Todd Gitlin

Todd Gitlin, professor of journalism and sociology and chair of the Ph. D. program in communications at Columbia University, has been writing frequently on media and the campaign for His next book is a novel, The Opposition.

Recent Articles

From 'Liberal Media' to 'Fake News'

The war against the press has descended beneath the level of rational argument.

(AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
(AP Photo/Brynn Anderson) A supporter of Senate candidate Roy Moore in Alabama holds up a "Fake New" book on November 17, 2017, in Montgomery, Alabama. I n the past couple of years, the focus of the right-wing attack on journalists has been shifting from “liberal media” to ”fake news.” It’s a significant but underappreciated shift that reveals a sinister truth about our historical moment. It’s nothing new to charge media “bias”­—usually leftward, though sometimes rightward. The charge that the media slant to the left has been a right-wing staple for more than five decades. Implied in the charge is a remedy: Liberal media need countering by conservative media. Usually, the charge has been leveled in a spirit of spiteful resentment, as, for example, in 1964, when Barry Goldwater’s press secretary passed out gold pins to reporters that read “Eastern Liberal Press.” But bias per se was not—at least not consistently­—held to be taboo. During Goldwater’s campaign, for example, the...

The Republicans’ Leninist Respect for Democracy

The Republican Party is the B-team of politics. The B stands for Bolshevik. They strike even before the iron is hot, partly because they fear it won’t stay hot for long, partly because they know how unpopular their moves are, and partly because they believe in the exercise of raw power.

The Republican commandos are in a hurry because, so far, they haven’t been able to legislate themselves out of a paper bag. They fear, reasonably, that the midterm elections will go badly for them even if last-minute sweeteners for the likes of Marco Rubio, Bob Corker, and Susan Collins give them an ambiguous legislative trophy to campaign on. They also must fear—if they’re paying attention—that their president is marching them over the precipice into a full-blown constitutional crisis by arranging to fire Robert Mueller, and that however the imbroglio turns out, it won’t nourish further legislation.

The Republican commandos are also rushing because their deep-pocketed donors are impatient. They want their tax ripoffs! When do they want them? Now!

They’re in a hurry, too, because the more time that elapses before they pull off their oligarchic robberies, the more time public opposition has to crystallize and mobilize to stop them in their tracks.

They’re also in a hurry because they believe in raw power, not the power of persuasion. They’re not into argument, which require a certain respect for logic and evidence, and takes time. They’re not into slowing down to make deals with the minority Democrats. They prefer secrecy, writing bills no one has read. They prefer, in other words, the logic of the putsch.

As Kevin Drum and Joshua Holland have written, they’re also afraid that their demographic clock is ticking and that even voter suppression, gerrymandering, and the arousal of white nationalism might not be potent enough to sustain their congressional power for long.

This is the way of the Bolsheviks. Take power now, wield it brutally, and to hell with anyone who has another idea.

How to Fight Racism and Plutocracy in 2018

Taking back the House of Representatives

Tina Russell/Observer-Dispatch via AP
Tina Russell/Observer-Dispatch via AP Voters leave the Parkway Center after voting on Election Day in Utica, New York T he most potent political force behind white supremacy in America is voter suppression, which takes place partly through voter suppression laws, partly by control of redistricting, partly by discouraging minority voters. The most effective way to fight it is by registering and mobilizing voters. It’s all very well and good to shake your fist at Milo Yiannopoulos, Ann Coulter, Mike Cernovich, & Co., when they show up on campus, but that’s no more than a feel-good exercise. It brings an adrenaline rush, nothing more. What dries up the toxic flood of racist and plutocratic policy is winning elections. That requires voter registration work and donations. Between yesterday and November 2018. Take, for example, New York’s 19th Congressional District, which starts north of New York City and runs north and west to skirt Albany and its suburbs, which are majority...

Trump's Neo-Fascist Slime Pit

When Trump launched his n+1st vileness on Twitter yesterday, retweeting phony and incendiary videos (talk about “fake news”!) posted by a lunatic-fringe white Christian Muslim-hating British website, Britain First, the reaction from anti-racists was quickly and rightly outraged. Britain First traffics in demographic panic that can be summarized easily: The white Christians are vanishing! THEY are taking over.

