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The Atlas Society Asks Chris Stirewalt Transcript

The Atlas Society Asks Chris Stirewalt Transcript

April 16, 2024

Chris Stirewalt is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and contributing editor for The Dispatch, where he focuses on American politics, voting trends, public opinion, and the media. He has worked for a variety of media outlets as a political editor, including Fox News Channel and the Washington Examiner. He joined CEO Jennifer Grossman on October 4, 2023 to discuss “post-journalism” and the current state of media coverage as explored in his latest book, Broken News: Why the Media Rage Machine Divides America and How to Fight Back. Watch the entire interview HERE or check the transcript below.

JAG - Jennifer Anju Grossman

CS - Chris Stirewalt

JAG: Hello everyone, and welcome to the 172nd episode of The Atlas Society Asks. My name is Jennifer Anju Grossman. My friends call me JAG. I am the CEO of The Atlas Society. We are the leading nonprofit organization introducing young people to the ideas of Ayn Rand in fun, creative ways, including graphic novels and animated videos. Today we are joined by a very dapper-looking Chris Stirewalt. Before I even begin to introduce our guest, I want to remind all of you who are joining us on Zoom, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube to go ahead, get started with that comment bar. Type in your questions. We will get to as many of them as we can. So, our guest today, Chris Stirewalt, is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, where he focuses on American politics, voting trends, public opinions, and the media, topics all of great interest to this audience. He has worked for a variety of media outlets, including, of course, Fox News Channel and The Washington Examiner. As an author and a well known political commentator, Chris has written two books, one of which I just finished, Every Man a King: A Short, Colorful History of American Populists, which I highly recommend, and he narrates that, as well as the main focus of our interview today, Broken News: Why the Media Rage Machine Divides America and How to Fight Back. He also narrates that. And, usually, I say people should never, ever, ever narrate their own books. But, hey, when you are in the profession of being on television, occasionally, professionally, then you do a really great job. Chris, thanks for joining us.

CS: Well, that is very generous of you. I listen to a lot of audiobooks, and when it's the author themselves, I give a lot of bonus points for mistakes and hemming and hawing because I know that they're bringing themselves to the work. So I always feel a little bit cheated if the author doesn't read the book.

JAG: Anyway, I really enjoyed it.

Okay, so first, you are a veteran of many a presidential debate. Before we dive in, I'd love to see if you had any thoughts on last week's second GOP debate. I was there in person. My second GOP debate at the Reagan Library. Big difference between the two, but your professional observations, if you would.

CS: Well, every four or eight years, candidates in either party want to believe that they can avoid the squalid disaster that is running for president in the United States in our time. And it is inherently awful.

It is awful partly by design, but mostly by the convention that has gathered around it in which people are expected to abase themselves for the entertainment and satisfaction of a relatively small number of primary voters.

CS: Well, so maybe just a little context in this way:

CS: Ron DeSantis thought that he could avoid having to really be in the fray. He thought he could sort of clear the field. He could raise so much money and lock in enough endorsements early that he could basically get into a two-person race with him and Donald Trump as quickly as possible. But that's what Jeb Bush thought in 2016. That's what everybody would like to think. Nobody wants to have to go to the Iowa State Fair and eat a corn dog on camera and nobody wants to have to go to every living room in New Hampshire and every shrimp boil in South Carolina. But that's what it comes down to. And what you saw on that debate stage was the dawning realization among the people who are right now running basically for second place.

They're going to have to fight with each other. That's what they're going to have to do. And it will intensify, it will get rougher. And if you think back to eight years ago when you were at the Reagan Library for that one, that was awful, too, right?

I believe that was the one where Donald Trump refused to apologize to Jeb Bush for saying that Jeb Bush was soft on immigration because his wife was born in Mexico and just these cringy, terrible moments. But, that's the way the system works. And if you want to be the nominee of either party, you have to submit yourself to a lot of it. And I think you'll see between now and January 15, when the Iowa caucuses convene that it's going to get worse before it gets better.

JAG: All right, well, we shall stay tuned. I thought what was also interesting was this innovation of these mini-debates. DeSantis is going to go and debate Newsom, and Vivek is going to go and debate, I don't know, someone else. Is that new?

CS: Just for a little historical context–televised debates were not a thing at all until 1980. We know about the famous 1960 Kennedy-Nixon debate. There weren't any more debates after that. Between 1960 and 1980 that wasn't happening. Certainly not at the presidential level.

CS: The convention of, well, the parties will sanction media debates hosted by media organizations wasn't really up and running because, for example, in 1980, the famous debate where Ronald Reagan said, I paid for this microphone. You know why he said that? Because he did. Because they couldn't find a host that was suitable. And so, the Reagan campaign just paid for the debate or in part paid for the debate. So, what we have is relatively new.

