Just Asking Questions, The Atlantic way

We mere bloggers have seen this before, and are able to see through it fairly easily. It’s the phenomenon of Just Asking Questions, also known as JAQing off, in which an interlocutor dodges any effort to state what they really think by the game of only asking questions, questions that they already know the answer to, simply to troll for attention and stir up opposition. It’s an extremely common tactic, one that takes an act of will to cut short. The only way you can win is to not play the game.

So why aren’t experienced, professional journalists, like the gang at the prestigious publication The Atlantic, able to recognize the problem? Maybe it’s because they like JAQing off themselves, as they do in this dreadful article, What does Tucker Carlson believe?. Is that even an interesting or useful question? We know what Tucker Carlson does, does it matter what he thinks in his heart of hearts? So we get nonsense like this:

The subtext of these conversations is the question of whether Carlson is, as Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently claimed, a “white supremacist sympathizer.” For a time, the question could be written off as unserious, a voguish desire to ascribe racism to anyone who might not support increased immigration. But in recent years, Carlson and some of his guests have lent more and more plausibility to the label. On August 6, for example, days after a white gunman killed 22 people in El Paso, Texas, motivated by a fear of a “Hispanic invasion of Texas,” Carlson took to his program to argue that white supremacy was “not a real problem in America,” but rather a “hoax” drummed up by Democrats.

It is not a question whether he is a “white supremacist sympathizer.” We know that he is. Watch his show, and as shown above, it’s a parade of white nationalist talking points. Right there, the writer has answered the question…so why even pretend it’s an issue that we need to talk about? Because that’s Carlson stock in trade, the racist tirade, followed by the knitted brows and quizzical expression that just makes him look stupid, as if he’s JAQing off right there, “Why are you accusing me of being racist?”

At least The New Republic sees through the facade.

It all comes back to the lie of objectivity in journalism—the idea that reporters and editors are not themselves actual people with beliefs and bias. If an outlet takes a stand and dares to say, for instance, that President Donald Trump is a racist, it runs the risk of appearing “biased”—or worse still, alienating the faction of its wealthy conservative readership with sympathetic views of the administration. Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet exemplified this when he deflected a simple question about whether Trump is racist, responding in that special Timesian speak to say, “I’m not in [Trump’s] head enough to know whether he says [racist comments] because he wants to stoke his base.”

Then, to make a straightforward enough statement—that Tucker Carlson is a racist, say—is to issue a grave moral ruling, rather than to simply describe what is plain to see. And so for the purpose of self-preservation, and grinding against the core tenets of journalism, a facade must be crafted, one that requires a very specific kind of reporter and a very specific environment of praise and accolade in political journalism.

Reporters who carry out this grimy task are actively rewarded by the editors who hold the keys to power at major national publications. Shortly after the Carlson piece dropped, Yoni Appelbaum, a senior editor at The Atlantic, deemed it “fabulous” and doted on Plott [the author of the Atlantic piece] as one of the industry’s “great profile writers.” CNN’s media critic lauded it as “very good.” John Hendrickson, an Atlantic senior editor, wrote that the piece included “the greatest kicker I’ve read all year.” Bill Scher, contributing editor at Politico, called the piece “exceptional.”

Amazing. The metaphor of masturbation works on so many levels when looking at modern American journalism — it’s a circle jerk of JAQing off, where any effort to expose the reality of what’s happening in the media is deflected with a question and a pretense that one is thinking very hard and very deeply about a plain and simple fact.

Tucker Carlson and Donald Trump are racists.

But what does it mean to be a racist? How can we truly know what is in men’s hearts? Sure, they do and say racist things, but have you considered the possibility that it’s merely economic insecurity? Whether they are actually racists is a profound and important question worth writing at length about, but in the end, how can we really be sure? I wonder how many articles I can churn out asking questions?

Oh, shut the fuck up, wankers.


  1. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    I know I am hesitant to make sweeping conclusive statements of what a person is.
    I try to limit my statements to naming their acts, to let people decide if there is enough of that type of act to label the person as one.
    You know, EG:
    Nimrod did many racist acts this week, which I think only a racist would do so many so quickly. hmmm.
    — this is from what I took from a class about how to speak assertively rather than aggressively

  2. Reginald Selkirk says

    The only way you can win is to not play the game.

    Do the youngs today get that movie reference? Just asking.

  3. stroppy says

    …what a person is…

    so if a person subscribes to an ideology, consciously or not, then how can you know if an atheist is really an atheist? What is this, some kind of koan?

    No worries, I’m not really typing this. /Jedimindtrick /gaslight

  4. says

    @ #1 you beat me to it.
    I read something about this a couple months ago. Tucker was hired to “act” the part as a foaming at the mouth conservative. Somewhere along the line he bought his own propaganda. I think if you look back, it probably happened about the same time he ditched his trade mark bow tie, and switched to a conventional tie. The bow tie was a symbol of his hardcore conservative character. When he started drinking his own KoolAid, he decided the bow tie looked silly and got rid of it.

