Journalist, Heal Thyself

Maggie Haberman is an excellent reporter, a big player in the big leagues of journalism as the White House correspondent for the New York Times. And like many in her position, and indeed like many who aren’t in her position but have just had enough of the constant onslaught of idiocy, she’s decided to take a twitter hiatus.

That’s cool. Many others have, and many of us take the occasional week or month off from the never-ending reminder that the average IQ is 100, and half of all twitter users are below that. But Haberman didn’t just log off. She wrote an op-ed.

The evening before, I had complained to a close friend that I hated being on Twitter. It was distorting discourse, I said. I couldn’t turn off the noise. She asked what was the worst that could happen if I stepped away from it.

There was nothing I could think of. And so just after 6 p.m. last Sunday, I did.

In the early days of twitter, it was fairly benign. People posted pics of dinner and made jokes, most anodyne but some that would become problematic years later as the warring tribes searched for reasons to attack. But the tenor has changed markedly since Trump, and Maggie being all Trump, all the time, was a natural target.

After nearly nine years and 187,000 tweets, I have used Twitter enough to know that it no longer works well for me.

That’s a lot of twits. I’ve been on twitter for ten years, and have about half as many. It may be because she’s used twitter as a delivery mechanism for breaking news, or felt compelled to engage with others, some worth her time and others just idiots of either the useful or annoying types.

Twitter has stopped being a place where I could learn things I didn’t know, glean information that was free from errors about a breaking news story or engage in a discussion and be reasonably confident that people’s criticisms were in good faith.

This is where Haberman’s rationale starts to break down. Twitter, like any medium, is merely a forum, a platform where there will be smart and dumb, honest and dishonest, good faith and bad. There are remarkably good things, funny jokes, interesting asides and fascinating discussions. And there’s tons of garbage. This was always the case. Even when it was less offensive, it was still largely dumb. After all, the twits come from people, and people aren’t nearly as fabulous as we should be. Not you, of course. You are totally fab. Other people.

The viciousness, toxic partisan anger, intellectual dishonesty, motive-questioning and sexism are at all-time highs, with no end in sight. It is a place where people who are understandably upset about any number of things go to feed their anger, where the underbelly of free speech is at its most bilious.

And here is where Maggie goes rouge. Viciousness? Check. Toxic partisan anger? Beyond belief. Intellectual dishonesty? Oh yeah. Motive-questioning? It’s become an art form in the hands of trolls. Sexism? Wait, how did that get into the same list as the others? Why not racism? Is Haberman a racist, or homophobe, or, god forbid, a xenophobe? See the problem?

Whether it’s at an all-time high may be debatable, as the shameless use of hyperbole is taken for granted, but it’s bad. And so what? If the pain of seeing the toxic combination of ignorance and outrage becomes too much, blink, shrug, scroll. But for Maggie, in particular, to complain about the ugliness and stupidity of people seems, well, disingenuous.

More recently, instead of engaging in thoughtful debates, I found myself spending an increasing amount of time explaining an errant word or a poorly phrased tweet, and coming off defensive as I did it. At other times, I watched as an offhand comment became tinder for a divisive national conversation.

On Twitter, everything is shrunk down to the same size, making it harder to discern what is a big deal and what is not. Tone often overshadows the actual news. All outrages appear equal. And that makes it harder for significant events — like Mr. Trump’s extraordinarily pliant performance with President Vladimir Putin of Russia — to break through.

Having read the New York Times for decades, including the past two years, this complaint cannot go unnoticed. There hasn’t been a day since Trump was the Republican candidate that the New York Times, the Paper of Record, hasn’t had at least two, if not more, editorials or op-eds that didn’t proclaim him “literally Hitler,” bringing the Apocalypse upon us, destroying everything that was good and holy.

Your paper, Maggie, gave it’s precious real estate to some of the most ridiculous, outrageous, baseless, and yes, utterly false, claims of the end of times. I’ve discussed a few of them here from time to time, but it could be a career vetting the inane op-eds. Have you ever read Michelle Goldberg’s columns? Poor Charles Blow has lost his mind. Or my favorite muse, Roxane Gay?

