant” unacceptable? Says who?

    ‘These conditions are similar to Hitler’. That was the jump the shark moment for this interview.

    • Adam Ragusea

      “Wow. And that’s not a complementary ‘wow’.”

      Oh drat, and I made this episode specifically in the hope that you’d be proud of me, Tom. Back to the drawing board.

      “I’ve never heard the term ‘alt right’ until a couple months ago. When was the first time you heard the term Adam?”

      A year or two ago when I started following Milo Yiannopoulos.

      “Here are some questions you should ponder:”

      There is literally not a single question here that I had not already extensively pondered.

      “Is it beyond the realm of possibility that Steve Bannon’s definition of ‘alt right’ is different than Richard Spencer’s?”

      Considering that said Bannon said, proudly, in July that Breitbart is the “platform for the alt-right,” and that four months earlier Bannon had published an exhaustive and widely-read article by Yiannopoulos and Allum Bokhari defining the alt-right, my guess is Bannon’s definition is more or less aligned with what we see in that text: http://www.breitbart.com/tech/2016/03/29/an-establishment-conservatives-guide-to-the-alt-right/

      “Is it at all possible Bannon used the term ‘alt right’ (alternative right) as a label to differentiate his political beliefs from ‘establishment Republicans’?”

      I think that’s exactly how he used it, which is what I said in the show.

      “You know, beliefs like opposing illegal immigration, supporting strong borders, opposing foreign interventionism, supporting more favorable trade agreements, and supporting ‘extreme vetting’ of refugees from countries that are home to terrorists? Or do these views make someone a racist or xenophobic?”

      Above all else, I would think that someone holding several of those views would be ignorant. For example, most of our trade agreements are already obscenely favorable to the United States. We have massively disproportionate power in those negotiations. That’s one of the reasons why the rest of the world hates us. The United States has, on the whole, been hugely enriched by trade. The fact that those riches are not being enjoyed equitably is a different issue, one that Trump has studiously avoided.

      Likewise, I think supporting “extreme vetting” of Syrian refugees is mostly just stupid, because no such thing exists in any kind of practical form. Though I also think support of such a policy is probably xenophobic. I think the scale of the terrorist threat to Americans is likely minuscule compared to the threat presently facing Syrians, therefore I think those opposed to admitting Syrian refugees really just value American lives much more than Syrian lives, which strikes me as the definition of xenophobia, and/or tribalism, racism, etc.

      To the question of illegal immigration, there are a lot of good reasons to oppose illegal immigration. You should note that most liberals oppose illegal immigration too, they simply want to fix the problem via different methods — by changing immigration law to enable more people to enter the country legally, and by granting legal status to most of the people who came here illegally to circumvent a dysfunctional, arbitrary and arguably racist immigration system in pursuit of a better life for themselves and their children.

      Do I think those who take a harder line on illegal immigration are xenophobic? Most of them, yeah. It’s right there in their rhetoric, which is largely about ginning up resentment against people who are in the country illegally, instead of the employers who induce those people across the boarder in order to exploit them as a permanent underclass. Xenophobia is also present in Trump’s rhetoric about illegal immigration, in which he repeatedly pushes the demonstrably false narrative that people who are in the country illegally are more likely than the general population to commit violent crime.

      Steve Bannon in particular is on record as being opposed to both illegal and some legal immigration for cultural reasons, arguing that even legal immigration should be curtailed to prevent erosion of America’s dominant European cultural identity. That is, again, the definition of xenophobia.

      “- Richard Bachtell, national chair of the Communist Party USA, encouraged his followers to vote for Hillary Clinton. Does that make Clinton a Communist? The MSM and NPR sure like to point out ‘Bannon’s appointment has been cheered by leaders of the Ku Klux Klan, the American Nazi Party and other white nationalist groups.’”

      Firstly, your implied comparison of the American Communist Party and the KKK is absurd. Communism is an economic philosophy that, however flawed in practice, seeks to establish an egalitarian society. The KKK is a terrorist organization that seeks to subjugate or annihilate billions of people on the arbitrary basis of their immutable traits.

      Secondly, Clinton didn’t do anything to court extreme lefties. In contrast, Trump did plenty to court extremists.

