Cincinnati

An Interview with New Left Media's Chase Whiteside and Erick Stroll

Shawn Braley
AltOhio: I know you guys started off by going to a town hall meeting and that’s what sparked the idea for New Left Media?

Chase Whiteside: Yeah, a Columbus town hall meeting. Sherrod Brown had put on a town hall meeting where he was coming out to discuss the Healthcare Bill, similar to the town hall meetings across the country, and this was last August when the Tea Party movement was, well, it wasn’t really much of a Tea Party movement yet but the public was first being introduced to this thing called the Tea Party.

These people, going out in groups, were protesting a lot of things about the Healthcare bill and what was so fascinating to us was we’d ask all these different people pretty much the same things, oftentimes verbatim, and what they were doing was repeating conservative talking points from conservative commentators, from conservative journalists and the exactness with which they would repeat them suggested that this idea that this movement sprung up out of nowhere; everyone woke up one morning with the same ideas about the Healthcare bill and the President, wasn’t true, in fact, there was a centralized, organizing force that was behind all of these ideas, and it was obvious, in this case Fox News and it’s outlier Rush Limbaugh.

So that fascinated us, and that’s why we decided to go to Glenn Beck’s last conservative rally which was the 9/12 DC Tea Party march, which was asking us to return to the values of 9/12: fear and hysteria and confusion. this became our first New Left Media piece. That’s how it all began; at least the response…

Erick Stoll: The response and relative success of the video inspired us to continue to make videos.

CW: The (sound cuts out) newspapers asked me; “so what was your goal with that?” And I just say, “to pay my rent”.

AO: Was there any kind of seed planted before going to that town hall meeting?

CW: Well, we’d made a film together covering the Obama campaign. It was actually a film made with stills and interviews. We’ve worked together on some narrative projects. We met in film school because we were sort of the biggest jerks in the class. When it came time for critiques one guy would say, “Oh, I really liked the pacing, it was neat.” And Erick would raise his hand and say, “don’t you think what you made was a little juvenile and aesthetically baseless?”(laughs) So I liked that.

ES: We had just moved in together for about a month and we were just kicking around ideas for what we wanted to do with the next year and then this happened.

AO: Was the goal when entering film school to become documentarians or something along those lines?

CW: I have an interesting path. I went from wanting to write novels, to wanting to write screenplays, then to wanting to make fiction films, then to wanting to make non-fiction films, and now I’m writing a non-fiction book. So there’s been this whole trajectory where I went from fiction to non-fiction, but I tell you what; the real world is so funny, scary, dramatic and sad that we don’t have to go mining our imaginations too much anymore to find things worth putting on paper or on screen.

ES: Same way, I went to school wanting to write and direct fiction films. Over the process of a heartbreaking short film production and then a few really great experiences at these documentary classes that our professor, Julie Reichert, sort of organized for the students. I just lost all interesting in making narrative films.

AO: I read you guys want to start doing longer pieces?

CW: I like that you’ve read because of the time when you talk to people they’re like, “so what do you want to do next?” “Make longer pieces…”

So, to answer your question, yes, we want to make longer pieces. It’s hard though, because when you make longer projects, it’s costly. Not just costly in terms of footage or film, especially because it’s all-digital, but that is a cost; getting something to store a large amount of data on. But it’s costly because it takes an enormous amount of your time and prevents you from doing other things where you might be making money and puts you in places like hotel rooms and stuff where you’re going to be spending money. So to make a long project, it requires a larger amount of money, but that is our goal, we’re not necessarily at a place where we’re ready to fund a large project like that yet. Both of us are anxious to see a documentary on screen in a theatre for an audience to watch and not in a window on their facebook page.

AO: What are some documentaries that have influenced you?

(At this point, a group of people were talking loudly beside us and most of the titles they mention become unintelligible. They mention Barbara Koppel, and a film called “Seventeen”.)

CW: There have been a lot. When you sit down and you start watching documentary films, you realize that there’s this wealth, both in the past with great films, great aesthetics and great construction and a wealth of films being made now. It’s the most active and exciting place for aesthetics in cinema right now. That’s not happening with fiction films. You see indie films, the independent studios are now just the drama branches of the main studios making mediocre give me an Oscar-fare.

There are good movies being made but they’re usually outside of the United States, but with documentaries, there are a lot of great documentaries being made in the US and by young people.

It’s a wonderful and specific place to work and experiment and do it cheap without lots of money.

ES: And also making something that’s oftentimes expressly political can be difficult to navigate in a fiction film; “The Life Of David Gale”; a disaster.

AO: I was going to mention, actually, “Harlan County USA” by Koppel because your guys’ style almost reminds me of it, except with having you(Whiteside) as an interviewer. Is that sort of the style you wish to emulate or do you always want to be on the camera?

