By Rowan Kane
I read Salon pretty frequently. They are one of the most reliably steady streams of liberal and progressive opinion on the American Internet. But are they actually doing any good? Are they positively contributing to the public discourse by providing a forum for debate on the progressive agenda? Or are they simply a place for left-wingers like me to go when we want to hear other people complain about and ridicule the conservative right, reassure ourselves that other people care as much as we do about climate change, healthcare and economic inequality and make sure that the entire country doesn’t watch Fox News? Are they just catering to, and profiting from, a known audience? In that, are they any better than Fox News…? Just kidding, anything is better than Fox News.
These questions come specifically from a couple stories that Salon has recently carried, and carried again, and carried some more, and then carried few more times; first, the website’s seeming obsession with Chris Christie post-“Bridgegate” and the more recent #CancelColbert story and aftermath in which there have been hit pieces on both Colbert himself and Jon Stewart.
There has been an article or “update” on Chris Christie nearly every day since the Bridge scandal broke on January 8th. On the one hand, it is somewhat refreshing to see a story remain in the news and not fall victim to the ever-revolving news-cycle. But I don’t use the word “obsession” lightly. The Bridgegate scandal is certainly that, a scandal, and it is worthy of continued investigation. But Elias Isquith’s continual “Chris Christie updates”, each complete with its very own unflattering picture of the “Guv”, seem to be attacks just for the sake of attacks on one of the few 2016 Republican Presidential hopefuls with a chance to unite the party and gather enough swing votes to carry the Electoral College. If that is the purpose of these updates, then so be it. Solidifying a base against Christie for 2016 is valuable to a certain degree, but shouldn’t that be the purview of political operators but should Salon not be doing more than simply preaching ad nauseam to the choir?
Next I want to talk about Salon’s handling of the #CancelColbert story. Normally, Salon writers, and myself, are huge fans of both Stewart and Colbert. The Daily Show and Colbert Report are invaluable mediums for progressive thought and criticism of an often-absurd society and political culture. Granted, this does not mean they are above criticism themselves, but one piece in particular seems to just be an opportunistic attempt to do something leftists love to do: criticize. It takes a similar tack as #CancelColbert, the notion that white men should not satirize race, and paints themselves as a victim of Stewart’s alleged insensitivity towards that opinion. Indeed “criticism” is strong part of the foundation upon which Salon is built. But let’s make sure the criticism is warranted before it is published and make sure that the criticism is contextualized.
Again, Stewart and Colbert are not immune from critique, but I believe their oeuvre stands as testament to the fact that they are not, in fact, racist. More to the point they are not part of a larger, structural racism but are often among the standard bearers against the kind of institutional racism that the #CancelColbert attempted to target. Not only is Stewart’s cast one of the most diverse on television but Colbert’s entire character is based on the false premise used by many white men (read Republican Party) who believe racism has either been entirely overcome; he “doesn’t see race”. They are white men, but both understand and recognize the inherent social and cultural privileges that come with that fact. It is my firm belief that society, including white men, must satirize the racism inherent in the system, including the privileges accorded to white men, in order to undermine them.
So we have two seeming cases of criticism for the sake of criticism. I think Salon can and should be better than this. This is not “fearless commentary and criticism”, as Salon self-identifies, but rather cheap and easy ways to boost traffic and readership while igniting the left. Maybe I’m just being naïve and Salon has positioned itself a step above Huffington Post, leaving out the horoscopes in favor of slightly more erudite and interesting listicles, on purpose. Maybe that is their niche and they are happy to build their brand around it. Maybe I’m hypocritical and this is simply a critique for the sake critique. I am a leftist after all.