Amber Athey, author of the newly released book “The Snowflakes’ Revolt: How Woke Millennials Hijacked American Media,” is weighing in on how the “liberal woke takeover” is affecting journalism and journalistic standards.
“The way that this strain of progressivism approaches journalism is completely divorced from what we traditionally understand as journalistic ethics and standards,” said Athey, Washington editor for The Spectator.
“These individuals believe that the media is just another platform for which they can advance political activism, and they’ve rewritten the rules of journalism to reflect that,” says Athey, who previously covered the White House for the Daily Caller and hosts a weekly radio show, “Unfit to Print,” on WCBM 680 in Baltimore. “So, it’s no longer about objectively trying to find the facts and get somewhere close to the truth and presenting facts to the reader so they can make their own decisions.”
It’s now about fighting on behalf of the downtrodden or ‘speaking truth to power’ or making sure that you are not causing offense to marginalized groups.
Athey joins today’s episode of “The Daily Signal Podcast” to discuss some examples of this liberal woke takeover of the media that she’s referring to, whether she thinks this liberal takeover was inevitable or could have been prevented, and how conservatives can work to counter the influence of these corporate media outlets.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript:
Samantha Aschieris: Joining today’s podcast is Amber Athey. Amber is the Washington editor for The Spectator and the host of “Unfit to Print” on WCBM 680. Amber is also the author of the newly released book “The Snowflakes’ Revolt: How Woke Millennials Hijacked American Media.” Thanks for joining us, Amber.
Amber Athey: Thank you for having me.
Aschieris: I want to jump right in here and talk about your book. It addresses a really important topic and that’s American media. So before we get too far into our conversation, tell us a little bit about your book.
Athey: Absolutely. The premise of this book is that pretty much everyone across the political spectrum really got it wrong when we tried to identify what was going to happen to this class of people on college campuses that were very illiberal, very progressive, and very disruptive. These were people who were shouting down speakers, causing property destruction when people came on campus that they didn’t like.
And on the Left, you heard repeatedly that it was no big deal, that the Right was actually overblowing what was happening on college campuses and using it in sort of a culture war.
And then on the Right you had a lot of people saying, “Well, it’s really bad now, but when these people graduate and get to the real world, they’re going to have to adapt to reality and they’re not going to be able to have their safe spaces and their trigger warnings.”
Well, it turns out everybody was wrong because these people graduated and went on to work for really influential American institutions, namely the mainstream media, whether that’s CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Politico, USA Today. And they have used those campus mob politics to usher mainstream media outlets further to the Left than ever before.
Aschieris: I wanted to dive a little deeper. I know you mentioned a few mainstream media outlets right there, but some examples of this liberal woke takeover that you are referring to?
Athey: Definitely. I think the most prominent example that probably everyone will remember is when The New York Times published an opinion piece by Sen. Tom Cotton on the riots of the summer of 2020, and his argument was that former President Donald Trump should send the National Guard in to quell those riots.
And that op-ed at The New York Times was met with basically an internal newsroom revolt by Times staffers. And they also publicly shamed the paper through a social media campaign in which staffers claimed that The New York Times, by publishing this op-ed, had literally put the lives of black employees in danger.
That led to the ousting of several top editors at the paper who were accused of not going through the proper editorial channels. They were accused of basically putting through this op-ed that was harmful to public discourse.
And I think if you go and look at the Tom Cotton op-ed, to this day, there’s an editorial note at the top of it from The New York Times explaining that this should have never been published in the first place.
So that was one of the biggest examples of this illiberal takeover of the newsrooms from the progressive Left, and it’s usually these young, low- to mid-level staffers who are the ones leading the charge.
Aschieris: Yeah, I can’t believe that was almost three years ago. It feels like it was just yesterday when all of that was happening with The New York Times’ piece. The example you just gave leads into my next question of how this liberal woke takeover is affecting journalism specifically and journalistic standards that have been around for quite a long time.
Athey: The way that this strain of progressivism approaches journalism is completely divorced from what we traditionally understand as journalistic ethics and standards. These individuals believe that the media is just another platform for which they can advance political activism and they’ve rewritten the rules of journalism to reflect that.
So it’s no longer about objectively trying to find the facts and get somewhere close to the truth and presenting facts to the reader so they can make their own decisions. It’s now about fighting on behalf of the downtrodden or speaking truth to power or making sure that you are not causing offense to marginalized groups.
And what’s really backward about that sort of ideology is that the people they claim to be fighting on behalf of, these so-called marginalized groups, end up becoming the most powerful because they have these major platforms that they can use to silence debate from the other side, they can use it to destroy people who disagree with them and basically change the entire discourse surrounding public policy.
So that’s the major change that’s been happening with journalistic ethics as we understand them.
