On Lean Out's first anniversary, Newsweek editor Batya Ungar-Sargon returns to the show to contemplate the state of our media - and talk through the big stories of 2022
There are these life-paths connected to ramps leading to a platform level on the human social dominance class hierarchy. Some of these ramps are platforms that are stable and real. The Canadian truckers for example. Some are manufactured societal constructs that lack real foundation and are always at risk of collapsing. Our modern ruling political media chattering occupies a rickety platform. By increasing the educated class and shrinking the working class we have loaded up the rickety platform. The occupants know it is at risk of collapse, but with strength in numbers they are committed to authoritarian measures to prop it up. They are also committed to destroying the foundations of all other class platforms as their stability is too hard to take. We need their false platform of authoritarian dominance to collapse before they destroy everything.
I'm still grappling with the the astonishing realization that many of my colleagues support the invocation of The Emergencies Act, right down to freezing people out of their money, which is to say disenfranchising them. We're musicians, for heaven's sake, we used to be the ones speaking out for social justice. There are tiny, extremely vocal, minorities on the extreme edges of the political spectrum that are controlling the discourse and those of us in the middle are increasingly frustrated. This is a volatile situation - a powder keg - and it's so bizarre as to appear contrived; but for whose benefit?
As always, an interesting and informative interview - thanks.
I am a Brit and sadly have to report that much of our media has its collective head in the sand. Douglas Murray, who appeared in the Munk debate, is very much the exception. The Guardian, which is probably even more to the left than the NYT, exhibits the very worst of the tribal reporting that you talk about. But even papers considered centralist and to the right haven't really reported the horrendous damage caused by the lockdown policies. There has been almost no reporting of the 'Twitter files' and any scientific research questioning the vaccine policy doesn't see the light of day. Desperately depressing. Thank heaven for Substacks.
Spreading mis- and disinformation continues to plague not only legacy media but many Substack sites - even those run by journalists who try to counter this. Lean Out is not immune and this episode continues the 'tradition'. As a long time subscriber, I must protest. When the misinformation is particularly egregious, it needs to be called out. This is the case for Tesla, a company constantly being misrepresented and vilified as if a favourite whipping post for those who feel they must criticize Musk for various and often legitimate reasons.
Batya Ungar-Sargon claims without any rebuttal that, "His (Musk) entire supply chain for every Tesla runs through China. Every Tesla battery is made in China. His entire fortune is bound up with the CCP." Every claim here is factually wrong as even a shallow investigation of the facts would have revealed.
Tesla, in fact, uses the LEAST number of Chinese made parts of ANY major automaker. According to the California Monroney window sticker, Freemont and Texas Teslas from those factories contain 65% USA and 15% Mexico parts. Sure, some parts are made in China and the majority of that remaining 20% is because the lack of chip production in the US and its North American trading partners for automobiles. The battery for these vehicles is from Nevada. In fact, and unlike most legacy auto makers, Tesla tries to locally source all parts and materials for each gigafactory. So, of course the Chinese factories are going to use as much Chinese parts and materials as possible by policy in the same way the American Tesla factories are going to use as many NAFTA parts and materials as possible by policy. In fact Tesla ranks at the very top of all automakers trying to achieve the greatest benefit for the local market by design, by policy, trying to locally source. Yet it seems very clear that ONLY Tesla is vilified effortlessly and by a very long line of journalists (who presume themselves unbiased) while other ICE companies get praised to the rafters by public officials and the media generally for their place at the trough of public subsidies lining up late to the EV party trying to compete (and failing, let's be clear) with what Tesla had to carve out of the free market against the current (excuse the pun) to electric vehicles using clean energy. Again, Tesla as a vertically integrated company leads the world in turning renewable energy into batteries used for energy storage in all kinds of ways. Transportation is just one branch of this. This energy market incursion by Tesla is a huge achievement for anyone concerned about addressing the core sources of climate change and receives very little coverage or compliments. If not specific mis- and disinformation by NOT covering what's true, this unwillingness to present Tesla fairly and by comparison is at the very least a disservice.
Vilifying Tesla (supposedly because of Musk's failings rather than balancing that message with his part in producing some truly remarkable achievements his companies have earned) and going along with this constant media drumbeat of vilification is misinforming the readership of what is true in any fair and honest comparison. And what's true should matter more to honest journalists than sounding virtuous and/or staying silent and going along with those who narrate their anti-Tesla beliefs under the guise of journalism.
I was so glad to hear from Batya again! I see from the comments that folks are upset about her views on the Russian war in Ukraine. But that is the point of listening to this podcast - trying to listen to a diversity of views, even those with whom we do not necessarily agree. If we only talk to people that we agree with on every single thing, then echo-chamber here we come. It is also important, I think, to fully consider where the truth is in opinions that differ from yours. The world is not that black and white! I appreciate your great work Tara!
Your guest makes many valid points, and shows an ability to take a critical look at American media culture, etc.
Sadly though, like most people in North America, and especially the indispensable empire - the United States, she has a completely indoctrinated, and thus sadly misinformed view of "Americas enemies" (that is, nations the US ruling elite identify as a threat, and thus "evil" - or, in other words, nations who refuse to comply to American diktats called "the International Rules Based Order", namely Russia and China). Russia is, she tells us, not only "WRONG TO INVADE" but "A MALEVOLENT AND GODLESS FOE". This, despite an 8 year Ukrainian bombing campaign following the US backed 2014 Maidan coup d'etat in Ukraine, which has since killed 14,000+ ethnic Russian Ukrainian citizens in the Donbas. This campaign was dominated and led by the US armed and trained self declared neo-nazi Azov Battalion. (Supporting the Azov Battalion was illegal in the US until 2022 under House Amendment 492 to H.R.Bill 2685 - 2016)
This provocative, latterly intensified bombing campaign, according to monitors with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) was escalating rapidly in late 2021, early 2022, while at the same time, Zalenskyy delivered a speech to the 2019 Munich Security Conference claiming that Ukraine should re-obtain nuclear weapons, overturning the 1994 Budapest Memorandum.)
