Press Rogue

Press Rogue — May 23, 2019, 2:59 pm

One Horse Town

“Twitter isn’t real life.” So declared New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg last week, writing on the budding Democratic presidential primary. In fact, as a source of information on the state of the party, the platform is “actively misleading,” she said, noting that Bernie Sanders has twice as many followers as Joe Biden, yet it’s Biden who’s leading in the polls. “Left-wing Twitter isn’t a microcosm of the Democratic Party,” she went on, “it’s just a small, noisy fraction of it.” A month earlier, Goldberg’s colleague Lisa Lerer had primed the pump by complaining that Twitter was “totally unrepresentative of …

Press Rogue — May 16, 2019, 4:00 pm

Playing With Fire

For folks on either coast, the story of climate change is also a story about extreme wealth disparity.

Press Rogue — May 9, 2019, 4:00 pm

Boys on the Bus

This week, the cover of Time magazine features Pete Buttigieg and his husband alongside the headline “First Family.” Looking like the definition of middle-American business casual, the pair stands amiably in front of their home, yellow tulips grazing the bottom of the portrait. It’s the first time this year that an individual Democratic presidential candidate other than Joe Biden has graced the most influential real estate in magazine journalism, and just the latest elevation of the South Bend mayor whom Vogue recently dubbed “the unicorn in this year’s Democratic field.” This framing echoes the gushing media that followed Beto O’Rourke’s …

Press Rogue — May 2, 2019, 3:41 pm

Correct the Record

Last week, President Trump distorted the truth for the ten thousandth time since taking office. That’s according to Glenn Kessler and his fact-checking team at the Washington Post, who have assumed the unenviable responsibility of scrupulously tracking the president’s every false and misleading assertion. In an article announcing the milestone, the Post’s fact-minders wrote that Trump has been averaging twenty-three disreputable claims a day since September, an eye-popping increase from the early months of his tenure, when a typical day saw no more than five fabulations. The Trump presidency has proved a boom time for fact-checkers. Since 2016, public-facing fact-checking—grounded in …

Press Rogue — April 25, 2019, 2:00 pm

Too Big to Cover

Finally, after months of speculation, Facebook announced on Wednesday that it is prepared to pay up to $5 billion to the Federal Trade Commission for violating an agreement to protect user data. Wired wrote that such a fine would be “big enough to hurt,” but The Verge was dismissive, arguing that the company is “too rich for it to matter.” Investors, it seems, agreed with the latter view: in after-hours trading on Wednesday, the company’s stock rose some 8 percent. That Facebook can treat a ten-figure fine as a slap on the wrist may explain why, when the Wall Street Journal …

Press Rogue — April 18, 2019, 3:00 pm

Crisis Mode

Until recently, the editorial boards of the nation’s leading newspapers agreed on one important fact: there was no crisis at the border. In March, when President Trump declared a national emergency, the New York Times said his reasoning ran “contrary to all evidence.” In February, the Washington Post declared that there was “no crisis at the southern border.” A week earlier, the Los Angeles Times had offered a similar analysis: “The nation faces many problems. A crisis at the border isn’t one of them.” Editorialists spent the early part of this year asserting that the president’s rhetoric on the border was …

Press Rogue — April 12, 2019, 3:18 pm

Grading on a Curve

Early this week, the media pounced on the latest installment of Operation Varsity Blues, the investigation into what federal prosecutors have called the largest college admissions scam in American history, bringing renewed focus to the two B-list actors who have been implicated in the scheme. As the headlines in one leading newspaper put it: “Felicity Huffman and 13 Others to Plead Guilty in College Admissions Scandal” and “Lori Loughlin and 15 Others Face New Charges in College Admissions Scandal.” From another news-gathering operation: “Felicity Huffman to Plead Guilty for College Cheating” and “Lori Loughlin and Hubby Just Indicted for Additional …

Press Rogue — April 5, 2019, 3:58 pm

Exit Left

The American press is obsessed with explaining Brexit. Just this week, the New York Times published four Brexit explainers. CNN has run at least eight since January, including a video that uses Legos to illustrate the United Kingdom’s customs relationship with the European Union. The Washington Post has demonstrated a similar fondness for the format, posting a glossary of Brexit terms, a pair of “What’s Next for Brexit?” videos, and a clip that promises an explanation for “confused Americans,” led by a “pop culture host.” “It’s not your fault if you don’t know what’s going on,” she says. “Because nobody …

