I’m spending this week experimenting with different possible forms of output for a new project I’m pursuing that involves a daily critique of American political journalism. Please share your thoughts in comments, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When Jonathan Weisman, the deputy Washington editor for the New York Times, posted a tweet in the early hours of Wednesday morning scoffing at the notion that heavily-minority urban areas in the Midwest are part of the Midwest, he unwittingly revealed his own internal political geography — and that of his professional home.
The response — including from highly respected journalistic colleagues — has been thunderous, probing, distressed, and astute.
It comes, of course, in the context of the Times playing an outsized role in the political journalism community’s relationship to Trump. It is arguably the chief target of his attacks against a free press. It has roused itself to undertake outstanding investigations into his fraudulence as a person, a businessman, a candidate and a president. But it has also proven itself too timid and too addicted to access to be as critical and confrontational — in the defense of truth, pluralism, and fair play — as its role demands.
Here’s the tweet in question, which Weisman deleted shortly after 10 a.m. ET:
Saying @RashidaTlaib (D-Detroit) and @IlhanMN (D-Minneapolis) are from the Midwest is like saying @RepLloydDoggett (D-Austin) is from Texas or @repjohnlewis (D-Atlanta) is from the Deep South. C’mon. https://t.co/C8d8OWHu3j
— (((JonathanWeisman))) (@jonathanweisman) July 31, 2019
It was in response to this tweet from Waleed Shahid, a spokesman for the highly energized progressive political action committee Justice Democrats — whose members include Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.
“Free stuff from the government does not play well in the Midwest.” -Claire McCaskill
2) Medicare and Social Security are both technically “free stuff” and they play very well.pic.twitter.com/tkFtRoI0W7
— Waleed Shahid (@_waleedshahid) July 31, 2019
Chronologically, this all started with celebrated centrist and former (defeated) Missouri senator Claire McCaskill’s assertion in a post-debate panel on MSNBC (where she is a paid analyst) that “Free stuff from the government does not play well in the Midwest.”
That was an encapsulation of the centrist view (some would say a racist dog-whistle) that white voters perceive government spending as going to minorities and it makes them angry.
Shahid’s point was that McCaskill’s view of the Midwest did not seem to include cities like Detroit and Minneapolis.
Weisman’s riposte was, essentially, a doubling down of McCaskill’s position. More than that, even — it was an assertion that urban areas — not just Detroit and Minneapolis, but Atlanta, and Austin — are not a part of America’s geography at all. What’s even more telling is that he obviously thought this was non-controversial — even self-evident.
Weisman’s deletion of the tweet is not best practices for Twitter — particularly for journalists. He explained it thusly:
Earlier this morning I tried to make a point about regional differences in politics between urban and rural areas. I deleted the tweets because I realize I did not adequately make my point.
— Jonathan Weisman (@jonathanweisman) July 31, 2019
Almost certainly, one reason was that the tweet was being “ratio’d” by the Twitter community. That means that replies (mostly negative) considerably outweighed retweets or likes (which presume a certain positivity). At last count, before Weisman deleted the tweet (and therefore all the responses) there were 2,600 replies to 122 retweets to 576 likes.
I’ll update this post as the day goes on — particularly if the Times takes some action.
To be clear, they should distance themselves from Weisman. But they can’t, really, because he is their creature.
Now I’m just going to get out of the way, and show you how Twitter responded — including high-profile writers for the New Yorker, Atlantic, Salon, New Republic, the New Republic, the Washington Post, and the New York Times opinion page.
Hard to think of a better example of how deeply the press has internalized Republican rhetoric about urban America. https://t.co/2GvUScHdct
— Osita Nwanevu (@OsitaNwanevu) July 31, 2019
I think you were trying to make a point about the political divide in urban vs rural electorates; instead you’ve echoed the president’s rhetoric that monorities in cities are not legitimately American the way white people are.
— Adam Serwer 🍝 (@AdamSerwer) July 31, 2019
Hey man, guy from Minneapolis here. Very good racist thread about how only white people are from the place they're from.
— 'Weird Alex' Pareene (@pareene) July 31, 2019
If you want to know why can’t trust the Times to defend democracy, this tweet from its Deputy Washington Editor should explain it pretty well. If you subscribed after 2016 because they promised to stand up for the truth, cancel your subscription. https://t.co/MFvY9MNfLe
— Cooper Lund (@cooperlund) July 31, 2019
deputy washington editor of the new york times with some pretty straightforward racism here https://t.co/DcDDapJkyW
— Jack Mirkinson (@jackmirkinson) July 31, 2019
Good thing the person behind this take isn't someone important like *checks notes* deputy Washington editor for the NYT. pic.twitter.com/C2YhCi4thf
— James Downie (@jamescdownie) July 31, 2019
NYT Deputy Editor seems to think ‘midwest’ or ‘swing voters’ only apply to rural, white people.
This is an abdication of responsibility from the press. This reinforces Trumps rhetoric that black and brown cities in the South and Midwest aren’t part of ‘real’ America. https://t.co/Dvmrt8HjNJ
— Alexandra Rojas (@alexandrasiera) July 31, 2019
this unabashedly racist thread from the deputy DC editor of the NYTimes is rather illuminating one can only imagine how hoarse his Black colleagues must be by now https://t.co/8sOdkzL5cZ https://t.co/74jPRqXLme
— Matthew Elliot (@matttbastard) July 31, 2019
imagine thinking “the Deep South” and NOT thinking of black civil rights leaders
— Christina Cauterucci (@c_cauterucci) July 31, 2019
I, uh, strongly recommend rethinking these tweets.
— b-boy bouiebaisse (@jbouie) July 31, 2019
He's the Deputy Washington Editor for the New York Times. TBH, the attitude in his tweet reflects a lot of their problematic coverage choices (IMO). But *at a minimum*, he definitely ought to know better.
— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) July 31, 2019
The thing is, though, that "the Midwest" and "the Deep South" are ***actual geographic locations***, not mystical avatars of white ruralness.
Detroit and Minneapolis really are in the Midwest! Atlanta really is in the Deep South! https://t.co/UhlarkrBxE
— Joshua Benton (@jbenton) July 31, 2019
By noon today Weisman will be working on his piece for the Times op-ed page about how the internet was mean to him because of this tweet. It will be free of any genuine reflection, but Bret Stephens and Maureen Dowd will write him congratulatory emails saying, "I know, right?" https://t.co/3FcAa2ZdvX
— Paul Waldman (@paulwaldman1) July 31, 2019