Click Here, Stupid: Why a Lefty Like Me Stopped Writing for Many Liberal WebsitesPhoto by Spencer Platt/Getty Media Features
This past September, I was thought-policed by a gaggle of fellow liberals for giving what I thought was a wildly uncontroversial assessment: Hillary Clinton made a mistake in saying that half of Donald Trump’s voters are bigots—a statement she later admitted was a mistake.
I disagreed with the tactic, not the sentiment. For example, I despise Ann Coulter, but I don’t think it would be sound strategy for a presidential candidate to punch her in the face.
Like most social media slugfests, it all started innocently enough. A few contested yet non-threatening comments (I believe it’s called a “debate”) were exchanged between myself and a now-former Facebook friend, who happens to write for another liberal website that I, as a hobbyist political writer, had pitched to in the past.
Soon enough, a cyber-cavalry rode to her rescue. Whether they honestly believed that criticizing Clinton’s campaign tactics was the same as disavowing Clinton herself, or whether they felt that I, a man, was creating some sort of micro-aggression by daring to publicly disagree with a woman, I’ll never know.
Regardless, the situation rapidly devolved, as social media discordance often does. Within minutes, the widely accepted conclusion was that my inability to see it her way—to see the logic in Clinton insulting potential voters, rather than focusing her fire on her opponent—stemmed solely from the wounded ego of someone whose writing had been rejected by her site.
I was, suddenly, an unapologetic sexist, bitter unpublished writer, and closeted Republican. Suffice it to say that my Facebook blocked list has a few fresh souls.
I was particularly pissed off.
But why? It’s not the first time, nor will it be the last, that someone completely correct gets drowned out in a sea of social media wrongness. And it’s certainly not the first time a bunch of trolls have questioned a dissenter’s motives. My ordeal was not tragically unique.
Then it hit me. She wasn’t just wrong-she was wrong with a voice. Her stubbornly simple-minded, misguided views have a forum. (I won’t name the website, but its URL starts with “winning” and ends with “emocrats.”)
And alas-a quick Googling of her team of comment thread tormentors revealed some of them, too, contributed to liberal outlets.
How can people who seemingly can’t grasp a simple concept write for progressive websites? My cocksure liberal intellectualism—the reassuring voice that tells me “we’re the smart ones”—was suddenly shaken.
Three ‘Graphs and a Video
As a hobbyist writer with a full-time career, I regularly pitch pieces—political and otherwise—to a variety of outlets. My work has appeared in Salon, The Daily Beast, and The New York Post, among others, and I’ve become a regular contributor to several outlets, such as The Fix, a sober-lifestyle website.
I’m not doing it for the money; even the big sites don’t pay more than a few hundred dollars per piece, and I have a family to support. I’m doing it because I love to write, and care about the issues I write about.
And that’s where I diverge from far too many liberal websites these days.
In writing and pitching political pieces, one of the most eye-opening lessons I’ve learned is that many left-wing websites are nearly as ridiculous as their conservative counterparts. If a piece isn’t in complete lockstep with an editor’s viewpoint, it’s dismissed as misguided. If it explores both sides of an issue, it’s too wishy-washy.
But worst of all, if a piece is more adventurous than three paragraphs and a video, it’s “too dense,” “not succinct enough,” or “too ambitious.” My editor/ex-friend actually wrote—possibly even with a straight face—that her site “doesn’t like opinion-style pieces,” as if being a website dedicated to helping Democrats win elections can position itself as steadfastly objective.
What these translucent rejection statements really mean is, “Your work isn’t sufficient clickbait.”
In fairness, everyone needs to pay the rent. In the hyper-competitive online journalism space, more clicks means more ads means more revenue. A certain amount of shallow sensationalism is justifiable if it helps keep the lights on and, in doing so, fosters a home for more insightful content.
However, far too many sites aren’t counterbalancing clickbait with anything of substance. They exist solely as money-making vehicles, duping double-clicks from the already politically converted, reaffirming narrow-minded, and overly simplistic viewpoints while creating the kind of followers who, for example, can’t discern the difference between criticizing a candidate’s campaign strategy and disagreeing with her overall sentiment.
Especially in the modern political environment, liberals have the invaluable benefit of having the facts on their side. So, why do we need outlets that wholly abandon serious discussion of the issues, in favor of (still more) videos showing, for example, Conservatives CRYING After Meryl Streep DESTROYS Trump during an awards show speech? And let’s not forget this piece of breaking news: Obama’s Friday Night A-List Sure to Shame Trump Into Twitter-Fit. Hard-hitting stuff, guys.
It’s not news, and it’s not helping to advance progressive causes. The only thing winning is the site owner’s wallet.
For my part, I’ve made the mistake of pitching actual writing to these silly excuses for journalism—many of which may not survive the inevitable post-election political disengagement from a draining campaign and transition. Thankfully it’s a mistake I can, and will, correct.