Welcome to Public Notice, the new home for my writing about politics and media. Let’s begin with a snippet from the weekend that captures the sort of thing I’ll be covering here.
You’ve probably noticed that difficult negotiations over President Biden’s agenda have generated lots of headlines about Democratic disarray and Biden’s presidency being in grave danger (or worse). But an exchange from the Sunday news shows I live-tweet each week highlights how the other party controlling 50 seats in the Senate gets a free pass.
Ironically, it happened on Fox News.
The bottom line is that it’s not easy to defend opposition to universal pre-K, extending child tax credits, or other “Build Back Better” proposals that enjoy the overwhelming support of the American people, including Republicans. So it’s not a shock that Senate Republicans who stand united in opposition to such things prefer to avoid talking about specifics, and instead try to spin Biden’s agenda into a referendum on the ghost of Karl Marx.
This dynamic was on display Sunday when Fox News host Chris Wallace challenged Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) to explain his opposition to universal pre-K.
“In the state of Wyoming, less than a quarter of children 3-4 who would be covered in the bill are enrolled in publicly funded preschool. Less than a quarter. Wouldn't a lot of Wyoming families benefit from universal pre-k?” Wallace asked.
Notably, Barrasso conceded Wallace’s point — before incoherently insisting Biden’s policies have actually been “hurting” his constituents.
“There are a number of things that will help the people of Wyoming. Overall, Joe Biden’s policies have been hurting the people of Wyoming,” Barrasso claimed.
This wasn’t the only moment during the interview that revealed the hollowness of Barrasso’s position. At another point Wallace noted Barrasso actually supported expanded child tax credits while Trump was president, but opposes them now. Barrasso weakly insisted that his flip-flop is rooted in vague objections to the broader “Build Back Better” agenda.
These exchanges underscore a reality often obscured by coverage that fixates on Democrats and treats Republicans like passive vessels — that the GOP has immense power but stands for little more than obstruction and kneecapping Biden. These news clips reveal something important about US politics and who gets held accountable when issues are filtered through the media.
Those are the sorts of moments and dynamics this newsletter will be about.
A little bit about me
Over the past five years, I established myself as one of the foremost chroniclers of Trumpism and the GOP’s submission to it. I watched countless Trump rallies and used video threads to document them (my Twitter account was once described as “the RedZone channel of the Trump era”). I immersed myself in right-wing media, explaining how it functions as a Republican echo chamber and normalizes radicalism and conspiracy theories.
I held mainstream outlets accountable when they fell short. I sounded the alarm about Trump laying the groundwork to try to overturn his election loss months before it happened. I watched so my audience didn’t have to. And I understood that amid all this heavy stuff, sometimes you just gotta laugh.
Expect more explanatory and accountability journalism from me here at Public Notice.
After three years at Vox, I decided to go independent. This isn’t about dissatisfaction with where I was. It’s about a desire to create something new that I have ownership over without worrying about how it fits into someone else’s editorial vision.
But going independent doesn’t mean I’m going it alone. Public Notice will regularly feature expert perspectives in addition to my own reporting and commentary. It will feature discussion threads. It will be a forum for informed conversation about issues at the intersection of politics and media.
In the days to come, I’ll publish an expert Q&A with a political scientist on why he’s pessimistic about the prospects for American democracy, another with a journalist and author about his forthcoming book on international kleptocracy and Trump’s role in it, and a third with a media researcher on Facebook’s disinformation problem. All of this and much more will be free for the first two weeks of Public Notice.
Eventually, my plan is to publish two free columns per week, along with one paid subscriber-only newsletter highlighting the most interesting stuff I’ve been seeing while I’m watching TV news so you don’t have to. Membership will come with other perks, including Q&As with me and virtual happy hours.
I expect things will evolve over time. But what won’t change is that I’ll refuse to pull punches. I’ll be fair without being impartial.
This is a pivotal moment in US politics and I’m excited to cover it
More than five years after I started covering Trump, I still believe there’s no bigger story in politics right now than the Republican Party’s increasingly open embrace of authoritarianism.
It’s a difficult story for mainstream media outlets to tell, because it puts them in the uncomfortable position of appearing to take sides. In order to maintain a sheen of impartiality, journalists too often platform Republicans long after they’ve demonstrated they aren’t good-faith brokers, or treat efforts to undermine free and fair elections as a “both sides” issue.
Right-wing outlets, meanwhile, spread disinformation among GOP base voters with impunity. Working in tandem with elected Republicans, these outlets enable Republicans when they’re in power, and undermine Democrats when they aren’t. (There are exceptions, such as Chris Wallace.)
That’s where this newsletter comes in. I plan to use Public Notice as an extension of the coverage I’ve done for years explaining and decoding Trumpism and the broader right-wing media ecosystem. I’ll hold the Barrassos of the world accountable when they go on Fox News and can’t defend their positions, while also keeping mainstream outlets honest when they use loaded framing to undermine popular policy proposals or normalize things that should be treated as abnormal.
The coming years in American politics will be a wild journey. I hope you’ll support me as I help you navigate it.