Dispatch from the Front Line: Contemplating the second- and third-worst-case scenarios
Greenwald joins Substack. Scotland: land of the exiled and the insane. The Logic and Blacklock's fight, and the subtle grift of scamming pennies from "Big Tech."
The American election is imminent, dear readers, but we can offer no real predictions. The polls clearly show a comfortable Joe Biden lead. More relevant, to us, they show Biden overperforming relative to Hillary Clinton's 2016 performance — which we must recall came very, very close to beating Donald Trump. Trump's victory was narrow twice over: a tiny number of votes in a very small number of places carried him over the top. Could it happen again? Sure. But it's hard to see Biden's strength relative to HRC's and not agree that, if nothing else, Trump's road to victory would be even narrower this time.
Do we rule it out? No. Do we expect him to win? Not really. Would it shock us if he did? No. 2020 has beaten all the shock out of us, we think.
But we do offer this comment: we hope, we pray, indeed, that the victory is lopsided either way. It's very possible that Biden can win so crushing a landslide on Tuesday that there is just no room for doubt. We suppose it's possible that there's sufficient silent Trump support out there that the incumbent can pull off enough surprises to have a clear victory in enough places that even recounts and mail-ballot-sorting delays won't matter. That seems less likely, but still. There are also scenarios we can see where the result may not be explicitly clear on election night, but is nearly so — if either man is just a vote or two shy in the Electoral College, with many states not reporting, we're confident that will be a clear enough sign. This isn’t a great scenario, but it’s not the worst one, either.
What we do not want to see is a vote that is credibly contestable, and in any way uncertain. Bluntly, the option that scares us most isn't a surprise but clear Trump re-election, it's an unclear result that allows Trump to declare himself re-elected in a confusing, ambiguous aftermath. Thinking about the stress that would put on the already frayed fabric of American civil society, to be blunt, horrifies us. It should terrify you, too.
And it certainly seemed to terrify Walmart.
On Friday evening, the company said they were reversing that decision, but the fact that this was even considered, folks, tells us a lot about how bad things have already gotten in America. There are ways back from this. But, as with Trump’s 2016 victory, let’s just say … they’re narrow
In other news, we at The Line are set to welcome yet another journalistic émigré to the Substack fold: this week, it’s Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Glenn Greenwald.
Greenwald announced that he was resigning from The Intercept — the scrappy start-up media company that he helped found — after the editors refused to run a prosaic column about the Hunter Biden emails without substantive changes. To wit: “The final, precipitating cause is that The Intercept’s editors, in violation of my contractual right of editorial freedom, censored an article I wrote this week, refusing to publish it unless I remove all sections critical of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.”
Greenwald apparently had a unique contractual agreement with the outlets he worked with; he negotiated a journalistic carte blanche that appeared to grant him far more leeway than most of us mere mortals can boast. Absent a compelling legal objection, Greenwald has, until now, published what he wanted.
Twitter was soon rife with complaints about Greenwald’s failures as a human; his media colleagues quick to list his previous journalistic sins, perceived or otherwise. The editors of The Intercept also responded in kind.
Much of the reaction to Greenwald’s resignation is muddying the waters in order to evade the core complaint about the increasingly narrow range of acceptable positions that mainstream journalists feel permitted to hold and publish prior to a crucial election.
After wading through these exchanges, we at The Line have come away with the following conclusions: 1) Although the provenance of the the Hunter Biden emails is deeply suspect, the actual content appears to be authentic. The emails raise legitimate questions about what the junior Biden was playing at in Ukraine. 2) While those legitimate questions extend to Joe Biden — and answers should be aggressively demanded of him — none of the evidence published to date proves that the actual Democratic Presidential nominee has behaved corruptly. 3) None of the stories sway our opinion that Biden would be an infinitely better choice for American president than Donald Trump. (You want to talk corruption? C’mon!)
