CNN, MSNBC, and ABC News all have ratings in the toilet. Public trust in mainstream media outlets has plumbed new lows as Americans realize they’re being fed a steady diet of propaganda.
So what’s going to fill that hole in the information ecosystem?
Programs such as “Counterpoints,” a new digital talk show hosted by Ryan Grim from The Intercept and Emily Jashinsky from The Federalist, hope to cut past the politics and strike straight at the truth.
Jashinsky joins this episode of “The Daily Signal Podcast” to discuss the rise of independent media outlets and how they’re taking on the giants in the industry.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript:
Doug Blair: My guest today is Emily Jashinsky, culture editor at The Federalist and host of “The Federalist Radio Hour” as well as the new “Counterpoints” on the Breaking Points team. Emily, welcome to the show.
Emily Jashinsky: Hey, Doug. Great to be here.
Blair: Always good to have a friend of the show back on.
Jashinsky: Always good to be back on.
Blair: Exactly. So you are moving over from Hill “Rising” to the “Counterpoints” show, like I mentioned at the top. Tell us a little bit about what that new program is like and what you’re hoping to achieve with it.
Jashinsky: Yeah, absolutely. We’re doing something really similar to what we did with “Rising” Fridays. Ryan Grim and me on Friday, so same day, same two hosts.
Blair: Keep it consistent.
Jashinsky: Exactly. But Breaking Points is independent media, and it’s obviously run by our friends, Saagar Enjeti and Krystal Ball, who are wonderful and are doing something incredibly important and innovative.
It doesn’t matter if you’re left or right, you have to appreciate the importance of building new media institutions that are not beholden to corporate sponsors, that are not beholden to the super niche, NPR tote bag audience and have a business model that works and allows them to provide journalism without any corporate benefactors.
So that’s the plan going forward.
And it’s going to be the same old Ryan Grim and Emily Jashinsky coming from the Left and the Right, but covering the news of the week through those lenses and allowing the contrast to help us all work through what’s right and wrong.
Blair: Now, here at the National Conservatism Conference, you gave a really interesting panel on the importance of building a conservative media ecosystem that we can exist in without the influence of the corporate media that is incredibly biased against us.
One of the questions I have about that, though, is, while we build that infrastructure up, for lack of a better term, the normies that think The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal are reputable sources of information maybe will be slightly hesitant to move over into those spaces, but we still need to have them on board. What is your solution to maybe pull in those people or to understand that those people aren’t necessarily on the same boat as us?
Jashinsky: That’s one of the cool things about what Saagar and Krystal do with Breaking Points, and I’ve heard Saagar explain it this way before, and this was back when they were at “Rising.” They were like, this is a new media product that I can show my parents. And because it has the aesthetic feel of older news, it feels credible and legitimate in the same sense that people are used to.
And I think that’s an important part going forward, is, new media doesn’t need to copy the bad stuff of old media, but I think having formal, serious spaces—I love Joe Rogan. Joe Rogan is not a replacement for The New York Times, obviously.
And so the people who are engaged in these efforts to create parallel competitive institutions, I think it actually does go a really long way to putting stuff behind the aesthetics, putting stuff behind the delivery, how many people have—you know, we’re recording here, a little inside baseball with professional audio, there’s an audio engineer!
That stuff I think is really important because you can have the best ideas in the world, and if they’re not delivered in a way that’s intelligible, you’re not going to have a lot of credibility. So I think actually really putting a lot of effort into the style and quality of delivery is important.
Blair: So I guess is that then maybe where a lot of these places are still getting their legitimacy from, is the aesthetic of legitimacy? Because obviously, a CNN and a New York Times, like we’re talking about, don’t have that actual credibility behind them. Is it simply just a veneer?
Jashinsky: Isn’t that funny? Because the Russia conspiracy hoax basically should have been on a blog. It was instead on the pages of The New York Times and The Washington Post to the point where they won Pulitzer.
So I do think the aesthetic helps a lot, but also just the fact that it’s run by a club that is exclusive and they will self-perpetuate. If The New York Times reports something with three anonymous sources, well, The Washington Post will then report what The New York Times reported and CNN will cover it on its airwaves, and it’s a vicious cycle, basically. So disrupting that and having credible people who actually know how to do really good journalism.
For instance, on the panel that I was on, Christina Pushaw, who works for the [Florida Gov. Ron] DeSantis campaign, was talking about the efforts that they’ve made to have events where only fair journalists are allowed.
I don’t want a world where those fair journalists who want to do a good job and are fair-minded don’t know how to do the basics of reporting. And a little plug, that’s what we do at the National Journalism Center. And [Young America’s Foundation] is equipping conservative-minded journalists with the ability to say, “I’m going to go into this event hosted by a politician. Even if I like the politician, I’m going to cover it as if I don’t.” And that’s important.
