The Inevitable Result of New Journalism
Remember our arguments last spring about “the View from Nowhere?” That growing idea among journalists (especially those of the younger persuasion) that we would all be better off if journalists cared less about “the self-deluded smugness” of getting objective facts correct and more about wearing their heart on their sleeve, building their brand, and “being part of the conversation” rather than working to keep themselves above the fray?
Enter Charles Johnson:
He represents a new breed of news hound: part troll, part provocateur, part bully for profit, and fully independent. In photographs, he adopts the glower of an anti-establishment rabble-rouser… His formula for news seems to work something like this: home in on the most emotionally-charged story of the moment — whether that’s Ferguson or Eric Garner or campus rape — and stake out the most divisive position possible, amassing allies and enemies in equal number…You’re a modern Joan of Arc,” one admirer told Johnson on Sunday. “Doing God’s work even when the big names say you’re the devil.” Another called him “a real American hero.”
His name came out of nowhere and now seems to be everywhere. When the consumer Internet first unfolded, there was much talk about millions of new voices blooming. Mr. Johnson is one of those flowers. His tactics may have as much in common with ultimate fighting as journalism, but that doesn’t mean he is not part of the conversation.
Johnson’s penchant for being a do-gooder doesn’t stop with bathroom poop. He recalls a “minority scholarship guy” from another building who he found in his own vomit in another campus bathroom. Johnson called the ambulance. “I think he had his stomach pumped and went on medical leave,” he said.
All over the blogosphere, everyone is lining up to make Charles Johnson the folk hero (or villain) of our time — breathlessly wondering if he’ll go into politics, comparing Johnson’s life to story to Anakin Skywalker’s, or suppressing a giggle-fit at the notion that we almost met in real life, as if Johnson were some kind of bad boy heart throb on the cover of Tiger Beat. (And who knows? With the way things are going, he might well be soon enough.)
And what, exactly, is it that Johnson has accomplished as a journalist that has allowed him to be the Next Big Thing?
Well, here’s a partial list:
He’s “scooped” the Washington press corp by reporting the story that Obama is gay. (Obama isn’t, and Johnson never provided anything but the accusation.) He “scooped” the East Coast press by discovering that Corey Booker does not live in Newark. (Booker actually does.) He paid a black pastor to falsely claim he had been paid to change votes in Mississippi so that he could then “break” that story. He “broke” the story that unarmed Ferguson teen Michael Brown had previously been arrested for 2nd degree murder. (Not even remotely true.) He posted the street addresses of people he had “discovered” were carrying ebola. (They didn’t, and the addresses weren’t correct anyway.) He published photos of the woman from the Rolling Stone UVA fiasco. (It was the wrong woman.) He “broke” the story that a New York Times reporter he was having a spat with once posed for Playgirl. (Aside from not being true, a wondrously bizarre false accusation to use to get back at someone.) He caused a mini-firestorm by “reporting” that NJ Senator Bob Mendoza had paid for underage prostitutes. (The story was a complete fabrication.) He has also reported the home addresses of reporters who wrote sympathetically about Michael Brown (in an attempt to serve those reporters vigilante justice at the hands of the mob), posted the name of a reported rape victim (again, with the intention of submitting that person for vigilante justice at the hands of the mob), hired people to get photos of a politician’s institutionalized mother so voters could mock her, and hypothesized that a black man was a criminal by showing a video of him rapping.
Again, I want to emphasize that the above is a partial list — a very partial list.
And I bring all of this up because I submit to you that Charles Johnson’s success (and make no mistake, he is wildly successful) isn’t happening despite this new trend among journalists that having a point of view, building your brand, and being a part of the conversation (and not above it) somehow creates a morally superior form of journalism than does simply working getting your facts straight — it’s a direct result.
And to all of those journalist/bloggers out there who crap on trying to be objective and getting your facts straight over “taking sides” and “brand building,” I would recommend taking a long look at Johnson. Because he isn’t just playing your game by your rules.
He’s playing it better than you are.
 I’m barely okay with linking to places like the Post, the Times, and Mother Jones as they indulge in their latest Bad Boy crush, in part because I think they should all be properly embarrassed by it. But I draw the line at linking to Johnson’s material directly.
If you really doubt I’m being honest, you can feel free to google all of this s**t. It will come up in your search engines with no effort.
[Picture: Journalists at a press conference, via Wikipedia.]
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