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?”
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.