… I worry about that a little bit just because new institutions don’t have the muscle memory. But that’s a great future where the old guard is totally disrupted.
Blair: Right. Well, one of the things that brings up is critics of this idea that we’ll just build up another conservative ecosystem, you see that then the reality would be there is a conservative media space and a liberal media space, and then you either are one or the other and now we have two different realities.
How does that play out in a country as, one, big as ours and, two, as integrated as ours, where there’s people who might watch Fox News in New York and people who might watch CNN in Texas?
Jashinsky: Yeah. I think there’s still a space, if we’re talking about media in particular, for wire reports. Which is interesting, and this is kind of inside baseball, anything you read from the AP or Reuters, for the most part, they’re wires. They’re supposed to just be, “Ron DeSantis said this here at this time,” for example. And very dry and as neutral as is humanly possible. Neutrality is not possible, but as neutral as is humanly possible.
I think there’s a market for that and I think somebody is going to figure that out. I don’t know who it’s going to be, but there is a real business opportunity for monoculture, whether it’s “Top Gun,” as we discussed on our panel, whether it’s “Top Gun,” whether it’s genuinely very good pop music, whether it’s genuinely with neutral reporting, there’s a market for it.
And as soon as somebody figures out and figures out how to do it, great, but for now, the business models and I think into the future are going to prize these niche audiences. Whether it’s Stephen Colbert—could never be Johnny Carson. But Stephen Colbert can be very successful by making resistance boomers tune in every single night.
And so it’s the same thing you see on the Right. And it’s not entirely bad because you’re getting better information.
The Federalist, we’re new media. We have a conservative audience, and that’s great. We love that. But there will be an audience as well for, I think, neutral stuff too, going forward. And to the extent that’s possible, I think someone’s going to figure out how to monetize it.
Blair: Sure. Well, fingers crossed, because one of the things that brings up to me is AP and Reuters that are supposed to exist as these independent sort of blasé wire services, we actually at The Daily Signal had an issue with Reuters where they misrepresented some of our reporting. So some of these traditional wire services aren’t doing that. Is there a reason why that seems to have shifted?
Jashinsky: Yeah. It’s why we assign our students at [the National Journalism Center] what I call the most important book about journalism that has nothing to do with journalism. It’s “Coming Apart” by Charles Murray.
Because the reason is that these cultural differences and elite sorting, so into literal super ZIPS, you can do this down to a ZIP code, people tend to be higher education, higher income, but that more than ever before in our history means they also have different cultural tastes.
And this is because of the great splintering. So they’re going to be watching “Modern Family,” everyone else is watching “Blue Bloods,” whatever it is. And these touchstones are really important. If you don’t drive a car, you have a different perspective on gas prices, or you don’t have a perspective on gas prices.
So these things are really, really, really important. And the AP is a great example because they changed their style guide years ago to be sure that preferred pronouns were respected in AP style. And that goes to every single newsroom that copies or follows AP’s style guide. And they made that decision right away. And that went a very long way toward normalizing this poisonous and harmful ideology.
And so that’s because they all tend to have gone through the same colleges, they live in the same places, they socialize with the same people, they watch the same shows, they have the same background, so they think the same way. And it’s not reflective or representative of the rest of the country and it’s now totally shielded and walled off from criticism because they’ve neutralized their critics as bigots. So it just metastasizes into something very bad.
Blair: Well, as the rise of independent media starts to become more apparent and trust in mainstream institutions like a CNN, MSNBC start to drop, we’ve started to see a response. So CNN recently began to fire some of its pretty biased pundits, like everyone’s favorite newsman, Brian Stelter—
Jashinsky: His initials are BS.
Blair: I mean, yeah.
Jashinsky: I just realized that, it’s perfect.
Blair: That’s genius.
Blair: Yeah, all right. But they did that, and they basically said that, “We’re going to try and hew more to the center.” Do you see that as being, one, honest or do you see it being as particularly effective?
Jashinsky: This is similar to a question you asked me earlier, which I think is a very fair challenge. Is it possible? Because I do think Chris Licht, who’s the new top guy at CNN, understands that monoculture is very easy to monetize if you can do it. That there’s this appetite for neutral or perceived neutral reporting as neutral as possible from war zones. And in what people used to associate with CNN.
He knows that that’s good business. He has spoken out against Twitter. He’s been pretty out in the open about his disdain for especially the place that CNN was taken to during the Trump administration.
So the question then is, is it possible? I don’t think at an old institution like CNN it is possible because it’s staffed with a bunch of millennials and Gen Z who have been conditioned to see anybody who maybe voted for [Donald] Trump as necessarily bigoted.
