From snark to tears: how ‘narrative journalism’ got it so wrong in 2016


Photo Credit: Trump Street Team FL

In the days since president-elect Donald Trump’s stunning upset  victory, Trump-haters around the world find themselves all over the Kuebler-Ross model’s five stages of grief.

Pardon my schadenfreude.

Months of hubris and snark has been appropriately transcribed into tears, anger and denial. And now you, who got it so profoundly wrong, are busy conducting the postmortem with the finesse of a chainsaw.

You presume to tell us that Trump’s victory is because America is so misogynistic, so racist, so xenophobic or any other number of abusive and divisive slurs those on the left reach for when their ability to reason runs dry.

But this crude oversimplification is nonsense. Do you liberals not see the irony of generalizing Trump’s supporters as racist and sexist?  Or do you not hold yourselves to any standard of consistency?

These kind of ad hominem sucker punches do not even deserve a response. But let’s give you a primer on where you went wrong. This is primarily addressed to those of you in 90 per cent of news media.

Let’s start with what we’ll call ‘narrative journalism’. This is your tendency to try and tell every story through the blinders of some over-arching plot which may or may not be relevant to the facts.

Those facts which don’t fit your narrative get ignored or minimized so you can keep writing and producing the first-draft of history as you think it should appear to future generations (or just to manipulate public opinion).

So when millions of white voters choose Trump, it’s ‘racism’, by doing this you try and stuff Trump’s supporters into a narrative of slavery, the KKK, and lynchings. It’s disgusting.

How do you explain the black, latino and asian voters who also chose Trump? How do you look these people in the face and lump them in with your “basket of deplorables”?

Trump made a noticeable effort to reach black voters and, arguably, it paid off in a small way. He got a small but proportionally greater amount of support from black voters than Mitt Romney did in 2012. And not just with black voters, but with Latino voters too.

And maybe if you in the press can stop this knee-jerk reaction of fear-mongering and smearing Republicans and Trump supporters as bigots, greater numbers of these people will be attracted to conservative policies. Or is that too frightening a prospect, because then it would be so much harder to win elections?

When Sarah Palin ran for vice-president in 2008 and millions of those whom you characterize as regressive and bigoted conservatives voted for her, she was just a wacko conservative to be mocked. Was she not ‘feminist’ enough for you?

But when Americans don’t vote for a female heir-to-the-establishment-throne candidate with a long string of shady activities jangling behind her, those same people are misogynistic ogres who are living proof that women are still being oppressed.

Or how about highly-educated Trump campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway who just helped him get elected? What do you do with these facts? Do you just dismiss them as statistical outliers because they don’t fit your narrative?

Maybe if you had run with a Margaret Thatcher instead of a Hillary Clinton you would have your first female president, elected by those same voters you now dismiss as misogynistic.

Because of your obsession with narrative journalism you missed the groundswell of anger and resentment seething among the great-unwashed. The truth is that there isn’t one or two or even three simple reasons why voters rejected the media, the flashy celebrities and the establishment leaders in both parities – all of whom disturbingly coalesced together during this election campaign.

Sure, Trump’s anti-globalism and secure borders message resonated with many. But it was about so much more than that. It included former Bernie Sanders supporters, social conservatives, Tea Party types, and likely a long list of other people with their own grievances.

Some of these people are savory and others unsavory, but this misses the point.  They all shared one thing: they were sick of being belittled and dismissed by so-called experts and they felt disconnected from the organs of power and influence. That sound you heard, was their collective roar and you are very unhappy.

So now democracy isn’t so great when you don’t get the result you wanted?

By irresponsibly labeling Trumps supporters with simple narrative-congruent smears you pumped oxygen on the already flaming tensions that have reached a decades-long climax under the presidency of Barack Obama.

But I want to know why you  insist on dividing us like this. Is it because your tidy scripted narratives sell better? Well stop, because your constricting neo-marxist oppressor- versus-oppressed identity politics story line that you cram us all into divides us.

It’s disgraceful.

I don’t have all the answers, but I will tell you this. Spend more time in front of the mirror and less time baiting and belittling ordinary hard-working people. Talk less and do more to bring us together.