While I appreciate that as a reporter, you’re given assignments in your role as White House correspondent, but who has done more to elevate every burp and fart of this administration to prominence than you, Maggie?

On Twitter, everything is shrunk down to the same size, making it harder to discern what is a big deal and what is not. Tone often overshadows the actual news. All outrages appear equal. And that makes it harder for significant events — like Mr. Trump’s extraordinarily pliant performance with President Vladimir Putin of Russia — to break through.

As of this moment, you have over 880,000 followers on twitter. Have you ever twitted that something Trump did, said, twitted, was dumb but insignificant? The vast majority of things that have come from the White House fits that characterization, dumb but insignificant. Have you used your clout on twitter to calm down the outrage, to focus on things that truly matter and distinguish the wheat from the chafe? Or have you broadcast them all the same, feeding the outrage machine even as you hold yourself aloof from the vicious animals and the flaming nutjobs?

You want off twitter? So get off twitter. Log out and don’t look back, just like mere mortals might do. But you and your paper are integral to this cesspool. to feeding red meat to the starving mob. You bear responsibility for this disease of twitter, and yet you blame twitter and want to walk away from the mess you were integral in making?

You don’t owe anyone twits. You can twit or not, as you choose. You owe no one your twits. But since you chose to “explain” yourself, at least be honest about what you’re walking away from and your complicity in making it the cesspool it is.

46 comments on “Journalist, Heal Thyself

  1. Xchixm

    “Not you, of course. You are totally fab.”

    You knew I’d read this post. You’re welcome to enjoy my fabulousness.

    However, leave Roxane Gay alone. She never did nothing wrong. She slays.

  2. Hunting Guy

    Robert Heinlein.

    “Never listen to newscasts. Saves wear and tear on the nervous system.”

  3. Tracie

    This blog post going after her with the jugular is 1 reason why she wants to get off Twitter.

    However Maggie is putting a ton of stuff on Twitter, mostly related to her reporting and Trump. She is also enabling (inadvertently perhaps) what has been coming toward her.

    Example: I tweeted something on gun control and put a hashtag on gun control reform. Every gun enthusiast found it and started tweeting. This was going on for 12 hours with 50+ tweets. this was more annoying than being critiqued over something people disagree with. I finally learned to mute conversation and I will be oblivious to what will come up..

    And yes I think people forget there ate people behind a screen and do get mean..and forget people do have feelings and that words can hurt. You can disagree but I think people forget and put it all out there because they are “not directly talking to people”

      1. guitardave

        …I had a sudden image of you with some kind of little S+M whip fashioned from a properly tanned neck vein… .. ( sometimes having a vivid and sick imagination is truly burdensome…artists, such a nice word for bat-shit crazy)

      2. Trqciw

        “Terminal narcissism”? Projecting much Scott? I think this is what psychologists call projection, your personality traits on to others.

        You can’t possibly stop yourself from not replying with a dig towards me.
        Just because someone doesn’t agree with you, and calls you out with writing harshly on others doesn’t mean they are a terminal narcissist. Yes, you have every right to do so because it can be considered “protected speech”.

        And reading every reply comment underneath substantiates my claim that things do get mean on the internet.
        We all say stupid mean crap in social media too and forget there are people behind the screen. I also do it and forget. Everyone does this because it’s the New world we live in.

        1. SHG Post author

          Because I’m a great humanitarian and have a few moments, I’m going to make an effort to explain this to you. Your narcissism was demonstrated by your example of yourself, as if anybody knows or cares about you, and as if nobody has experiences other than you such that without your example, no one could possibly have a clue about twitter other than you. It’s not just moronic, but flagrantly narcissistic. The world isn’t fascinated with Tracie, and Tracie isn’t the center of the universe. Except to Tracie, the narcissist.

          I understand your need to be defensive, to attempt to deflect your pathological narcissism by call it my projection, or rationalizing it as my reaction to your disagreement. But I tell you this just in case there is any hope for you to rise above your terminal narcissism. No one cares if you disagree. No one cares about you at all. Except you.

    1. Viral antidote

      Wait – there are something like 338 million twitter users, and (depending on your source) from 5 to 14 million NRA members. “Every gun enthusiast” started tweeting at you, and you got 50 twits? Is that what counts for viral now?