CW: I’ll say that I think our current films don’t reflect much of what she did in “Harlan County USA” but anyway, it was never my intention to be on this side of the lens, it’s certainly been productive for us. In fact, I think you’ll see some projects from us very soon where I’m not on camera at all. I wasn’t even on the premise when the lens was there. There will be some things coming out where, yeah, I’ll be off screen and I look forward to being off screen. It was never my intention to be on this side. That just means I have to get more regular haircuts and shave more.

ES: Buy more ties.

AO: I noticed in the circus/Tea Party piece and the marriage equality piece in Maine, those are the two where the filmmaking is more prominent.

CW: Yeah, that’s probably accurate.

ES: With the circus one, we had, at that point, made three or four tea party films and found out on the same day there was going to be a big Tea Party healthcare protest there was a Barnum and Bailey circus walking(through the city). This theatrical comparison and the aesthetic opportunities were just too much for us to pass up.

CW: There’s something about the Tea Party where visibility, its importance, isn’t so much in numbers. Its importance is in its visibility. I mean, you’ll have a lot of people marching wearing costumes…(becomes unintelligible again due to a few cackling women)… it’s like a sideshow in a lot of ways. When we pointed out that they were in town the same day, a lot of people thought it was like a crass thing to do, but for us it was just an opportune moment where the political movement and the media’s coverage of it just seemed to point to that.

AO: What prompts you guys to go to the specific things you do?

ES: It’s usually just our schedules, also with what sort of things are occurring in the national media dialogue at the time.

AO: Something I needed to ask, is your guys’ site down or something?

CW: You’ll be the first to explain what’s going on. Our website domain, when we came up with New Left Media, we did it in our underwear after 3 days of editing without much sleep thinking we were just going to put a video up. We had no idea that three days later this video would be at the top of dig and all these hits would be pouring in. So someone domain squatted our name, they registered newleftmedia.com, .org, .net, .com/newleftmedia. It was just really intense. So, we’ve never gotten the domain name back. He was pointing at other servers, but he got a fake WHOIS entry and Godaddy doesn’t allow that so Godaddy is fining him, so for the duration of that the domains been suspended. He can resume that as soon as he emails me back. So we’re waiting to hear on that. anyway, my domain was squatted and hopefully it’ll be back up soon.

We love Jimmy. Jimmy Lou is his name. He’s a very sweet guy. Thank you for registering our domain name.

(the site is now back up)

AO: I’ve read a lot of criticisms about your guys’ approach; you kind of mentioned that in regards to the Tea Party/circus piece so I want to just kind of go through a couple of criticisms and get your thoughts.

The one I have seen the most is that you guys do the “Trojan trick”?

CW: Well, that’s the daily caller piece. The idea that we do a “Trojan trick” ; that people would think we’re saying Right State, is just absurd. The only person that that reporter, or interview that reporter watched, that you see on the website, is of a woman from Xenia, Ohio, who not only knows what Wright State is, because she’s fifteen minutes away from it, but we had a conversation about Wright State, so he generated his hypothesis because at one point in our Andrew Breitbart interview, Andrew Breitbart appears to think we meant Right State and not Wright State. Andrew Breitbart seems to be the only person in all the interviews we’ve ever done who has thought that. Most people think we’re from Wright State University, but the larger criticism of the article is that we don’t introduce ourselves as New Left Media , we say, “we’re journalists and we want to talk to you about why you came out here today.” That’s all we say and you know if the premise is that conservatives are not going to speak honestly about what their intentions are unless they speak to conservative journalists that’s not saying very good things about conservatives. We don’t think that’s true, we think they would speak to us the same way whether they thought we were right or not right.

The problem is, our moniker choice, has turned out to be mostly a naïve choice, it being New Left Media. We told you how we came up with it, sitting around after days of editing. It was a naïve choice to make because it suggests that we come from a certain place of liberal orthodoxy and we don’t. We disagree with democrats. I think we’ve called for a boycott of the DNC at one point. We disagree with democrats and republicans in spite of our objective journalistic principles.

So, the reason we don’t share our organization name is that we don’t particularly like it. We don’t share it when we go most of the places where we do interviews. On the Internet we’re somewhat stuck with it. But, no, I don’t think anyone thinks that we’re Right State or also redstate.com, provided the only word being the same being state. So (Daily Caller)’s article is completely ridiculous.

ES: To say that we’re somehow malicious by telling them the actual name of our actual university that we actually go to.

CW: Listen, the only “Trojan trick” I know how to do has nothing to do with interviews. (laughs)

AO: There’s also the criticism that you guys feel or act with an heir of superiority with the people you’re interviewing, particularly the Tea Party.

CW: That’s not true. We genuinely care about everyone we interview and everyone we talk to. What we’re trying to point out isn’t that any one person is inarticulate or is ineloquent about what their cause is. What we’re trying to point out when we cover these events, and the reason we edit the way we do, where we put people back to back saying the same things, is to show the prevalence of conservative media narrative’s in the public, or any media narrative’s actually. If liberals gathered to protest legislation they didn’t understand, we would be there interviewing them as well. Currently that’s not happening.

