Columbia Journalism Review Fall 2021

Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) encourages and stimulates excellence in journalism in the service of a free society. Published by Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, CJR examines press performance as well as the forces that affect it. The bimonthly magazine offers a deliberative mix of reporting, analysis, criticism, and commentary.

United States
Columbia University in City of New York
4 Issues

in this issue

2 min

Jon Allsop is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in the New York Review of Books, Foreign Policy, and The Nation, among other outlets. He writes CJR’s newsletter The Media Today. Matt Bors is a cartoonist, writer, editor, and founder of The Nib. He was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for his political cartoons in 2012 and 2020 and drew the graphic novel War Is Boring, written by David Axe. His cartoons have appeared in The Nation, The Guardian, CNN, and The Intercept and are collected in the book We Should Improve Society Somewhat. He lives in Canada with his wife and children. Clio Chang is a freelance reporter based in New York. She writes about politics, culture, media, and more. Brendan Fitzgerald is a senior editor at CJR. Shinhee Kang is a freelance…

9 min
our damned trump fixation

FOR THE PAST FIVE YEARS, MEMBERS OF the media have blamed Donald Trump for hijacking the narrative of American politics. His outsize threat to democracy drove journalists’ obsession; his personal dysfunction propelled an outrage machine. According to data from mediaQuant, a media tracking firm, Trump received the equivalent of $5.6 billion in “free media” during the 2016 presidential campaign—more than Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz combined. The Internet Archive logged every mention of every candidate for president on cable TV news in the seven months leading up to that election; Trump was mentioned 1,172,235 times, Clinton 623,325. The numbers were even starker heading into the 2020 race. And throughout his tenure in the Oval Office, Trump received breathless, around-the-clock coverage. Last year, after the votes were counted (with…

7 min
the trouble with frictionless briefings

ON JULY 9, THE WHITE HOUSE WAS staring down a major story about President Biden’s son. The day before, the Washington Post had published a piece revealing that Hunter Biden’s artwork would be sold for “prices as high as $500,000.” Officials crafted an agreement aimed at keeping the identity of the buyers confidential, including from the artist, but the situation set off ethical alarm bells, particularly because Hunter Biden became an artist only recently. As Walter Shaub, who used to run the White House Office of Government Ethics, put it to the Post: “What these people are paying for is Hunter Biden’s last name.” So it was a bit odd when Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, took the podium for the day’s briefing and received just one question on…

8 min
out of focus

ONE OF THE FIRST FLASH points Joe Biden faced as president came over the United States–Mexico border. Talk of the so-called Biden Border Crisis, led by Republican commentators, began even before inauguration. Everywhere from the Washington Examiner to the New York Times, journalists reported on a “new rush” of migrants and Biden’s “open-door approach” as GOP officials seized on opportunities to escalate the hysteria. A delegation of nineteen Republican senators led by Ted Cruz and John Cornyn toured the Rio Grande aboard a fleet of Border Patrol boats armed with machine guns; afterward, they held a press conference along the bank of the river, where Tom Cotton, of Arkansas, declared, “There’s a word for what’s happening at our border: it’s insanity.” Days later, Cotton and other members of his party…

8 min
what is political writing for?

NOT LONG AGO, THE prevailing opinion among political writers was that Joe Biden would probably never be president. Measured against the other candidates in the crowded 2020 Democratic primary field, it was said, he was too old, too personally and politically compromised, and too removed from the debates of the moment to mount anything more than a vanity campaign. Criticisms from Biden’s ideological opponents on the left and on the right could have been expected—but doubts about his viability as a candidate ran deep even among his natural allies in the centrist press. The Atlantic ran anxious pieces about his debate performances and criminal justice record. Politico’s Charlie Mahtesian argued that Biden would struggle to gain traction in a newly “unsentimental and unforgiving” Democratic Party. “Biden’s competition wouldn’t be a lone…

5 min
all of it matters

WHEN I WAS GROWING up, in the nineties, my father subscribed to a couple of local newspapers in Central Texas: the Seguin Gazette and the San Antonio Express-News. The A section articles on politics and business didn’t interest me much. But every Friday, I’d flip through the pages in search of something more important, and I’d find what I was looking for in a small box in the entertainment section: Billboard’s list of the week’s top singles and albums. I never talked about what I read with my dad, who was absorbed in the front pages. The music charts, even though they were printed in the newspaper, clearly didn’t qualify as real news. “News” was serious. It was for grown-ups, made by men wearing suits and ties. It was boring. And…