The Failed Journalism of DR

Twit News

(“With a title like that, you’re gonna need a bigger blog.“)

The top foreign news item on DR’s website Friday afternoon, situated “above the fold” as one of three main news items visible when first loading the site, is entirely unsurprising:

Texas Senator Gets Massive Backlash for Fleeing to Warmth amid Weather Chaos, Sofie Dyjak, DR.dk, February 19

The headline is technically correct in its facts, although it might have been styled differently for a figure DR found more politically sympathetic (for example, almost anyone).

Were Cruz a Democrat, for example, the story wouldn’t have run at all (and I’ll get to why in a moment), but if for some reason it did, the headline surely would have been something like “Republicans Attack Texas Senator for Protecting His Children.”

I’ll formulate the obvious sick burn gotcha myself, so no one else has to:

But Greg, you stupid hypocrite, you’ve repeatedly criticized Democratic politicians for their ‘worse than hypocrisy’ behavior of failing to follow the very restrictions they’ve been imposing on their constituents!

I have been, and am, and will always be, very critical of politicians doing things that they’ve specifically asked their constituents not to, especially when those requests come in the form of laws, rules, or regulations. The moment someone shows me where Ted Cruz made a public statement urging Texans not to leave Texas for warmer weather, I’ll add him to my hall of shame.

But he’s never said anything like that. He’s never authored or passed legislation or regulations restricting Texans’ freedom of travel. He’s never advocated for anything like that. (And couldn’t anyway: as a U.S. Senator, he actually has no particular power in the state of Texas.)

Cruz made a mistake with the timing of his trip and has acknowledged as much himself (the article quotes him as saying that he didn’t feel comfortable being out of Texas while its people were suffering; he cut his trip short and returned early because of that). This is primarily a problem of appearances. Of symbolism.

As such, it’s a stupid and not very serious problem to anyone actually interested in things that matter, right up there with the question of whether Joe Biden ought to have let his granddaughter beat him at Mario Kart (a recent event that was covered extensively in America but was mercifully ignored by DR).

It isn’t in fact a story at all: it’s a Democratic talking point being squeezed for all its worth by America’s leftist media. The story makes a leading Republican figure look bad and, even more importantly, occupies space that might otherwise have to be filled by particular stories that are much more newsworthy but much less favorable for Democrats. So it makes a perverted kind of sense for the activists in American media to run with the story; it makes none at all in Denmark.

DR ought to realize this, because the “backlash” that they and their Democratic overlords in America are making such a fuss about isn’t coming from anyone that matters. In fact, let’s look every Cruz critic cited by DR in this article. We’ll take them one by one, without commentary, then consider them in the aggregate.

People on Social Media

“On social media, a wave of new hashtags has arisen, and there are more and more posts with insults of Cruz.”

“Many people are making fun of Cruz under hashtags like ‘TedFled’ and ‘CancunCruz,’ and many aren’t hiding their anger.”

Dyjak includes specific tweets from @Ross_Swim14, @Fuzzy_Fuzzbutt, and @Sakura_Trvlr, whose tweets identify them as, respectively, Ross Gardner, Willow, and Sakura.

People Protesting on the Streets

Dyjak notes that people have been demonstrating against Cruz on the streets, but doesn’t specify what streets, or how many, or where.

“He shouldn’t leave the state while the rest of us are staying home and freezing. I just got electricity back after 26 hours, so I’m okay, but we need help, not leaders who go on vacation,” said one of them.

NBC News

Dyjak doesn’t actually identify NBC News as one of Cruz’s critics, but she cites responses he gave to the “journalists” of that outfit and includes a link to NBC’s article on the topic: “‘Obviously a mistake’: Sen. Ted Cruz says he regrets going to Cancún while Texans froze.

That NBC article mentions no criticism of Cruz specifically. It merely notes that on Wednesday night “pictures of him and his family as they waited at an airport gate with luggage and boarded a plane began circulating on social media.” It also cites Cruz himself as saying that “the furious attention on social media also played a role” in his decision to cut his trip short.

The New York Times

Some day I’d like to run the numbers on how many DR articles about America draw from or cite the New York Times. I’d like to see that number expressed as a percentage of all DR articles about America. I’m guessing it would look more like a golf score than an American shoe size

In any case, no surprise that Dyjak gets around to the Times eventually. And a good thing: they’ve really done yeoman’s work on this one, somehow accessing and analyzing the text messages that Cruz’s wife Heidi had been exchanging with her friends in the days before the trip. Apparently, they’d been talking about staying at the Ritz Carlton.