      Thirdly, there was no particular groundswell of support among leftie extremists for Clinton. That’s part of the reason why she lost. In contrast, there was an enormous groundswell of support among racists and righty extremists for Trump.

      “Where is the actual evidence that Steve Bannon is a racist, misogynist, or anti-Semite? Does a column by a David Horowitz (Jewish) calling Bill Kristol an ‘extreme Jew’ make Bannon an anti-Semite?”

      It was “Renegade Jew,” FYI.

      I agree that the charge of anti-Semitism against Bannon is overblown given the available evidence. The most direct piece of evidence would be his ex-wife’s sworn testimony that he doesn’t like Jews and didn’t want their children to go to school with Jews. But that’s only one data point. I think it’s easier to argue that Bannon has enabled racists, misogynists and anti-Semites in both his leadership of Breitbart and of the Trump campaign. See former Breibart writer Ben Shapiro’s thoughts on the subject: http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/gist/2016/11/ben_shapiro_on_steve_bannon_the_alt_right_and_why_the_left_needs_to_turn.html

      “- If Bannon is an anti-Semite, I suppose we’re going to see icy relations with Israel, and maybe an Oval Office brawl between Bannon and Jared Kushner, right?”

      As I said, I think the charge of anti-Semitism against Bannon is overblown based on available evidence. However, I would refute your assertion that anti-Semites can’t also be pro-Israel. I think there are plenty of people who don’t like Jews but hate Muslims a lot more.

      “- Why is it ‘hilarious’ that those who worked/went to school with Bannon say he’s not a racist/anti-semite?”

      That’s not what I said was hilarious. I was talking about Steve Inskeep’s final question to Joel Pollak. I think it’s stupid to ask a yes or no question to someone when you know that in a million years the person would never say yes, unless you can definitely prove otherwise. Inskeep asked Pollak if his site (and Bannon and Trump, by extension) panders to racists. Pollak, of course, said no. Then Inskeep asked, incredulously, “really?” as if that was an actual counterargument. A better tact would have been to present Pollak with evidence of Breitbart pandering to racists and prompt him to refute it. Indeed, Inskeep was out of time by then, which is why he shouldn’t have asked the question in the first place.

      (I’m surprised to see you implicitly defending Steve Inskeep, Tom. Didn’t know you were such a fan.)

      Regarding the Globe article we discussed, you’ll recall that I actually defended it. However, I’ll also say that I think interviewing the supremely privileged and elite alums of Harvard Business School is probably not a particularly good way of determining whether someone is racist.

      “- How many Americans agree with Spencer’s kooky views, or have ever heard them?”

      Indeed, that’s Rekha’s whole argument. She’s saying a character like Spencer was relatively unknown before media attention made him bigger and therefore more dangerous. I share that concern. But I also think the President-elect’s co-chief counsel made himself famous by being the self-proclaimed tribune of the “alt-right,” therefore I think some investigation into the origin of that term the subculture it describes is warranted. That investigation leads back to Spencer, among others.

      “- Does the Trump Administration really ‘pose a grave threat to our Democracy’? How so?”

      I’m not going to have time to take that one on myself right now. Luckily, many others have done it already. Here’s one good example: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/donald-trump-is-a-unique-threat-to-american-democracy/2016/07/22/a6d823cc-4f4f-11e6-aa14-e0c1087f7583_story.html?utm_term=.0bb3cf923de3

      “- What is ‘acceptable public discourse’? Is calling an illegal immigrant an ‘illegal immigrant’ unacceptable? Says who?”

      Most mainstream news organizations have tried to avoid the term “illegal immigrant” in their own copy since 2013 or so, but they generally tolerate it when voiced by someone else. What they increasingly don’t tolerate is someone calling a person “an illegal,” because it implies that a human being’s entire personhood is illicit.

      Says who? Says us. That’s Rekha’s point. Professional, established media are, because of their position, stewards of the public discourse. Therefore it’s their responsibility to decide and enforce what views/language are in-bounds or out-of-bounds. There’s no way around it, because ultimately we decide who gets on air. See Hallin Spheres: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hallin's_spheres

      ‘”These conditions are similar to Hitler’. That was the jump the shark moment for this interview.”

