Splinter Is Not Gawker

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Splinter Is Not Gawker

That’s not me saying it, that’s original Splinter saying it. This is me as new Splinter Editor-in-Chief agreeing with them. Nothing is Gawker but Gawker. Trying to be something whose legacy depends on its moment in time misses the point anyway. Gawker and its greater universe helped drag journalism in a more honest direction at the dawn of the blogging age, which seems like a million years ago at this point. You can open The Washington Post now and see Gawker’s influence on political reporting. We’re way past the point of reanimation—truly doing Gawker again requires time travel.

But I do view Gawker as a useful shorthand for this kind of writing simply due to how many people know and admire what it stood for. This unvarnished, “fuck your powerful friends and the private jets they flew in on” kind of journalism helped put the nation’s mainstream media and the power structure it serves on the defensive. The internet opened a lane for a real opposition to build a significant platform, and Gawker created one that highlighted the things powerful people said and did and placed them in the proper context in which they occurred—you know, journalism. National distrust of the media long predates Gawker, but it sure as hell helped illuminate the reasons why this trend was headed in that direction in the first place.

To say I am a cynic when it comes to mainstream media can both overstate and understate my perspective on things. My experience covering media for four-plus years at Paste during the Trump Administration led me to believe that the majority of people working in mainstream media have good intentions and want to do capital-j journalism—but that the incentive structures reward those in the media who are servile to power, and that’s why so often its “reporting” has served as little more than stenography for the powerful.

In preparing for this job, I read old interviews and stories from the first Splinter launch, and I saw the question of “are you Gawker?” or something like it seep into all of them at some point. In my book it’s a compliment—proof that someone thinks you can do journalism the right way. Gawker is just the word you use to describe it.

But I doubt anyone will ask us if we’re Gawker. Not just because, well, duh—no—but also because it really is a relic of a different time. Even in the wake of Gawker’s demise at the hands of Peter Thiel, there was enough idealism left in 2017 to ask Splinter if it could recreate the magic of a bygone era. The last shred of hope had yet to be ripped out of us before a full Trump administration was capped off by a global pandemic, only to find supposed salvation in a sextillion year-old president providing the weaponry for a genocide.

A lot of political journalism is simply just understanding power structures and the motives of powerful people and the incentives they create for others. No one is an unbiased observer, and presenting both sides of a story without addressing those biases is both journalistic malpractice and a pretty standard both-sides “reporting” style these days in the mainstream media. Reading so much of the mainstream papers and watching cable news avoid obvious structural realities each day for four Trump years genuinely broke my brain. For all the talk about the rise of disinformation, the people who control the airwaves control the mainstream narrative, and that narrative is fucking bullshit. Even Chuck Todd is fed up with it.

The United States of America is an empire, and its motives are no different from any other empire in history—yet we have a mainstream media willing to provide it cover in the face of all good journalistic practices—even after its most prestigious papers got caught with their pants down after helping launder the Iraq War into existence and radicalizing an entire generation along with it. The final collapse of the legitimacy of the post-WWII order in the rubble of Gaza proves that this was a self-interested system from the jump, and it was simply just another project of empire. It was never about altruistic motives to supposedly improve the world. We have lost the Global South forever. Again, that’s not me saying it, but someone with more experience and wisdom than I.

Per the Financial Times:

“We have definitely lost the battle in the Global South,” said one senior G7 diplomat. “All the work we have done with the Global South [over Ukraine] has been lost . . . Forget about rules, forget about world order. They won’t ever listen to us again.”

This Is So Fucked Up

Anyone doing political journalism trying to pretend like things are back to some kind of normal post-Trump (or were normal pre-Trump) is practicing a form of deceit. In a lot of ways, we never left 2016. Biden is prioritizing Jared Kushner’s cockamamie Saudi Arabia-Israel deal over the lives of women and children in Gaza, and the entire Democratic Party is trying pass far right-wing and violent legislation in an attempt to tack to Trump’s right on his signature racist issue of immigration. Biden did a lot of good things his first two years, but frankly, those all ended the moment his former Chief-of-Staff Ron Klain walked out the door. Now all that’s left is the unhinged maw of neoliberalism swallowing the White House whole.

This country is being run by a corrupt pack of gerontocrats driving us off a fucking cliff and it’s crazy that media deems you an ideologue if you simply point that out. For them to do their jobs the way the powers that be want them to be done, they must act as if everything is Very Normal and Very Serious. This was exemplified in the absurdity surrounding the declining health of the late Senator Dianne Feinstein, former chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Her aides had a system to shield her from the press and make sure she never walked the Capitol alone, and we never learned that her health had become significantly worse until it became blindingly obvious to anyone with a working set of senses. I find it very hard to believe that mainstream reporters did not have an inclination that something was going on, especially given the fact that they never saw Feinstein alone. That a local paper broke this story, and not one of the mainstream institutions with armies of reporters who practically live in Congress, calls into question what these major media outlets actually want their reporters to do in the halls of power and who they are there to serve.

Feinstein isn’t the only example where we can question whether the press was shielding powerful people from damaging reports about their ability to do their jobs. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell suffered a concussion after a fall in March of 2023 and he famously later froze up during a press conference, and looked to be confused about what was happening at that moment. It wasn’t until this stuff started happening in public that we got some more extensive reporting on it, and McConnell announced his impending departure from the Senate not long afterwards. I’m no mainstream political reporter, but I’d surmise it’s pretty important that folks know whether or not some of the most powerful humans alive have a functioning brain before it deserts them in front of the entire world, but we didn’t know about any of this stuff before it became impossible to hide, because Democracy Dies in Darkness™ or something.

You can go on CNN these days and call a sitting Congresswoman a “Hamas PR agent” and it’s apparently OK because she’s Muslim, but if you question the wisdom of Bibi Netanyahu’s State Department, all of a sudden, you’ve been brainwashed by Tik Tok and the Chinese government into believing that Palestinians are human beings. Spare me this unbiased objective media bullshit. There is a litany of examples of how media generally operates in service of a narrative that benefits American empire, and everyone with just one functioning lobe of their brain can see it now. What has made Gaza such a flashpoint aside from the daily atrocities inflicted on a captive civilian population in front of the entire world, is that this is the full mask-off moment for American empire and those who serve it. It’s undeniable that the State Department and all of its associated international organs exist to serve the American empire at the expense of the rest of the world. “Reporting” otherwise is nothing more than doing pure propaganda on behalf of the U.S. government.

Back when people pretended to care about these things, using the word fuck would be seen as a disqualifying event for this entire blog, and there are surely some who will still believe that, but we seem to be living in a media world where pointing out the realities of the day to day life in Gaza is viewed as more uncouth than saying that it’s the most fucked up thing I’ve ever seen. We all need to help keep independent media alive so we can challenge the narratives emanating from our empire’s corrupt halls of power, lest they become the only narrative the public has access to.

So to close this blog on my original thought and try to end on a salient point, Splinter is not and never has been Gawker. Only Gawker is Gawker. The right question to ask is whether Splinter has followed Gawker’s lead, and I would say it did (and we hope it will continue to do so), along with an entire generation of journalists sick and tired of the lies and bullshit from those who serve our crumbling empire. Splinter can’t be Gawker anyway, because Gawker is everywhere now.

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