On Saturday, Axios sent out a tweet that was also, in effect, an Axios post. The tweet was:
Be smart: Immigration in 2018 isn’t about policy; it’s about both sides making a cultural argument to turn out their base voters.
The post the tweet linked to had more characters in it, but not really any more ideas. This is the Axios method, as described by Axios:
Every piece of content we produce will be broken and narrated with true expertise—and then summarized in one shareable element. You can decide whether to go deeper. Often, there’s no need.
With the immigration tweet, there was no need. The content of the post was the content of the tweet, or less than the content of the tweet—in that it did not, in any way, support Axios’ claim that the Democratic Party, one of the two parties that make up the “both sides” in the tweet, is in any way “making a cultural argument to turn out their base voters.”
What the boldfaced points in the post described, instead, is how the Republican Party—finding the voters indifferent or hostile to its policies on health care and taxes, because those policies are bad—is trying to turn the news cycle to a Donald Trump-led eruption of xenophobic conspiracy-mongering, in the hopes that fear and rage will drive its core of supporters to the polls in the midterms. That’s it.
But in the universe of politics constructed by Axios—a platform-agnostic, values-atheistic universe, for readers who turn to a political tipsheet to be told how to be smart—a closing argument built on racism and lies is simply another political tactic. And if one party has a political tactic, than the other party must have an opposing political tactic, and so here we are in a clash of tactics, involving both sides. The analysis exists prior to any information, and no modular expansion of the material can possibly change it.
It might seem, then, that Axios is unable to describe any asymmetric political situation as being asymmetric—except the very next day, the site published the thoughts of its CEO Jim VandeHei about the “fake news” problem, which is to VandeHei’s self-devouring brain the problem of people talking about the problem of fake news.
And there, it is clear that one side bears the responsibility. Not the side that is most actively engaged in informational warfare; as far as propaganda and disinformation goes, VandeHei waves at the notion of coming up with some sort of regulation over social media, but comes down in the end on blaming the individual users:
Be smart … Remember: If your Facebook feed is filled with garbage, it means you were reading garbage in the first place. The algorithm simply gives you more of what you crave.
The big problem he sees, though, is that other journalists lack his own sense of neutrality:
Media: News organizations should ban their reporters from doing anything on social media — especially Twitter — beyond sharing stories. Snark, jokes and blatant opinion are showing your hand, and it always seems to be the left one. This makes it impossible to win back the skeptics.
That the media’s hand “always seems to be the left one” could almost be mistaken for an opinion. But Axios does not have opinions. Opinions are bias; opinions are politics. A journalist’s job is to keep their motivations hidden.