And That’s It

This article presents itself as being about backlash. It cites other articles talking about the backlash. It cites Cruz himself referring to “furious attention” his trip received.

But the story isn’t really about a political backlash: it’s about a Twitter mob. The Twitter mob flew into a rage about something, as they do—it’s Twitter’s business model—and that rage enabled “journalists” angling for a shot at a popular Republican senator to take one.

Because really, other than “it looks bad,” what is there to criticize about Cruz’s behavior? It’s not even hypocritical.

And yet DR has made this an above-the fold story today. Why? On what basis?

On the basis of tweets by Ross, Willow, and Sakura; on the basis of a couple of hashtags; on the basis of an unnamed protestor demonstrating in an unspecified location (could it have been Beto O’Rourke?); and on the basis of an article from NBC News talking only about social media chatter in general, and a New York Times article snooping through the text messages of the Senator’s wife.

That’s not news. It’s a an ad-hoc political operation to turn a stupid mistake by Cruz into something that Democrats can fantasize about appending with their beloved “-gate” suffix. Cancungate, or something. Wait for it.

You know what would be news? A day without a Twitter mob going after someone. A day without some idiot protestor demonstrating against some idiot cause for some idiot reason. A day on which DR and NBC News and the New York Times don’t source entire stories to Twitter or Facebook.

Not a single article I’ve cited here has articulated an actual criticism of Cruz beyond the fact that it looked bad, as he himself has acknowledged.

All of this is bad enough. All of this is silly enough. But consider: the last article DR published that even mentioned Andrew Cuomo was on November 12.

Even elected New York Democrats are finally turning on Cuomo for his murderous nursing home policy, his cover-up of its consequences, and his bullying of pretty much everyone. New revelations on that story are coming out in America on a daily basis.

CNN has even come around to once again enforcing their suspended policy of preventing host Chris Cuomo from interviewing his own brother, a policy they had suspended last spring because it looked like it would be helpful to Democrats to do so. They are clearly lifting that suspension now because it looks like not doing so would be harmful to Democrats.

I think it was Mel Brooks who said something like, “Comedy is when you’re crossing the street, fall into an open manhole, and die. Tragedy is when I get a paper cut on my finger.”

DR’s standard for its coverage of America seems to follow a parallel formula: “When a Republican takes his family to warm weather in the middle of a cold spell, that’s a scandal Danes need to be informed of. When a Democrat sentences thousands of vulnerable citizens to death and then tries to cover up the scope of that calamity and threatens other politicians and journalists along the way… that’s just boring inside-baseball stuff that Danes don’t really need to know about.”

That’s DR’s editorial judgment, at least at their foreign desk. It’s a problem, it’s serious, and it has actual consequences (which I’ve discussed in previous posts). It’s not good for them as a news organization and it’s not good for the taxpayers they’re supposed to be serving.

But there’s a larger problem here, also: the problem of too many people mistaking Twitter and Facebook and Instagram for the real world.

Social media aren’t real. They’re artificial environments using off-the-shelf gamification techniques to addict their human users. Their digital infrastructures make them prey to manipulation by even relatively unsophisticated coders; they can, in fact, be manipulated without any coding at all, simply with a little coordinated action by human users. In their infancy they offered a valuable platform for bringing people together; in maturity, they’ve become an almost perfect tool for division.

I don’t object when news stories include references to how a given issue is playing out on social media: I object when social media are used to source a story. That’s hashtag journalism, and it’s garbage. It’s garbage because doing so allows public discourse to be manipulated by exactly the kinds of people none of us want manipulating it.

Here we have a publicly funded state journalism outlet using one anonymous protestor and three progressive Twitter activists* to “flesh out” a story about a politician that all four are obviously wildly opposed to. Fair enough to hear what the Unknown Protestor has to say, and what the (alleged) individuals Ross, Willow, and Sakura have to say, but if we’re not going to get some tweets from Cruz supporters, of whom there are north of four million in Texas alone, then you’re not doing journalism. You’re doing targeted Twitter amplification.

And believe it or not, those are not the same thing.

* I viewed their Twitter timelines, as anyone can. Even Sofie Dyjak could have.

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