      So less than 1/100,000th of a percent saw and reacted to your idiocy, and you decided that was too much to bear, so you muted the world, stuck your fingers in your ears, and went “la la la la I can’t hear you!”

  4. Guitardave

    Getting some good mileage out of that one, eh? …good thing my balls are made of carbide.
    PS for Jake: Your welcome…i try to help when i can.

      1. guitardave

        I was rolling on the floor at the lipstick on a pig comment…i was thinking i should proofread my stuff more closely, but after this…nah.

  5. Miles

    Why do you bother? You know damn well that there is no chance in hell she’ll grasp why she suffers from psychotic delusions. Stupid can’t be fixed, but stupid and psychotic is only good for lulz.

    1. SHG Post author

      Look, there is a generation for whom narcissistic delusions have become the new normal. Maybe one or two can be saved if someone points it out to them. Or uses someone else as the example to make the point. That it happens to be Tracie (at the moment) is merely fortuitous.

      And use the friggin reply button. You’re not special either.

        1. SHG Post author

          I prefer to think of it as tedious, but then, I may be healthier than these SJWs who have yet to get off the couch in their mommy’s basement, so I’m not as easily exhausted.

  6. Tracie

    Ha and I typed my name wrong because I didn’t proofread.
    You can make fun of me as much as you want. I have that one coming.

    1. SHG Post author

      Aside from your failure to use the reply button, you again prove your narcissism. People make typos all the time, and no one makes fun of anyone because of it. It’s no big deal. Except to you. About you. Because you’re a narcissist.

      1. LocoYokel

        Well, we make fun of Scott. But that’s what he’s here for, that and affirming that you are the mostest specialest person of the whole 7+ billion on the planet. Just like the other 7 billion people on the planet.

  7. John Barleycorn

    ….good and holy.

    Some of your daily habits perhaps but that newspapers you read everyday, really?! Just thinking about all the shirts you could have had cut for yourself, if you straightened out your vice roll, makes me want to cry.

    P.S. Oh yeah, what didn’t they name Twitter, Trotter?

  8. Nemo

    IMO (expert on everything that I am), Twitter has got to be /the/ example of what happens when people focus on holding the opposition “accountable”, rather than spending time keeping their own houses in order,. especially on the partisan politics front.

    And here at SJ, when this was pointed out, the Twitterverse was here, right on cue, attempting to “hold SHG accountable for his projection*”, or whatever the hell was supposed to have happened, but didn’t. Standard twitting tactics were used , as predictable as they are problematic. SHG and SJ had to be fixed, damnit, and by golly, they showed up ready to “fix things”. Predictably, the only thing that happened was that the tone got nastier, and nothing got “fixed”.

    I know I’m far from innocent, but at least I’m /trying/ to do better. You can actually fix stupid, but only in one person. Heal thyself, indeed, but it’s hard, uncomfortable work, and there’s no one to rub your tummy about it.

    *Gotta love psych experts who operate in the fly.

    1. SHG Post author

      Did the tone get nastier, or was it just the usual twitter-type retort that just didn’t work because I’m disinclined to argue like a 12-year-old?

  9. MelK

    Did you really intend to say, “And here is where Maggie goes [red pigment for makeup]”? I wouldn’t normally associate visciousness and partisan anger with rouge, but I trust your word for it. But I’d hate to see what styling gel does to a person…

  10. Billy Bob

    What Maggie Haberman has accomplished in Twitterdom is what we in Mathematics call Asymptotic. In layman’s terms, her feverish twitterings have apparently gone off the charts and approached infinity–so it would appear–an unknown, incalculable conclusion and point in time which is essentislly imprecise and unknowable in the real world in real-time.

    Never read Maggie and have no intention of starting now. Getting out at the top of your game is not a bad strategy for athletes, show busyness folks, and oh yes judges. Ha! We wish her luck in her future endeavors. Think I smell something burning on her stove. Maybe her garden needs watering. Who knows?

    Warning: You, SHG, have not quite gone asymptotic, but you are getting close. Icarus,…you remember that ancient apocraphy? Our Fearless Leader in Washington may already have reached the point of no return in Twitterdom, IMO. Who can take this phoney-baloney moron for a president seriously? Soon he and his tweets will be a treasure trove for academics only who will knock themselves out and argue incessantly over the entrails of his insane rantings.