      Actually, that was the moment when you outrageously misrepresented Rekha’s remarks. She was saying she DIDN’T want to compare Trump to Hitler. I didn’t compare Trump to Hitler either. I brought up Hitler to argue that I think journalists should interview all people who are in positions of influence, regardless of how odious their views may be. In fact, I think people with odious views warrant extra scrutiny from journalists, and one way to scrutinize people is to interview them.

      You’ll recall I tried to interview you once, Tom. Offer still stands.

      • TomKaz

        “my guess is Bannon’s definition is more or less aligned with what we see in that text”

        The text in the article says “the alternative right, more commonly known as the alt-right, is an amorphous movement. Some — mostly Establishment types — insist it’s little more than a vehicle for the worst dregs of human society: anti-Semites, white supremacists, and other members of the Stormfront set. They’re wrong.”

        The article doesn’t tell us what Bannon’s beliefs are.

        “most of our trade agreements are already obscenely favorable to the United States.”

        “Obscenely favorable” is a matter of opinion. Most of these trade agreements benefit investors, private business owners, and consumers. If you want to be cynical you could say they help the U.S. offshore a lot of pollution. But these agreements are not favorable for millions of U.S. workers, as well as taxpayers who fund a social safety net for those displaced/underemployed workers. Running massive trade deficits and watching trillions in investment capital flow oversees is not obscenely favorable to the United States imo.

        “I think supporting “extreme vetting” of Syrian refugees is mostly just stupid, because no such thing exists in any kind of practical form.”

        Again, I think that’s a matter of opinion. Should we really be taking in refugees if we can’t verify their backgrounds and associations, especially when our CIA Director said ISIL “is probably exploring a variety of means for infiltrating operatives into the West, including in refugee flows”, and our top NATO commander tells us ISIS is “spreading like a cancer” within the wave of refugees fleeing conflict in Syria and other countries into Europe? Remember, it only took 19 men to murder thousands of Americans and cause $40B in destruction (direct costs). Terrorism doesn’t require an army, or even a platoon.

        “You should note that most liberals oppose illegal immigration too, they simply want to fix the problem via different methods…”

        Please. Liberals want to import more voters who are dependent on government services, and Chamber of Commerce Republicans want to import more cheap labor. Simply giving “legal status” to millions of immigrants who came to the country illegally, or legalizing the flow of more cheap labor doesn’t result in an immigration policy that is a net benefit the United States and our standard of living. “Legal status” is just a stepping stone to citizenship. Do you recall the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986? 11 million illegal immigrants later, how was that legislation fundamentally different than what supporters of “comprehensive immigration reform” have proposed/promised? Granting legal status to illegal immigrants would just create a magnet for more illegal immigration.

        If you think people who resent immigrants for putting downward pressure on wages, or in some cases even taking their jobs, are xenophobic, I guess they are. It’s not as if some U.S. citizens haven’t had to train their replacements over the past few years.

        Granted, the cultural argument is pretty weak, at least in the U.S., and I don’t hear many American workers making it. For one reason or another, most immigrants to the U.S. assimilate over time. Most.

        Our current immigration policy (if you can call it that) is mostly a relic of the 19th/20th century. Half of recent college graduates in the U.S. can only find work in jobs that don’t require a college degree, and with the advent of robotics and other automation technologies, millions more workers will be un/under employed in the next few decades. Given this, why does it make sense to import millions more low-skilled workers when it’s plain to see the U.S. will struggle mightily to re-train or subsidize millions of U.S. citizens?

        Guilt by association, especially when the “association” a stretch, does nothing to further your argument. Curious as to why journalists like Rekha Murthy are up in arms about Steve Bannon, but seem to have little appetite for shining a disinfecting light on people like Keith Ellison (DNC chair candidate), someone who has real associations with anti-Semites.

        Whether you like it or not, Communism is an ideology that has resulted in the murder and imprisonment of millions through the course of history. It doesn’t have a very good track record when it comes to economic performance or human rights either. You may not realize it, but promising more government services, regulations, and taxes is courting lefties of all types, just like promising a tougher stance on illegal immigration will attract racist whack-jobs from the far right.