Press Rogue — March 29, 2019, 2:34 pm

A Dark Cloud

After two years of speculation about the special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, the press can finally stop guessing. Last weekend, Attorney General William Barr sent Congress a summary of Robert Mueller’s findings, and in doing so, lifted “the darkest, most ominous cloud” over the Trump presidency, as the New York Times wrote. Other outlets were just as quick to style the finding of no collusion as a political victory. To a CNN analyst, the letter proved that Trump had “gone up against the greatest prosecutor of his generation, Mueller, the ultimate straight-arrow son of the establishment—and …

Press Rogue — March 22, 2019, 3:04 pm

Rain Check

When a bomb cyclone hit the Great Plains last Wednesday, the national media responded, predictably, with a few weather reports. The Washington Post told of the cyclone’s heavy winds, the “blizzard conditions” it had engendered in Colorado, and how a combination of rain and melting snow in “the transition zone between the warm and cold sectors of the storm” could pose “a flooding threat in eastern Nebraska and Minnesota, southeast South Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin and northern Michigan.” Just one person, a National Weather Service meteorologist, was quoted in the story. Only once a biblical two inches of rain had run …

Press Rogue — March 15, 2019, 3:17 pm

Clique Bait

The Atlantic dropped a whale of a think piece this week, a David Frum immigration special that was posted online first thing Monday morning, drumming up condemnation, hand-wringing, and #NeverTrump praise. The article, which graces the cover of the magazine’s April issue with the eminently reasonable, “just asking!” headline “How Much Immigration Is Too Much?” appeared online with the rather more incendiary headline, “If Liberals Won’t Enforce Borders, Fascists Will,” framing Frum’s proposal to cut legal immigration as a commonsense approach that splits the difference between Trump’s deplorable xenophobia and the left’s refusal to consider any restrictions whatsoever. Frum begins …

Press Rogue — March 8, 2019, 2:19 pm

A Million Turning Points

At the moment the Trump Administration reaches the point of no return, when the president’s erstwhile Republican allies join arm in arm with their Democratic brethren in Congress to remove him from office in a paroxysm of bipartisanship, at that precise moment, it is a sure bet that a New York Times reporter will be sitting in some diner in North Carolina or Nevada, asking a sample of Trump voters whether they still stand with him. We can be sure such man-on-the-street reactions will be integral to the Times’ coverage of the righteous future so frequently slavered after by its …

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Gimme Shelter·

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I.

That year, the year of the Ghost Ship fire, I lived in a shack. I’d found the place just as September’s Indian summer was giving way to a wet October. There was no plumbing or running water to wash my hands or brush my teeth before sleep. Electricity came from an extension cord that snaked through a yard of coyote mint and monkey flower and up into a hole I’d drilled in my floorboards. The structure was smaller than a cell at San Quentin—a tiny house or a huge coffin, depending on how you looked at it—four by eight and ten feet tall, so cramped it fit little but a mattress, my suit jackets and ties, a space heater, some novels, and the mason jar I peed in.

The exterior of my hermitage was washed the color of runny egg yolk. Two redwood French doors with plexiglass windows hung cockeyed from creaky hinges at the entrance, and a combination lock provided meager security against intruders. White beadboard capped the roof, its brim shading a front porch set on cinder blocks.

After living on the East Coast for eight years, I’d recently left New York City to take a job at an investigative reporting magazine in San Francisco. If it seems odd that I was a fully employed editor who lived in a thirty-two-square-foot shack, that’s precisely the point: my situation was evidence of how distorted the Bay Area housing market had become, the brutality inflicted upon the poor now trickling up to everyone but the super-rich. The problem was nationwide, although, as Californians tend to do, they’d taken this trend to an extreme. Across the state, a quarter of all apartment dwellers spent half of their incomes on rent. Nearly half of the country’s unsheltered homeless population lived in California, even while the state had the highest concentration of billionaires in the nation. In the Bay Area, including West Oakland, where my shack was located, the crisis was most acute. Tent cities had sprung up along the sidewalks, swarming with capitalism’s refugees. Telegraph, Mission, Market, Grant: every bridge and overpass had become someone’s roof.

