Politico's Ben Shapiro debacle — zero lessons learned from the Trump era

Platforming a troll

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On the morning after Trump made history by being impeached for the second time, Politico handed over its influential Beltway morning newsletter, Playbook, to Ben Shapiro a bigoted, bomb-throwing media defender of Trump. In his Politico contribution, Shapiro lied about Democrats in an effort to suggest they're being hypocrites about impeachment. Shapiro also stressed that Trump supporters were the real victims in the wake of last week's insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Promoting someone who has a decade-long history of trafficking in lies and deliberate misinformation, created an uproar both inside the publication and outside, as critics lambasted the outlet for glorifying and legitimizing voices like Shapiro's one week after a pro-Trump insurrectionist mob tried to stage a coup. "Whether it be promoting an us versus them mentality, or dismissing the murder of protesters and innocent children, Shapiro helped lay the foundations for today’s political violence," noted Media Matters.

The publication defended itself by pointing out that on Wednesday, MSNBC host Chris Hayes had been tapped as Playbook's guest writer. Apparently that made everything okay because Politico was giving voice to both sides of the debate; because bloody insurrections deserve a Both Sides analysis. It's true Hayes is a liberal and Shapiro is a conservative and that in theory Politico presented contrasting views on back-to-back days. But Hayes is also an honest and insightful analyst, while Shapiro is a congenital liar who delights in hate speech.

National Guard troops now camp out inside the Capitol as the nation braces for more possible political violence from Trump supporters. Yet it’s clear the Beltway press has learned little over the last four years in terms of normalizing radical, deceitful behavior from the right, while hiding behind the Both Sides shield to deflect criticism aimed at awful journalism decisions.

“We published a piece by a very prominent writer, provocateur, and podcaster. We stand by every word in there, it was very closely edited,” Politico's editor-in-chief Matt Kaminski said Wednesday. "We’re not going to back away from having published something because some people think it was a mistake to do so."



Some of those people who think it was a mistake work at Politico. At a company-wide Zoom call on Wednesday, staffers expressed anger at Playbook glorifying Shapiro, especially at this perilous moment in the nation's history.

From The Daily Beast:

Several employees compared Shapiro to right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke; and questioned Kaminski’s response that such comparisons are a false equivalence. Another staffer said the top editor was “dismissive” of the concerns brought up throughout the chat.

Added another staffer: "This is one of the most disappointing days, if not the most disappointing day, that I’ve been a part of this company.”

In an additional statement, editor Kaminski insisted, "What sets Politico apart in this intense political and media moment is that we rise above partisan and ideological warfare —even as many seek to drag us into it."

First off, how on earth does Politico "rise above partisan and ideological warfare" by embracing somebody like Shapiro who does nothing but engage in two-fisted partisan and ideological warfare? Second, when you platform a racist, homophobic troll as Politico did, you absolutely become part of "partisan and ideological warfare."

What an incredibly elitist position for Politico to take, suggesting its editors carry no responsibility for the content choices they make on a daily basis — that the privileged overseers of Politico remain above "warfare," even as they help feed the right-wing hate that fuels it. And in a quip that suggests the publication’s newsroom is not very diverse, Politico's editor-in-chief suggested that promoting Shapiro was part of the outlet's tradition of "mischief making," which apparently includes amplifying misogynists and xenophobes.

This is the riddle that editors and producers have faced for four years as they scramble to present a Both Sides debate in the Trump era — trying to find Trump defenders in the media who aren't chronically dishonest and who don’t traffic in hate rhetoric. Turns out, that's really hard to do. It's like finding a unicorn roaming the Beltway.

One year ago, CNN embarrassed itself by hiring former Republican Congressman Sean Duffy to provide a Trump defense during the first impeachment. Within days of hiring him, CNN anchors had to constantly call out the lies and smears that Duffy was spreading on the air — while on the CNN payroll.

It's not up to media outlets to tap bad actors simply because the conservative movement is filled with so many bad actors. All news outlets ought to have easily identifiable standards, and if contributors can't meet those standards, they should not be promoted.

It was monumentally dopey, in the wake of the GOP insurrection, for Politico to cling to an absurd Both Sides editorial vision when that lazy cop-out simply means providing another media platform for a dishonest Trump propagandist.  

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As I stressed yesterday, the more we learn the scarier it gets. From Yahoo News’ “Large Bitcoin Payments to Right-Wing Activists a Month Before Capitol Riot Linked to Foreign Account”:

According to one source familiar with the matter, the suspicious Dec. 8 transaction, along with a number of other pieces of intelligence, has prompted law enforcement and intelligence agencies in recent days to actively investigate the sources of funding for the individuals who participated in the Capitol insurrection, as well as their networks. The government is hoping to prevent future attacks but also to uncover potential foreign involvement in or support of right-wing activities, the source said.

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Samm Henshaw, “All Good”

A friend suggested “All Good” for the Fun Stuff slot after seeing Henshaw on Samantha Bee’s show this week, and I agree! The infectious R&B message from the 26-year old singer, songwriter, and producer from South London is much needed during these days of turmoil.

It's all good, wait a minute
I got joy in my spirit
I got money in my pocket
And some sеasoning for my chicken
Why am I stressing?
Won't evеn address it
Leave my problems on my nightstand
Worries on my dresser