May 1, 2020

FRIDAY EDITION: I confess to some things.

FRIDAY EDITION: I confess to some things.

Plus, an update on the Biden allegations.

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?

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 a special Friday edition of Tangle.

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. The difference is I’m making the decision to be transparent about my biases. And they are not consistent. I am more conservative about Israel or guns or federalism than most of my liberal friends. I’m more liberal about health care or immigration or education than most of my conservative friends. I’m not a fan of Trump and I’m not a fan of Biden. My views have also changed: I liked Obama when he was president and grew to look down on much of what he did now that he’s left office. I once wrote that I “despised” Hillary Clinton and then I wrote a public mea culpa that was read five million times and apologized to her. She wrote me a personal letter and thanked me. I felt a connection and newfound respect for her and what she’s endured throughout her career. And then I hated just about everything she did in the years after that, until a few weeks ago when I watched the Hulu documentary about her life. Then many of my feelings of respect for her came back. How do I feel about Hillary Clinton? It’s complicated!

I am, like most Americans, complicated. I feel differently about different things and my views change often. I am influenced by new evidence and changing circumstances. I view evolving political views positively, not as expediency, as the world is a changing place and we all should be adapting. My views on gun rights or abortion aren’t what they were 10 years ago or five years ago or three months ago. They move. And all of this, on a personal level, is why I created Tangle. I wanted more room for nuance and I wanted a space to be transparent about my biases while also elevating the political reporting we’re all taking in.

The news is broken. You can predict who someone votes for based on what news they consume. You can also predict how someone views a sexual assault accuser based on who they are accusing. Just 18% of Americans trust the national media “a lot” and that number only drops further if they are someone that is politically engaged. The press is one of the few things Americans seem to loathe as much as Congress. I’ve been on the other side of that fence, I’ve been the reporter trying to convince someone I’m doing an honest bang-up job, trying my best to be truthful, even if I did vote for a Democrat once. And it sucks. So I wanted to fix it: the partisan divide, the expectation everyone had to follow their party no matter what, the distrust in the media, the slight and overt bias in political reporting, all of it.

So I thought of an idea that was rather simple but also powerful: what would happen if I brought those ideas under one roof? What would happen if I reported with the same integrity and skills that I developed through years of college education and years as a professional, but added a dose of absolute radical transparency about where my biases were? And made it explicit how different parts of America were framing the same story? What if, instead of sharing the worst arguments from each side that were getting the most oxygen, I found the most convincing and compelling arguments from each side and shared those? What if when readers corrected or criticized something I wrote, I shared those criticisms in full instead of slyly updating articles without an editor’s note?

Then, last year, A Plus was acquired by Chicken Soup for the Soul. It was a great business move for us but not a great career move for me: they wanted to move us to all video, which meant I wouldn’t be writing political articles anymore. A Plus is my baby, so I made the decision to tough it out and — like my political views — adapt. It was a good decision. But I also wanted to keep writing, so I started to put the plan for Tangle into action. I wrote up the format in a tiny little black notebook next to my bed (What D.C. is talking about, the left’s take, the right’s take and my take) and then started playing around on Substack after a former editor suggested it to me. I blasted some newsletters out to 50 friends and family. I took submissions for ideas about a name. I searched for hours on end and found the brain logo. And then I started. People loved it. It resonated the same way I hoped it would: readers had their biases checked, they got to wade through the B.S., and they got something personal and entertaining and engaging. They told me it felt like a conversation, it felt like actual balance, it felt like it was something they could trust. That was August of last year and I’ve been at it ever since.

So, why can you trust me? Because I’m genuinely here to make things suck less. And because writing this newsletter is changing me every single day. Immersing myself in competing arguments and news organizations from the right and left has made me smarter, better at my job and more capable of finding the smart arguments people are making even when they run counter to each other. I’m going through an extraordinary amount of trouble to create something that’s fair and transparent, and my subscribers own my product. Without the reader’s trust, without your trust, I don’t have anything. I’m accountable to you, I’m invested in you, you've invested in me and I’m promising to always be critical and fair and honest — and if I’m not, all you have to do is reply to an email and tell me or take your money and go somewhere else. That’s what makes Tangle special. And that’s what makes it better.

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Joe Biden finally responded to the allegations being made against him by Tara Reade. First, this morning, he released a statement. “They aren’t true, this never happened,” he said. He added that Reade claims to have filed a formal complaint, and if those records existed they would be held in the National Archives. “I am requesting that the Secretary of the Senate ask the Archives to identify any record of the complaint she alleges she filed and make them available to the press. If there was ever any such complaint, the record will be there.”

However, some reporting has called that into question. Business Insider’s Nicole Einbinder said she contacted the National Archives and a spokesperson said they do not hold records from the Office of Fair Employment Practices, where Reade’s complaint would have been filed.

Then Biden appeared on MSNBC for an interview with Mika Brzezinski. She gave Biden a fairly tough interview, pressing him on why he won’t release records from the University of Delaware, where he donated many of his Senate files. Biden responded by saying if he opened those files, they could be taken out of context and used as fodder in a political campaign. Reade has also said she wants the University of Delaware files to be unsealed because a Biden staffer took notes on other complaints she made about Biden, including when she was asked to serve drinks at a fundraiser because Biden allegedly “liked her legs.”

Before this morning, Biden had done 25 interviews since the allegations came out, and he had not yet been asked about them, Politico reported. You can read Biden’s full statement here and you can see coverage of the interview on MSNBC here.

Thank you.

For reading this far, for all the support and for engaging in politics during such a crazy time. I sent this same edition with some minor edits to the free subscriber list today, too, but wanted to thank you again for all the support in the last couple of weeks. Have a great weekend and stay healthy!

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