May 1, 2020

FRIDAY EDITION: I confess to some things.

FRIDAY EDITION: I confess to some things.

The newsletter many of you have been waiting for.

Tangle is an independent, ad-free, non-partisan politics newsletter that offers both sides of the biggest news stories every day. Today is a very special Friday edition that is hitting your inbox because I screwed up yesterday.

Today’s read: We’ll talk about it.

I get something off my chest, answer a really important reader question, and give you a brief update on the Joe Biden allegations.

Former Vice President Joe Biden went on MSNBC this morning to respond to the sexual assault allegations that were made against him by Tara Reade.

Why am I getting this?

Last week, I sent the “last free Friday edition” to all my readers. I said going forward you’d have to get a paying subscription to get Friday editions. I lied — but not on purpose… Yesterday, there were some technical issues with Substack’s server. As a result, the newsletter didn’t go out until after 2 p.m. EST, and then many of you got it twice. It was especially frustrating given there were so many new subscribers experiencing Tangle for the first time, and quite a few of them unsubscribed when they got a double email (just like I would have). Sometimes, there are things I can’t control, and that was one of them. But I learned my lesson: If the newsletter is stuck in transit, don’t try to send it again.

I just wanted to let you know it happened, drop in to say I’m sorry and assure you I’m always trying to get the newsletter to you between 12 p.m. and 1:00 p.m. EST. If there is a time in the future on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday that the newsletter doesn’t show up and you haven’t seen me say I’m taking some time off — call for help. Something’s wrong. Anyway, since I screwed up yesterday, I figured I’d make it up to you today with what will actually be the last free Friday edition of Tangle for a while. If you want to keep getting them — they come out about twice a month, are usually shorter, more personal and a different format — you can subscribe below:

Speaking of lies…

I have a confession to make. I’ve received five or six questions about this now, so it’s time to cop to it and get it off my chest: the “read times” on Tangle newsletters are — how do I say this? — not always accurate. I know what you’re thinking. I can hear you screaming now. FAKE NEWS! How could I lie to you like this? How could I deceive such a loyal and brilliant readership? Why would anyone stay subscribed after finding this out? Isn’t the entire point of this newsletter to fix what’s broken in the news?

Here’s the truth: I choose the read times by timing myself reading through about 75% of the newsletter once it’s complete and finished. I do it this way because I’m honest with myself, and I figure about half of you aren’t reading every word of the newsletter anyway. In fact, I once polled readers about this — and found that stat to be just about accurate. I also know from being in this business a long time that people are a lot more likely to engage your writing if they think it’s going to take them 7 minutes as opposed to 12 minutes. I didn’t make the rules.

Anyway, I couldn’t take the guilt any longer knowing that thousands of people may be plowing through these emails and wondering whether or not they were slow readers. You’re not. Many newsletters are probably more like 10-15 minute reads if you take every word in and read carefully (which you should do!). One reader claimed a newsletter took them close to 20 minutes to read because it was so dense. That sounded off to me, but it made me realize it’s probably worth addressing. Some newsletters are legitimately 8 or 9 minutes. But the timing is not based on any kind of science, it’s based on my final read, skimming through some sections trying to pretend I’m you. Going forward, I’m going to try to cut the newsletter a little more and get the read times more accurate.

Ok? There. I said it. Phew. I feel better now.

Am I a hack?

While we’re getting things off of our chest, I wanted to dive into another reader note. I got this comment in a recent Tangle poll:

One thing I'd like to suggest, and maybe you've done this in the past, is to give us all a reason why we should trust you and trust your impartiality. I'm fairly quick to trust but also ready to cancel someone if they turn out to be a shill/mess. I'd like to know your background, why you're doing Tangle, and what your potential biases might be. I know we all have them and it doesn't mean you or I can't discuss news, science, politics, but it does help to know where each other are coming from. Thanks for asking and listening to your audience.

If I can give my readers one lesson or takeaway from doing this newsletter, it’s that I think you should always be a little skeptical of the political news you’re reading. Given that, I would also want you to be skeptical of Tangle and of me. That’s why I love hearing from readers so much, it’s why I’m so keen to publish their feedback and it’s why anyone who has written in to Tangle will attest to you that I am always game to mix it up, change my views, and am generally open to criticism or conversation.

It’s also why I love this question. Last week, I wrote about my experience of falling in love with writing. Absent from the story was the reason I created this newsletter.

I got my start in political reporting at The Huffington Post, a place strongly associated with its liberal bias. There is nothing revealing about HuffPost being the first place I worked on its own — they were just the first place that gave me a shot. I applied to hundreds of jobs across the political spectrum for everything from social media gigs to sports reporting jobs. HuffPost was where I landed and when I was there I got to flex my political writing in their blogs section, which is what ultimately put me on the map as a reporter and writer.

But leaving HuffPost was my first taste of how a name or brand or tag follows you around. I left for a job at A Plus, where I work now, the positive news website founded by Ashton Kutcher. It’s also where I’ve worked as a political reporter for the last six years. A Plus had no brand association, it was brand new. Ashton was an Iowa country boy turned Hollywood star and angel investor. And throughout that time, even after freelancing a dozen other places, for conservative websites like the Independent Journal Review or stalwart magazines like TIME, I always carried with me the label of being a lefty. Every time I’d mix it up with a reader or someone criticizing my work, ultimately they would Google me and find “Huffington Post” and dismiss everything I had to say. It made me realize how absolutely broken the political discourse in our country is — and also how broken the media ecosystem was.

During my time at A Plus, I just saw this more and more. It was frustrating, not just because I felt like I struggled to get my work in front of readers who would care about it, but also because I saw so many reporters from great news outlets making mistakes that reinforced the idea “the media” had a “liberal bias.” But most of all, it was frustrating because it was — in part — true. I did have a lot of left-leaning political views. I had written stories endorsing Bernie Sanders and then Hillary Clinton. I have voted only for Democratic presidential candidates. I did live in a liberal bubble in Brooklyn, NY. And yet… my politics are complicated. And nobody seemed to allow my writing or reporting to reflect that or those nuances. The simple fact I had ever written a kind word about a Democrat suddenly meant I couldn’t write critically about Republicans without being questioned.

I grew up in one of the most politically diverse counties in America, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, which is part of what — I think — has informed my nature. I know and respect and love a lot of people across the political spectrum. I know liberals who are blue-collar workers and ruthless business people, and I know conservatives who are empathetic and scholarly — two realities that run against the tropes these groups carry in mainstream culture. I loathe many things about the Democratic party and I loathe many things about the Republican party. I have deeply rooted connections to religious communities and family members who fear sin and some of my closest friends are drug-loving atheists who go out on Friday night looking for sin. Again, this stuff and this country… it’s complicated.

Where are my biases? They are everywhere. Just like every writer or reporter or walking human.