Ms. Ungar-Sargon would be well advised to seek out information on the Ukraine "Special Military Operation" from the two senior retired US military analysts who are important sources of well informed anti-war activists, COL/PROF DOUGLAS MAC GREGOR, senior advisor to National Security Secretary in the Trump Whitehouse, and UN weapons inspector and US treaty negotiator, MARINE MAJOR SCOTT RITTER. Both have written and spoken extensively on the war from at least March 2022 onwards. These people are both indisputable experts and have credentials that should make them credible to any American, or for that matter, historian.
And then, a bit to my surprise, Ms. Ungar-Sargon repeats a completely debunked, and hopelessly propagandistic trope that China has "A MILLION UYGHUR MUSLIMS IN DETENTION CENTRES AND CONCENTRATION CAMPS WHERE THEY ARE ROUTIMELY GANG RAPED". I was a bit embarrassed for her when I hear her repeat these absurdities, which rely almost exclusively in the ravings of the loopy anti-semetic/anti-Islamic/far right Evangelical, Adrian Zenz. (Here is an article from Medium on the subject entitled Debunking the Uyghur Genocide: A resource list - Mar 31,2022: https://medium.com/@braisedporkblog/debunking-the-uyghur-genocide-a-resource-list-a31dd0ea3d87
I hope your guest, who certainly has some objectivity and journalistic integrity, not to mention intelligence and humour, with disabuse herself of some of her ill informed prejudices against America's current boogeymen nations.
Lovely podcast and many thanks for putting it out. Some of these podcasts tend to skip from one subject to another a bit too loosely, likely a reflection of the complex and heterodox world of ideas we inhabit. But their living-room-conversation style, lovely as it is but without a clear theme to hook the mind, means that the podcast requires 30-min. of dedicated time to sit in that "living room" and get a sense of what's being said. Not many of us still working have such a time span available... What to do?.. It's lovely work, though, truly, and important, in the current context. Thanks for that.
Absolutely disgusted with a your take on Ukraine. Russia doesn't present a threat to the US?! Ever heard of Russia's nukes, hacking or social media manipulation that have already been so devastating to us? Or perhaps you think that genocide in the middle of Europe should just go unnoticed?
Please read up on World War 2 history before making such ludicrous comments, as your grasp of the topic is sorely lacking.
First off, congratulations go to Tara for an exemplary first year in the Substack multiverse, the thinking person's respite from the ethical and emotional flatulence of Twitter-as-assignment-editor blather. If anyone has improved my gimlet eye for journalistic self dealing in Canada it's you, Tara. Thanks.
I gifted Ungar-Sargon's book to two close friends who truly felt that Jesse Brown, Kara Swisher and the folks at Pod Save America were state-of-the-art; the living examples of the self congratulatory paradigm that reality is not only left wing, but progressively so. Batya was one of the antidotes, I figured, and a relatively effective one. (The jury is still out on my friends however.)
BUS's thesis was perfectly illustrated by the dissolution of both the Reply All podcast group and the Bon Appetit online magazine by the same cabal of SJW's who looked around the slick offices of both and saw a lot of black and brown people employed as support staff. To these Ivy League educated militants, the employees were "oppressed as fuck," when in fact they were gainfully employed. Both media groups are now moribund, their support staff laid off or working elsewhere. This was not creative destruction. Mao would have been proud.
So it's interesting in early 2023 to hear that a puzzle-shaped form of "audience capture" has taken hold of Batya's imagination. For several minutes she stuggles with the working-class-as-Rosetta-Stone thesis while seesawing through the Russia's war against Ukraine. One second she is invoking an anti-war Trump (who, by the way, can't stand working class people), while remarking the invasion was "wrong." (Wrong? Putin didn't exactly take the last slice of pie, Batya.) And then we get to the big laughs: Russia is apparently not a strategic threat to American interests. Really? You mean Russia doesn't have nuclear weapons? From there on in it's "something, something corruption, something Donbas, and something whaddya mean Crimea."
I imagine what BUS is trying to articulate here is what is known in poli-sci circles as the "realist" position, that Russia did not invade a sovereign nation and start killing its inhabitants for personal gain but for self preservation from the evil clutches of NATO expansionism. And since that's the case the U.S. should stand down and let Putin kidnap and kill more children. I can tell you how marginal this position is: it is held mostly by a few academics (natch) and Glen Greenwald. And that's about it.
David Frum has added counterpoints to this so-called theory: he points out correctly that when this war is over Ukraine will need to be rebuilt. The U.S. will posess the largest IOU and to them will go the spoils. Will work go to working class Americans? Of course it will. Will working class Americans be replacing all that weaponry and materiel? Of course they will be. This will be a 21st century Marshall Plan and it will stoke the American economy for decades - just not the one occupied by the laptop & pajamas set.
And lastly Frum states - also correctly - that it is in the entire world's interest to have a modern, vibrant and democratic Ukraine. It will add greatly to human flourishing.
I wish BUS well on her new book. And I hope her editors talk her out of this abstractly arcane view of this war. It's self defeating.
It was a great idea to bring Batya back to kick off the second year of Lean Out. Although I don’t agree with her on Ukraine and Russia, I appreciate such opportunities to hear her perspective on current events. I also appreciate her work at “Newsweek,” which I consider to be the only traditional media source that can credibly claim to be heterodox. Happy new year to you both!