We’re trying to show the manifestation of media narratives in the public and by doing that it’s like, we talk to a variety of people, we get the same thing repeated and then we edit it together to show the same thing it is that we’re hearing at the rally. It’s an accurate representation of the rally, it’s showing the things being repeated the most and it’s not put there to make fun of any single person, but it’s put there to try to illustrate the problem of bad media, bad journalism.

ES: There’s certainly an unjustified heir of superiority reflected in maybe a lot of comments on our videos and also a lot of people from leftist organizations who want to interview us about the Tea Party, but we generally reject that and try to correct that by correcting the use of the word Tea bagger for instance. We don’t say Tea bagger when talking about those of the Tea Party. So, it may be a fair charge at liberals, but I don’t think it holds up against our videos.

CW: In general, if the idea is, we think that certain positions that are said by people who we interview are wrong, that’s correct. I think part of the thing that we’re doing is showing how incorrect facts continue to be regurgitated and maintained. So we do think that those facts are wrong. If someone comes out and says, “Barack Obama’s a Muslim” we can observably, factually and empirically determine that that is not true. If that makes us superior because what we’re pointing out is that people are pointing out wrong information then I suppose, so be it. Our goal is not to elevate ourselves personally above anyone else.

ES: And, I would say, actually, we both have some amount of respect for the Tea Party, if liberals had mobilized in support of the Healthcare bill with a quarter of the fervency that the Tea Party did, we’d have a different bill.

CW: The only people that are trying to inform themselves, even if it’s from what we consider to be poor sources, about the bill and engaging and trying to have some level of activism in this case was the Tea Party. Most of the people we’ve talked to, I can’t speak for everyone, but generally, they’re good people who are truly concerned, we just think that people are excluding those concerns for their television ratings. We’re not trying to attack any individuals. It would be unfortunate for people to think that that’s what we’re trying to do. We have a very small body of work and I think it’s pretty clear that we’re not.

In our earlier work we were less clear about how it was being done. If you go back and watch out earlier videos.

ES: Sarah Palin video, certainly.

CW: Even as recent as the Sarah Palin book signing, the video’s are not as, we didn’t have the sense of responsibility that we have now towards certain journalistic principles because we still, at that point, thought we were just going out and making the next video to put online. It took us awhile to understand that a million people or five hundred thousand people were going to see it every time. So that’s changed the way we approach a lot of things.

AO: Is there ever anybody that you guys talk to that does sound like they know what the bill covers or anything?

CW: They’re in our videos. We get asked this question, and get accused of this, but in our videos we put all sorts of people who just repeat the republican parties position. If they think we’re supposed to get liberal positions, that’s not going to happen. You look at polling of the Republican Party, half of them think Barack Obama is a Muslim now. Twenty percent think he was born in Kenya and is not eligible to be President. We’re getting positions that are the positions of the party as reflected by polling, as reflected by the parties position platforms, and then people say we’re only getting the stupid ones. We’re just not getting liberals. We’re not generally getting moderates, these aren’t moderate events.
The concerns that are heard and shared at the rallies are put in the video, no matter what they are. Whether they’re funny, whether they’re stupid, or whether they’re just they’re position. There are so many times we get emails from people who say, “looks like you didn’t get anything this time”, because they watch the video and don’t find anything objectionable. They being conservatives. So, do we put smart people in our videos? We would say yes. We don’t nefariously go out and chop out brilliant, eloquent, cogent answers and not put those in. I wish we were that meticulous. What goes into the videos are just things we hear repeated a lot. How we decide which things end up in the videos are which things people say over and over again and if they say them a lot, they go in the video. So, no, not only do we not cut out really cogent answer, but also cogent answers are in our video. People explaining their positions and getting time to explain them are in the video.

The comment/mob mentality of the Internet where everyone’s like, “oh my god, these people are so stupid” and things like that. I don’t think that. Most people in our videos are repeating positions that the Republican Party as a whole wouldn’t call stupid. Everyone we talk to almost always makes it into the video. If they don’t it’s because there’s bad sound or a bad camera angle, it’s not because they brilliantly extrapolated the Tea parties philosophy into some sort of cogent libertarian narrative. So, we only cut people out of aesthetic reasons or if they are saying things that have nothing to do with anything. Occasionally, someone will come out and say things like, “well one of the things, there was this shop down in this city that I lived in and the guy, Ralph, worked there and he was a mechanic and I’ll tell ya he couldn’t…” you know? We don’t put that stuff in there because a lot of times they’re just getting off topic because they’re not media literate or media savvy. In fact, we make them more media savvy, most of the time. We help people look better not worse. We’re always amazed at what people think our intentions are and accuse us of being because we know what the process is like of putting these things together. We know which decisions we’re making a why. When we hear what decisions people are implying we are making we always think, that’s not it, we did the opposite of that.

