Weekend Reading: The Atlantic's Reporting on January 6th, Chris Cuomo's Exit, Notable Trials, and More
The best reporting and writing from the past week, and context to understand it.
There’s a lot of great journalism out there. Every week, in a format short enough that it won’t be clipped by your inbox, we aim to share some of the best, with additional context for understanding the biggest news of the day. This is a weekly digest of stories you can savor and reporting you can rely on.
Trump’s Next Coup Has Already Begun — Barton Gellman, The Atlantic
I rarely lift entire sections of a single publication for inclusion on a topic, but I’m making an exception for The Atlantic’s upcoming January/February print issue on the fallout from the January 6th attacks on the Capitol. The first must be Barton Gellman’s cover story. Gellman’s thesis is fairly simple: “There is a clear and present danger that American democracy will not withstand the destructive forces that are now converging upon it. Our two-party system has only one party left that is willing to lose an election. The other is willing to win at the cost of breaking things that a democracy cannot live without.” That restatement of the thesis comes near the end of a monster piece. What makes it so notable, so worth your time and consideration, is what came before it: Gellman’s prescient reporting and writing from November of 2020, entitled “The Election That Could Break America,” came months before the terrible acts of January 6th.
📖 Are We Doomed? — George Packer, The Atlantic: It’s wild that January 6th isn’t bigger news, right? It’s disconcerting that it’s faded into the background so easily. Granted, there’s a pandemic ravaging the globe still and myriad other travesties and traumas to go around, but this was a huge deal with possibly republic-shattering implications. That’s why I appreciate The Atlantic’s upcoming issue, harnessing the power of a print publication to put out a collection of stories one year since that fateful day. Magazines are great at anniversaries. George Packer, as they say, understood the assignment; he begins his piece thusly: “A year after the insurrection, I’m trying to imagine the death of American democracy. It’s somehow easier to picture the Earth blasted and bleached by global warming, or the human brain overtaken by the tyranny of artificial intelligence, than to foresee the end of our 250-year experiment in self-government.” After dispensing what he thinks are non-issues, Packer concedes this point: “Before January 6th, no one — including intelligence professionals — could have conceived of a president provoking his followers to smash up the Capitol. Even the rioters livestreaming in National Statuary Hall seemed stunned by what they were doing. The siege felt like a wild shot that could have been fatal. For a nanosecond, shocked politicians of both parties sang together from the hymnal of democracy. But the unity didn’t last. The past months have made it clear that the near miss was a warning shot.”
📖 A Party, and Nation, in Crisis — Jeffrey Goldberg, The Atlantic: I love a good editor’s note in a magazine, and Jeffrey Goldberg delivers in this one, summarizing the theme of the issue, which has as much to do with January 6th as it does with the decline of the Republican Party. He does not mince words; he does not miss.
There is insufficient space in any one issue of this magazine to trace the Republican Party’s decomposition from Lincoln’s day to ours. It is enough to say that its most recent, and most catastrophic, turn — toward authoritarianism, nativism, and conspiracism — threatens the republic that it was founded to save.
CNN Fires Chris Cuomo Amid Inquiry Into His Efforts to Aid His Brother — Michael M. Grynbaum, John Koblin & Jodi Kantor, The New York Times
Last Saturday saw what many media-watchers would tell you was long overdue: CNN fired anchor Chris Cuomo for his efforts to help his brother survive, politically speaking, sexual harassment accusations. A journalistic slippery slope that raised concerns in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, back when New York was the hardest-hit place in the world, saw the brothers Cuomo trading back-slapping banter on air and it was a ratings bonanza for CNN. Critics said perhaps the governor of New York didn’t deserve such softball interviews, but they continued. When the sexual harrassment allegations broke, Chris again seemed to suggest that slippery slopes were not serious concerns. But last week, CNN said it had discovered that Chris’ collaboration went deeper than initially suspected. Who’da thunk it?
📖 The Code of Chris and Andrew Cuomo — Eric Lach, The New Yorker: Eric Lach explores CNN’s half-measure of simply suspending Chris Cuomo before finally cutting all ties with him a few days later.
Chris Cuomo’s business is media. Andrew Cuomo’s business is politics. The line between them is clear, except when it isn’t. “I’m trying to help my brother,” Cuomo told investigators working for the New York attorney general’s office during a six-hour deposition in July, a transcript of which was made public on Monday. “But I’m not part of his team.”
📖 Inside CNN’s Decision to Fire Chris Cuomo: ‘He Gave Me His Word’ — Jeremy Barr & Sarah Ellison, The Washington Post: Blatant disregard of journalistic ethics may not have been the only factor at play when it came time to fire Chris Cuomo.