And inside the newsrooms, the people who would maybe be considered liberal but still agree with the concept of objectivity and trying to approach the news in an unbiased manner have been cowed by this culture of fear and silence.
The ones who haven’t fallen victim to the culture of silence have left the papers, like Bari Weiss, like Matt Taibbi, like Glenn Greenwald, because they realized that there was no longer a place for people like them in their newsrooms.
Aschieris: I wanted to dive a little deeper into one of the chapters in your book, and it mentions a Politico style guide that was issued to its staff back in January of 2022. Can you walk us through some of the dos and don’ts that this guide mentions and sort of the significance of this style guide existing in the first place?
Athey: Certainly. So, these changes to the style guide, as you mentioned, were brought to Politico just a little over a year ago. And in this style guide, they’ve basically removed all instances of alleged gendered language.
So you can’t use terms like “manhunt” or “man-made,” you have to avoid “pregnant women” in favor of “pregnant people.” Or even more bizarrely, you have to say “people who menstruate” as opposed to “women who have periods,” basically erasing men and women from the lexicon entirely because they have completely bought into radical gender ideology.
These changes were brought to Politico in the wake of several important revolts within the newsroom. It really started with Ben Shapiro coming onto guest author an addition of “Playbook,” which is Politico’s famous morning newsletter. The staff was furious. They basically accused the Politico editors of platforming a Nazi.
And at that time, former staffers tell me that these young woke millennials in the newsroom realized just how many of them there were, and they decided to start exercising their influence in all kinds of other ways.
They went after a reporter, Gabby Orr, for allegedly writing a transphobic article, merely because she had quoted conservatives who used terms like “biological men” or “biological women.” And then Politico itself brought in a group of transgender activists to lecture reporters on how they were allowed to write on LGBTQ issues.
So the style guide really followed all of that newsroom turmoil and created a more official means by which reporters had to abide by the rules of leftism.
Aschieris: Do you think this liberal takeover of the media that we’ve been discussing, was that inevitable or could this have been prevented?
Athey: I think it was fairly inevitable because of the fact that newsrooms have always been something of an echo chamber, at least for the past 100 years or so.
Newsrooms, at the inception of the founding of America, were really just offshoots of political parties, but the difference between the divisive media now and the divisive media then is that everyone was pretty honest about where they were coming from. And it wasn’t until the 1900s that this concept of objectivity got wrapped into the newsrooms. And with it came a credentialing system for people who were allowed to be journalists.
Journalists used to be working-class people. This used to be basically a blue-collar profession. But the newsroom leaders decided that in order for someone to prove that they could be impartial, prove that they could be objective and meet this new slate of journalistic ethics, they had to either attend a journalism school or get some level of higher education.
Well, with that meant that the newsrooms were becoming wealthier. They were mostly populated by people who had white-collar parents. They were populated by people who lived in cities and tended to come from the coast, tended to be younger.
And so you have basically a shift from who was even allowed to become a reporter, and that has continued into today where The New York Times, The Washington Post, and all of these major outlets hire from the most prestigious universities and therefore aren’t really getting a diverse crop of people. Maybe they’re trying to implement more racial diversity, but ideological diversity doesn’t exist in newsrooms anymore.
So when you have this smattering of people who all tend to be sympathetic to left-wing causes, it’s really not a surprise that they would be willing to hire progressive activists masquerading as journalists and to be sympathetic to their ideas that they wanted to bring in to change newsrooms.
Aschieris: I was reading, I believe it was on the back cover of your book, that you have a background in covering liberal bias at colleges and universities in America. When did you first notice this shift happening on college campuses?
Athey: I was actually right in the middle of it. I started at Georgetown in 2012 and was there until 2016, and I was a pretty outspoken conservative already and I found very quickly that that was not allowed on campus. I took a lot of heat from my peers. I didn’t have any friends, really, freshman year because I was a political outcast.
This was during the Obama-Romney election. I was the only person on my dorm room floor with a Romney sign that was constantly vandalized and defaced. I had people knocking on my door in all hours of the night basically playing ding-dong ditch just to mess with me. I would have nasty flyers slid under my door.
It became obvious to me very quickly that these were people who weren’t interested in actually having intelligent discussions and trying to reconcile our differences. These were people who just wanted to bully the people who disagreed with them into silence.
And that continued throughout my four years at Georgetown to the point where I had to file several police reports because I was constantly getting online threats from people who would write them under their own names. They didn’t even care to try to hide the fact that they were doing it. Of course, the police didn’t do a whole lot about it, but yeah.
So, I mean, I think it was during that time as well that on other campuses, Ben Shapiro was showing up to UC Berkeley and Molotov cocktails were being thrown by students, or Milo Yiannopoulos, before he was canceled for other reasons, was being shouted down. Christina Hoff Sommers was one of the people that we brought to Georgetown and she was shouted down there as well as at Oberlin College.
