Washington Post media reporter Sarah Ellison profiled the new owner of Politico this week, raising a number of disturbing questions.
The new owner is Mathias Döpfner, the right-wing billionaire CEO of international publishing giant Axel Springer. His company bought Politico for a billion dollars last year.
The biggest revelation in the Post story was that shortly before the 2020 U.S. election, Döpfner proposed to his closest executives that they “get together for an hour in the morning on November 3 and pray that Donald Trump will again become President of the United States of America.” He added: “No American administration in the last 50 years has done more.”
When Ellison asked him about the email, he lied and said it didn’t exist. Then he said he was just being provocative.
The big question, then, is: What is this lying, right-wing billionaire telling Politico to do?
Döpfner’s explanation to Ellison was transparently insincere: “We want to prove that being nonpartisan is actually the more successful positioning,” he told Ellison, calling it his “biggest and most contrarian bet.”
Ellison reported those words like they meant something. The story was actually headlined “Politico’s new German owner has a ‘contrarian’ plan for American media.”
But they mean nothing!
Pretty much every major news organization in America positions itself as nonpartisan. (Fox is not a news organization.)
And what does Döpfner mean by “contrarian”? As I asked in a tweet: “When the media spectrum spans from truth-denying to truth-embracing, what the heck does ‘contrarian’ even mean? Truth-ignoring?”
When the public marching orders are such an obvious fiction, you have to wonder what the private marching orders are. And when I came across one particular Politico article on Thursday, well, I wondered.
Someone had emailed me an excerpt, and I took it for an opinion piece by a Republican operative, it was so warped. But no.
Here’s how Politico reporters Jordain Carney and Sarah Ferris started off:
If House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and his party wrest back control of the House this fall, they’d take power with one of the worst relationships with a sitting president in recent memory.
President Joe Biden and his party have spent much of this year vilifying McCarthy and his GOP counterparts as a threat that would unravel democracy — an attack that is now at the centerpiece of Democratic efforts to hold onto their threadbare congressional majorities. Many of those Republicans, meanwhile, have echoed and amplified unfounded doubts about Biden’s election, all while pledging to use their newfound power to investigate the president’s son and, potentially, impeach members of his Cabinet.
The worsening polarization in Washington that, at times, became openly hostile during Donald Trump’s administration, could become downright combustible in January. And, making matters worse, each side is arguing that the other must make the first peace offering.
Let me rewrite that for them:
If House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and his party wrest back control of the House this fall, they are expected to embark on a scorched-earth campaign against the sitting president, bringing governance to a halt, threatening to default on the debt, and impeaching officials for political points.
President Joe Biden and his party have spent much of this year warning that McCarthy and his GOP colleagues’ support of insurrectionists, willingness to deny election results, and efforts to reduce voting constitute a threat to democracy.
These are irreconcilable views of the future of our country.
(Some of these concerns about a GOP Congress were raised by New York Times reporter Jonathan Weisman on Thursday, although he hilariously cast the craven, opportunistic McCarthy as a noble victim of the crazies in his caucus.)
No, I’m not saying that Döpfner ordered up that godforsaken story (though I’d sure like to know who assigned it.) But it could only have been created in a newsroom where the business model is not compatible with accountability journalism.
My best guess is that Döpfner’s “nonpartisan” business model calls for reaping vast amounts of money from lobbyists who pay a premium to reach leaders of both parties. And that effectively requires reporters to do whatever it takes for McCarthy and the rest of the MAGA crowd to like them enough that they return their calls and read their work.
Politico, of course, isn’t the only major media organization owned by a billionaire.
As former-Obama-adviser-turned-podcaster Dan Pfeiffer wrote in his newsletter, “ABC is part of the Disney Corporation. NBC is owned by Comcast. Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post with the equivalent of the change you’d find in your couch.”
Pfeiffer was actually writing about CNN, which has been the subject of a lot of breathless coverage in the last several weeks.