CS: I would basically say from 2000 on, in those cycles, we've had the status quo. And since I'm with objectivists, we can think about the way things should be. And the way things should be, of course, would be not that I am asking questions of them, but of course, that they were asking questions of each other.

In an adult world, you would have much more like a Lincoln-Douglas style debate where you'd have people pair off.

CS: And I saw, I think it's Vivek Ramaswami and Chris Christie, but a couple of them are going to go pair off and have a debate on Fox News. I think that's great. I think that's really good, because when you have eight or ten people on a stage and you go down, okay, you get 60 seconds, you have 30 seconds to rebut, and it just turns into people bringing their canned talking points, they throw them at each other, and it's unlikely that you're going to find out anything new or interesting. And what these debates ought to be doing is producing insights for voters to make up their minds.

JAG: All right, then we will tune into those.

Now, back to you, my dear. You grew up in West Virginia, if I'm right, and worked in the coal industry. You landed your first job at your hometown newspaper at 17-years old.

You have this perspective of the history of journalism, which you share in Broken News, but also the context of your own career. How typical or atypical was your path to a career in journalism?

CS: Well, I've been extraordinarily blessed because very few people end up making a good living out of journalism, and I have. And that's an amazing thing to me every day that I am able to support myself and some people I love through being an ink-stained wretch, and I find that a remarkable thing. So, I know that's unusual and would be unusual at any time, because in truth, journalism is not a profession, it's a vocation, right? It would be like being a schoolteacher or being a police officer or being something else. That voice. You have to be called to want to do it. You have to want to do it because very few people make very much money doing it. And to be good at it, you have to be animated by a love for it and a desire to want to do it. And when I became a sports reporter or a sports writer the summer after my senior year in high school, I was absolutely smitten.

CS: I was totally taken with this group of people who were surly and profane and hilarious and had a camaraderie. I think the simple way I can put it is I found my tribe. Now, unfortunately, the path that I followed is not nearly as available as it was. I was at the end of the old regime, and the old regime, which came up after the Second World War and ended at the turn of this century, was that newspapers were the feedstock for the rest of the industry, and the industry national news rested on this broad network of local publications.

Something like 53,000 newsroom jobs went away between 2010 and 2020, and local newsrooms just got obliterated. They got obliterated because the things that we wanted newspapers to do before were not the things that we thought that people wanted newspapers for. I thought people wanted newspapers so that they could read my searing insights on the county commission meeting or the state legislature. What they wanted were classified ads, movie listings, sports scores, stock prices, and when they could get those things for free, instantly, elsewhere, the need to pay for local news evaporated in an astonishingly short-sighted decision by newspapers.

CS: You call a person who runs a newspaper a publisher. And people in the newspaper business primarily thought of themselves as in the printing business. Look at all this stuff that we print, and we make it a manufacturing business. We print all of this stuff, 100 thousand copies of this newspaper, and then look at all these trucks, and we've got Teamsters, and they're doing all of these things. So, when the threat emerged from Craigslist and other sources of free online information, these publishers made the insane choice of saying, we have to preserve our printing business. As opposed to saying, okay, the printing business is going to die, and we can talk more later about the interesting ways that that will play out in terms of print as a luxury good instead of a low status item. But they chose to protect their printing business instead of their advantage that they had over these new competitors, which was they had reporters, they had information, they had sources, they could do things in terms of providing information, but they made the wrong choice. And their revenue, the peak revenue for the print advertising industry in the United States was in 2005, it peaked out at nearly $60 billion and lost 90% of their revenue, basically, in the next five years.

JAG: Wow.

All right. So, in your book Broken News: Why the Media Rage Machine Divides America and How to Fight Back, you write that journalism was never your thing. You'd rather be writing about political history or many other things.

But here you are. And your last few years at Fox News, culminating with the backlash you received for your correct call about Arizona in 2020, pushed you to, quote, put on my hazmat suit and write about my industry. So, for those who aren't political junkies or don't have a memory, tell us a little bit, just recount briefly, what happened on that fateful night and what you experienced afterwards and what it told you, not just about news, but also, about this unhealthy relationship with viewers. I think part of what we were seeing also bleeds a little bit over into some of the trends that you talked about in your book about American populism.

CS: Well, I have been compelled to talk about that many times, including being called before Congress to testify about that stuff. And I think the simplest way I can put it is forecasting elections is something I enjoy; I find it fascinating.