The network’s decision was almost certainly accelerated by the emergence last week of a sexual misconduct claim against the host, made by a lawyer who described her client as a former junior colleague who encountered Cuomo before he joined CNN in 2013. Yet the cable news giant took pains over the weekend to assert that Cuomo had already done enough to merit dismissal earlier this year, when he helped his brother, former New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, combat an unrelated sexual harassment scandal.
📖 Time to Pull the Plug on Cable News — Jack Shafer, Politico: Just how powerful are the cable news networks? Jack Shafer wonders if we might not be better off without the whole lot of them.
Why all this attention when cable news barely matters to most Americans? The average audience commanded by [Rachael] Maddow and [Anderson] Cooper and [Sean] Hannity and all the others slithering down your cable cord is so tiny you can almost get away with calling cable news a niche media. According to October numbers from TV Newser, the three major cable networks attract an average audience of only 4.2 million viewers during primetime, which is when viewing peaks. In a nation of 330 million, that’s just a little over 1 percent of the population.
Drawing Ghislaine Maxwell — Choire Sicha, New York
Now, does this Q&A with a courtroom sketch artist at Ghislaine Maxwell’s trial rise to the level of Jimmy Breslin columns in the aftermath of the JFK assissination? No. But few things do. It is an interesting look at a widely covered trial that evokes the spirit of Breslin by looking ever-so-slightly off the center of axis of an issue of the day to find stories that matter. The artist has been drawing defendants in trials for more than 40 years. (For context: The Trial of Ghislaine Maxwell — Sabrina Tavernise, The Daily/The New York Times)
📖 Jussie Smollett’s Conviction for Orchestrating and Reporting a Phony Hate Crime Punctuates Actor’s Sudden Downfall — Megan Crepeau & Jason Meisner, The Chicago Tribune: First, it was news because it seemed like the terrible, ugly culmination of so many things America had been building toward under the Trump administration. It was, at first blush, a hate crime. But then the story unraveled, and it became news for a whole new reason: The cops and prosecutors alleged that Jussie Smollett had staged the whole thing. On Thursday, a jury agreed and found him guilty of five of six felony charges. (For context: What the Jussie Smollett Story Reveals — John McWhorter, The Atlantic)
🎧 Accusations and Evasions — The Dropout: Elizabeth Holmes on Trial/ABC Radio: The incredibly propulsive original formulation of The Dropout summarized the captivating story of Elizabeth Holmes and the rise and fall of Theranos. Once Holmes went on trial, The Dropout came back to life, and used its built-in audience to update listeners on the machinations of her trial itself (which has been recommended in Weekend Reading on an earlier occasion). Whereas the original series produced only six episodes, the trial coverage has produced more than double that number. (For context: The Theranos Trial: What to Know After Elizabeth Holmes’ Lawyers Rest Their Case & The Trial of Elizabeth Holmes: Who’s Who in the Theranos Case, The Wall Street Journal)
More of Our Favorites From the Past Week
The House Always Wins … Unless — John Gonzalez, The Ringer
Birds Aren’t Real, or Are They? Inside a Gen Z Conspiracy Theory. — Taylor Lorenz, The New York Times
Jimmy Chin Enters Uncharted Territory — Jacob Baynham, GQ
We’re Not Going Back to “Before Roe” — Dahlia Lithwick, Slate
Utah Makes Welfare So Hard to Get, Some Feel They Must Join the LDS Church to Get Aid — Eli Hager, ProPublica
On “Succession,” Jeremy Strong Doesn’t Get the Joke — Michael Schulman, The New Yorker
Low-Profile Heiress Who ‘Played a Strong Role’ in Financing Jan. 6 Rally Is Thrust Into Spotlight — Beth Reinhard, Jacqueline Alemany & Josh Dawsey, The Washington Post
The news doesn’t stop. If you checked out last week’s edition and found the topics interesting, here’s a collection of stories published since.
Jack Dorsey’s Run at Twitter
📖 Without Dorsey, Can Twitter Finally Flourish? — Lizzie O’Leary, Slate
The Omicron Variant
📖 Inside a Sequencing Lab on the Front Lines of America’s Search for Omicron — Mitch Smith, The New York Times
Stephen Sondheim’s Legacy
📖 A Sondheim Surge: Interest in His Work Soars After His Death — Michael Paulson, The New York Times
This week, elsewhere on The Postscript.
A series from award-winning authors and teachers of writing literary journalism on what they learned from the experience of titling their books.
Stories That Matter: How Time Released a BIPOC-Led Issue With Journalists Covering Their Own Communities
A conversation with Lucy Feldman, the lead editor of a first-of-its-kind magazine issue, and Sanya Mansoor.