Following from these conclusions: 4) Greenwald’s column was safely within the realm of fair comment. 5) While Greenwald’s editor Peter Maas laid out reasonable concerns about his writer’s conclusions, those concerns did not amount to a valid journalistic reason to spike or substantively change the column. Ultimately, Maas’ disagreed about how to interpret and weigh the evidence. It is fair to rebut Greenwald’s conclusions, but not to kill them. 6) Greenwald is, indeed, being a bit of a baby. He seemed to escalate what began as a standard editorial disagreement to a full-on ragequit within a handful of email exchanges. And, lastly, 7) if The Intercept contractually agreed to publish Greenwald without editing interference — which is, indeed, very unusual — then the outlet was in no position to demand changes to his column simply because they disagreed with it.
Perhaps there is an argument to be made that Donald Trump represents such a threat to the American public, that the normal standard of reporting ought to shift in Biden’s favour in the closing days of an election. But if that’s what you believe, embrace the courage to make that claim openly and explicitly.
Lastly, Greenwald notes:
“The pathologies, illiberalism, and repressive mentality that led to the bizarre spectacle of my being censored by my own media outlet are ones that are by no means unique to The Intercept. These are the viruses that have contaminated virtually every mainstream center-left political organization, academic institution, and newsroom.”
Whatever unrelated issues we have with Greenwald aside, we have to ask: “Where’s the lie?”
As for our editorial policy at The Line, readers, it's simple: everyone needs an editor, including us, because editing makes us better. And sometimes an editor completely saves your ass from making a really dumb and embarrassing mistake. The editing process itself is often painful, but it almost always results in a better product. So if you send us something, you can be certain we'll edit it, but fairly. We think you’ll be happy we did.
Next, we have some disturbing political news from the expat file. We confess to a certain fondness for Steven Ladurantaye, former editor of CBC’s The National who was exiled to Scotland — uh, no scratch that, we mean hired to run STV’s newsroom two years ago. Those deep in the online abyss will remember Ladurantaye’s role in the now-infamous “Cultural Appropriation prize” mishap in which several senior journalists and editors got themselves in trouble for skipping the Twitter memo that went around warning us all that Cultural Appropriation was a Very Bad Thing now. Fools should have spent more time surfing hashtags, obvs.
Anyway, Ladurantaye was subject to an internal CBC struggle session for his sins and reassigned; his career at the MortherCorp clearly over, he later packed up for Scotland.
Ladurantaye has now resigned his role at STV and will be returning to Canada after a mental-health crisis and amid allegations of inappropriate conduct reportedly levelled by female members of staff.
“It’s been a long two years,” Ladurantaye wrote in a Facebook post that was then published by The Times. “I worked too much, I drove myself too hard and culture shock is a real thing.”
We at The Line are not ashamed to admit our own biases, and in this we may have one. We wish to hold judgement on this particular story until we have more information about the specifics of Ladurantaye’s transgressions. And when we are comfortable with our judgement, we will not withhold it.
On an unrelated note: Scotland appears to be a little bit fucking nuts right now.
CORRECTION: A reader pointed out inaccuracies in our summary of the events above to The Line Editor. We have adjusted the text accordingly and will note this correction in our next dispatch.
Now, a non-story story: Blacklock’s reports: “A media start-up that complained of the corrosive influence of federal money in Canadian newsrooms has won a sole-sourced Department of Public Works contract worth more than a quarter million.” And while this tale has all the gripping appeal of media hypocrisy, we at The Line are mildly disappointed that there doesn’t appear to be much to it.
From The Logic: “The media monitoring service contract, which is publicly disclosed on our website, was the result of strong demand for The Logic's reporting within the public service. We agreed to a license allowing the federal government to share our journalism among employees for internal research purposes without breaching our copyright and misusing our intellectual property. The terms of the agreement are based on the fair market value of similar media monitoring services the federal public service has with other news, information and research outlets. We offer agreements like this to all our corporate and government customers.”
In other words, the contract wasn’t a bailout. It was a fee for service.
The Logic has also disclosed on its website that it has received grants from the Government of Canada via the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, Canada Emergency Business Account and the Special Measures for Journalism — Canada Periodical Fund. These are all emergency COVID-19 related grants.
We at The Line would prefer all of our indie media brethren to just kiss and make up.
Also, readers, watch this space. We will be writing more on this topic in coming weeks as the Liberals gear up to take on “Bit Tech” in scare quotes. There’s nothing like watching the dying shadows of mainstream media conglomerates cling to the living death by attempting to wrench fraught pennies from companies we all hate and use now. We especially appreciate the subtle grift of demanding Facebook pay for articles that we choose to post there.