AO: Do you guys ever have people get angry with you while you’re interviewing them?

CW: We’ve had one or two in the entire run of all the interviews. Almost all of the interviews end with us shaking hands when we walk away.

ES: Only one person has stopped an interview in the middle of it. Only one person has chased us with their car and threatened to sue us or something.

CW: That was in Ohio, in West Chester. We had a guy who got really angry. We weren’t impolite to him or anything. He kept saying this was his opinion, this was his opinion. So I just said, “well shouldn’t your opinions be based on fact?” He got incredulous with me and said, “No, opinions don’t have to be based on fact.” And then I got incredulous with him and said, “but yes they do.”

Most of our interviews end in handshakes though. Again, we’re not out to get something from them and then take it back to our lair and post it on the internet. We genuinely go and interview them because we want to know what they’re saying. We’re actually going out to cover it and to talk to people. My family are members of the Tea party. They’re from rural southeastern Ohio. Everyone I knew, they’re parents are all attracted to the Tea party. All sides of my family are different varieties of Libertarians, and there are different varieties of Libertarians. It’s not that we dislike these people. We’re not trying to find stupid things or anything like that. Mostly, what we’re trying to do is cover what the response to Democrats has been, and the response to Democrats has been highly coordinated by certain media narratives and that’s been our premise throughout.

AO: I know in the “Restoring Honor” video, there was a guy who said he was done, and that he knew what side you guys were on or whatever.

CS: That’s the guy who Erick was referencing as the only person who walked away mid-interview. That’s when we were just asking if people knew about Glenn Beck saying that(that Obama was a essentially a racist), and that guy so didn’t believe. But we did finish the interview with the others who were with him, he stood off, they didn’t think we were trying to do anything nefarious. We shook hands at the end.

AO: But even if people don’t get angry, do they ever figure out that you aren’t on their side? Maybe because of the prompts that you’re giving them?

CW: No, that would be like if now I thought that you were a conservative imposter because you’re asking me about the criticism’s of our video. I think most people expect that when they’re confronted by a journalist and the journalists asks them questions, and asks them to back up what they said. I think people expect to have to do that, at least that’s always been the case with us. They’re not surprised when we ask follow up questions. We’ve had a few say things like, “well, I don’t know what side you’re on…” but it ends up being fine. Most of them end very amiably.

AO: I don’t know if you’ve read Sodahead.com’s criticism of you…

CW: No, I don’t know what sodahead.com is.

AO: I hadn’t either until Google told me. They said, “the expectation of a lawyer type response such as; ‘well, I’m opposed to paragraph four of section three of the healthcare bill because…’

CW: basically, the idea that we’re looking for a lobbyist or lawyerlike response? But that’s not what we’re looking for. We ask them very simple questions which are, why are you here today? What did you come out for? Why are you opposed to that? What we want people to do is substantiate what they believe. It’s not that they have to say, “its on page 62 of the bill.” But what we do want them to be able to say is, “I heard this from this person, I heard this from this place.” It’s not so much what they believe as far as why they believe it. What the origins of their beliefs are.

You’ll see this in the Tea party circus video. I’m inside a congressional office building, doing interviews, and a woman’s there, she’s got a shirt on that says “Shot heard around the world” and she says, “well there’s going to be rationing.” She’s on Medicare right now. We didn’t even put that in the video because we decided that people on Medicare could fairly criticize government run healthcare. And then people say, “Well, why didn’t you point out that they were on Medicare?” But if they’re on Medicare, they’re probably more qualified to criticize government run healthcare. So she’s going through her thing and I say, “so what are your concerns with this?” and she says, “rationing.” So I said, “where do you find that in the bill?” and she says, “well, I don’t know.” “Okay, so where did you hear about it from?” “I heard it on Fox News.” That’s what we’re interested in uncovering, it’s not so much that we expect them to substantiate that it’s on page 4 paragraph 38, but we just want to know why they believe it, where did they hear it?

The same would go if we went to a liberal rally, and let’s say we were interviewing an environmentalist, and they said they wanted to ban this particular chemical or toxin, we would have to say, why? Where did you find out about this from? I think that’s a basic question in journalism. The idea that it’s a trick question or that we’re asking too much by asking them why is a sad state of expectations from journalism. I understand that a lot of people, when we got into the healthcare bill, people would say, “well of course they’re not going to know about the details of the healthcare bill.” So it’s like, okay fine, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t at once say, “well of course they’re not going to know…” but they can spout huge interpretations of the bill that are very complicated and involve malicious, nefarious panels created by democrats. You can’t at once pretend to be detailed in the nuance of the bill and at the same time play that you’re not a lobbyist so you don’t need to substantiate it. You can’t do both. I think the goal of any journalist should be to ask people who are saying those things to substantiate them and ask them why.

