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As the Twitter Files Drop, Ponder the Future of Mainstream Media

Mainstream media are largely ignoring the story for reasons that go to the heart of their own growing weakness and unstoppable decline

The Twitter files, as Elon Musk’s publication of Twitter’s internal censorship records — via dissident journalists — has come to be known, continue to drop. To recap, the drop started with the suppression of the story, on the eve of an election, about Hunter Biden’s seemingly incriminating laptop (Matt Taibbi). It continued with information about widespread shadowbanning (Bari Weiss), a practice the company denied it engaged in.

Twitter files slice 3 and slice 4 (given by Musk to journalist Michael Shellenberger) address Twitter’s ban on former U.S. president Donald Trump. Slice 5 (Bari Weiss) detail doubts among Twitter employees about censoring on that scale:

These further documents — which reveal a heavily overstaffed corporate culture in a too-cozy relationship with government — will not surprise anyone who has been following the story so far. The odd part is that Twitter is a private U.S.-domiciled corporation, not an obscure authoritarian state somewhere. It was supposed to be making money (an American habit) but it wasn’t. Somehow, the situation attracted Elon Musk’s attention and the rest is … the Twitter files.

The really fascinating thing is not the files themselves but what they reveal about mainstream media (MSM) today. The legacy media and big tech media are largely not covering this story, except for spiteful remarks about Musk and his associates. From Gizmodo,

Musk, who used to have a rather bipartisan appeal in the U.S., has outed himself as an entitled right-wing prick in the short span that he’s owned Twitter. Musk bought Twitter, along with a number of investors, for $44 billion at the end of October when he almost immediately instigated brutal layoffs.

Matt Novak, “Elon Musk Gets Viciously Booed by Stadium Crowd at Dave Chappelle Show” at Gizmodo (December 12, 2022)

Brutal layoffs? The Gizmodo writer is revealing more about himself than about anyone else here. Brutal layoffs happen routinely in industry when conditions abruptly change or, as in this case, a new broom is sweeping clean. Musk may or may not succeed in turning Twitter around but a new corporate culture would require newer (and probably fewer) faces in any event.

macbook pro on brown wooden table

One tech maven proposes to abandon Twitter, claiming it is all a big failure now anyway. Actually, apart from a politically motivated advertiser boycott, Twitter is doing reasonably well so far.

But most of the legacy mainstream media have simply been silent. The New York Post’s Miranda Devine (whose story on the laptop was suppressed) considers the silence “shameful”:

Well, whether it’s shameful or not depends on what we understand today’s mainstream media’s role to be. Old-school journalist Matt Taibbi sees today’s MSM as courtiers to the elite, representing elite views to the public. In that case, in ignoring the incendiary story about massive censorship, they are merely doing what might be expected opf them.

Granted, it is depressing to read the prim, slippery excuses offered for “old Twitter”’s censorship regime. But then people who read and believe the MSM as if it were still a reliable source of news for the average citizen must accept censorship of key news that may affect them.

Liberal comic Bill Maher doesn’t seem to be one of them. He offers praise to Bari Weiss for Twitter Salvo 2 on shadowbanning:

Freelance writer and author Freddy DeBoer talks about the MSM (he calls it the Maw) that cannot afford to cover the Twitter files:

The Maw is, broadly speaking, the expression of the culture war as operationalized by the consensus opinions of media. The Maw is the aggregate of opinions of paid-up journalists and writers and pundits and, specifically, the opinions they will allow. When a big story breaks, there’s an initial feeling-out period where the media talks to itself and decides what the consensus opinion will be. As time has gone on, this process has gotten faster and faster, so that now the media consensus and the expectation that all decent people will glom onto it develop in a matter of minutes. What’s interesting about the Twitter files is that both an inciting incident (the Hunter Biden laptop story and its censorship by Twitter) and an eventual consequence of it (the release of the Twitter files) fell into the Maw with incredible speed. Immediately, in 2020, the enforced consensus within media was that there was no story to speak of regarding the Hunter Biden laptop story; it was not only not worthy of influencing the election, it should not have been reported on at all, and Twitter’s decision to artificially limit its spread was justified. So too with the Twitter files: as soon as Matt Taibi started tweeting about them, it seems, most in newsmedia were convinced they were unimportant. This is the Maw at work – it’s the expression of culture war in what the media sees as a respectable position to hold. In the Maw, nothing independent survives.

Freddie DeBoer, “The Twitter Files and Writing for the Maw” at Substack (December 12, 2022)

He also notes a curious fact about the MSM approach to the issue: Anyone who delves too deeply into the Twitter censorship or similar matters will be classified as “right wing” regardless of other positions or loyalties: “I am in almost every matter of substance you can think of a generic leftist. It’s difficult to name a single left-right issue on which I don’t land comfortably on the left. But I’m right-coded by the Maw. This has been financially remunerative for me but makes little sense as a matter of basic political intelligibility.”

Indeed, Matt Taibbi and Bari Weiss, respectively a center left and a centrist journalist, have suddenly become “right-wing,” in the eyes of many in media. They are, in reality, merely anti-Establishment — reporting on a great scoop without having elite permission. But that sort of relabeling is an outcome of the MSM move from being critics of the Establishment to being servants of the Establishment. Journalism will never matter anywhere near as much to the MSM again as doing what their betters want does. They necessarily see writers to whom journalism matters more as a threat.

Meanwhile, Musk seems committed to living dangerously:

As Devine tells us, last Sunday morning, he threw another cat among the pigeons: “My pronouns are Prosecute/Fauci.”

She notes, “The incendiary tweet amassed almost 800,000 likes in the next 10 hours … When YouTuber Viva Frei, aka Canadian lawyer David Freiheit, elaborated on the point: “Fauci lied under oath, engaged in gain of function research in a Chinese lab, jeopardized the entire planet, and arguably contributed to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people,” Musk replied, “Correct.”

That view is certainly defensible. But also very unpopular with the establishment elite. COVID was a sacred cause, after all, that justified almost any amount of repression. Which means that, irrespective of evidence, it can’t safely be argued openly now. And — as Musk well knows — it puts him in the establishment’s crosshairs.

We will soon get to see if even Musk can get away with speaking about things that have cost so many others their careers and reputations.

And the future? Characteristically, Newsbusters complains, “Instead of covering this, the networks spent 28 minutes and six seconds (excluding teases) between Wednesday morning and Thursday morning obsessing over the former U.K. royals and narcissists Harry and Meghan’s new Netflix documentary.”

Okay, Newsbusters. But perhaps we should thank the MSM for making it clear: They will join the tabloids on the supermarket counter shelf rather than shed their elite ties and regain the position they once held. Alternatively, they may become government agencies, as in Canada.

Increasingly, news gathering and dissemination is going to be in other hands now: new and independent news vehicles, which will naturally inherit the mainstream media’s once-proud battle against censorship.

You may also wish to read: Update: Musk’s second salvo: Twitter did secretly censor users: Despite execs claiming that it didn’t. Elon Musk gave journalist Bari Weiss the story. Meanwhile, Musk is blasting former CEO Jack Dorsey for doing nothing about Twitter’s child porn problem.

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As the Twitter Files Drop, Ponder the Future of Mainstream Media