The Fourth Estate, naked, disheveled, incoherent, shitting on the sidewalk, calling you dirty names

The hashtag #MillennialPledge popped up in my feed recently, so I looked into it and discovered that it was inspired by a sloppy hot take troll job that was published under the same title by the Los Angeles TimesThe same columnist who penned the original screed took so much flak for hollering his word that he was able to collate the hate mail into a heavily illustrated followup column in which he wrote, “To me, this is what you get when you raise an entire generation without spanking.”

As a quick aside, this is one of the little-discussed reasons why the Mayflower settlers left Holland. The Dutch authorities gave them ample freedom of religion and conscience, but they were horrified to watch their children acculturate to a society in which it was considered wrongheaded for parents to use “loose hands” on their children.

I wouldn’t expect Chris Erskine, the sanctimonious twerp who wrote these columns, to know so much about Dutch history, or about American history. On his biography page, he is described as a “humor columnist,” meaning that we are to construe him as a less annoying version of Dave Barry, and incidentally, a less decent version, the point being that we oughtn’t take him too seriously when he insults us wholesale. This biography notes that “[t]he Chicago native is considered an expert on bratwurst, baseball and custards of the world.” Bully for him for enjoying a trip to the ballpark to suck on wieners, I guess. Yes, beautiful day for a ballgame, Mr. Caray; beautiful fucking day. He’s also the author of two books, including “Surviving Suburbia.” Anyone familiar with Billy Joel deep tracks will agree that Erskine showed up to these tropes two or three decades late and with none of the style that makes “The Great Suburban Showdown” worth a listen. Thomas Sowell once noted that newspaper columnists are a worse bunch of procrastinators than he ever imagined, and Erskine doesn’t look like one to get on the ball early in the hope of turning in something that isn’t an embarrassment. This is the difference between “drive into town/when that big bird touches down/I’m only going home to say goodbye” and “you know, you really should have used more corporal punishment on your children, who are humorless narcissists.”

Speaking of Chicagoans who never should have been sold a ticket valid west of Naperville, the LA Times has had a little tangle with one Sam Zell over the past few years. If you’re wondering why the newspaper of record in a market of over ten million grants one of its regular bylines to a dipshit who takes credit on behalf of his entire generation for inventing “your precious iPhones and personal computers,” ridiculously insinuating that he hammers out his columns with his index fingers on a secondhand manual typewriter, the Sam Zell/Tribune fiasco is worth studying. Zell is a coarse Chicago billionaire who made his fortune in private equity, largely on real estate deals. In 2007, he bought the Tribune Company, which owned the LA Times as well as the Chicago Tribune. The most noteworthy effect of his private equity raid on the Times was to turn its newsroom into a dumpster fire. On short order, the Times became a byword in American journalism for ruined employee morale, corner-cutting, and mass reporter buyouts, the poster child for newspaper dysfunction. It started dumping Pulitzer Prize winners onto the open market as unemployed free agents.

The whole episode was too much of a clusterfuck for Zell’s PR flacks to spin it into anything good. Everyone in the industry knew that he’d crashed into the joint and screwed the pooch. Zell was able to talk a good game with credulous cable news anchors, but even laymen who casually followed industry gossip knew that he was in the business of buying newspapers and then butchering them. Zell’s major accomplishment at the Chicago Tribune was having it in Chapter 11 bankruptcy the year after he bought it.

When Chris Erskine complains about how kids these days have no work ethic and such shit, this is the context. He works for a paper that was infamously looted by an oligarch who rewarded the work ethic needed to produce Pulitzer-grade investigative reporting with mass buyouts. The LA Times continued to publish good reporting from the start of this disaster through its quasi-resolution, but that was in spite of its upper management. It’s hard to imagine that the paper has fully recovered from the post-Soviet-style asset-stripping it endured at the hands of Sam Zell and his henchmen. In any event, regardless of whether it has the financial or editorial wherewithal to, say, keep reporters on the local government beat in the Gateway Cities (Bell much?), at least it keeps Erskine around to continue his timely reporting from Get Off My Lawn. Maybe it can keep up with official malfeasance in the St. Louis County-style patchwork of rotten boroughs surrounding the City of Los Angeles, or maybe not, but if nothing else, it retains Father Christopher to tell the children to get to bed already, and to copy and paste their work from Twitter into his columns while simultaneously accusing them of being intractably lazy and irresponsible.