If you love America, you have to love Americans. And the way that I see and know and love Americans is in the cross tabs in the demography. Who lives in this country? What are they thinking? What are they doing? What's really going on in the country? So, for me, demography and public-opinion research is an insight into the country that I love.

What is America, and what are the American people thinking, feeling, and doing? And I find that endlessly fascinating.

The convention is the United States does not have a central way to call an election, right? There's no office here in Washington where somebody says, here's the total and here's the result. And now, we can say, as Americans found out in searing fashion in 2020, the Electoral College, I think this time around, won't meet until the 15th or so of December. So, you have Election Day where state officials are local and county officials are tabulating and sending results to the state, and the state elections office is certifying or not certifying or recounting. So, all of that goes on for five or six weeks, and then the electors in each state gather and they cast their votes, and then those votes are sent to Washington to the archivist of the United States, to the Senate, and to the House. And it's a month-long process, and it happens on a state level. What happened in the United States? We became a TV nation, right?

Television ruled America and its media habits, opinions, and tastes. Basically, we can say late 50s, but let's say 1960 to 2010, television dominated in America, and we relied on television news organizations to call races. Now, we don't have any authority. I'm with News Nation now. News Nation does not have the authority to award any electoral votes. We don't count any ballots. We just have some cool machines and we have some good algorithms, and we have a lot of data to forecast like the weatherman does. This is what we think is going to happen in this race. This is the outcome that we think. And when it reaches a point of certitude that we find acceptable, we say, okay, we can now project. And I'm very pleased and proud to say that I've been doing this since 2010, and we've never had a miss.

I worked with a great team at Fox, and there's a great team at News Nation, and our nerds are the best nerds in the world, and we've never had a miss. But, I don't know that the role that television came to play—and the Associated Press is part of this, too—I don't know that the role that we came to play is in the competitive interest of news organizations anymore. So, if you think about it this way, when there were three networks and everybody was tuning in, what do you want? You want to be first. You want to get there first because you want everybody to have to change the channel, right?

JAG: Okay.

CS: And say, oh, they get it first. They've got it first. So there's a competitive advantage in being the first to be right.

CS: And that carried into the birth of cable news in the 1990s and into the aughts, certainly. Are you going to be watching MSNBC? Are you going to watch CNN? Are you going to watch Fox? Are you going to watch ABC, NBC, CBS? Who are you going to watch? And a lot of people, I'm very pleased to say, watched Fox, who did not share Fox's ideological bent in its opinion shows, because we were very good, we were the best.

And that was perceived as a competitive advantage that on these big election nights where you're going to have 20 or 25 million people tuning in, which is a tenfold increase over a typical evening, that this would be a competitive advantage.

CS: But what if your goal was not to attract viewers, but to retain viewers? What if your objective was not to bring new people in, but to keep the share that you already have? And if you can make $3 billion a year in profit by just keeping the same three or 4 million people on a loop, right?

CS: Then if you call a race in a way that those people don't want, you're going to lose viewers. They're going to go away. They're going to turn off the TV. In the short term, that means that they're going to turn off the TV for the night. So do this thought exercise. If your favorite sports team—what's your sport? Do you have a sport that you like?

JAG: No.

CS: That's okay. Okay, so let's say, how about the Oscars?

CS: No, you're probably better than that.

JAG: Let’s go with the Red Sox. I grew up—

CS: So, here it is. Your friends and family who love the Red Sox would stay and watch the Red Sox beat the Yankees by 30 runs. If the Red Sox scored ten runs in the first inning, they're not going to turn it off. They're going to stay and watch. This is amazing. There's no running up the score too great. That would not make them change the channel. As a matter of fact, more people are going to come in to watch the drubbing. On the other hand, what will the Yankee fans do once the Yankees are down ten runs? They're going to turn it off.

They're not going to stay and watch that because it hurts. So now, put those red and blue uniforms on the parties. Nobody stays to watch their guy lose. And you can see in the ratings numbers that as soon as a Democrat is going down, MSNBC or CNN numbers collapse, whereas Republican numbers stay high and get higher.

We have made politics into such a sport, such a competitive us versus them, red versus blue, that those same functions kick in. So what good would it be to Fox or its decision desk to say, well, you know, the thing that everybody thought was going to happen, which is that Joe Biden's going to win the election, that's probably going to happen, right? Because there were five states that everybody was watching the most closely: Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Arizona. They were the states that were the closest. There was another ring around those: Nevada, North Carolina, New Hampshire, maybe a couple of others. But, those are the five core states. And Trump needed to win, basically, and you can do the math different ways, but he needed to win four or five of those states, and he most certainly needed to win the traditionally Republican states, right? So, the way Trump won in 2016, he won all of the traditionally Republican states, and then he flipped those three blue states in the I-70 corridor or the Upper Midwest or however you want to call it. And if Trump lost Arizona, of course, that meant that Trump was not going to get reelected because there's some crazy scenarios. Well, maybe.

