Trump, Nixon, and Subjectivity

John Gruber reminds us of Hunter S Thompson’s obituary of Richard Nixon, saying it “[f]eels appropriate today” (this was yesterday, of course).

I hadn’t read it in a while, but there are some glorious lines in it:

If the right people had been in charge of Nixon’s funeral, his casket would have been launched into one of those open-sewage canals that empty into the ocean just south of Los Angeles. He was a swine of a man and a jabbering dupe of a president.

He has poisoned our water forever. Nixon will be remembered as a classic case of a smart man shitting in his own nest. But he also shit in our nests, and that was the crime that history will burn on his memory like a brand. By disgracing and degrading the Presidency of the United States, by fleeing the White House like a diseased cur, Richard Nixon broke the heart of the American Dream.

They were a crooked bunch, though, the Republicans back then. This on Spiro Agnew:

He was a flat-out, knee-crawling thug with the morals of a weasel on speed. But he was Nixon’s vice president for five years, and he only resigned when he was caught red-handed taking cash bribes across his desk in the White House.

Which is not exactly accurate according to the Wikipedia article, but it’s not too far off.

The quote Gruber draws our attention to is this:

Some people will say that words like scum and rotten are wrong for Objective Journalism β€” which is true, but they miss the point. It was the built-in blind spots of the Objective rules and dogma that allowed Nixon to slither into the White House in the first place. He looked so good on paper that you could almost vote for him sight unseen. He seemed so all-American, so much like Horatio Alger, that he was able to slip through the cracks of Objective Journalism. You had to get Subjective to see Nixon clearly, and the shock of recognition was often painful.

Which reminds me of something I’ve been thinking about for a long time. Which is that I don’t think I want journalism to be objective. At least not in the area of political commentary. News is different, of course. But to me the best journalistic writing comes about when the writer’s personality comes through. When their unique voice can be heard in every paragraph. HST was of course the exemplar of that, but you don’t have to be as extreme as him to write things that have some heart and soul about them, that do more than just recite the facts.

Indeed, that journalistic objectivity is part of the problem. The whole he said/she said reporting of science in particular — just think of the way climate change is discussed1; or the MMR fake controversy of a few years back. Journalists need to be able say, “This person says x but they’re wrong because of y and z.”

And that isn’t necessarily even being subjective. It’s just being willing to not treat both sides of a debate as equal when they’re not.

Back to HST on Nixon, and the crookedness of the Republicans:

Two years after he quit, he told a TV journalist that “if the president does it, it can’t be illegal.”

which is something that Trump has quoted, I believe. Or if not, it’s clear that it’s what he believes.


  1. In reality there’s no “debate.” []
Trump, Nixon, and Subjectivity

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