AO: Do you think it would be an appropriate answer if someone responded saying they didn’t know, this is simply what they heard or how they feel about it?

CW: That’s the answers we normally have.

AO: But it seems like, in your videos, a lot of times you have to sort of pry to get where they heard something. People start of with the talking points, and you sort of stop them and ask them where they heard it in a few ways until they say Fox News.

CW: I think in a lot of our videos they say, “I don’t know where this is in the bill but this is where I heard it.” I do think it’s a legitimate answer, and it’s actually what we’re more interested in getting.

AO: To kind of segueway into the state of journalism now, do you think that the role of the media is to be unbiased, or do you think it’s good to have an opinion in journalism?

CW: I think a lot of things about this. I think that in journalism, objectivity is an ideal, it’s oftentimes an unreachable ideal. Most journalists will tell you that. It’s a goal, it’s something they adhere to, particularly in print journalism, newspaper journalism, which we consider to be a much superior form of journalism to the journalism you get from cable news, if you can even call that journalism, the internet, the blogosphere, which are oftentimes regurgitations of the news cycle with added commentary, cheap commentary, poor insight.

At the same time, there’s different forms of journalism; there’s essayists, there’s people who are doing different things. It’s not that people need to be strictly objective always that they can’t go and say, “well this is how I feel about a certain situation” and make a piece on it. But they should be clear about what is news and journalism and objective, and what is opinion based and commentary. We confuse those things increasingly. In the newspaper used to be clear. You had your opinion sections. On the news now it’s not so clear. Take a channel like Fox News, which its prime time news slots is spent all with what amount to opinion shows. You take MSNBC, increasingly making itself opinion shows. They’re increasingly making themselves not news. We never intended New Left Media to be, itself, a news organization. We’ve increasingly made it something trying to be journalistic about it, because what we’ve never wanted to do is make partisan bludgeoning videos either. So the name New Left Media came, in a lot of ways, because we wanted to make an organization name that was more honest than something like Fox News, because Fox News is not news. New Left Media, we’re not planning to be news. At the same time I think objectivity is a great goal for journalists, to try and be as detached and objective and unemotional and unsentimental as possible and try to be as truthful as possible. At the same time, sometimes reality agrees with one side or the other. Sometimes reality is that the majority of this particular parties viewpoint is just flat wrong, it’s observably, objectively, empirically wrong. Something, like I said earlier, that Obama is a Muslim, is just factually wrong.

In this current political landscape, there’s so much media and there’s so much that people can just link up with things they already agree with. They find narratives they already agree with. It used to be that we got daily newspapers, and three nightly newscasts, there was a set of facts from which we premised a debate as a country. We were given a certain amount of news and we generally agreed on what those facts we had been given to advance public debate about anything, public policy, presidential elections, everything. Today, that’s not the case. We have two different groups of people preaching to their own choir. Reading their own news, reading their own takes on things, not agreeing on the basic facts in the first place. That has become the state of our discourse and the state of our politics. So I think objectivity is a good thing in journalism because we need people who are focused on reporting the truth, no matter whom it agrees with or disagrees with.

ES: A lot of people, I think, when journalists or news articles make explicit conclusions about causes and effects, mistake that for being explicitly partisan or ideological. In a New York Times piece about globalization’s effect on the Jamaican milk industry, some people consider it anti-corporate or liberal yet real things happen and they have real effects that you can draw logical conclusions from that aren’t explicitly partisan or ideological.

AO: So, do you think that there is anything Fox News or MSNBC that is worthy of being called journalism?

CW: No, we don’t think there are. We think are inherently problems with the medium of cable for delivering substantial journalism for news. Cable’s tendency both in terms of viewership as well as in terms of the people delivering the news, is to be frivolous and to be entertainment and to expect repeated narratives and have daily news cycles, balloon boy, Michael Jackson’s death, if not turn politics into just personality fights, what did Joe Lieberman slight Obama? And it’s not a place for substance and nuance. Neither really is the blogosphere for the most part. There is exceptions, but for the most part the tendency on cable is toward insubstantial bad news.

There are journalists who do better interviews than some people, even on Fox. The Sunday morning guy, Chris Wallace, does a much better job than most of the people on his network. I think Shep Smith does a better job than most people on the network. Those two are better than anyone on MSNBC. Rachel Maddow does fair interviews but still has a show where she must uphold her personality replete with sarcastic quips and jokes and things like that.

ES: While I think a two-hour, substantial news program could be created it seems pretty antithetical to the medium.

CW: And also, the movement of cable networks recently is increasingly away from anything substantial, not toward it.

EW: It’s antithetical to the culture of news watchers.

CW: Parker/Spitzer….right? Shoot me dead.

ES: Sounds like some kind of buddy cop movie.

AO: What, in the media, do you guys look to as bastions of hope for journalism?