CS: Would you indulge me in this picture? A bucket. Imagine you have a bucket and the bucket has little lines on the side for volume, and each line represents one of the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

We use a term called Partisan Vote Index, PVI, which is how much more or less Republican or Democratic is your state compared to the nation as a whole. So if the nation as a whole is four points Democratic, basically, right? If your state is four points Democratic, you have a PVI of zero. If you're six points Democratic, you have a PVI of plus 2D, plus two. And then the other way on the Republican side. So at the very end, the first line on the bucket is Wyoming, the most Republican state. And you've got Wyoming and you've got Oklahoma, and you've got West Virginia, and you have these really like 45, 50 point red states. And all the way at the top of the bucket you have the District of Columbia and you have Rhode Island. You have the most Democratic states that are 30 points, 40 points Democratic.

CS: Now fill the bucket. If a Republican has won, let's say Pennsylvania, you can be pretty sure that all the states that are more Republican than Pennsylvania are also going to go in for that candidate. So if you had said to me, okay, Donald Trump is going to win Michigan, I could have said, then he will win reelection because if you've won Michigan, you've already won all of that other stuff because Michigan is a slightly Democratic state. If Joe Biden had won Arizona, that's blue water over all kinds of those other states. So it was obvious that Trump was not going to win a Democrat, is not going to win Arizona and then lose Pennsylvania, which is ten points more Democratic than Arizona. So what we were saying to Republican voters and viewers on election night was it’s not going to end well for you. This will be bad for you. So why would it be in Fox's interest to do that. Why would it be conversely in CNN's interest to do that if the Democrat’s going to lose? So, I just don't know that what we came up with as an ad-hocracy in the world of television land is in anybody's competitive interest anymore.

JAG: It's interesting, though, because you also recount how Murdoch had taken Fox out of some kind of consortium that they had been using. So, at least from his point of view, he did want accuracy.

At the end of the day, though, it's like, do you want to be the most accurate or do you want to be pulling in the most eyeballs?

CS: We have a problem as a species, which is that confirmation bias is a powerful thing.

And when we think about fundamental attribution error and confirmation bias and how human beings, with our coalitional instinct, or as I should say for you guys, spontaneous order, as our coalitional instinct kicks in, we are very prone to think that other people, that other points of view are not just incorrect, but they're illegitimate or they're wrong.

The problem with the exit poll that had been brought together over that 40-year span, it was always wrong. Right? So, exit polling–you get seven waves of exit-poll data that's coming from people who are leaving the polling places. That's really good because you don't have to worry about likely voters or not-likely voters. You have people standing with clipboards outside of the polling place as they come out asking, who'd you vote for? There were two problems, three. Number one, different kinds of people vote at different times of the day, right?

CS: So, your sample skews Republican in the very early sample because it's dudes going to work; you have a lot of dudes going to work. So, it would tend to be more Republican in the early sample, and then Democrats would vote later and blah, blah, blah. So, you had all this noise in there as the data was coming in throughout the day. Also, Republicans are just less likely to participate in polls, especially when some doofus with a clipboard is standing in front of them when they come out of the polling place. Hey, can I talk to you about how you voted? No, you cannot talk to me about how I voted. So, there was a Republican response-rate error. There was all of that stuff.

CS: But, the number one problem in 2016 was 40% of ballots in the United States were cast early and absentee, which is to say that no one was exiting. None of that 40% was exiting the polls, so they could not be exit-polled. In 2020, that number went from 40% to 60%, a 50% increase. And that was COVID. Right, but it's COVID plus something else, which is Americans are a convenience-loving people, and Election Day seems like a hassle: I gotta go. There may be a line. I gotta do whatever I can to vote from home.

CS: We have five states that have for some time now been mail only. That's how California and Colorado and Washington and Alaska and . . . It's easy. You just vote from home and you drop it in the ballot box. And early voting in states like Texas has been very popular for years and years. People like it. It makes it easier to vote.

So, COVID radically accelerated the trend away from in-person voting. To defeat that, Fox left that consortium that did exit-polling and came up with a new model. We partnered with the Associated Press and the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago and came up with a way better mousetrap. And man, it was great. It was super good. But, what we found out was there's a media scholar named Andrey Mir, and Andrey Mir coined a term that I'm very fond of. It is “post journalism.”

