The emergence of Teen Vogue as a respected news source for people on the Left reads like a movie pitch. After a misogynist bully becomes president, defying the warnings of the established media, a scrappy band of reporters at a magazine for teenage girls takes him on, speaks truth to power, and teaches the media important new values.
The result has been outlets such as Quartz running pieces like “The True Story of How Teen Vogue got mad, got woke, and began terrifying men like Donald Trump.” I can’t claim to be in close communication with men like Donald Trump, but I don’t get the sense that they’re terrified by Teen Vogue, as attractive as that story may be.
It is this narrative, not anything actually reported in Teen Vogue, that has catapulted the outlet into the rarified air of an important, legitimate news outlet, one that will prepare our young women to defend themselves against the coming onslaught of sexism, racism, cisism, and every other ism that Trump will supposedly unleash.
How and why we arrived at a place where Teen Vogue is catching up on the Nation and The New Republic as the gold standard of news from the Left tells us much about how those legacy outlets have faltered. It also suggests that news-people on the Left are moving in a dangerous direction.
Teen Vogue Emerges Post-Election
It started back in early December. The first article that opened people’s eyes to the hard-hitting, activist journalism going on at Teen Vogue was called “Donald Trump is Gaslighting America,” by Lauren Duca. The piece caught my attention then because last year in March here at the Federalist, I wrote a piece called “Lewandowski Case Shows How Donald Trump is Gaslighting America.”
I’m certainly not suggesting anything untoward. Nicole Hemmer wrote an article for U.S. News about Trump gaslighting America that ran two weeks before mine. Since Trump’s victory in the primary there have been a myriad of such articles. It’s a common term, and frankly one that often applies to Trump’s rhetoric.
It was the outsized reaction to the Teen Vogue gaslighting piece that hipped me to the idea that something odd was going on. As I mentioned, many such articles had appeared in prominent publications including The New York Times. So it wasn’t the message here that was new, it was the messenger. What captured the imagination of progressives was the idea that in the wake of the legacy news media’s failure to convince Americans that Trump was a liar they shouldn’t vote for, a magazine for teenage girls was stepping up to show them how it is done.
Articles and tweets from prominent journalists extoling the virtues of the teen zine became, well, all the vogue. The word “courage” kept popping up. If only the news media had shown similar courage, and not been bogged down by pesky things like objectivity, they might have saved America from the disaster they saw in Trump’s election.
Teen Vogue Is Not News
In looking through Teen Vogue’s recent news section, I came upon an article that gives a good example of why progressive journalists feel envy at its work. It has the very newsy title: “Texas Judge Issues Injunction Blocking Obamacare Protections of Transgender People.” Here is how the “news” article ends:
This is all further disturbing when we consider the fact that president-elect Donald Trump has pledged to back the extremely problematic First Amendment Defense Act – a bill that would allow businesses and facilities to deny service to members of the LGBTQ community. The incoming administration has engaged in a lot of anti-LGBTQ discussion and rhetoric, and being as the Obama administration only has 20 days left in office, it is going to become increasingly more important that we stay vigilant and informed to fight against discrimination.
Although the story was published under the heading “news,” it is demonstrably not. Whether one is 16 or 86, this is clearly opinion. It may be a prevailing or popular opinion, but it does not meet the journalistic standards of a news story.
Another viral story from Teen Vogue concerns Trump’s New Year’s Eve party at Mar-a-Lago and the revenue from ticket sales for the event. As Yair Rosenberg points out on Twitter, Teen Vogue didn’t report this story, they aggregated it from Politico.
It's really mystifying why people keep knocking the mainstream media for reporting the stuff Teen Vogue is aggregating (with attribution) pic.twitter.com/GSXppyearN
— (((Yair Rosenberg))) (@Yair_Rosenberg) January 2, 2017
But there are some important differences. Both pieces quote Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks. “The transition is not concerned about the appearance of a conflict,” she said. “This is an annual celebratory event at the private club, like others that have continued to occur since the election. Additionally, the president cannot and does not have a conflict.”
Politico follows that with this: “While the party is a longstanding event at Mar-a-Lago, with Trump now president-elect, the arrangement could raise further questions about Trump’s businesses and how people might try to use them to gain access to his administration.” The Teen Vogue story follows the quote with this: “To be clear, simply saying ‘the president cannot and does not have a conflict’ in no way eliminates the obvious potential conflict of interest.”
Let’s turn to another. In a supposed fact-checking article, Teen Vogue had this to say about President Trump’s claims to have done well among African-Americans:
Things really took a turn for the worse though when he went on to say, ‘I wasn’t going to do to well with the African-American community, and after they heard me speaking and talking about the inner city and lots of other things, we ended up getting — I won’t go into details — but we ended up getting substantially more than other candidates who had run in the past years.’
Do we need to remind Trump that 94% of black women voters came out for Hillary? Or that Hillary got 89% of the black vote overall? Additionally, during the 2012 election, 95% of black people voted for Obama, according to CNN.
By the Teen Vogue article’s own statistics, Trump did better than earlier GOP presidential candidates Mitt Romney and John McCain among black voters. It’s not just that they aren’t telling the truth in this fact check, they are flaunting the facts that demonstrate their lies. So Teen Vogue does more than mere aggregation. Its editors have chosen to allow language that Politico could never use to insert a clear opinion into what otherwise appears to be a straight news story.
This trend toward turning news into opinion is not new, and it predates Trump’s candidacy. For years The New York Times has run “news analysis” pieces in which writers may use their expertise to give context and draw conclusions about what they are reporting. During the campaign CNN decided to use chryons to make clear to viewers when Trump was saying something they believed to be false, as if Trump was the first politician who ever bent the truth.
In general, the rise of Trump has convinced many in the media that the traditional rules of news coverage are not sufficient to make clear his dark and duplicitous nature. This is a dangerous idea. What they see and admire in Teen Vogue is not courage, it is the abandonment of journalism standards.
Narrative Over Truth
2016 was supposed to be the year Hillary Clinton broke the glass ceiling. A prevailing question on the Left on November 9 was “What do I tell my daughter now?” Hundreds of thousands of women have protested in Washington and other cities since the inauguration. This backdrop made Teen Vogue’s rise to prominence possible. Trump wasn’t stopped by mainstream media, but will be challenged by woke women who aren’t going to take it anymore.
But Teen Vogue isn’t really breaking any news. It is only repackaging it as partisan opinion pieces posing as news. Frankly, Trump didn’t win because news outlets failed to call him a liar. They called him one over and over. Many Americans heard it, believed it, and voted for him anyway. They looked the other way at his lies and indelicate statements because they believed he had their best interests at heart and could get things done.
Pretending that Teen Vogue is the new Woodward and Bernstein is a great story. But it’s not true, and telling it is not an effective way to fight President Trump. It is just another round of the kind of identity (this time gender) warfare that helped lead to Trump to begin with.
The sad state of affairs we see on the Left today has adults literally looking to a magazine for teenagers for news because it is the only source, for now, with sloppy enough standards to tell them only what they want to hear. That isn’t just bad for the Left, it’s bad for America.