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Body Language·

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I am eight years old, sitting in my childhood kitchen, ready to watch one of the home videos my father has made. The videotape still exists somewhere, so somewhere she still is, that girl on the screen: hair that tangles, freckles across her nose that in time will spread across one side of her forehead. A body that can throw a baseball the way her father has shown her. A body in which bones and hormones lie in wait, ready to bloom into the wide hips her mother has given her. A body that has scars: the scars over her lungs and heart from the scalpel that saved her when she was a baby, the invisible scars left by a man who touched her when she was young. A body is a record or a body is freedom or a body is a battleground. Already, at eight, she knows it to be all three.

But somebody has slipped. The school is putting on the musical South Pacific, and there are not enough roles for the girls, and she is as tall as or taller than the boys, and so they have done what is unthinkable in this striving 1980s town, in this place where the men do the driving and the women make their mouths into perfect Os to apply lipstick in the rearview. For the musical, they have made her a boy.

No, she thinks. They have allowed her to be a boy.

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Trash, Rock, Destroy·

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The writer and filmmaker Virginie Despentes lives in a nondescript modern building in the Belleville neighborhood of Paris. I know it well: it has a Bricorama—like a French Home Depot—on the ground floor, where we sometimes had cause to shop back when we lived in the neighborhood. The people who work there seemed to hate their jobs more than most; they were often absent from the sales floor. In the elevator to Despentes’s apartment, I marvel that while I was trying to get someone to help me find bathroom grout she was right upstairs, with her partner, Tania, a Spanish tattoo artist who goes by the name La Rata, like someone out of one of Despentes’s novels.

In an email before our meeting, Despentes asked that we not do a photo shoot. “There are so many images available already,” she explained. Much had been written about her, too. A Google search yielded page after page: profiles, interviews, reviews, bits and bobs—she read from Pasolini at a concert with Béatrice Dalle; someone accused her of plagiarizing a translation; a teacher in Switzerland was fired for teaching her work. The week I met her, she appeared in the culture magazine Les Inrockuptibles in conversation with the rapper-turned-actor JoeyStarr. The woman is simply always in the news.

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Discussed in this essay:

Plagued by Fire: The Dreams and Furies of Frank Lloyd Wright, by Paul Hendrickson. Knopf. 624 pages. $35.

Frank Lloyd Wright isn’t just the greatest of all American architects. He has so eclipsed the competition that he can sometimes seem the only one. Who are his potential rivals? Henry Hobson Richardson, that Gilded Age starchitect in monumental stone? Louis Sullivan, lyric poet of the office building and Wright’s own Chicago mentor, best known for his dictum that form follows function? “Yes,” Wright corrected him with typical one-upmanship, “but more important now, form and function are one.” For architects with the misfortune to follow him, Wright is seen as having created the standards by which they are judged. If we know the name Frank Gehry, it’s probably because he designed the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, in 1997. And Gehry’s deconstructed ship of titanium and glass would be unimaginable if Wright hadn’t built his own astonishing Guggenheim Museum on Fifth Avenue some forty years earlier.

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The Red Dot·

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That night at the window, looking out at the street full of snow, big flakes falling through the streetlight, I listened to what Anna was saying. She was speaking of a man named Karl. We both knew him as a casual acquaintance—thin and lanky like Ichabod Crane, with long hair—operating a restaurant down in the village whimsically called the Gist Mill, with wood paneling, a large painting of an old gristmill on a river on one wall, tin ceilings, and a row of teller cages from its previous life as a bank. Karl used to run along the river, starting at his apartment in town and turning back about two miles down the path. He had been going through the divorce—this was a couple of years ago, of course, Anna said—and was trying to run through his pain.

Cost of renting a giant panda from the Chinese government, per day:

$1,500

A recent earthquake in Chile was found to have shifted the city of Concepción ten feet to the west, shortened Earth’s days by 1.26 microseconds, and shifted the planet’s axis by nearly three inches.

Shortly after the Regional Council of Veneto, in Italy, voted against climate-change legislation, its chambers were flooded.

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At Ivanwald, men learn to be leaders by loving their leaders. “They’re so busy loving us,” a brother once explained to me, “but who’s loving them?” We were. The brothers each paid $400 per month for room and board, but we were also the caretakers of The Cedars, cleaning its gutters, mowing its lawns, whacking weeds and blowing leaves and sanding. And we were called to serve on Tuesday mornings, when The Cedars hosted a regular prayer breakfast typically presided over by Ed Meese, the former attorney general. Each week the breakfast brought together a rotating group of ambassadors, businessmen, and American politicians. Three of Ivanwald’s brothers also attended, wearing crisp shirts starched just for the occasion; one would sit at the table while the other two poured coffee. 

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