Yes, LA has worse outlets than the Times. LAist is run by dumber-than-dogshit interns who show no appreciable interest in the news. The thought of large numbers of my age peers getting their news from such a garbage outlet is mortifying. At the same time, LAist doesn’t have a century-plus legacy to trash. A bottomfeeding shyster like Sam Zell can easily provoke a major crisis of confidence in crucial civic institutions by raiding and looting them. Give any real thought to this, and it’s seriously scary. It’s degeneracy worthy of the Weimar Republic.

Look at it this way: the LA Times went from being run by local elites who have skeletons in the closet but nonetheless care about their city to being run by an out-of-state private equity raider who swooped in, forced out veteran reporters and editors with millennia of combined experience and institutional knowledge, and left behind a hollowed-out shell whose residual reporting capacity has been unquantifiably damaged to this day and which makes a laughingstock of itself by publishing slapdash generational war troll jobs as op-ed columns. Disrespect or distrust of such an institution doesn’t come out of nowhere. Los Angeles has always had a Third World underbelly, but it’s a big step down from literate Third World agitprop to the incoherent, sloppy mess that Chris Erskine was allowed to run under the Times’ imprimatur.

If the Times’ editors and publishers want their paper to be respectable, they have a very simple option at their disposal: publish things that are respectable, and refuse to publish embarrassing horseshit that will bring discredit upon them. The thing is, this is an organization that seems to want to have it both ways. It wants to coast forever on the inertia of its ancient paternalistic authority, and it also wants to milk the quick, easy tit of seedy clickbait for all it’s worth. It breathlessly seeks out the upsides of disreputable publishing but takes great umbrage at the prospect of being forced to also accept the downsides. It’s like Amy Winehouse clutching her pearls at the thought of being known as a drunkard just because she regularly gets publicly blitzed harder than London in 1940 and demanding an apology from anyone with the sheer nerve to show her less stiff-upper-lip respect than she’d show Lady Thatcher or the Queen. It’s completely fucking ridiculous. It’s a region-wide embarrassment for anyone within a vaguely normal commuting distance of Los Angeles.

If I’m a better columnist from my parents’ computer nook than Chris Erskine is from a downtown office of his own, it isn’t my fault, and it isn’t his business if I stay up past the bedtime he set for me. Has he heard of night-shift jobs, or is he just another hilariously sheltered mandarin? Does he know that Metro runs all-night bus service from stops within, dare I say, a literal stone’s throw of his office building? Does he expect the drivers on these lines to sleep all night, or to do their jobs and stay awake enough not to pass out and crash into a fire hydrant and a Yoshinoya at 40 miles an hour? I mean, they won’t be able to get anything done all day if they stay up all night driving buses. And how would he feel about night-watch cops napping in their cruisers? I’d rather have them well-rested for service calls if they’re running on fumes, but he’d probably berate them about how he pays their salaries. He’s just pulling pretexts out of his ass to shame the young, like that we’re electronically mediated spergs who also hug each other too much while we don’t hug our parents enough.

Hear that? Poor guy wants a hug. What rhymes with “hug you?” He’s resentful of his adolescent children and their friends over their carefree youthful something-or-other having to do with their not having been ground down by life yet, and this is in spite of his being employed by the largest newspaper on the West Coast to project his family resentments in the form of jumbled bullet-point lists of shit he wishes the damn kids would do to stop killing his sour vibe by shamelessly enjoying their own lives. And this pitiful bastard probably expects to be respected as Conor Friedersdorf’s colleague because, you know, they’re both in the news business.

Any outlet that publishes dogshit hot takes like that as anything more than a fluke is eating the seed corn. Any writer who makes a living by turning in such garbage, for any financial or professional consideration whatsoever or in the interest of his own craft as a writer, is also eating the seed corn. Somebody has to feed these people. Chris Erskine is entitled to make a living spewing unedited geezer talking points into the public sphere under a major-market newspaper byline because reasons, and I’m equally entitled to remind him that bitch I’ve done commercial farm work. I also wrote this essay. Who’s the lazy one now? And how is that censorious twit qualified to criticize me, or anyone else who does anything productive from time to time, for being a gimmedat? Gawd.

Maybe Erskine’s engrossingly bad writing is just sound and fury signifying nothing, but I fear that it’s part of a real trend, with God only knows what bad news awaiting us over the next event horizon. We may be to the point at which our only hope is to fervently seek the combined intercession of Daryl Gates, Rodney King, Christopher Dorner, and Harry Chandler, on the off chance that they aren’t just relieved to be done with the shit they left behind.

A bright shiny morning to you and yours, too.


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