Its chiefs, in particular deputy leader Jayda Fransen, roam Europe, not just Britain, crusading against Muslims and mosques. After being arrested at a Belfast rally, she popped back in a video to call her arrest evidence that “Britain has become Sharia compliant and our establishment has now instituted legislation that constitutes blasphemy laws here in the U.K.” This was way too much for Prime Minister Theresa May, whose spokesman declared after Trump’s retweets:

Britain First seeks to divide communities by their use of hateful narratives that peddle lies, … stoke tensions, … cause anxiety to law-abiding people. … [T]he prejudiced rhetoric of the far right … is the antithesis of the values this country represents, decency, tolerance and respect.

Nevertheless, May declined to lift her invitation for a Trump state visit.

Britain First is a fringe sect whose videos are slapped-up, scattershot, mislabeled, and concocted shouts of fire in crowded theaters. Ordinarily, though, they have limited reach. Even after a massive boost from Trump, their Twitter subscribers number 27.3 thousand. Trump’s blast away to 43.6 million. This is how the fringe migrates mainstream. This is how a trickle-down of vileness acquires a fire hose.

But the big story doesn’t stop with Trump’s globe-wide gift to the worst devils of human nature. It’s not even that Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended the tweets on the ground that, whether or not the videos are true to reality, “the threat” [of Islam] is real.” The big story is that Trump, or his trusted Ministers of Internet Intake, inhabits a bottom-barrel world in which Fox News and Infowars and Gateway Pundit and—sure—Britain First loom large. They’re picking this stuff up, combining through it, repurposing it all the time.

They’re picking it up selectively and combing it to weaponize it most efficiently. As The Guardian pointed out, “The Islamophobic videos were originally tweeted by Fransen on Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning before being picked up by Trump. They were not sequentially posted, meaning the president would have had to scroll through her timeline before picking out which videos to retweet.”

Martin Callanan, the Conservative Party’s Minister of State at the Department for Exiting the European Union, told the BBC: “I can only assume [Trump] has made a mistake and that he didn’t realize who Britain First were.” But no, Trump doesn’t make that sort of mistake. Along with the rest of what he is pleased to call his “movement,” he lives in an intellectual universe, if we can call it that, where race-hatred, Islamophobia, Jew-hatred, and refugee-hatred are the overpowering themes.

To anyone paying attention, this has been crystal-clear since at least early July 2016, when Trump retweeted a red Star of David shape slapped onto a bed of $100 bills—an image derived from the online white-supremacist movement. For at least the fifth time, Trump’s Twitter account was sharing a meme from the racist “alt-right” and offering no explanation why. (I wrote about his immersion in online loathsomeness then for

Ben Kharakh and Dan Primack, at had more detail:

Throughout his campaign, Trump has been blithely recycling tweets from neo-Nazis and white supremacists who revel in the phrase “white Genocide.” They use those tweets, copy them and reuse them. Thus, consciously or not, they flash signals to the Make America White Again crowd—come on board. As one prominent neo-Nazi put it, Trump is “giving us the old wink-wink.”

Kharakh and Primack scrupulously tried to give Trump an out, writing:

It is possible that Trump―who, according to the campaign, does almost all of his own tweeting—is unfamiliar with the term “white genocide” and doesn’t do even basic vetting of those whose tweets he amplifies to his 7 million followers. But the reality is that there are dozens of tweets mentioning @realDonaldTrump each minute, and he has an uncanny ability to surface ones that come from accounts that proudly proclaim their white supremacist leanings.

Trump said then that he doesn’t pay attention to the source of his tweet material. He sees what he likes and retweets it. Asked by Kharakh and Primack for more detail about his Twitter practice, his spokesperson Hope Hicks “declined to explain how Trump searches through his Twitter feed. Hicks also declined (repeatedly) to answer Fortunes question as to whether or not Trump believes that white genocide is a legitimate concern.”

Here’s the point: Trump’s Twitter pattern tells you a lot about the crowd he or his Twitter-reading staff hang out with. If you believe that Trump or his top lieutenants just happen to stumble on these racist tweets—singling them out from among the vast universe of possible source materials, perhaps because neo-Nazi design ideas are so “interesting”—then I’ll buy you a life membership at Mar-A-Lago and a lifetime supply of Pepto-Bismol to accompany it.

The great big story is not just that Trump lies and bullshits. It’s not only that Trump and his campaigners court Americans who want to make America white and Christian again. The problem is not only the vicious and lunatic legions who creep out from under the rocks at his signals. He lives in their world. He breathes their air. Tweets like those of Britain First don’t fly onto his screen at will. A slime-pit of race and religion hatred is the universe where Trump and his movement live.