    He went from being a caricature of a conservative to being a conservative worthy of caricature.

    A similar thing happened to Ronald Reagan. He was a pro-union Hollywood liberal. He was President of the Screen Actor’s Guild for many years. He started making propaganda for General Electric, at this point a very anti-union corporation that had a real problem with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. The switch was subtle. Reagan had always been anti-communist, but this is the point where he began associating unions with communism. That’s my one paragraph summery of the fall of good Reagan and rise of evil Reagan.

  5. jrkrideau says

    Following a
    link from your raising the dead post “Jenn Johnson (who was praised and endorsed by The Gospel Coalition’s Jackie Hill Perry back in August) and Bethel Cult are unimaginably cruel people and religious charlatans.”

    Now there is some straightforward reporting.

  6. lotharloo says

    I think it’s not too irrelevant to ask if someone is a genuine racist or acting as one. The thing is I very much prefer a genuine racist since there is a chance to convince them but for someone like Tucker, there’s no chance because he is much worse than a simple racist; he is someone who lies and misleads for attention, money and power. He knows what he spouts is false and dangerous but he doesn’t care.

    His profile is very well known: https://youtu.be/RNineSEoxjQ

  7. stroppy says

    Spreading racist ideology is a racist thing to do. You don’t necessarily have to have hatred “in your heart” to be a racist or to spread it around, at least as far as some instances of clueless, “soft” racism are concerned. Carlson has shown himself willing to enable hate and to act to perpetuate institutional racism. If he knows it’s wrong and does it anyway, it’s still wrong and still racist. Put another way, he is not anti-racism.

    Nor is being openly racist a particularly good indicator of honesty or convertibility, imo.

  8. Ridana says

    cervantes @1 wrote:

    “You are what you pretend to be.”
    — Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Mother Night

    To which I offer,
    “Be what you would seem to be, or if you’d like it put more simply: Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise.” — The Duchess, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

  9. unclefrogy says

    whether “X” is a real racist or just acts like one is a pointless question, it is splitting hairs to no useful purpose. no answer would change how to react to such a person and their deeds and words at all.
    Their actions and speech are either worthy of support or not. Any question as to the reality of the racism should be left to said individual to work out
    I do not f’n care one way or tother
    uncle frogy

  10. harryblack says

    Clearly he is a racist and willing to sell out anything and anyone that will get him ahead.
    I also suspect that he may be laying the ground for his own run at the oval office in 2024.

  11. says

    @14 I hope he does. Let’s make sure that the Republican Party alienates ALL the minorities. Women, brown, non-christian, and especially the Native Americans. Trump triggered the leftist coalition that is slowly and chaotically gathering steam. Lets keep it going. Lets show these old white men that they aren’t in charge any more. It’s time to break the system and rebuild it.

  12. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    Frankly, the question of whether Fucker Carlson is a racist is so uninteresting to me that I almost didn’t read the OP. He’s a horrible person, working among horrible people to support horrible people.

    And then I saw it: Yoni Applebaum?…yoni? How is this not satire? His very name is a gendered insult.

  13. Frederic Bourgault-Christie says

    There’s a point I’ve made that every single person trying to minimize racism and racists has failed to answer. We know that, at the very least, Tucker Carlson doesn’t care enough about people of color to actually stop parroting white nationalist talking points. He values his own opinions and the opinions of those who say white nationalist-sounding things than them, and doesn’t care when they tell him how harmful those ideas are to them. Excuses about ignorance only work once and they only work, as Sinclair pointed out, when a person’s salary hinges on them not understanding it. Broadly speaking, every excuse for why institutional, color-blind racism persists (something far less overt and conscious than what Tucker is doing) comes down to failing to recognize that at the least those failing to reform the system are putting the needs of people of color below any number of other considerations. That indicates at least a little bit of failing to value their needs equally.

    People who aren’t racist take pains to stop being racist.

  14. Nemo says

    “… a voguish desire to ascribe racism to anyone who might not support increased immigration.” Cute spin. I’d argue that, yes, anyone who supports restrictions on immigration is probably a racist. Even though that position has been so mainstreamed that we aren’t even arguing about it — it’s “more” vs. “less”, rather than “should we be doing this at all?”.

    Not that I “support increased immigration” myself, either. I’m for freedom of movement. For everyone to be free to come, leave, or stay, here, there and everywhere.

  15. Zeppelin says

    That first article is remarkably weaselly in general. They try to pull a reverse “more and more people are saying”, too.

    For a time, the question could be written off as unserious

    It’s not that we wrote it off as “unserious” for years. We were always on the right side of history. But some other, unnamed set of people may possibly have been justified in doing so. We’re just impartially reporting what they think.