JAG: Yeah, I wanted to ask you about that.

CS: So journalism is: I have information. You want it, and I can make money in that transaction, right? Whether it's through advertising or whether it's through your subscription, I have what you need, and I can make money off of that exchange. But, if all that information, if all those classified ads and movie listings and sports scores and everything else is all available for free, I mean, I can't pump a tank of gas into my car without a little monitor coming on behind me with Maria Menounos telling me about the benefits of almond milk.

You cannot escape the free-media fire hose that is dousing us every day. So how then, will my industry profit? And the answer in post journalism is not by a top-down process in which we have information, and we can get rich on your desire for that. Instead, it's a bottom-up. You have feelings, you have opinions, and we can mirror those back to you and give you a sense of community. We can give you a sense of belonging, we can give you a tribe. And the change in the polarity of that is very much where we are now. The idea that you could have a bespoke media existence would not have occurred to anybody 50 years ago, right? That you would say, I want my news to be right of center, but more libertarian-y, but not that libertarian, but not this guy. That you could create an experience for yourself that cosseted you and flattered you and told you exactly what you wanted to hear wouldn't have even been possible. But thanks to progress brings problems, and this has ever been thus. What I tried to talk about in the book was how I use radio as a really good example. Radio blew our brains.

We lost it. Radio—the first time in human history where human beings, millions and millions of people, could experience exactly the same thing at exactly the same time. You think the printing press was a big deal. That was a big deal. And who won the beginning of Radio? Hitler doing super, Huey Long, Father Coughlin, the pits. Right? Because it was this new medium that we did not understand, did not know how to use. We were unsophisticated with it. We are in a similar time now where there's a cultural lag between this wonderful new technology that allows us to know so much more and be so much more connected and do all of these other things, but our society has not caught up with being able to be responsible users of that. It's a problem of affluence. It's amazing that we can know all that we know and have all that we have, but we have not yet figured out how to do that.

JAG: Is there an ideological aspect to post journalism? It kind of sounds like postmodernism with its rejection of the Enlightenment project of pursuing objective truth and using reason to discover reality. Is there a sense that the facts aren't really quite as important as the narrative?

CS: Well, my boss, the great Yuval Levin, peace be upon him, says that the fundamental emotional condition of conservatism is gratitude. We are grateful for the good things that we have and we wish to keep them. That is the emotional underpinning for progressivism. And for the left. That emotional condition is righteous outrage at things that are unjust, things that are unfair, things that are cruel, and the vicissitudes of life, and they want to help, right? And, of course, you need those two things in tension in a society to have good outcomes, right? You have to have conservative people checking the outrage of reform and you have to have reformers challenging conservative people. That's how it's supposed to work. The magic is in what that friction kicks off, who goes into journalism.

JAG: That was interesting. That was something—when you were talking about bias—that I think a lot of people just assume it is people who have an ax to grind, they have an agenda, or they get in the media and this is the dominant culture. But, you said it's actually much more driven by demographics and geography.

CS: So, there's a gatekeeping problem in the big-time media. There is no doubt about that. You went to Columbia Journalism School and you're from Groton, Connecticut, and you see the world this way. Everybody likes their own home-cooking. And when applicants come for a job, you're going to say, there's something about that person that's really impressive and it's like, yes, because it reminds you of you 20-years ago. That's what you like about that person. And it's very hard to control for that bias. So, there's a gatekeeping problem here, in the supply of good journalism jobs, but there's also a big problem with the demand for those jobs.

People who go into journalism come from where? Do you know where they come from? They come from the northeastern part of the United States. Some people come from Chicago, or some dude from LA,or somebody from Miami. And that's it. You walk through these newsrooms and that’s where everybody’s from, right? To not be from somewhere between Richmond and Boston or one of those major cities is—

JAG: Different, right?

CS: As somebody at one time in a newsroom told me, and I'm from West Virginia, they said, you know, so and so is from Wisconsin. And I was like, that would be like saying, oh, you're from Washington, so and so is from Atlanta. That's not really the same thing because basically the point was there's somebody else here from somewhere else? There's another person who's here who's from someplace else.

If you have a group of people who predominantly come from the bluest of blue areas in the bluest of blue states and journalism is more female than male, there are more women in journalism than there are men. Women are more Democratic than men are.

That setting. Now everybody's a college graduate and college graduates are more Democratic than the population as a whole. So if you have a group where the median person is a college-educated woman from the northeastern part of the United States or a major city, that's going to be a heavily Democratic group even before we start talking about individual ideology, right? You'd be at 80% Democratic. And I use the example of the energy industry.

