CSotD: Hunkering down for the storm

Relax, Willie. I’m gonna give cartoonists another 24 hours to catch up with the Kamala Harris choice. Today, we’ll set that table at which you don’t want to talk politics.


This SMBC dropped before Biden’s announcement, but still presages the wisdom we’ll see shared online over the next 83 days.

According to this depressing piece from the NY Times, Russia has greatly stepped up its ability to plant misinformation.

Moscow … has shifted away from the fake social media accounts and bots used by the Internet Research Agency and other groups to amplify false articles ahead of the 2016 vote. Instead, the Russians are relying increasingly on English-language news sites to push out incendiary stories that can be picked up and spread by Americans, many of whom have proved as eager as foreign powers to stoke partisan divisions inside the United States.

The NYTimes has a paywall, so not everyone will be able to read the full, horrifying piece — horrifying not simply because Russia is becoming more sophisticated but because so few people will know what’s happening.


Pat Bagley exaggerates  — it’s not that binary — but he’s certainly not wrong in that a lot of critical, in-depth reporting is at sites which require a subscription, and a lot of simpleminded dross is free.

In print-only days, subscribing to the local paper was a sign of maturity. When you were a college kid and short-time renter, you might have a sofa on a front lawn you never mowed, but, at some point, you grew up and started taking some responsibility.

At which point subscribing to the local paper was like having the utilities put in your own name. You did it because caring about the city’s plan for paving streets or re-zoning your neighborhood was just part of being a local citizen.

Today, a 20-something is likely to know more about 20-somethings on the other side of the globe than about the 40-something who lives across the street, much less what happens in a city council meeting, and the loss of local civic involvement is not a good thing.

Not that the 40-something is apt to know a whole lot, either. As someone who has marketed newspapers for several decades, I’m well aware we’d lost the attention of an entire generation before the Millennials were even born.

On the Cartooning For Peace on-line livecast last night, someone asked Ann Telnaes, Ed Hall and Liza Donnelly if they were “news junkies.” Telnaes responded that editorial cartoonists are journalists, while the other two agreed, adding the caution that competent commentary requires a varied news diet.

To which I would add that, now that we’ve done away with gatekeepers, we’re required to be our own editors and to maintain that varied news diet.

My own paid subscriptions are to a local news aggregator, New Hampshire Public Radio, two of the publications in Bagley’s cartoon, plus another that isn’t behind a paywall but asks for support.

And, goddammit, if a retired guy living on Social Security can do that, you can, too.

Meanwhile, you can at least curate your own social media pages to avoid the unnecessary distribution of horseshit.

If you can’t tell honest disagreement from toxic trollery, you’re not part of the solution.

Now where the hell was I?

Oh yeah.


If substantive discussions don’t capture the public attention, Walt Handelsman suggests, less substantive issues will.

It’s funny without being funny, and the president’s seizing upon college football as a hill upon which to die is a pretty good sign of his ability to put popular nonsense above competent leadership.

It’s not a bad strategy; simply a despicable one.


There have been several cartoons on the topic, but Jack Ohman captures the central issue: Trump has no plan for dealing with Covid.

His insistence that playing the college football season is critical shows not an understanding of the coronavirus but a profound understanding of how to appeal to the booboisie.

I remember the snickers we had over the lyric in “Okie from Muskogee,”

Football’s still the roughest sport on campus
And the kids here still respect the college dean

Haggard’s audience didn’t know the college dean from the college president from the college mascot.

I never even met “the college dean” until senior year, when someone noticed that I’d overcut phys ed freshman year and sent me a notice that I’d have to re-take it to graduate.

It was a five-minute conversation, most of which involved him laughing before he signed my waiver.

For which, admittedly, I respected him.


Benjamin Slyngstad offers this commentary and, while I think he’s giving Wharton’s Prize Pupil too much credit for analyzing the economics, he’s certainly right about Trump’s utter lack of empathy and his “Damn the Ventilators: Full Speed Ahead” bravado.

In fact, Lou Holtz, the coaching dynamo who led Notre Dame’s previously spotless athletic program into two years of NCAA probation, explained the need to play the season with this heartless jaw-dropper: “When they stormed Normandy, they knew there were going to be casualties — there were going to be risks.”

Great guy, that Lou Holtz.

But he’s not alone, and sports columnists decrying the cancellations bring up a point to be remembered in the days ahead, which is that good journalists have no friends.

They have contacts and sources, some of whom are quite congenial, but none of whom are “friends,” because they both know that, at some point, one or the other might need to drive in a shiv.

And that, in the words of Sal Tessio, “It was only business.”

I worked with a cops-and-courts reporter who was sure he was every police officer and firefighters buddy, but I also knew they laughed about him behind his back.

Ditto with sports reporters: You can be respected as a professional, or you can be derided as a “jock sniffer.”

And it’s true of political columnists and cartoonists as well.

Keep that in mind in the days ahead, because it’s going to matter.

Meanwhile, one of my favorite current players comments on the self-serving, nonsensical fable endorsed by my not-so-alma mater.


6 thoughts on “CSotD: Hunkering down for the storm

  1. The trouble with that news menu is that while I wouldn’t mind supporting one or two, there are at least a dozen that I would like to support, and I can’t afford all those. Ditto and then some for cartoonists. And streaming TV outfits.

  2. What do you do when you walk into the grocery store and realize you can’t afford to buy one of everything?

    I’d subscribe to them all if I were Jeff Bezos. As noted, I chose a half dozen I could (and that I felt would give me a reasonable worldview).

  3. I subscribe to the Washington Post, but you really can’t subscribe to everything you click a link for. The whole process has changed – you don’t read one newspaper front to back. Most of the time, you’re reading a single article. And I’m as likely to be reading that article in a paper on the other side of the country: There’s no local. And they don’t have the (astronomical) printing costs.

  4. I’d love a system that would let you make one payment to the site and then track micropayments to individual papers. Someone tried one about 15 years ago but it apparently didn’t hold up. Not sure why — but a lot of really stupid decisions about online papers were being made then.

  5. What! Change to a system that doesn’t promote habituation^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^Hloyalty? Can’t imagine why that didn’t appeal to the marketing department.

  6. I have suggested, on those rare occasions I am able to actually contact some newspapers, that they create a pool that subscribers can pay for. There could be, say, 3 levels of payment, the higher levels allowing access to more newspapers in this pool. This would allow people to choose how much they could afford and still get a wider range of news sources. One log in, one monthly, shared, payment. X number of sources. Being Canadian, I would ideally like to see, at least, North American newspapers cooperating. If it worked, it could theoretically world wide.

    I realize that competitors would be cooperating with each other. But I don’t know if that is their objection because no one has ever replied to my idea.

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