Friday, March 30, 2018


UPDATE: I learn from the comments that the author says the piece is satire. If so, it's terrible satire -- it reads not as a commentary on bad journalism or upscale Clinton voters but as a genuinely godawful piece of reporting. Charlie Pierce thought it was real. Jamelle Bouie thought it was real. Philip Bump thought it was real. No reasonably intelligent adult ever thinks Gulliver's Travels is real. Unless the point is that we're the punch line, because we're gullible. Maybe I'm gullible, but Pierce, Bouie, and Bump aren't known for that. Maybe Wren just wrote a terrible satire.


Responding to criticisms that the mainstream press has dispatched far too many reporters to diners in rural America to take the pulse of Trump Country, Politico Magazine sent Adam Wren, an Indiana journalist, to do a mirror-image story about Clinton Country. I can tell you what's wrong with the story, or I can show you the illustration that accompanies it.

This is an accurate reflection of the story's bias. Everyone interviewed appears to be a current or retired white-collar worker or comparable professional. Only one is identified as non-white. The locations where they're interviewed check off every cliché of upscale whiteness. Remember, Hillary Clinton won 88% of the black vote and 65% of the Hispanic vote. She may not have won the white working class, but she beat Trump 53%-41% among voters making $50,000 a year or less.

These are the stops Wren makes along the way:
On a recent March morning, as a nor’easter walloped an idyllic Brooklyn street with snow, members of the Park Slope Food Coop ambled inside, shopping for bargains on broccolini and organic wheatgrass.

... SoulCycle ... in NoHo, the tony Manhattan neighborhood.

... Chelsea Market, an upscale, enclosed urban food court. Sort of like a food court you’d find at a mall in Indianapolis, except without Chick-fil-As or Wetzel’s Pretzels. In their places stood establishments such as Corkbuzz Wine Studio and The Green Table, which, according to its advertising, was “one of the city’s first farm-to-table restaurants.” It served “farmer’s market salads and daily soups, along with sustainably-raised fish, pasture-raised poultry and grass-fed beef.”

... a Rise and Resist NYC protest at Union Square Park in front of a Whole Foods.

... Bound for the din of D.C., a tribute headed for the gilded Capital, I planned to cafe-hop northwest up Connecticut Avenue, hoping to absorb the political sensibilities of the liberal intelligentsia in a town that voted 90 percent for Hillary.
Do I need to go on? Wren eventually travels "Past sylvan, townhouse-lined streets, over switchback roads near Rock Creek Park, where the driveways were filled by Audis and Teslas and Volvos and MINI Cooper Countrymans." I assume there aren't very many non-white Clinton voters with incomes under $50K here.

The interviewees include "a 45-year math educator and entrepreneur who described himself as 'upper middle class,'" "a real estate broker," "an editor at St. Martin’s Press, a book publisher headquartered in Manhattan’s Flatiron Building," "two men in their 30s who ... worked in education policy," "an energy consultant," and "a former hydrologist [and] his wife ... a retired attorney."

One interviewee -- the broker, whose name is Meghan Early -- tries to broaden Wren's horizons:
“First of all, I’m brown,” she said. Early said she knew Trump’s reputation from friends who worked on “The Apprentice.” “He’s horrible,” she told me.

Did she have empathy for Trump voters? Or was she angry at them? She wasn’t angry, she said, but “maybe they should come to Bed-Stuy and walk around the projects to see what my life was like.” I told her I was from Indiana, and had come here to do almost exactly that. She thanked me for listening. “I go off on tangents like this at parties. People are like, K, bye.” We said goodbye.
Wren, of course, didn't "come here to do almost exactly that." He doesn't do any reporting from Bed-Stuy. Early doesn't immediately offer to follow up with a tour -- but what's preventing Wren from hopping on the subway and seeing the neighborhood on his own?

