Wednesday, August 29, 2018


I recently noticed that one of my 2017 tweets -- about a fanciful story by one of my favorite subjects, White Working Class Whisperer Salena Zito -- was suddenly getting a lot of play. Then I saw new Twitter threads and old stories suggesting Zito is, how you say, full of shit. People began making fun of her now-infamous gas station anecdotes. Also she's being defended by Bethany Mandel, which, like the appearance of a famous mob mouthpiece at a gangland trial, is not probative but certainly suggestive.

Let me state for the record that, in my coverage of Zito's writing, I've never accused her of fabrication. I have observed that many pronouncements she attributes to her allegedly salt-of-the-earth subjects sound a mite canned ("It took me a while to realize those words weren’t theirs, but skillfully crafted sentences that had been massaged and focus-group tested by a full staff of speechwriters and strategists..."); in fact even her paraphrases sound too good to be true. Also, I noticed her referring to Republicans as Democrats for apparent conversion-narrative purposes back in 2016, a tendency for which the new jacks have found more examples.

Which is hilarious, but kind of beside the point. When I'm not regaling you good people here and at the Voice I work on trade publications ("It's a living" -- bird on The Flintstones), and I can assure you that, in that homely branch of journalism, attributions are taken very seriously. But I know pundits like Zito get a lot more slack -- hence the Alan Bromleys and Friedman cab drivers of the world, dispensing unverifiable swear-to-Gods in the service of verisimilitude. I can't imagine any reader of even normal intelligence will fail to hear the clang of poorly-written dialogue any time one of these writers' simulacra speaks. They'll believe if their need to do so is great enough, in which case no Twitter expose is going to change their minds.

So Zito's alleged journalistic crimes I take in stride. If anything I've been much more amused by her sneakiness -- like using a rich surgeon's family as an example of down-to-earth Trumpiness ("On the wall, she was adamant: 'Build it'") by referring to them as "upper-middle-class suburban voters who live in a blue-collar, upper-middle-class exurb," which is almost adorable, like seeing a melting ice cream cone dripping behind the back of a kid who's trying to pretend he didn't steal it. I'm also impressed by how committed Zito is to her Trumpkin shtick-- even allowing herself to look dumb and incoherent in defense of The Leader's gibberish (and, when the jig is up, she knows how to diminish expectations on his behalf -- this act can travel!). Not to mention the (to me) most important fact: that, even by the slithering standards of rightwing propaganda, she's a God-awful writer. But I'm a terrible cynic; your mileage, and that of the nation's editors, may vary.

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