the new heretics

Last July I wrote that we were just a few weeks away from a #BoycottSubstack hashtag, and while things have moved a little more slowly than I thought they would, they’re moving in the direction I predicted. The increasing volume and shrillness of the attacks on Substack are a direct result of frustration and anger by people who work for magazines and newspapers that some of the most widely read Substack writers are producing journalism.

Most people who write for newspapers and magazines, especially those who call themselves “reporters,” don’t do journalism anymore; they practice what Andrey Mir calls postjournalism:

Postjournalism is journalism that sells the audience to the public by soliciting donations in the form of subscription. Classical journalism pretended to be objective; it strived to depict the world-as-it-is. Postjournalism is openly normative; it imposes the world-as-it-should-be.

Similar to propaganda, postjournalism openly promotes an ideological view. What distinguishes it from propaganda, however, is that postjournalism mixes open ideological intentions with a hidden business imperative required for the media to survive. Postjournalism is not the product of a choice but is the consequence of the change in the media business model. […]

The media practicing postjournalism produce nothing else but the donating audience through the manufacture of its anger. Their agenda production entails no consumption. Nobody learns news from this agenda. It does not even have any impact on the assumed audience. Real propaganda involves the proliferation of ideas and values. However, postjournalism cannot do even that. Those whom it is supposed to reach and convert are already trapped in the same agenda bubble.

Glenn Greenwald has written brilliantly about the wrath of the postjournalists here. Greenwald is a prickly character, to be sure, and hasn’t been reluctant to make enemies. But about this matter he is correct, and profoundly so:

Do you see how these online journalists have been taught to think about themselves and the world? Do you see the bottomless sense of entitlement and self-regard and fragility that defines who they are and how they behave? They specialize in trying to ruin people’s reputations and wreck their lives — not just other journalists but private citizens — but the minute someone objects to their journalism or what they say or do, they summon a team of teachers, psychologists, therapy dogs, digital police officers and tech executives to demand that their critics be silenced and their anguish be treated. They really do believe that the world should be organized so as to authorize them to attack whoever they want, while banning anyone who criticizes them when they do it.

The anger of the postjournalists at the Substack journalists like Greenwald, Andrew Sullivan, and Matt Taibbi is the anger of those who have abandoned their historic role, and the ethical constraints associated with it, and do not want to be confronted by anyone who declines to make that move. People like Glenn Greenwald practiced journalism before the postjournalism movement fully took hold, and they are continuing to practice journalism now. This is an intolerable offense to the postjournalists.

I think a closely analogous situation obtains in the relationship between the Bible teacher Beth Moore and the Southern Baptist Convention. Beth Moore continues to hold the views that she held before Donald Trump came on the scene, and has never seen any reason why the rise of Donald Trump should cause her to abandon the biblical standards by which she has tried to govern her life, and by which she has expected other Christians to try to govern theirs. Just as the postjournalists changed course and despise those who have not changed with them, so also many leaders of the SBC shifted from their traditional conviction that “character counts” in order to enable rank idolatry, and cannot forgive people like Beth Moore for not shifting with them.*

I’m old enough to remember when heresy was understood to be deviation from long-establish beliefs and practices. But in a social-media environment that issues new commandments every fortnight or so, the heretics now are the ones who don’t deviate when told to do so. And they are hated with particular intensity because they are a living, breathing reproach to their colleagues’ complete lack of ethical standards.