Political Junkies: From Talk Radio to Twitter, How Alternative Media Hooked Us on Politics and Broke Our Democracy

Historian Claire Bond Potter writes in this 2020 book:

* Political Junkies is a history of how Americans got hooked on alternative media and ended up craving satisfaction that politics can never deliver. It is about how, beginning after World War II, some alternative media channels repurposed mass media technologies for political work, imagining new forms of journalism that appealed to a specialist audiences critical of the political and media establishment. Political Junkies is also a story about how technology creates communities out of dissidents otherwise isolated from each other, and how it forges majorities out of minorities. And it is about how enterprising alternative media entrepreneurs delivered their message to a chosen public, recycling and refreshing older technologies and adopting new ones that suited their resources, talents, objectives, and imagined public.

* In 1973, Hunter S. Thompson, a practitioner of the “new journalism” who was well acquainted with recreational pharmaceuticals, announced that he had become a “politics junkie” during his time as a Rolling Stone correspondent on South Dakota Senator George McGovern’s presidential campaign. Thompson’s sentiment is critical to how twenty-first-century Americans would come to describe the compulsion toward digital alternative media more generally: an almost physical addiction to the adrenaline rush of politics that often overwhelmed reason and objectivity. Being a politics junkie, Thompson explained, was as much about feeding a physical need as being a heroin junkie. “[When] a journalist turns into a politics junkie,” he wrote, “he will sooner or later start raving and babbling in print about things that only a person who has Been There can possibly understand.”

* After World War II, the United States developed “a remarkable form of censorship,” critic Paul Goodman commented in 1956. Everyone had the “political right to say what he believes,” but American minds were smothered by “newspapers, mass-circulation magazines, best-selling books, broadcasts, and public pronouncements that disregard what he says and give the official way of looking at things.” If what an American was thinking was not what other people were talking about, it wasn’t considered “newsworthy.”

* The [Lewinsky] story hit the White House, and the Washington media establishment, like a truck. Not only did a major national newsmagazine decide not to publish a fully sourced and vetted feature about these serious allegations, written by one of its top political reporters, but also, this was the second time that the same reporter had been shut down on a story about Clinton’s extracurricular sex life. Previously, Isikoff left the Washington Post in part because his editors refused to publish “a meticulously researched investigative report” on Paula Jones, an Arkansas state employee, who charged Clinton with sexual harassment. But the powerful did not, and could not, shut down Drudge. As of 11:52 p.m. Pacific time on January 17, 1998, the piece was whizzing its way to personal computers all over the country, ending with a reminder to the establishment about who, however temporarily, was in charge: Isikoff and Newsweek were unavailable for comment, Drudge wrote, and “The White House was busy checking the DRUDGE REPORT for details.”

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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