This is something, it’s an argument that was made on these airwaves, on CNN’s airwaves, that you are a racist if you voted for Donald Trump. It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white or Hispanic, you are a racist. You’re perpetuating a racist system. So when you have people who believe that in your newsroom, can you ever come to a place of respect that allows you to include a fair perspective of the other side? Probably not.
But I think somebody else that’s not in charge of this massive corporate behemoth will figure it out. I think we’ll see CNN try. I just don’t have a lot of confidence that they can fully get there. If they’re still letting Don Lemon slide as an anchor, I think they’re going to have a tough time.
Blair: Yeah. Your colleagues on Breaking Points, Saagar and Krystal, had a conversation about this very recently where they said the second that Trump comes back into the scene, seems like he’s probably preparing for a 2024 run, this all goes away because the monetization of having nonstop coverage of this man will just be so severe.
Do we see that also being reflected on the other side, where it becomes very obvious that [Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] is just a perfect target, we’re just going to keep harping on AOC. How does that affect the conservative side of the news argument?
Jashinsky: It’s an interesting question because in my experience in conservative media, it looks more like the future of media than old media does in that it’s not beholden to—well, maybe this is too optimistic, but it’s not super beholden, in my experience, to clicks, which is very, very good. Or at least there are conservative media outlets that aren’t obsessed with traffic and cliques, and their business model is not predicated on traffic and cliques. There are some that of course are.
But I think having those institutions is really important and building those is really important. Of course. Trump and AOC, it doesn’t matter. People are going to click on that stuff.
So I do think that’s true, but I also think conservative media is now more and more aware, and it has more viewers and listeners from the Left and from the center who cannot stomach anything else. That it’s very aware that these are serious times and they demand seriousness.
So I think it’s actually a new era for conservative media, and I haven’t really thought of that before until we were having this conversation. But I do think that’s true.
Blair: I guess as a one final point, your show, as you’ve mentioned, is very specifically formatted, where it’s you, a conservative talking, with Ryan Grim, a socialist.
Jashinsky: I think what we do is very different from what “Crossfire” did, but I also don’t think “Crossfire” was a bad thing. … Conventional wisdom is that Jon Stewart just destroyed “Crossfire” and destroyed Tucker Carlson to his face in 2003, or whenever that happened on CNN, where he told them that “Crossfire” is destroying the country. And it was like Tucker and Paul Begala, I think, and you guys are just destroying everyone. And “Crossfire” were shortly canceled after that.
But I’ve always thought Ben Domenech makes a really good point about this, that “Crossfire” and the public arena was essential because it showed a place where you could have people who were willing to sit down next to each other, be in a green room together, and have a discussion from both sides of the aisle on a daily basis.
And the public, there’s a catharsis to seeing that in public, to seeing that in the news and on a major corporate platform.
At the same time, I think what we do at “Counterpoints” and what Breaking Points has been doing since it launched, it’s just a more interesting contrast right now because of the realignment in politics to pit basically the populace Left and Right against each other, because I don’t think that’s where most of the country is.
But I do think most of the country is probably with me on immigration and with Ryan on health care. … And Ryan and I are both on the same page when it comes to media for the most part.
So there’s really good agreement and really good differences, and I think that’s something that moves the ball forward. Like today, in my remarks, I cited Marx, and Marx talking about the corporate machine or industrialization, basically erasing sex differences and age differences and nationality differences.
Blair: Broken clock is right twice a day.
Jashinsky: Yes, that’s right. But I think when you come to it with the perspective that we’re in very extraordinary times and you’re not just trying to make a quick buck, and that is very important, and it’s something that you can really not do on cable news anymore.
Blair: … This just occurred to me while we were talking, what is to say that independent media does not become the very creature that it’s set out to destroy?
Jashinsky: There’s nothing to say that. Nothing at all. Although I think the business model is a lot more promising where you’re not reliant on these massive corporate overlords. So even being able to get on the cable guide, being able to get in the cable lineup, and then depending on your ability to stay on the cable lineup, and then being in these really bitter ratings war.
With new media, people can really make sure … that they are held to account by their readers directly. Which is a good thing if you are a new media outlet, that’s a good thing, to be held to account, and I’d rather be held to account that way than by traffic or by ratings.
So I do think the business model is very, very promising, but there’s no guarantee where any of this goes. I don’t know what’s going to happen next year. We could all be gone, Doug.
Blair: Well, if the climate change folks are to be believed, we only have, what, five years left? Ten years left?
Jashinsky: Five minutes.
Blair: Five minutes. We’re all going to burn up. Anyway, that was Emily Jashinsky, culture editor at The Federalist, host of “The Federalist Radio Hour,” and new host on “Counterpoints” with the Breaking Points network. Thank you so much, Emily, for your time. Always happy to have you on.
Jashinsky: Thanks so much, Doug.
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