        “there was an enormous groundswell of support among racists and righty extremists for Trump.”

        Enormous groundswell? Can you quantify that? Are we talking .5% of the U.S. population or 1%? What qualifies as a “righty extremist”? Someone who thinks our immigration laws should be enforced?

        “I think it’s stupid to ask a yes or no question to someone when you know that in a million years the person would never say yes”

        NPR doesn’t do this with liberal guests?

        “I think interviewing the supremely privileged and elite alums of Harvard Business School is probably not a particularly good way of determining whether someone is racist.”

        Why? Are “supremely privileged and elite alums of Harvard Business School” inherently racist?

        “media attention made him bigger and therefore more dangerous.”

        I bet less than 5% of the U.S. population knows who Richard Spencer is, or what his kooky views are.

        “I think some investigation into the origin of that term and the subculture it describes is warranted.”

        I don’t disagree, but hanging Spencer’s views around Bannon’s neck without some direct evidence racist/anti-Semitic views are shared is unfair. I don’t recall the MSM (and especially public radio) trying to attach Jeremiah Wright’s or Bill Ayers’ views to Barack Obama. In fact, I recall just the opposite. And I don’t see the MSM dogging Keith Ellison for his associations with Louis Farrakhan, Kwame Ture, and an assortment of other anti-Semitic groups.

        “it’s their responsibility to decide and enforce what views/language are in-bounds or out-of-bounds.”

        Scary. Particularly when those in the journalistic field overwhelming hold the same political and social views.

        “Actually, that was the moment when you outrageously misrepresented Rekha’s remarks. She was saying she DIDN’T want to compare Trump to Hitler.

        Let’s get this straight. I didn’t misrepresent Rekha’s remarks — I never said you or Murthy tried to compare Trump with Hitler. I wrote “‘These conditions are similar to Hitler’. That was the jump the shark moment for this interview.” Allow me to clarify.

        Murtha said “We’ll I, you know, I can’t speak to that because it’s very, I know how everybody likes to talk right now how these conditions seem very similiar…”

        A claim that “EVERYBODY…” is a jump the shark moment, especially when the host doesn’t ask ‘who the he11 is everybody?’ and ‘what do you mean by conditions seem VERY SIMILAR?’ Murthy is obviously hearing this comparison from lots of people to make such a claim. Shouldn’t we know who? And doesn’t making a claim like “everybody…” normalize the idea that Trump and his political views are as radical and abhorrent as Hitler’s?

        I have absolute zero interest in an interview. Thank you.

  • Paul Cook

    NPR, Adam, Rekah, Current and public media have a major case of the vapors. LOL.

    • Adam Ragusea

      Hahaha, it’s funny because you’re not a member of a group that is directly imperiled by Trump’s rhetoric or policies, hahaha.

  • Frank Roosevelt

    While it is true that there is no evidence of millions illegals voting, it is also true that there is no evidence it is also true that there is no evidence that no illegal aliens voted. It is also a fact that recent legislation in California mandating automatic voter registration prohibits prosecution of illegal aliens who “accidentally” vote.

  • Frank Roosevelt

    The smug assertions that every lefty idea is “fact” is exactly why the public hold the media in such low regard. How about some investigation. Hint – to find voter fraud you have to look. Kinda funny that California wrote into their motor voter law text specifically barring prosecution of illegal immigrants who “accidentally” vote. Think that would be worth looking into.

    • Paul Cook

      Smug is a good descriptor. At the same they are arrogant and condescending while they assert their divinely revealed truth and moral superiority over the lowly, troglodyte, Trump supporters. After all, according to them in their so serious voice… Trump, his staff and his voters are racist at worst, or racist enablers at best. Add in a mixture of fascist, sexist and xenophilia for good measure all wrapped in a GOP package of HATE. Sniff…They have a moral imperative to tell everyone.

      Adam and Rekha aren’t NPR employees so I support their right to give voice to any view the want. However, as NPR surrogates, it’s odious for them to demand everyone be taxed so they can voice such a naked, partisan, and ultra liberal propaganda attack.