The energy industry is more male than female, so it's more Republican there. Where do people in the energy industry come from? They come from Texas and Oklahoma. And the Dakotas. They come from West Virginia and Kentucky. They come from energy states. And those states are really red. So even before you get to talking about energy policy, the people who work in the energy field, if the median person is a dude from a red state who doesn't have a college degree, you're going to get 80% Republican there before you do the next thing. Fish don't know they're wet.

CS: Most of the people in these newsrooms . . . I was just at a news conference, a gathering of journalists, and they were all very well-intentioned and all very nice and unaware of how I was receiving what they were saying, right? 9The shibboleths and the things that we take for granted in our in-groups you don't hear anymore because that's just how we are. That's not to say that there isn't just absolutely gross, rotten bias in newsrooms and that there isn't that kind of stuff that takes place sometimes, but mostly it's just obliviousness.

JAG: Interesting. Well, I thought you really took pains in the book that you're not talking to conservatives or liberals or you do, but you kind of make a real effort, I think, to reach out to liberals and make the case and make these connections. Tell us about the reception of the book. Have you had some success in having people who may be part of that media bubble take a fresh look at things?

CS: Well, I'm looking here at a case of Broken News in paperback because we have had a lot of success, and people have responded to this. I think we all know, right? No one thinks much. Like with our political system, you don't meet people who say, everything's super. Everything is super. This is going exactly the way we wanted. No thinking person is going to look at the US media landscape and say, healthy, this is nurturing good discourse and effective. So, everybody knows. But what they then immediately turn to is to say, yes, and if it wasn't for those other people, if it wasn't for the bad dog in. . .

JAG: The burning house, this is fine.

CS: Yes, well, that's right. But what we're prone to say next is because, and I talk a lot about or some about social psychology in the book and the power of fundamental attribution error. When we do it, when our side does it, it's for a good reason. We had to do it. When they do it, it's because they're bad. It's because they're bad people, and that's how they are. So, my goal in the book was to say, it's not good enough to say that you're better than the bad people. You have to hold yourself to a separate standard. There is no American journalism without Americanism. You cannot say, well, I was doing an interview with a guy one time, and he was talking about how he was a truth teller and that he wasn't like Sean Hannity, who lies. And I said, do you want me to tell you that you're a better journalist than Sean Hannity? Okay, congratulations. Well, well done. A guy who isn't a journalist. You're a better journalist than him, but, I think you better have a better standard for yourself than being less despicable than the other person. And the only thing that will save us is if people in my business and consumers as a whole take on themselves the duties of citizenship, that there is a fundamental obligation that we all have a debt that we owe to the Constitution and to the million men who died at arms to preserve, protect, and defend it. We owe them something. And that's something on my part particularly because of the extraordinary privileges that I enjoy as an American journalist, right? Not just the freedom of speech, but that practically they don't kill journalists in the street very often in the United States, right? It's safe and it's protected. And the First Amendment is this extraordinary thing. So, I have obligations that I have to carry out. But what encourages me about the success of this book is that I have hard words for news consumers, right? And I say, you're going to have to do better. This is not good enough. And many times I've made the analogy about the obesity epidemic.

CS: For most of human history, the struggle was to obtain enough calories in the course of your day, so that you could reproduce and pass along your genetic material. That was tough-doing. And the way that you showed you were prosperous in the 19th century was that you had a physique like mine, and you would say, look at how prosperous, look at how prosperous that fellow is.

Thanks to the miracles of the market and of human ingenuity and all of these things, in the middle of the 20th century, it became possible to get as many calories as you wanted, even if you were very poor. And the status switched from wanting to be prosperous-looking to wanting to look like a piece of beef jerky, right? You look at rich people now and they're, as Tom Wolf called them, social x-rays. As slender and fit as possible because that's how you show status. Now news and information tells us the same story. For 100 thousand years, it was really hard to get news and information, and now you can't avoid it. Now it's everywhere.

We have to learn the difference between junk food and good food, and I believe in humankind and our capacity to learn and our capacity to get better. And that experience does teach us and point us in that right direction. But, that's the only way that it's going to happen, because there's no external force that will come in. There's no government agency. There's no other thing that's going to come in and cause us to be more responsible citizens. We have to decide that we want to do it ourselves.

JAG: All right, well, speaking of being at least a responsible host, I'm going to have to apologize to some of our viewers because this has actually never happened to me, that we've gotten through more than three quarters of the interview, and I haven't had a moment to pause and get to some of these questions. And we are not going to get to all of them because we really have just about 13 minutes left. 

