I generally read and follow most right-of-center media endeavors, except for those that consistently offer very little (e.g., Heritage Signal, etc.). I have long had a high regard for Jonah Goldberg, usually appreciating his former stance of self-deprecating good humor; I have all of his books, some even autographed. I would have voted for David French for president had he run.
But I do not see the purpose of The Dispatch, Jonah’s new venture with Steve Hayes (former Weekly Standard editor; his book on The Connection is criminally neglected by all of the isolationists out there), and a few others (including David French lured away from National Review). I am not speaking here only as one who believes that the Green Bay Packers are Evil (they are, and Aaron Rodgers is one of the biggest jerks in professional sports; if you know Steve Hayes, you understand why it was necessary for me to point that out about Rodgers and the Packers).
Jonah’s writings are obviously the hoped-for attraction and were, in the past very good, more recently usually OK, except that he seems to have great difficulty finding a column or G-File topic these days that isn’t yet another stale rehash of why Trump is the worst evah. Even for those of us who are not big Trump fans, the broken-record reiteration of the same story, especially when accompanied by shallow “analysis” or simple parroting of the Ben Wittes Lawfare line, gets very old. Very fast. And very tedious.
So, for me, the problem based on what I see so far from The Dispatch, is that I don’t see any compelling value proposition – no space in the market for them to occupy, no value-added that is not there already in multiple places doing the same thing (all too often, drearily repetitive pieces on Bad Trump; Charlie Sykes’ stuff is the worst out there these days) – usually for a lot less or no money. The Dispatch is basically The Bulwark, but at $10 a month. The two operations could be combined with no loss in editorial quality, except that each is run by a different group of otherwise like-minded people who each want to be in charge of her/his own publication.
Why, exactly, would anyone spend $100 a year to read yet another screed against “populism” (Trump) that you read at The Bulwark? If I want to get that steady diet, I can read a special talent like Kevin Williamson (who does roughly the same thing these days). And how is the value offered better than competitors for roughly the same amount of your money, such as the other conservative media organizations, or other non-political competitors for the same pot of money, such as Amazon Prime or Netflix? Ricochet is priced about right, NR Plus when you get the introductory digital subscription for about $59 is fine (incidentally the NR Plus auto-renew at $100 a year is not the prevailing substitution value correct price). Daily Wire is selling Ben Shapiro to his biggest fans at $100 a year; I do not subscribe, Ben is perfectly OK these days, but not to me at that price.
As the industry tries now to backfill a sellable paywall model in the internet media shakeout, conservative media – not just The Dispatch – is guilty of pricing to their perceived revenue need rather than to the market value filling an actual niche. It is like those who after the 2007 financial crisis found their home values underwater and their adjustable mortgage rates increased, so they needed to sell. Lots of people were trying to sell houses that they had unwisely bought at peak prices, and they put them up for sale at prices intended to get them “whole” out of bad mortgages. “I need $500,000, so price this $400,000 home at $525,000.” The market did not cooperate, and the actual prices reverted to pre-bubble vakues, not what would service the debt load.
And, when explaining the mission and positioning for the new media company, Steve Hayes said that the goal was not to be just another place for opinion writing, but to add the all-too-often missing reporting of stories, to add facts, not just viewpoints. So their first move was to add David French from National Review, whose metier is opinion writing, with added analytical pieces on Constitutional law. No shoe-leather reporting there. Then, early-hire Sarah Isgur was a guest on Area 45, the Hoover Institution podcast, and she explained that facts are all out there in this Twitter world of instant reporting, so her most important contribution would be to explain what the facts mean, presumably a la Vox Explainers. No shoe-leather reporting there, in fact, the description was roughly opposite Steve Hayes’ described mission.
Then Declan Garvey visited The Remnant just after the Horowitz Report was released, and a) he had not read it, so b) he and Jonah quoted David French, who seemed to have gotten his spin from reading the NYT – “There was no bias in the FBI, so there was a legitimate reason to run the investigation (and deceive the FISA court to get spy warrants looking anywhere possible for something to verify Steele).” Unlike Byron York, he apparently never got around to reading past the first paragraph of the report itself, nor has he, as far as I can see, acknowledged Horowitz’s Congressional testimony, which substantively contradicts virtually every statement or assumption that Schiff and French and Lawfare have relied on for the last two years.
David says roughly the same thing in every single column in a less entertaining style. His “legal analysis” of the Ukraine issue (published on 12/5/2019 in his newsletter) reads like Andrew Weissmann wrote it, not an allegedly fair-minded lawyer:
I’ve made my position on the House impeachment inquiry quite clear. It’s absolutely impeachable conduct for a president to distort international diplomacy in a strategically vital region of the world to attempt to coerce a desperate, dependent ally into investigating a crackpot conspiracy theory and a domestic political opponent. The president put his own interests above the country—and not in a minor matter. It’s important to set a precedent that such conduct is intolerable.
The statement above simply asserts a conclusion, without support for it, apparently based on the fact that Trump is such an unspeakably horrible person that he must be guilty. This is not reporting, nor is it analysis. It is a set of lazy, bald assertions made based on personal aesthetic distaste. It reflects as little intellectual content and insight as we get from most of Donald Trump’s tweets on policy matters.
Why pay the highest price in conservative media to subscribe to read this?
I think that the market will settle out eventually to the stage where people subscribe to one or two favorite, good value media purveyors at roughly $5 per month each, and use an excellent aggregator for supplemental information. The best of these is probably Real Clear Politics.
Then, after the shakeout is more mature, and the surviving startups have learned the value proposition lesson, someone will create a good value paywall aggregator, where you subscribe to the aggregator for $5 per month, and get a limited number of clicks per month (total for all month perhaps 100 articles including a very few at WSJ, etc.) over and above the two or three free reads now permitted. The administrative model is there already in the way music royalties are handled.
Of course, I could be dead wrong, and The Dispatch could sell a whole bunch of subscriptions at the rates they desire. If so, I will follow the CNN, NYT, and WaPo precedent and pretend that I did not spend the last three years peddling utter nonsense and spoon-fed propaganda, freeing me to be righteously opinionated about everything else.Published in