In the latest iteration of unhinged media wars, a bunch of not-particularly-popular, but very woke Substack writers are agitating to get a group of much more popular heterodox writers kicked off the platform. This type of illiberal attempt to suppress those with whom you disagree should be opposed of course (and I doubt Substack will cave on this) but it's also important to try to understand why this is happening and what it tells us about the very unhealthy atmosphere in today's media world.
Freddie DeBoer nails it on his excellent Substack (well worth subscribing!)
"Media Twitter does not hate Substack because it’s pretending to be a platform when it’s a publisher; they don’t hate it because it’s filled with anti-woke white guys; they don’t hate it because of harassment or any such thing. I don’t think they really hate it at all. Substack is a small and ultimately not-very-relevant outpost in a vastly larger industry; they may not like it but it’s not important enough for them to hate it. What do they hate? They hate where their industry is and they hate where they are within their industry. But that’s a big problem that they don’t feel like they can solve. If you feel you can’t get mad at the industry that’s impoverishing you, it’s much easier to get mad at the people who you feel are unjustly succeeding in that industry. Trying to cancel Glenn Greenwald (again) because he criticizes the media harshly? Trying to tarnish Substack’s reputation so that cool, paid-up writer types leave it and the bad types like me get kicked off? That they can maybe do. Confronting their industry’s future with open eyes? Too scary, especially for people who were raised to see success as their birthright and have suddenly found that their degrees and their witheringly dry one-liners do not help them when the rent comes due....
[H]ow do things get better...? Only through real self-criticism (which Twitter makes impossible) and by asking hard questions. Questions like one that has not been credibly confronted a single time in this entire media meltdown: why are so many people subscribing to Substacks? What is the traditional media not providing that they’re seeking elsewhere? Why have half a million people signed up as paying subscribers of various Substack newsletters, if the establishment media is providing the diversity of viewpoints that is an absolute market requirement in a country with a vast diversity of opinions? You can try to make an adult determination about that question, to better understand what media is missing, or you can read this and write some shitty joke tweet while your industry burns to the ground around you. It’s your call.
Substack might fold tomorrow, but someone would else sell independent media; there’s a market. Substack might kick me and the rest of the unclean off of their platforms tomorrow, but other critics of social justice politics would pop up here; there’s a market. Establishment media’s takeover by this strange brand of academic identity politics might grow even more powerful, if that’s even possible, but dissenters will find a place to sell alternative opinion; there’s a market. What there might not be much of a market for anymore is, well, you - college educated, urban, upwardly striving if not economically improving, woke, ironic, and selling that wokeness and that irony as your only product. Because you flooded the market. Everyone in your entire industry is selling the exact same thing, tired sarcastic jokes and bleating righteousness about injustices they don’t suffer under themselves, and it’s not good in basic economic terms if you’re selling the same thing as everyone else. You add that on to structural problems within your business model and your utter subservience to a Silicon Valley that increasingly hates you, well…. I get why you’re mad. And I get that you don’t like me. But I’m not what you’re mad about. Not really.
In the span of a decade or so, essentially all professional media not explicitly branded as conservative has been taken over by a school of politics that emerged from humanities departments at elite universities and began colonizing the college educated through social media. Those politics are obscure, they are confusing, they are socially and culturally extreme, they are expressed in a bizarre vocabulary, they are deeply alienating to many, and they are very unpopular by any definition. The vast majority of the country is not woke, including the vast majority of women and people of color. How could it possibly be healthy for the entire media industry to be captured by any single niche political movement, let alone one that nobody likes? Why does no one in media seem willing to have an honest, uncomfortable conversation about the near-total takeover of their industry by a fringe ideology?
And the bizarre assumption of almost everyone in media seems to have been that they could adopt this brand of extreme niche politics, in mass, as an industry, and treat those politics as a crusade that trumps every other journalistic value, with no professional or economic consequences. They seem to have thought that Americans were just going to swallow it; they seem to have thought they could paint most of the country as vicious bigots and that their audiences would just come along for the ride. They haven’t. In fact Republicans are making great hay of the collapse of the media into pure unapologetic advocacy journalism. Some people are turning to alternative media to find options that are neither reactionary ideologues or self-righteous woke yelling. Can you blame them? Substack didn’t create this dynamic, and neither did I. The exact same media people who are so angry about Substack did, when they abandoned any pretense to serving the entire country and decided that their only job was to advance a political cause that most ordinary people, of any gender or race, find alienating and wrong. So maybe try and look at where your problems actually come from. They’re not going away."