So it was a combination of my personal experiences and what I was hearing about what was happening on other campuses that made it very evident that this was a group of people who really rejected basic principles of free speech and open discourse.
Aschieris: Now, just for our audience members, full disclosure, Amber and I actually worked together at the Daily Caller a few years back, and we have been talking about this liberal bias in media, and there are a number of conservative outlets out there, Daily Caller being one of them, and when it comes to mainstream media, I think many people would agree that mostly they’re all left-leaning. So with that in mind, how can conservatives, in your opinion, work to counter the influence of these mainstream outlets that seem to have such a grip on the industry?
Athey: Definitely. I mean, there’s always an instinct that we should create our own institutions, and we should, but there is really this infrastructure that benefits the legacy media that’s really hard to tap into.
I write in the book, for example, about the way the White House Correspondents’ Association works, and if you’re not one of these legacy media outlets, it’s really difficult to get a permanent seat in the Briefing Room or to get priority when lining up for events that involve the president, and that seems to be the case really across the media landscape.
But I think from an outside perspective, if you’re someone who is working with the media in any capacity, comms director or someone who works for a corporation, a major step that we can take as conservatives is to really just stop giving information and legitimacy to the mainstream media.
I think Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ team has it right in the sense that they don’t give interviews to people who have left-wing bias. They don’t often allow them to even come to events and ask questions of the governor. They don’t respond to background requests. They don’t leak information to them, certainly.
So that’s basically delegitimized and taken a lot of the power away from the mainstream media when it comes to covering Florida politics, and I don’t see any reason why that couldn’t work on a national scale.
One of my biggest gripes with the Trump administration was that the former president was still kind of in love with The New York Times because he had this nostalgia from when he was not a politician and got a lot of favorable media coverage coverage, and so him and his administration officials were constantly calling Maggie Haberman to give her information.
And it’s like, OK, well, you’ve basically made it so that if people want to read the latest information from what your administration is doing, they have to be a subscriber to The New York Times.
So there’s obviously an easy solution to that in order to make sure that people aren’t being forced to read these mainstream media outlets because the information is flowing elsewhere.
Aschieris: Yeah, that’s really interesting. Just one final question before we go. I wanted to read a part of the book description for our audience and talk more about it. It says, “Over the past decade, the zealous individuals once derided as college snowflakes by the Right have taken over key cultural institutions, pushing the national conversation further to the Left than ever before.” I know you talked about this at the top of the interview, but what does the future of journalism and reporting look like if we do continue down this path?
Athey: I think it leads to, ultimately, a total loss of trust and a destruction of the mainstream media, which I would probably say isn’t the worst thing in the world because they have themselves caused so much damage to the American public with all of the lies that they’ve pushed for the sake of their own political activism.
But there’s a way to save it, I think, and it’s that the newsroom leaders have to be willing to stand up to these revolts that are happening from the young woke staffers. They have to learn the lesson from the campus administrators who did not stand up to these kids and ultimately had to give in.
They seem to think that appeasing the woke millennials will lead to a standing down and actually, the opposite happens. These people get emboldened, they feel like their tactics are working, and so it makes them come back 10 times harder. All it really takes is one person or a couple of people with courage to say, “No, we’re not doing that.”
Recently at Stanford Law School when Judge [Kyle] Duncan was shouted down with the help of a diversity dean, Stanford not only put the diversity dean on leave, but they also said that every member of the law school was going to have to attend a seminar on free speech. That’s the type of response that should happen every time one of these revolts happens, whether on campus or in the newsroom.
And The New York Times recently said in response to a group of staffers siding with GLAAD, the LGBTQ advocacy organization, to accuse the paper of transphobia that they weren’t going to tolerate reporters acting like activists anymore. And reports have stated that The New York Times is starting disciplinary proceedings for those staffers.
It’s going to take people all across the media understanding the real threat that this illiberal progressivism has to their ability to do journalism and standing up to it.
Aschieris: Well, Amber, thank you so much for joining us today. Do you have any final thoughts before we go?
Athey: Sure. So, one more point on the future of the media, and it’s that if there’s one piece of optimism I would give, it’s that this decline in trust that’s been happening in the mainstream media over the past 10 to 20 years leaves a great comparative advantage for conservative and independent outlets.
And we’re seeing the rise of Substack and podcast and independent outlets across the board because they’re able to fill that gap for people who just want honest, straightforward news. So we have to keep plugging away and offering an alternative for people who are sick of the bias.
Aschieris: Well, Amber Athey, thank you so much for joining us. I’ll be sure to leave a link to your book in the show notes so everyone can check it out. Thanks so much.
Athey: Really appreciate it. Thank you.
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