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A Thornhill Throwback

The view north up Bayview Avenue looking across John Street in 1958. Photo by James Victor Salmon

The view north up Bayview Avenue looking across John Street in 1958. Photo by James Victor Salmon.

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The old Stong house at York University

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Ukraine crisis hurting business hundreds of kilometers away from the action

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The Ukrainian army: Fingers crossed with mismatched uniforms

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This is what the Ukrainian military looks like

It’s been a while! You’ll have to forgive my online absence. I went through a bit of a writing drought and came down with a bit of a cold, but more material will be coming!

On Monday I traveled with a Dutch journalist and two local Donetsk lads to check out a Ukrainian military position/camp in eastern Ukraine.

I’m planning on doing a more thorough write-up on this experience, but for now here is what it looks like on the ground.

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The Ukrainian-Russian border at Novoazovs’k: when reporting doesn’t work out

By Samuel Greenfield

Beer bottles and an abandoned jacket lie in a ditch littered with garbage beside a wind-swept section of road leading up to the checkpoint at the Ukrainian-Russian border near Novoazovs’k.


Signs of excavation at the border – Ukraine’s new defensive trench?

A bit closer are anti-tank obstacles, stray dogs lingering on the road, and a few small commercial enterprises serving by-passers and boarder guards. Then comes the red and white traffic barrier and the Ukrainian border guard with his Kalashnikov slung over his shoulder.

Beyond this point we cannot pass. Tough out of luck. We had just made a grueling journey by bus to Novoazovs’k and then finally by taxi to the border. Our goal was to see the defensive trench that Ukraine has dug to defend itself from any potential invasion. Across the field near the checkpoint we can see a mound of earth that almost certainly is a tell-tale sign of our subject matter.

There are no Ukrainian soldiers here. No tanks, artillery pieces just a trickle of vehicles and pedestrians passing through. The border is still open and business must go on.


We’ve already been rebuffed at the gate but two more uniformed men step out of one of the shops – possibly a bar – so I go up and give it a shot. One of them is the commander and he speaks relatively fluent English. He pulls out his cell phone and calls a superior.

Everyone under the age of 50 here has a cell phone – not a break-the-bank smart phone like everyone runs around with in Canada, but at least one of their more basic and slender cousins that feed a market constrained  by a GDP per capita of  $3,867 USD.

The answer comes back negative. Without accreditation we can’t pass the traffic barrier. Our only consolation is that we are allowed to take photos outside the restricted zone, but it’s not what we came for. IMG_1188

One of the stray dogs can saunter off into the restricted zone without difficulty. Whether this should be signified as a compliment or an insult to our human presence is debatable.

Igor, the commander, tells us they have stopped more than 100 people at this border crossing whom they suspected were heading into Ukraine to take part of protests.

It’s claimed by some that pro-Russian participants in the sometimes violent clashes here in eastern Ukraine are coming in from across the border.

We take a taxi back to the bus terminal in Novoazovs’k. The terminal appears to have been frozen in time during the Soviet era yet without any significant maintenance to stop the degeneration that comes with decades of wear.

On my first time through the building, whilst holding a cup, I managed to stumble over a water pipe running along the floor just inside the entrance and slop coffee on the ground. The bathrooms feature squat toilets and reek of urine.

This is pro-Russian territory and soon we’ve struck up a conversation with a couple of locals outside of a small general store near the terminal building. It’s difficult though. Roman, the French journalist in our small troupe, is the only person who can lay claim to a Russian vocabulary larger than 30 words.

The younger of the two locals had a small English vocabulary which he would attempt to render useful in the conversation with great difficulty.

We are joined by another man, an older fellow in a black leather jacket suffering from an obvious case of afternoon intoxication. At one point he produces a nearly empty clear glass bottle and proceeds to drain the remainder of its contents in one go.

When the first two men leave, the drunk man won’t let us out of his sight. He follows us into the store. We try to lose him by circling around the building and by entering a side door. He totters after us. It’s going to be a long wait for the bus back to Donetsk.

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