CW: New York Times, if it can create the ability to fund itself. There’s an example of a generally objective news organization that gets accused of having a liberal bias. In fact, I think the paper is rather guarded against having a liberal bias. We also like slow news, where people really feel it out, get it right, offer explanatory insights and research and get longer pieces right. So they’re not coming quickly to us everyday necessarily, but over a period of time. The type of long form journalism you find in the New Yorker, Harpers, to some degree Mother Jones, to a lesser degree The Atlantic, as it’s moved to DC it’s like blog, speak, solution; how to save the housing crisis. Longer form journalism we like rather than news that comes daily and quick, or worse than that twitter comes every few seconds with new headlines popping up. We have a great quantity of information with ever decreasing quality, the situation with, not just journalism, but media as a whole. Movies, music, everything. The Internet and 24 hour cable news has provided an incredible bounty of information so most people feel quite rewarded, they feel like it’s been a good thing because it’s brought all of these goods. But it’s also created certain bad tendencies for the public. There’s a quickness, a jumpiness, a short attention span, lack of concentration. It’s killing nuance and substance.

ES: To apply that to news reading, you could spend an hour and know everything that was covered but know very little about the subjects that were being covered.

CW: (With that) you’re not really learning anything, you’re just sort of perusing the news and just noting things in a very frivolous and shallow way, whereas journalism used to be explanatory, research and fact oriented in a way that’s certainly not today. That would be our criticism of the current landscape.

AO: Is there anything in American politics right now that is exciting to you guys?

CW: (long pause) no.

AO: Nothing?

CW: No. (laughs) No. I mean, we met Dan La Botz, the guy who is running as a socialist candidate for senate in Ohio. He talked to us about his idea that someday everything should be rationed including sweaters and everything else….so, no. The answer is no. Can you think of anything?

ES: Nothing. Prop 9 in California is at least interesting, but no.

CW: Okay, something exciting, I legitimately think that, and it’s a sad statement in politics that some guy with a half hour show on Comedy Central mocking news shows is putting on a political rally in DC that might actually be somewhat exciting because he’s saying let’s all be reasonable.

ES: I would agree with that.


AO: Are you guys going to go to that?

CW: We don’t know, we never announce which things we’re attending.

AO: Do you guys find that cynicism is growing in American? And do you think it’s a fad or do you think important?

CW: No, I think it’s a bad thing. In fact, we have cynical tendencies that I think are a bad thing.

ES: There’s a blanket sarcastic cynicism among youth that is like, “why vote? It doesn’t matter.” Without any ideals or thought behind what it means to vote or what it means not to vote. The laziest possible choice, fuck politics.

AO: That’s more apathy than cynicism though.

CW: Well, but it’s not though, because what they’re doing is being cynical about the nature of government to help them with their problems. Cynical about the political process altogether. So cynical, in fact, that they’re unwilling to participate and perhaps there’s an honesty to that, there’s at least an honest recognition that they’re making. The cynicism about the political process is what’s resulted in things like politicians who come out and willingly lie to the public and don’t care and news networks that report on it and just make up crazy ridiculous stories and a public that likes to consume those ridiculous stories like Sarah Palin and on the left people like Alan Grayson, who is an absolute clown. So, this cynicism has been a bad thing because people are cynical in all sights to the point where there’s no sincerity even in the governmental aspect. The cynicism doesn’t extend to the public, the public’s not just cynical toward politicians, politicians are so cynical of themselves that the process in our senate is so deeply cynical that nothing gets done because everyone is a cynic. So, it’s a bad thing.

AO: Do you think that there’s too much hate coming from both sides?

CW: I think it’s complicated. Let’s talk about it in terms of politics. I do believe that if we’re to be clear about the most recent couple years, we have to be clear that there was an effort by moderate Democrats with moderate Democratic goals to take Republican policies, many of them Republican proposals and use them as their centerpiece bills, the healthcare reform looks surprisingly a lot like Nixon’s, much of the financial reform came from financial reforms that were proposed by Republicans and then republicans are unwilling to meet them halfway or do anything out of the fear of being tugged to the right by purity tests by Tea Partiers, the primary time was just flat no. so, whereas, we blame all of this on both sides in the media and aren’t letting anyone off the hook, quite expressly it’s been clear that conservatives and Republicans refuse out of political calculus, to do any sort of negotiating or being moderate at all. And Jon Stewart’s “Restoring Sanity” rally is an attack on this idea. That said, I don’t take the full liberal call that Obama shouldn’t keep trying to appease Republicans who aren’t giving him anything in return for it, instead we should just create a liberal reform and literally jam it down their throats. No one can say that the Democrats forced anything down anybodies throats, or use any phrase, put it in their face, thumb in the eye, whatever, because they didn’t. they used incredibly moderate proposals that came from Republicans during the committee meetings and then Republicans didn’t vote on them.

