paper trail

Laura Poitras fired by First Look Media; Jennifer Szalai tracks usage of the term “Orwellian”

Laura Poitras. Photo: Katy Scoggin/Praxis Films/Wikimedia Commons

At the New Yorker, Isaac Chotiner talks with Rick Perlstein about the second Trump impeachment, the wide-ranging effects of Gerald Ford’s presidential pardon of Richard Nixon, and historical continuity and discontinuity: “One of the reasons I’m very hesitant to speculate about what happens next in history is, no one really saw Reagan coming,” Perstein said. “The idea that someone who never criticized Richard Nixon over Watergate would soon be seen as the redeemer of the country, or that a figure like Jimmy Carter, who seemed to have met the moment, turned out to be such a disappointment—that’s why I’m trying to kind of keep it simple, stupid.”

Read an excerpt from Bette Howland’s memoir W-3, reissued this week by A Public Space Books. And at Literary Hub, Yiyun Li writes about Howland’s powers of observation.

Laura Poitras says she was fired by First Look Media after she criticized The Intercept’s handling of a confidential source, Reality Winner. Poitras writes, “The tragedy here is that First Look Media and The Intercept had all the financial resources and digital security expertise to do this right, and yet they failed to apply their basic founding principles of source protection and accountability to themselves. Instead of conducting an honest, independent and transparent assessment with meaningful consequences, First Look Media fired me for speaking out.”

Jennifer Szalai looks at how the word “Orwellian” became “an all-purpose epithet, a go-to accusation.” Mary McCarthy used it in an essay to describe a fashion magazine with “no point of view beyond its proclamation of itself” in 1950, and since then, applications have proliferated. Today, it’s not strictly necessary to have read Orwell’s 1984 to understand why something is being called “Orwellian”—even, Szalai notes, “if you disagree with the assessment.”

Conventional descriptions of The Epoch Times don’t adequately capture the singular mix of straight news, religious belief, conspiracy-peddling, Sinophobia, science denialism, legitimate grievance, and political expediency at the heart of the institution,” writes Simon van Zuylen-Wood. At The Atlantic, van Zuylen-Wood examines the mysterious, unabashedly pro-Trump paper’s origins and its new resonance since 2020 as ubiquitous poster child for the age of disinformation.

On Tuesday, January 19th, Matthew Salesses and Brandon Taylor will discuss Salesses’s book Craft in the Real World, a look at writing workshops and the craft of storytelling.