One last thing, dear readers. Wonderful readers. Beautiful readers. Generous readers. Some of you made a terrible mistake last week, and the rest of you will now have to pay the literal price. You see, we explicitly asked some of you who are here as free readers to sign up as paying subscribers … and it worked. It worked really well. So now we’re going to be absolutely shameless about it.
A little more seriously, here’s the deal: We grew very quickly at first, much faster than we expected. Over the last month, there’s been an observable divergence in how we are growing. Our growth for free readers has remained very strong, but our paid-subscriber growth has slowed. We knew this would happen. We don’t want to call you early subscribers low-hanging fruit, which sounds dismissive, and you really are our favourite people in the whole-wide world. But we were obviously going to have our earliest, fastest success with those most excited about this prospect. We also knew that some of you would need to be shown what we were about before you’d open your wallets.
That’s fine. It really is. We get it. And we especially understand that readers who’ve only found us in recent weeks might still be getting a feel for us.
But we also know this: if every free reader converted to a paid subscriber today, even at the $5-a-month plan, The Line would be instantly viable as a standalone entity over the long-term. It would be a shoestring operation, with two people making a part-time wage while doing other gigs, but it would be an independent and sustainable one, as far into the future as we can project. And that would give us the time to keep growing, until The Line fulfills its full promise — a fully independent Canadian news and commentary platform that cannot be cancelled by anyone or anything other than our readers.
That’s what we want to be. That’s what we think you want us to be. Because, let’s be honest — that’s how it should be. So please. If you’re even on the fence about supporting us with actual, you know, money, now’s the time. And if you don’t, well, we’ll just have to keep asking, won’t we?
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Look, that last sentence didn’t exactly roll off the tongue the way we’d hoped. Fine. But the point is made. There’s a blue button below. See? It’s right there. Click it and send us money!
Ken Boessenkool tries to blow up conservative brains like a starship captain arguing with a supercomputer by proposing right-wing politicians and voters aggressively embrace carbon taxation, for their own electoral and political benefits. “Shifting taxes onto carbon offers conservatives a once-in-a-generation, perhaps once-in-a-century, opportunity to put government on a diet that will cause government (by design!) to slim down over time,” Boessenkool writes. “If you are one of those conservatives that secretly thinks climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, you should still jump on the carbon tax bandwagon. A large shift to carbon taxes may be the only chance you’ll ever get to put government on a starvation diet, flatten taxes and reduce taxes on investment. And don’t worry, your secret will be safe with me.”
Jen Gerson made the case for trick-or-treating, even in the middle of the pandemic. “Look, I can empathize with the impulse to do something, DO ANYTHING, to stem the concerning growth of COVID-19 cases,” she wrote. “But if you were to craft a low-risk family holiday that offered a psychologically necessary reprieve from the joyless grind of the last year, you couldn't do much better than trick-or-treating.”
Peter Menzies wrote a follow-up column to his recent argument here at The Line, and proposed some real, tangible changes the CBC could make to better serve Canadians. “The only way to purify the CBC then, is to ban it — once and for all — from collecting advertising revenue from domestic consumption of its product,” he argued. “As its radio operations are already advertising-free this means no more ads on its TV or websites. Done. Finished.” He added that this would mean spending even more public money on it, which isn’t likely to be a winner among many voters, but said the new funding should come with a catch. “Here’s the quid, the pro and the quo that go along with another $200 million for the Corp: in exchange, it gives up domestic copyright protection on its news and public-affairs content. That’s right, as CBC/Radio-Canada would be entirely funded by individual and corporate taxes, the product created by that money would be available in whole or in part to anyone in Canada, including CTV, Global, TVA, the Toronto Star, La Presse, the Globe and Mail, your local Postmedia product, etc.”
The Rev. Dr. Cole Hartin, in his first piece for The Line, made a defence not of new U.S. Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s qualifications, per se, but her faith. “Christ before the state is what drove so many to North America in the first place,” the reverend said. “To pull at the thread of Coney Barrett’s belief will only begin to unravel the religious commitments of multitudes.”
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