I'll pick out some of these questions because I know you addressed them in the book. But, I wanted to get your thoughts on Ayn Rand and The Fountainhead. Wanted to get any thoughts you had on how that had played out in the whole Russia-gate, the way that that was covered. And I do not want to leave here without talking about The Dispatch. I think some of our viewers are familiar with it because our senior fellow, Rob Tracinski, has been an occasional contributor. And I think just as part of the hygiene, if some people cannot bring themselves to listen to NPR, that may be kind of pointing us to some of the outlets out there or projects or initiatives that really are that objectivity is part of what they're going for and that they are kind of consciously issuing this kind of preaching to the choir or telling people what they want to hear. And I think that is important to this audience. We are objectivists. Our founder wrote Seven Habits of Highly Objective People. And whether we find ourselves in this audience on the left or on the right, I think we all are wanting to be more in touch with reality because as Ayn Rand said, you can evade reality, but you can't evade the consequences of evading.

So that I don't get burned at the stake, I'm going to just take a couple of quick questions that I see came in while I was gabbing on. Okay, on YouTube, kingfisher chris, thoughts about declining ratings of corporate media and rise of independents like Greenwald, though you actually had some critical words for Greenwald.

CS: The world of Substack, the world of independent media stuff works great for somebody like Glenn Greenwald or Andrew Sullivan or any number of people who already have a brand, right? You already have a brand, and now you can take it to Substack and you can say, you already liked me when you knew me over here. Now give me $5 a month here. And that's really good. Now, there's an audience-capture problem, which is that you end up having to keep your people pretty happy, right? Let's say you have 20 thousand subscribers and they're all paying you $5 a month. That's a lot of people. But it's not as many people who'd attend a Friday night football game in Texas, right? It's a pretty small number of people, and the temptation to cater to those people is going to be profound. So, audience capture is always something that you have to be aware of.

CS: I think independent voices augment the conversation, but you also need to be aware. So I ask people, is the New York Times biased? Obviously. Is the Wall Street Journal biased? Sure, of course, in obvious ways and in non-obvious ways. In ways that you sometimes need a decoder ring to say, oh, they're covering this because they actually hate that, and that's what it is. And you could do Kremlinology all day to look into the bias. But there is this fundamental question of somebody has to spend all the money to get all of the facts and information, right?

Kabul is going to fall. Who's going to Kabul? An independent journalist with a Substack is not probably, unless that's his jam, not going to be on the ground doing the news gathering.

CS: Getting news is really expensive. Having a stable of reporters, keeping them safe, doing this stuff is really expensive. And I do not overlook the potential significance, which, of course, has its own ethical problems of patronage journalism. I wish that what Jeff Bezos wanted was for The Washington Post to be the world's greatest, that if Jeff Bezos had said, I don't care if it loses money; I don't care if it loses a million dollars a day; I'm so rich that we're going to just let it rip, and we're going to have this amazing newspaper, and it's going to be fabulous, and hopefully in the long run, it'll work out.

CS: But instead, they went for clickbait-y.

CS: I found the phrase that was not used critically of The Washington Post, but instead to praise it as “optimizing for anger,” and that in the Trump era, The Washington Post finally figured out how to optimize for anger and really get those rage clicks and all that hot action. But, if there's a billionaire out there listening that would like to fund an awesome newspaper and lose a bunch of money on it but have a great time, I can point you in the right direction.

There is patronage journalism that's doing it, but this stuff is really expensive, and it's really hard.

JAG: Interesting. Okay. Another question from YouTube. Do you think the average American pays a lot of attention to the news and events? I wanted to choose that question because you talk about Americans who are kind of checked-out politically, who really aren't paying attention at all. I thought it was interesting that I think you said of those checked-out viewers or people that they're 60% female. So, you've got that phenomenon coupled with women kind of dominating the ranks of the progressives.

CS: The metric that we use, this is the Knight Foundation, this is Pew doing research, and for years, 3% to 5% of Americans said they got no news from any source in the previous week. They didn't listen to the radio. They didn't see a newspaper. They didn't go on Instagram and see some news there. They got nothing. That number is 15% now.

And you cannot be a partner in self-government with me. We cannot be partners in self-government together if we don't know what the other person is thinking and doing and what's going on. It's more than just having a common set of facts, which is, of course, crucially important. But, it's also that you have to understand each other. We're in a vast continental nation of 330 million people. I need to know basically, okay, what are you guys talking about? This is what those guys are talking about. You need honest representations. If all you have are funhouse mirror versions of the other side, you're not going to be able to work with them. You can't do that. And if you're told every day that they're stupid, bad, and hate America. . . My experience in Washington, I'm sitting here eight blocks from the Capitol or whatever, my experience in Washington tells me almost all of them are sincerely trying to help. Now, they may be stupid. They may be mean-spirited, they may be thin-skinned. They may be all of those things. But, I would imagine in the House of Representatives that is currently lighting itself on fire and then giving itself a swirly, I imagine that almost all of the people who are blowing things up believe that they're doing it for the right reason. But, what do their critics say? Oh, they're only doing it for this. Even the people who stormed the Capitol on January 6 were misguided. It wasn't that they were, oh, this will be the worst thing that we can do. They thought they were saving the country.

