The so-called “newsy” bit read: “And while I am generally loathe [sic] to wish physical harm on those I disagree with, and while I do wish Katie a speedy recovery, I’m comfortable shedding whatever objectivity I have here to say I desperately hope Stephen Miller contracts COVID-19.”
It was a piece entitled, just to hammer the bluntness, “I Will Personally Be Thrilled If Stephen Miller Dies of COVID-19.” It was written by Molly Osberg and published online at the feminist website Jezebel.
No need to read much more to get the gist. The writer, who is correctly critical of President Trump’s senior policy adviser’s racist and nationalist ideas, welcomes the news that his wife, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence, has contracted coronavirus, in hopes that her husband catches it. And dies.
At a time when the president’s frenemy news outlet, Fox News, is spreading baseless conspiracy theories about Obama and China, and media malfeasance across politics during a pandemic is having very dangerous consequences, these doltish thought experiments are the last thing we need.
They are none of the things that make journalism — even opinion journalism — particularly courageous or thought-provoking. It is neither brave nor controversial to merely blurt out a revenge fantasy against a much-maligned public figure from the comfort of your column. It is, in fact, the exact opposite: It’s lazy and banal. Not to mention, childish and, if we’re really reaching for something of slightly more heft, distasteful and downright ghoulish.
Why are we in the media so interested in self-sabotaging like this?
Predictably, the Jezebel piece gave Trump and his supporters an orgy of outrage, and proof (or so they will claim) that the whole of media is sick and twisted and out to get them. Does that help the left? Does that help media? Is that good for America?
The very people asking if there is an adult in the White House might want to ask if there is an adult in the newsroom willing to say not every idea is a good one.
Of course, over on the far right, there are the same problems.
A recent piece produced for Fox Nation, the streaming service for Fox News super-fans, featured Tomi Lahren interviewing comedian Theo Von. Referring to Jeffrey Epstein, the convicted sex offender who died in prison, she asks, “The Epstein ... did he kill himself?”
To which he responds, while she giggles: “I wouldn’t be shocked if Hillary [Clinton] went in there with a ... sharp spoon and got him. I wouldn’t be shocked if Bernie [Sanders] killed him and cut his body up and gave a little bit to every single person that he knew.”
I simply cannot put myself in the mindset of a producer who says, “This is fine, put it up!”
Over at the right-wing Washington Times, a columnist offers up a paean to freedom by declaring, “forced face masking is a civil rights offense.” Yes, she evokes civil rights — also, impressively, Nazis (!) in this incoherent upchuck of patriot porn. Because “this seems a blatant violation of an individual’s right to choose — of an individual’s right to self-govern.” I guess no one was there to tell her that “the right to choose” refers to a very specific thing, and not, like, all the things, or that none of this makes any damn sense.
No matter your politics, these stories aren’t provocative, they’re pablum. And they’re antithetical to the cause of journalism, and at a time when the president is doing his best to undermine it every day. One presumes liberals would care deeply about this and take extra care not to needlessly feed into Trump’s narrative. But so, too, should conservatives, even and especially those of us who are critical of liberal media bias. When conservative content is just hair-brained schlock to “own the libs,” it’s hard to argue the stereotypes are just “fake news.”
The media is far from perfect; we make mistakes every day that erode America’s trust. All the more reason we could sure live without unforced errors.
S.E. Cupp is the host of “S.E. Cupp Unfiltered” on CNN.