    P.S. The stock market does not seem to mind, unlike Nixon in the 70s. Been there, done that. Let’s not forget: What goes up, must come down. It’s not question of if, but when? Trump made Amerika great again. Now where is the encore?
    All the Best,

    1. SHG Post author

      Suggestion, Bill: If you’re going to criticize Maggie, you really need to read something, anything, of hers before doing so or people will think you’re . . . never mind.

  11. Nick Lidakis

    “Twitter is good for one thing and one thing only: finding out where my favorite sausage cart will be during my lunch hour.”
    — NYT Pick comment

    I agree. If it’s pork sausage I agree even more. And more. And more.

      1. Nick Lidakis

        I decode this as you enjoy your sausage as as 1% fat free, as well. I agree even more. And more. And more.

  12. Casual Lurker

    “…hold yourself aloof from the vicious animals and the flaming nutjobs?”

    There you go again with the “flaming nutjobs”. If you can bemoan the unanticipated appearance of fecal matter with “stercus accidit”, until I can persuade the APA board to officially recognize “nutjob” in the DSM, why not use the more erudite “non compos mentis”, other than its lacking a sufficiently pejorative connotation?

    Inquiring minds want to know!

    Seriously though, shortly after the inauguration, I vaguely remember an NYT article (by other than Haberman) on dog grooming or some such, that opened with a slam at Trump. At the time, my sense was a top-down directive had been issued. Why else would an opinion, totally unrelated to the title subject matter, have been included?

    I came to the conclusion that since the print edition was no longer a primary source of revenue, in an attempt to achieve revenue parity with its former self (and considering its over-the-top metrics collection, profiled on 60 Minutes), management looked at what spiels maximized page-hits and engagement with their advertisers’ preferred demographic, then proceeded to stoke an already prevalent bias among newsroom personnel. Voilà! The new NYT!

    Without management’s blessing, I don’t believe the degree of mass hysteria among NYT editorial personnel would be possible or sustainable (at least not long term). Possibly, Ms. Haberman’s stepping back from Twitter is a small form of pushback. Her proffered reason(s) likely have little to do with the real reason(s). You can bet her contract has requirements, spelling out a minimum number of monthly social media appearances, promoting her own columns or anything else that steers readership to the NYT website. I’d keep an eye out for an increased presence on other social media platforms, just so she can make her SM* appearance quota.

    Maybe I’m being too cynical. Nonetheless, ideology doesn’t feed your kids or pay the rent. (Think Maslow). In the behavioral prediction racket, with few exceptions, when in doubt, follow the money.

    *I almost, mistakenly, put an ampersand between the two letters, in a classic Freudian slip. Caught that one just in time. Whew!

      1. Casual Lurker

        “I think of Maslow all the time. Does that make me weird?”

        No weirder than anyone else. Especially among those that fall to the less common side of Dunning-Kruger.*

        *The less common side being where those of high ability often, incorrectly, assume that tasks that are easy for them should also be easy for others.

        1. SHG Post author

          My first post about Dunning-Kruger was a decade ago. It caught some attention and I was gratified to spread the word.

          It’s always a curiosity why one post gets a ton of comments while another gets very few. It’s not for lack of readers, as this post was widely read. Maybe it’s uncontroversial? Maybe reading Judge Kane’s incredibly brilliant and bold sentencing order was too much effort? Maybe no one had anything to add? Beats me.

          1. Casual Lurker

            “We’re sorry… The number you have reached is not in service at this time… Please check the number and dial again…”

            I believe your add-on second paragraph was aimed at my post (#comment-168558) in the “‘Terrorist’ Isn’t What It Used To Be” thread. If I’m mistaken, apologies.

            1. SHG Post author

              Yeah, I added it in afterward, but blew the comment. I’ve now put it where it belongs, but left it here as evidence that I fuck up like everyone else.

  13. JorgeMcKie

    Sturgeon’s Law: 90 percent of everything is crap.
    That was in response to being told that 90 percent of science fiction was crap.
    Works for Twitter, too.

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