Late Wednesday evening, The New York Times published a highly slanted article that, among other things, demonstrated why the establishment media in America has a reputation little better than that of Congress.
Unfortunately, that’s about the only thing the article demonstrated.
That The Times would assign Pulitzer Prize-winning Nick Confessore to this hit piece for months is, of course, a compliment to how influential The Times believes The Western Journal to be — or of how scared the establishment is that President Donald Trump is going to do another end-run around them all the way to a second term by once again tapping into the so-called “new media” from which American voters increasingly get their news. (Or both.)
Regardless, in a piece that accuses The Western Journal of publishing only “carefully selected” facts that support our “narratives,” Confessore carefully selected his own facts and omitted others, misconstruing — or perhaps simply misunderstanding — what The Western Journal does, who we are, and who we try to be.
It’s far from the most important problem with the piece, but I can literally start with Confessore’s first sentence: “Each day, in an office outside Phoenix, a team of young writers and editors curates reality.” I appreciate the compliment, but I’m 51 — eight years older than Confessore himself. And I’m not the oldest member of the editorial team, only one of whom besides me, to my knowledge, Confessore has ever met or talked with. No wonder he doesn’t know our ages. Maybe he should have asked.
But that would have interfered with his own “narrative,” since Confessore seems to want you to hear “inexperienced,” “unqualified” or perhaps even “amateurish” when he describes our team as “young.”
About all I can say in response to that sentence is: I wish. I haven’t been called young in this century.
While we’re on the subject, Confessore also stated that The Western Journal “hired copy editors with traditional journalism training” in 2018, strongly implying that no such copy editors existed at the publication prior to that. That’s simply untrue.
The second hire The Western Journal (then called Western Journalism) made outside of the Brown family who started it was a journalist and editor with significant newspaper experience. He led and oversaw the editorial process of the site for years. Other editors have come and gone since then, of course, but The Western Journal has always had at its core a team of editors with significant experience in traditional journalism. For that matter, nearly all of our current editors were working with us prior to 2018.
Talk about curating reality.
(For the record, we hired exactly one story editor in 2018. She was right out of college; we hired her after she completed a successful internship with us, not because she brought additional lines to our collective resume.)
Similarly, Confessore mentions that, “Until recently, some of its most prolific writers used pseudonyms.” There was one “prolific” writer who used a pseudonym until recently — an American ex-pat living in a Muslim-majority country who often wrote on topics — like radical Islam — that gave him cause to fear potential reprisal, either official or otherwise. “Recently,” that government implemented new policies that he felt offered him more protection, and as such he began writing under his own name.
There is no connection to The Times inquiry about pseudonyms and this change, despite the credit The Times would like to take for it by stating that the change occurred “after The Times asked about the practice.”
And for The Times to use “C.O. Jones” — an “author” (actually an Op-Ed writer) on The Western Journal who had one published piece on the site from years ago that was archived quite some time back — as an example of pseudonym use on the site is … well, let’s just say that choice took some cojones on the part of The Times.
I’ll also point out that there is a long tradition of the use of pseudonyms by writers who value individual liberty and are concerned about big government tyranny. Among others, a “perspectives” piece in The Washington Post names Thomas Paine, John Dickinson, Alexander Hamilton, Arthur Lee, John Jay, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison as writers who “helped make America great” by writing either anonymously or pseudonymously.
And who could blame them for wanting to avoid being named in an error-riddled, narrative-driven hit piece like Confessore’s?
One would think that at least some of this would have been considered context important enough to be “fit to print.” But, again, the use of pseudonyms implies that The Western Journal has something to hide — and that fits the narrative better than the full truth would.
And speaking of narratives, Confessore complains of The Western Journal’s discussion of “narratives” — as if we were somehow inventing them:
“The message comes first, then facts carefully selected to support it. Only after editors decide the framing of a story, and write the headline, is it handed off to a pool of contract writers, most working remotely. Deadlines are tight: A typical story must be filed within 30 minutes.”
Once again: I wish. If we could consistently publish useful, accurate, fully edited and fact-checked articles every 30 minutes, my life would be a lot easier.
But, more importantly, that is a blatant mischaracterization of how The Western Journal attempts to respond — not create — but respond to existing narratives in the establishment media. We identify areas in our culture that are under attack by the establishment (and, in this sense, I mean “establishment” broadly — big government, big tech, Hollywood, and what I used to refer to as the “mainstream media” when CNN had more of an audience) but worthy of defense, and other areas being defended by the establishment but worthy of attack.
But the defining issue for us is always truth. We identify lies and misinformation — or a lack of information — being promulgated by the establishment, and we engage with readers on those points. It’s as simple as that, and our Ethics and Editorial Standards spell all that out plainly.
Do we fail at that? Of course we do. Our Corrections Page would be pretty empty otherwise. But that’s our intent, in every paragraph of every article on every day.
There are other issues, of course.
For example, Confessore claims that we “dispatched” Herman Cain to Trump’s mid-July “social media summit.” If you’ve ever been to the White House, you know how far being “dispatched” to it would get you — outside the fence, looking in, under the penetrating gaze of a number of well-armed Secret Service agents. The Times must think The Western Journal is influential indeed if they believe we can “dispatch” people to any room in which the president himself is sitting.
The reality is that Cain, who works with The Western Journal as a sort of informal contributing editor, was invited by The White House to attend. Yes, he represented The Western Journal there. No, he wasn’t dispatched there. In fact, he wasn’t even invited because of his association with The Western Journal — he was invited because he’s Herman Cain.
Granted, Confessore’s writing is excellent, and his use of the subtle language of persuasion impeccable. Note his statement that The Western Journal serves an “ever-agitated audience,” as if “agitation” were somehow pejorative. (Here’s a hint: If you pay attention to the actions of the establishment media and federal government — not to mention Big Tech — and aren’t “agitated,” you’re not actually paying attention.) And what did he think the response of the typical Times reader would be to his piece, if not agitation? He uses words like “outrage” in a similar fashion, as if it’s somehow objectionable to be outraged at current events.
If we want to talk outrage aimed at an ever-agitated audience, how about we take Confessore’s use of the canard that “Media and government investigations had revealed how Russian agents used Facebook and Twitter to help Mr. Trump get elected, in part by targeting voters with divisive or misleading stories.” There is no doubt that Russia tried to influence the election — but there is no evidence that a single voter was swayed by anything Russia did or didn’t do. None. FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver analyzed the Russian interference and the most he could say was that he was “fairly agnostic” about its effects.
As a final note, I should mention that some of this article — everything about our internal processes, for instance — appeared because we invited The New York Times to our offices on multiple occasions and shared information with them in good faith. We were hoping for a more honest portrayal of our practices and priorities than this hit piece turned out to be.
We did this because we believe that good societies are built, in part, on mutual trust, a basic understanding of fundamental truths, and plain speaking.
Maybe our trust in The New York Times and its journalists was misplaced, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.
UPDATE, Aug. 23, 2019: After the publication of this editorial, The New York Times issued the following correction:
Correction: Aug. 22, 2019
An earlier version of this article misstated the length of time that Western Journal writers have to file a story. It is typically one to two hours, and in some cases as little as 30 minutes; it is not typically 30 minutes. The article also erroneously stated that Western Journal hired experienced copy editors in 2018; it hired experienced editors in prior years, not in 2018. And an earlier version misstated Patrick Brown’s height; he is 6-foot-6, not 6-foot-3.
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