The Trump Country stories Wren is imitating are invariably respectful toward the interviewees. Wren's story is different -- he has nothing but contempt for the people he meets.
... I ... found there was something more to the Trump hatred—a kind of closed-off complacency that also translated into how they treated me. The more I persisted, and closer I got to the beating heart of D.C., the more reluctant people were to talk to me on the record. The whole trip would leave a sour taste in my mouth over how difficult it is to perforate the Blue Bubble.
After a while, it becomes clear that he's primed to take offense. Wait for the payoff of this anecdote:
Hoisting one of the Impeach signs was 74-year-old Jackie Goldenburg, who lived on the Upper West Side. She asked me where I was from. “Indianapolis,” I told her.

“Do you like basketball?” she asked me.

“Basketball is fine,” I told her. The question—roughly the equivalent of asking a Texan how many heads of cattle he owns—reminded me of one of Clinton’s emails that the State Department released in October 2015, in response to FOIA request. “Are you still in basketball-crazed Indianoplace?” Clinton asked an aide, employing an intentionally derogatory spelling of the Hoosier city.

Perhaps sensing my amusement that she would assume I liked basketball—some East Coast liberal’s idea of how Hoosiers spend the entirety of their discretionary time—she told me something that surprised me. She, too, was from Indiana. She came here to New York City in the 1970s, from South Bend.
So he thought Goldenburg was asking him about basketball because she was an East Coast elitist who knew next to nothing about Indiana. In fact, she was from Indiana. His assumption was wrong -- but the contempt he'd felt for her geographic-bubble elitism, which existed only in his own mind, was too good not to include in the article.

Later, there's this:
One silver-haired man wearing a tweed blazer told me he’d prefer to enjoy his Friday evening rather than talk about Trump. Fair enough, but he was one of more than two dozen people who declined to talk with me for what seemed to me a pretty straightforward piece. In Trump Country, Trump voters’ disdain for reporters may be more choleric and louder, marked by raspberries blown at the press. But in Clinton Country, I found a quieter, more gentle disdain for journalists. They may not boo CNN at Trump rallies, but how dare you interrupt their Friday evening cocktail?
So not wanting to talk to a reporter over dinner or a drink is a special form of elitist rudeness? Really? I hang up on telemarketers -- does that mean I'm an upmarket enemy of the working class? And Wren admits that Trump voters have real contempt for the media. Yet he seems to assume that they all willingly cooperate when a reporter walks into one of their diners. Does it never occur to him that those reporters also get turn-downs -- maybe a lot of them -- and just don't think it's worth reporting?

This takes place at Comet Ping Pong, the pizzeria said to be the epicenter of the fictional Pizzagate child sex ring. Wren is offended when a waiter questions what he's doing:
While we talked, I noticed a shadow had fallen over part of the table. I became aware of a waiter standing, somewhat menacingly, behind the booth, his neck craned to hear our conversation.

“Do you know this guy?” He asked the table, glaring at me.

“No,” the three old friends said. I cringed.

“So you’re just interviewing them about Pizzagate?”

“Well, more so about how the president has done so far,” I said.

“And we’re quite willing to tell him about that,” Peggy told him.

“Just double-checking,” the waiter said, coldly.

“Am I posing a problem?” I asked the waiter.

“We’ve dealt with quite a lot of stuff about this,” he said.

“I know,” I said. “I feel bad about it.”

“It’s just a little alarming that you would come in here and talk about Pizzagate.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, sincerely, but reminded him that I was also a customer.

“I know that,” he said. “I would like you to stay a customer.”

He disappeared, and I continued to chat with my new friends.
Dude, people almost got killed over Pizzagate at Comet Ping Pong. Have some sympathy for waitstaff who are -- quite reasonably -- trying to prevent a mass shooting.

This is awful. The antidote to all those respectful Trump Country stories shouldn't be a contemptuous -- and demographically inaccurate -- Clinton Country story.


UPDATE: Yastreblyansky digs deeper.

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