But there’s a hilariously simple solution to all of the hyper-partisan we experience along those lines. We could change a law tomorrow and in six years we could have such a moderate faction of government pushing things forward it would be incredible. Right now gerrymandering is so severe in all the states, Ohio as well, so that what they do is that each incumbent has got so much more of the vote behind them. So if we want to actually get things done we have to have them go back and tell their constituents what they’ve done, so if you, in fact, I think California is supposed to be instituting this, you make districts the most competitive. You draw your congressional maps by which districts are the most competitive so they’ve got the closest to equal number of Republicans and Democrats what you’re going to see is that those districts are going to be forced to have an active and open debate and be forced to appeal somewhat to both sides by virtue of progress and moving forward, not just being a champion for inaction for one side or the other. So, if we fix our gerrymandering problem, we can fix much of our problems in Washington in congress. That said, there are so minority districts in some areas where making them fully competitive would require you to divide neighborhoods in half and reach out into a wealthy suburb, and that becomes complicated with whether or not you’re getting someone who is representing urban issues and things like that. it’s all complicated, but in general I think we should have less gerrymandering.

AO: Do you think that the lack of attention that the youth are paying to politics is part of the problem? I know, me personally, I don’t really keep in touch with it except peripherally and then right before an election I’ll study the candidates and issues.

CW: Well, they’re too inundated with everything else. There’s too much stuff. There’s too much media. There’s too many distractions for them, and governments incredibly complicated. It takes a lot of arduous time to actually understand what’s going on. I think that younger people, particularly people at universities where political science courses have become like career establishment for one another to get a job scheduling for someone climbing up the party ladder. It’s become a very ugly thing that’s no longer about politics, no longer about policy but about resumes.

I think, yes, young people should definitely, and you yourself should be reading substantial news, regularly often, frequently, about politics and all things.

ES: There’s some people who do fashion themselves as being politically knowledgeable or engaged. It illustrates a problem of landscape where it is just an illusion where they’ve got an idea of what’s going on. They’ve got a particular narrative that they’re following and media sources perpetuate that narrative and exploit that narrative, and then they have actually very little knowledge about the substance and policies. They may know about Joe Lieberman and what he said about the public option this week as opposed to the details of the public option.

CW: Right, so we have this news media that’s no longer talking about what the public option is, instead you have them talking about Joe Lieberman’s not going to vote for it and if they don’t have enough on the liberal side it’s not going to be real reform and on the Republican side they’re going to call it a step toward socialism but no one is debating what it actually does, what costs it might actually cut. There’s no evaluative journalism or assessment journalism instead what you have a sports like mentality, who’s up? Who’s down? Who’s doing what? So, some people who think they’re getting informed aren’t really getting informed. I know a lot of fast talking, finger snapping politicos who talk about what’s going on with the polls. Poll junkies. People who eat polls up. The Huffington Post just bought pollster, the largest poll ever created, which should tell you something about how useless polls are. In fact, polls perpetuate their own truths. Polling makes itself more accurate by existing when people start reacting to the polls.

ES: But this percentage of young people who do consider that valuable or even fashion themselves engaged is actually quite low. 25% of 18-29 year olds voted in the last six midterms.

CW: That’s unbelievably small. So, the only way to fix that problem, like larger societal problems that we don’t have solutions for, like, I think it would be nice if our schools took more seriously reading, writing or if parents took more seriously reading and writing. And just because we have video game systems and 400 cable channels doesn’t mean we have to spend all day on them instead of our old fashioned books. They may seem outdated and less fun but they’re probably doing better things for people. I don’t know what we would do to make people read. I have no idea. Schools clearly can’t do it. You can graduate high school without ever reading a book. I went to a perfectly good high school and you never would have had to read a book in order to graduate. I would feel that a lot of it has to do with our education system, but it’s more than that. it’s not that education has failed students as much as students have moved on from book reading, you spend all this time trying to find symbolism and figure out characters in books but no one reads. So then people are going to watch movies and television, mediums people don’t understand. They don’t break them apart or understand them period. So those are able to act on them in certain ways that they don’t respond skeptically enough. I think young people are increasingly distracted by all of their technologies.

AO: To kind of go back to the state of journalism and everything, my first longer piece like this in Altohio was an interview with an Islamic woman from Cincinnati about being a Muslim in American and Park 51 Recreational Center in Manhattan. From that I received some criticism from some people who said to be a truly objective journalist I would have had to also interview someone from an opposing belief(she was for Park 51) about the placement of Park 51, and the controversy surrounding it.

CW: I think you can report on one side or the other and still be objective, because you cover what she’s saying objectively. I disagree with your critics, but yeah, you didn’t cover both sides and so…


AO: So you think there’s objectivity in only asking one side?

CW: As a journalist your job is, you go and you interview a Muslim supporter of Park 51, you’re not agreeing with her by interviewing her, you’re not supporting her by interviewing her. Maybe by giving her space and readers, but generally, your job is to assess and not endorse. I don’t know that you’d be necessarily not objective by not covering both sides.