They thought they were a force of liberation. If you don't know what other people are thinking and where they're at and where they're coming from, you're never going to be able to work with them and deal with them. And that's why all this demonization is so dangerous, because we say, well, I don't have to deal with those people anymore because they're the bad people.

JAG: Well, fortunately, I am the only Republican in a family of Democrats, so I got early training, you know, on how to, yes, either talk across the flip class or find something better to talk about. Okay, so we have four minutes.

I want to talk about The Dispatch and just a little bit of how it started, what the inspiration was, what the aspiration is, and what people can expect to find there. What's the model, too? What's the business model? How does it differ from some of the others?

CS: There's no ads. It's subscriber driven entirely. And the idea is that hot takes are bad. Basically, if I had to sum up The Dispatch, hot takes are bad. And rather than trying to surf clicks because most of what the people in political journalism are doing is. . . Well, for example, how many Taylor Swift-Travis Kelsey stories have you seen in the past two weeks? All of them, right? They're everywhere. It's an endless “seen but not read.” Yes, seen but not read. Just a river of this. Why? Because all of these outlets are trying to surf that way that they could just get a little bit of that sweet, sweet click action; if they could just get some of it. That could mean some more ad revenue. It could be some other things.

CS: The model at The Dispatch is we have a great morning newsletter called The Morning Dispatch that strives to be thoughtful, and it's not Politico, my gosh, or Axios. What's driving the day? Our finger on the heartbeat of exactly what's going to happen and we're going to predict the future. I would say The Dispatch is written for normal people who are trying to be good citizens and need to basically know what's going on and have some context around it.

The opinion point of view is conservative. Kevin Williamson, Jonah Goldberg—these are not Emily's List funders certainly—but the reporting on Congress, on the campaign, in The Morning Dispatch, on foreign affairs is scrupulous as they bend over backwards to really root it in that because, frankly, opinion is cheap. There's a saying in the TV industry: talk is cheap, which is putting a couple of chuckleheads in a room for them to vent their opinions. It's cheap. You don't have to send a reporter anywhere. You don't have to do any of that stuff, and it's an easier way to get clicks. So this is, I guess I will say, against hot takes.

JAG: All right, well, last question. Any advice for budding, aspiring, young journalists who may be joining us?

CS: Don't go to journalism school.

CS: Don't go to journalism school. I'm sorry? Journalism school? If you want to teach journalism, you can go get a master's in journalism later, but go find somebody who will pay you to do it. Get a job, and it won't be as good of a job as you think it ought to be. But what you ought to do is find somebody somewhere who will pay you almost enough money to be alive and then just do it. Just crush reps over and over and over again. And in those first years, in that 20 to 25 year-old period, if you love it, it will feel like work, but it will also be exhilarating, and it will be a joy. I would just say it's a vocation. If you don't feel that calling, don't do this. This is not a rational job decision. There's no objective way to say, well, it's a dying, fragmented industry, and sometimes people will threaten to kill you if you do it well. But, here, sign here for these low wages. So, you have to really want to do it. But if you want to do it, there's nothing better.

JAG: Fantastic. All right, well, I think there are probably a few young people in the audience, and I hope you take that advice. Dive in, jump in, get some experience, find out if it's for you, if it's your passion, and if not, it'll be great experience for you to bring to your next adventure. So, thank you so much, Chris. Appreciate you giving us this time. And again, everyone, go out and get the book Broken News, and I again highly recommend the Audible versions of both of Chris's books. So, thank you.

CS: Most charming. So good to be with you. Have a great day.

JAG: All right. And thanks to the rest of you who joined us today. Thanks for your great questions. Sorry we didn't get to as many of them as I would have liked to, but clearly I had such a great time that I just kept going on and on. Plus, the festivities for our gala welcome reception begins in a couple of hours, so lots happening here in Miami. I will see you guys next week. Please be sure to join us when one of my favorite people, returning guest John Tamney, joins us to discuss his latest books When Politicians Panicked and The Money Confusion on the next episode of The Atlas Society Asks. Thanks. Bye.

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