There is absolutely cause for concern. As I wrote last month, the firing of Brian Stelter indicated that CNN’s new CEO Chris Licht was capitulating to John Malone, the Fox-loving cable oligarch who owns much of the company that now owns CNN.
Stelter had been one of the network’s most outspoken critics of Fox, and spoke with great insight about Trump’s demagoguery.
So, too, did veteran White House reporter John Harwood, whose last day at CNN was Monday. The video I tweeted of Harwood’s final, truth-telling report about how Biden was right to warn of GOP threats to democracy got 3.5 million views.
Then, this week CNN announced it is hiring John Miller, a truly despicable person, to be its “Chief Law Enforcement and Intelligence Analyst.” Parker Molloy and Spencer Ackerman have the absolutely infuriating facts. He’s a liar and an enabler. For instance, while at the NYPD, he denied that the department spied on Muslims after 9/11. The AP won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in Investigative Reporting for uncovering those spying operations.
CNN, unlike Döpfner, is sending the clearest possible signals to the public that it is OK with fascism.
But what is Licht privately telling CNN hosts and editors to do? There’s a lot of speculation and gossip.
But there’s a little bit of good news on that front. On Thursday, Keilar broadcast an absolutely stunning segment with reporter Drew Griffin that exposed a cheating “MAGA army” being trained to “break the rules” as poll workers. There were no words minced there.
More Good News/Bad News
New York Times reporter Astead Herndon launched a new podcast devoted exclusively to the midterm elections this week, and his first episode was titled “The Stakes”.
Yes! That’s what it’s all about: The stakes. News organizations shouldn’t tell people what party to vote for. But they should make sure they understand the stakes.
I was so excited to hear Herndon talk about voter frustration and then conclude: “All these things that are making people feel so disconnected, they actually make the midterms more important than ever. Because if Republicans take back the House, political divisions in Washington will only escalate.”
But then I went and heard Herndon being interviewed by Michael Barbaro, the breathy both-sidesing host of The Daily, and all they talked about – at least all Barbaro wanted to hear about – was who’s up and who’s down.
Barbaro talked about overturning abortion rights and embracing insurrectionists as ways Republicans “hurt themselves” politically. Democrats, by contrast, are “looking to exploit what they see as these self-inflicted messaging wounds that Republicans have made.”
Barbaro’s conclusion: “So regardless of your politics, the government you’re describing is going to feel not just dysfunctional, but vindictive and nasty.” Ugh.
Meanwhile, the Washington Post’s Democracy Team is in full swing, which is great, but it’s also pulling its punches.
Matthew Brown wrote a moving story about how no one wants to run the elections in Fulton County, Georgia, because of “the toxic swirl of state politics, national scrutiny, ongoing harassment and long-standing logistical issues.”
The fact that the toxicity, scrutiny and harassment are coming exclusively from one party? That’s almost covered up.
Most Undercovered Stories of the Week
- A Reuters poll finding that a huge majority — 58% — of Americans believe MAGA is a threat to democracy, and 60% of Republicans disavow it, should have changed the media narrative but it didn’t. Biden was right about this, damnit.
- The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations said estimates indicate that Russian authorities have interrogated, detained and forcibly deported between 900,000 and 1.6 million Ukrainians.
- Federal committees reported receiving nearly $347.7 million during the 2022 midterm election cycle from private equity and hedge fund employees and PACs. That kind of explains everything.
Best of the Week
There’s some great national security coverage out there, way under the radar of the elite media.
- Free-lancer Nick Turse hasn’t given up on getting his hands on “details of the U.S. role in an airstrike that killed more than 160 Nigerian civilians at a displaced persons’ camp, including many children” in 2017.
- Two experts dissect Biden’s explanation to Congress for recent U.S. attacks in Syria and find them wildly inadequate and very dangerous.
- Our very expensive Navy is dysfunctional.