AO: In regards to Ohio, what do you guys think of the political or cultural landscape?

CW: Of Ohio? What one? Everybody loves guns apparently, even in bars, and that’s about all I have to say about Ohio.

I don’t think there is real political discourse going on in Ohio because people aren’t reading regional news, even things like the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Cleveland Plaindealer, even the Dayton Daily News had some level of prestige, some level of investigative statehouse journalism. I don’t think that’s really true anymore. I think very few people are even reading regional news, they’re only watching national news. They know significantly more about Hilary Clinton than they do their own governor, or Christine O’Donnell than they do Rob Portman. Whoever gets in the national news gets a lot more attention. There’s a lot more complexity to it than that I think in Ohio in particular, but in general I’d say that political discourse and dialogue is very bad. We have this inability in our state government is in our third tier of lowering taxes even as the state deficit goes up, they’re cutting significant amounts of things in state government like education. The privately owned pensions are to some degree perhaps being jeopardized in the future and someday will be. At the same time, there’s a complete cowardice on the left to ever say we should be raising taxes even if that’s obviously what we should do, at least that’s true to the more fair tax policy that taxes the extreme wealthy.

Instead what they’re doing is raising fees, and that hurts everyone at this table. When they raise fees, they say they’re not raising taxes they’re raising them disproportionally and they’re taking that money from the poor. Raising speeding tickets, raising things to get your license renewed, so people are starting to pay hundreds of dollars a year in these fees to government that they’re not as taxes even while they’re going up, and those are given equally to a wealthy person as well as a poor person. They become a purely flat tax, and anti-progressive tax. They are a tax, you can’t call them not a tax. I am okay with raising taxes, but we shouldn’t be raising taxes that disproportionally effect the poor. We should be raising taxes the correct way, a real tax, done through income tax, on our high earners. That’s not going to happen from Democrats because they don’t want to get called for raising taxes in Ohio because Republicans have, in our state, never had any sincere interest in fixing our governmental economic problem. None of their proposals now, when factually evaluated by any of those news organizations, some of whom have, some of whom haven’t for the most part, will point out that neither of the plans for Strickland or for Kasich for our state level government make any sense at all. Will they fix anything? Look at our education system that after two or three supreme court rulings which say that property tax based state school funding is unconstitutional and disproportionally allows wealthy neighborhoods great schools and poor neighborhoods schools with leaky ceilings like the one I went to. So the state of politics in Ohio is a joke.

AO: Do you guys have any upcoming things, or have you not been discussing them?

CW: Yeah, I haven’t been discussing our one film. We worked on an immigration piece. No time frame on that. it will probably be released New Left Media, it’s increasingly looking like that. we talked about it being released episodically so we may have a series on immigration, I’m thinking. Because the immigration debate becomes, they get their media people up to talk about it and then it no longer makes any sense. You have one side talking about border security, they’re coming and taking our social security, you don’t have any journalists going, “actually they can’t get social security, they pay into it with tax ID numbers yet don’t receive any of the benefits” so rather than white people paying for immigrants social security it’s the other way around with immigrants paying for white people’s social security. All of the things surrounding immigration issues, right now. Gay couples can get legally married so immigrant and legal American can get married in DC or Idaho or any of the places that they’re able to get married now. And the immigrant still can’t file for spousal residency. So there’s all sorts of issues through the immigration debate and instead the public ends up getting; we need to secure our borders, the left says the same thing basically, and we forget that this is actually about humans. Humans who experience incredible strife, and are subject to what I consider to be some of the worst human rights abuse that go on in our country, it goes on against immigrants that are undocumented. They’re not illegal, because people can’t be illegal’s by being. So that’s what we call them, illegal’s, they’re actually humans and they’re quite legal, they just don’t have documents and papers. I understand the economic complexity of whether or not our government take on a more highly populated, less economically together area of everything. But the way we can help solve that is too work with foreign policy to do things to lessen our export of guns, lessen the severity of our drug war. There’s a lot of places where we could fix these problems but we’re not and instead we’re focusing on this idea that we’re going to build a giant fence. Elian Gonzalez, when he was six, floated here on a raft, you’re fence isn’t going to do shit. So, that’s the next piece.

AO: So are you guys continuing with the Tea party?

CW: No, I think the Tea party itself is not going to continue in the vein that we’ve seen it. They were unified and catalyzed by the healthcare debate, which was what unified them in opposition. They were a voice by certain news networks that were running their narratives about the 2010-midterm elections. After the 2010-midterm elections, their victory will result in a slurping out of their momentum.

ES: And it will disallow the legislation that they’re united around to oppose.

CW: It’s just going to turn into a political circus, November 3rd, 2010 will begin the 2012 presidential election. Congress isn’t going to get anything done until Obama is out or reelected.

AO: Well, that’s all I have.

CW: Thanks so much for the interview.