This is not the post that made Caitlin Johnstone block me.
This is an experiment in how media functions on the internet with an entity like Medium. I am not a journalist. I am just a stay at home mom who is very nerdy and argumentative. And I have no way of knowing how people decide to block me and how Medium treats content shared between blocked users. So, I am publishing this with links to her stories, to see what Medium does. I understand the thinking behind allowing users to block each other to maintain a degree of civility, but let’s be honest: blocking critics of your work is not a hallmark of strong journalistic ethics.
I didn’t really expect her to engage with me. I don’t agree with the stories she has published and I have no desire to censor her: I have the deep conviction that news coverage gets better when stories are challenged. I try to reply to comments on my own articles when I can, because I often learn from the perspectives of people challenging me. But I am a smallish participant here. I don’t even have 200 followers, and my stories are not generally widely read or shared. I don’t expect users with thousands of followers to have the same kind of dynamic, but I reply to them too. I make comments on Michael Tracey’s work and I am not surprised when he ignores them: I just want to add context I feel he has failed to give due attention to. Maybe that’s obnoxious. It seems something more like graffiti than a conversation, like someone tagging an especially vexing billboard and I recognize that.
That’s why I was surprised when Caitlin immediately went nuclear. A while ago, I replied to the article I shared above. There was a lot of really disturbing stuff in it, but by far the biggest WTF came from a paragraph implying no one thought Assad was a human rights violating dictator until 2009. Lest you think I am exaggerating, this is the paragraph:
I don’t follow her or go out of my way to read her work, but she shows up in my feed because so many others do and because I like to read about politics and media. So when I read her story about Seth Rich, I was aware that I wasn’t part of her target audience. And that story is uniquely painful because it seems to have so much in common with the way InfoWars constructed a narrative around Sandy Hook. This impulse to see human beings you’ve read about on the news as a prop in a narrative about the government is terrifying. I have no idea what it must be like for his family to see his face attached to so many fundamentally unprovable narratives.
That’s not true. I know exactly what his family thinks about this because they have loudly objected to the way certain media entities are characterizing their son’s death.
Part of me wants to call them up and apologize. I want to write about how their lives have been upended, because their son died tragically in a year when everyone seems particularly vulnerable to paranoia and conspiracy theories. I want to ask how many people are calling them about their son, and if anyone has shown up at their house. But with even greater ferocity, I want to leave them alone to grieve. And I am grateful for that feeling.
It seems sadly significant that the people who are writing about another family’s dead child, despite their objections, want to wall themselves off from scrutiny and dissent.
In closing, here was my response showing that, in fact, nearly everyone recognized that Assad was a despot from the moment he took over the office from his father. It is baffling that anyone could claim otherwise.
“President Assad does seem genuinely popular, especially with younger people, though there is no opinion polling. Fear…medium.com
She never replied to that comment, to my knowledge. But she did reply when I implied that she had something in common with Alex Jones. And then she blocked me, so I couldn’t see any of the other evidence she doesn’t actually have.
I am worried that the left is failing this test. If we are not the side that spends more time valuing evidence and reason, then I would very much like to know what side actually does. And more importantly, if this is the way our media is evolving, with this dynamic that allows the creators of news content to block or otherwise shield themselves from detractors, doesn’t that help insulate the powerful from scrutiny instead of driving a more vigilant and empowered readership? In trying to straddle the gap between community and media, is Medium making the problem of propaganda worse?