Voices from the collapse of mainstream media

Lorenzo M Warby
5 min readAug 6, 2020

The ideas that catch on are the ones that win in narrative warfare. … That rivalrous game-theoretic environment is going to be selecting for what is effective, not what is true. And definitely not what is good for the whole.
Daniel Schmatchenberger

There is a mantra about of “go woke, go broke”. But Jessie Singal has suggested that in media, it is more “go broke, go woke” as the collapse of standard media business models makes it harder to sustain diversity of thought. He made the point in a Rebel Wisdom discussion.

The recent resignation of Arian Pekary from MSNBC speaks to Singal’s point:

But behind closed doors, industry leaders will admit the damage that’s being done.

“We are a cancer and there is no cure,” a successful and insightful TV veteran said to me. “But if you could find a cure, it would change the world.”

As it is, this cancer stokes national division, even in the middle of a civil rights crisis. The model blocks diversity of thought and content because the networks have incentive to amplify fringe voices and events, at the expense of others… all because it pumps up the ratings.

See also her follow up post on how Fox is also narrative driven.

Columnist Barbara Kay’s resignation from the National Post in Canada speaks on the conformity pressures now operating:

Since the early 2000s, journalists have anticipated the demise of their own industry. But we wrongly assumed that this decline would be driven exclusively by economic and technological factors. In recent months especially, it’s become clear that ideological purges have turned a gradual retreat into what now feels like a full-on rout. This is not a case of a lack of demand: The rise of popular new online sites shows that Canadians are eager for fresh voices and good reporting. Rather, legacy outlets are collapsing from within because they’ve outsourced editorial direction to a vocal internal minority that systematically weaponizes social media to destroy internal workplace hierarchies, and which presents its demands in Manichean terms. During the various iterations of political correctness that appeared since the 1990s, National Post editors fought against this trend. But as the public shaming of Rex Murphy shows, some now feel they have no choice but to throw down their weapons and sue for peace.

Bari Weiss’s resignation from the New York Times has been the most famous recent instance of conformity pressures leading to public exit.

Twitter is not on the masthead of The New York Times. But Twitter has become its ultimate editor. As the ethics and mores of that platform have become those of the paper, the paper itself has increasingly become a kind of performance space. Stories are chosen and told in a way to satisfy the narrowest of audiences, rather than to allow a curious public to read about the world and then draw their own conclusions. I was always taught that journalists were charged with writing the first rough draft of history. Now, history itself is one more ephemeral thing molded to fit the needs of a predetermined narrative.

My own forays into Wrongthink have made me the subject of constant bullying by colleagues who disagree with my views.

Andrew Sullivan made similar points in his last column for New York magazine:

What has happened, I think, is relatively simple: A critical mass of the staff and management at New York Magazine and Vox Media no longer want to associate with me, and, in a time of ever tightening budgets, I’m a luxury item they don’t want to afford. And that’s entirely their prerogative. They seem to believe, and this is increasingly the orthodoxy in mainstream media, that any writer not actively committed to critical theory in questions of race, gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity is actively, physically harming co-workers merely by existing in the same virtual space. Actually attacking, and even mocking, critical theory’s ideas and methods, as I have done continually in this space, is therefore out of sync with the values of Vox Media. That, to the best of my understanding, is why I’m out of here.

Matt Taibbi has reported on the general pattern:

Today no one with a salary will stand up for colleagues like Lee Fang. Our brave truth-tellers make great shows of shaking fists at our parody president, but not one of them will talk honestly about the fear running through their own newsrooms. People depend on us to tell them what we see, not what we think. What good are we if we’re afraid to do it?

Documentary film maker Christopher Rufo has recently described the process operating in his part of the media world:

I saw the ideology coming in, in a heavy way, about five years ago where the whole documentary industry was really kind of conforming to identity politics, the structure of identity politics and the reward system of identity politics. … making niche films that have no broad audience and which only please the activist gatekeepers. …

The accepted discourse was quite narrow … The economy of the documentary world is explicitly, and now almost solely, predicated on identity issues. …

I realised quickly that this [conference] was not a place for dialogue, this was a place for kind of sermonising.

Heather Heying, in a recent Dark Horse podcast, where she and her husband Bret Weinstein report on what is happening in Portland, specifically mourns Harper’s going with the standard trend of not-reporting the narrative-inconvenient bits of what is happening in Portland (peaceful protests in the day, riots at night). Not sure which podcast it was now, but this excerpt from a recent podcast provides eye-witness discussion.

But they saw the exclusion/inclusion patterns of narrative-driven media back in 2017 when the New York Times and similar media would not report (or not accurately) what was going on in Evergreen College because it was narrative-inconvenient but Fox and the Wall St Journal would report on it (and generally accurately) because it was narrative-convenient for them.

Jesse Singal, Matt Taibbi, Heather Heying, Bret Weinstein, Arian Pekary. These are not remotely right wing or conservative folk.

Jessie Singal’s “go broke, go woke” comment seems pretty spot on.

This is institutional rot. Going on right in front of us.

ADDENDA: Another eloquent voice from inside mainstream, media provides further particulars. Here is Glenn Greenwald, after his resignation from The Intercept, which he helped found:

I had no objection to their disagreement with my views of what this Biden evidence shows: as a last-ditch attempt to avoid being censored, I encouraged them to air their disagreements with me by writing their own articles that critique my perspectives and letting readers decide who is right, the way any confident and healthy media outlet would. But modern media outlets do not air dissent; they quash it. So censorship of my article, rather than engagement with it, was the path these Biden-supporting editors chose.



Lorenzo M Warby

An accidental small businessman who reads a lot and thinks about what he reads, sometimes productively. Currently writing a book on marriage.