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Tara McGowan Thinks Paywalls Are Hurting Journalism

The Courier Newsroom founder spoke to The New Republic after her appearance at Wednesday’s Stop Trump Summit.

Screenshot, The Washington Post
The Washington Post's paywall

Tara McGowan wants news sites to “take their paywalls down” for critical 2024 election coverage and develop new business strategies.

Speaking at The New Republic’s Stop Trump Summit, the Courier Newsroom founder and publisher discussed how readers are more likely to passively consume free information online than information behind a paywall. 

“I do not disparage paywalls,” McGowan told The New Republic after the event. “However, if your mission and the reason that you exist is to inform the public … you have got to figure out a way to make the most important information your audiences need to be informed citizens and informed and engaged voters available for free.”

McGowan explained how paywalls are great at bringing in revenue, filling in for traditional advertising revenue, but many readers can’t or won’t pay for them. The need for new business models, combined with increasing distrust from readers, means that the news media is “in the midst of an existential crisis right now” according to McGowan.

“The reason that the media is as bad as it is, the reason they’re as obsessed with Trump as it is, is because it makes them money,” McGowan said. “A lot of news organizations have not evolved to meet people where they are on social media platforms because they don’t have a way of monetizing that.”

Increasingly obsolete themes she has noticed in news media include longer articles, dense newsletters, and unbalanced coverage. McGowan is specifically concerned with how organizations cover inaccurate sides of a story for the sake of appearing neutral. She also believes there is too much negativity in news coverage.

“[Editors and reporters are] thinking about balance in their reporting as ‘I need to give as much space in my article to both sides of an argument,’ even if one side is not accurate,’” she pointed out. “And when you only inform people about the bad things, then you are contributing to cynicism and mistrust in government, and that’s really bad for democracy.”

Unlike other newsrooms, McGowan said the Courier Newsroom runs randomized control treatment experiments to measure the impact of its journalism on its audience. “We’re able to survey and analyze voter turnout records of audiences to see if the people who get our news on social media are more likely to vote, compared to the ones who don’t have the same demographic, and then we do the same thing for our email newsletter program,” she said.

For newsletters, the newsroom gathers a small number of subscribers, and political reporting is then removed from their newsletters so they just get lifestyle content, and then they are surveyed. There’s also an audience that only receives the political reporting, and they are surveyed as well.  

“We’ve actually proven that we increase informed voter participation,” McGowan said. “There needs to be a lot more introspection in the news media business.”

New College Students Are Fleeing Ron Desantis’s Overhaul

More than 100 students have dropped out after the Florida governor made massive changes to the college.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s multimillion-dollar overhaul of the New College of Florida is rapidly turning into a disaster.

On Wednesday, the college reported reported that its numbers were in dramatic decline. In its last year of operation, the school has more than doubled its normal loss of first-year students between fall semesters, according to an announcement by the college’s provost.

That marks the lowest retention rate of first-year students in the college’s history, reported the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

New College, a school that was proudly unconventional until the far-right governor chose to give it a conservative revamp, saw 27 percent of its student body drop out.

Despite the dip, the school’s total enrollment was still up from last year, bringing a record 325 students to the school, according to the college’s fact book. That may be in part because the school has lowered its standards for admission, according to the Herald-Tribune, which cited lower grade-point averages and test scores of incoming students than those of previous classes.

Under DeSantis’s supervision, the school has seen some radical changes. The college’s leadership team has been upended: Six members of the board of trustees have been replaced by DeSantis allies, while the college’s president was ousted and replaced with the administration’s former education commissioner, Richard Corcoran. The school has also suffered a faculty exodus, the elimination of the college’s diversity office, and the firing of its academic librarian.

What DeSantis once described as a culture of “woke indoctrination” has been replaced by one of censorship: Student murals have been painted over, and student orientation leaders were forbidden from wearing pins expressing support for Black Lives Matter or the LGBTQ+ community, reported The New York Times.

The U.S. Department of Education is also investigating a complaint that the new version of the school discriminated against disabled students, reported CNN. Another federal complaint was filed in August claiming that the new leadership of the school discriminated against LGBTQ+ students, effectively driving them out from the campus.

Book Bans Are a Conservative Plot to Destroy Public Schools, Says Randi Weingarten

The teachers union head denounced the “extremist strategy,” which also includes voucher campaigns and manufactured outrage over critical race theory.

Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images for MoveOn

Teachers union head Randi Weingarten says that the campaign by conservatives to ban books isn’t about the books at all, but part of a broader strategy to destroy public schools—one that was supercharged by the pandemic.

“You take the agita and the anxiety that people had at Covid, that fear, and you combine it with a right wing who has wanted to kill public schools for years and take that money for vouchers, and you have the scenario we have,” Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, said Wednesday at The New Republic’s Stop Trump Summit.

Vouchers, which use public education dollars to fund private and religious school attendance, are just one pillar of the conservative campaign to “undermine, destroy, and defund” public schools, she said. The other two are book banning and manufactured outrage over critical race theory.

Weingarten pointed to conservative activist Chris Rufo and a comment he made at Hillsdale College, a Christian nationalist school, in which he admitted that focusing on these issues was all part of a master plan to promote universal vouchers: “To get to universal school choice, you really need to operate from a premise of universal public school distrust.”

In an interview with TNR after the event, Weingarten explained the “extremist strategy” Rufo and other conservatives have used to defund public schools. “The hook was trust. If you really create as much distrust as possible in public schooling, then parents will look at privatization as an option,” she said.

That’s where critical race theory comes in.

“[Rufo] tried to make a term that nobody knows so toxic, so that you can weaponize it and make fear,” she said. “Conversations about hard subjects became weaponized as indoctrination. Which is patently ridiculous, and dangerous.”

Race, as well as gender, is the subject conservatives have focused on in their campaigns to ban books in public schools and libraries.

“What [Republican Governor Ron] DeSantis is doing in the so-called ‘war on woke,’ is exactly part of their playbook—to make people afraid of books, and afraid of what we do in school,” Weingarten said. According to Pen America, Florida passed 15 “educational intimidation” bills in the last two and a half years.

The “parents’ rights” movement is made up of a loud minority, Weingarten said, and actively undermines what most parents want. “What we see in Florida is that 60 percent of the book banning has been done by 11 people,” she said.

The AFT has partnered with The New Republic in fighting back against such bans. TNR’s Banned Books Tour has been delivering thousands of banned books across the country this month, most recently in Florida.

Robert Menendez Is Screwed

The New Jersey Democrat was hit with several new charges on Thursday.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images
New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez

Senator Robert Menendez, who was already facing a slew of bribery charges, was hit with a raft of new accusations on Thursday, with federal prosecutors alleging that the New Jersey Democrat and former chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee had accepted bribes from a foreign government and acted as a foreign agent.

Things already looked pretty bad for the New Jersey Democratic senator, to be fair. Last month, Menendez and his wife were charged in a sweeping indictment and accused of multiple bribery counts. The pair were accused of taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, gold bars, and a car (seriously) in exchange for Menendez—who was chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee until he was forced to resign in September after being charged—“agreeing to use his power and influence to protect and enrich those businessmen and to benefit the government of Egypt.”

Still, Menendez had two things going for him. One was that he had previously gotten away with corruption charges. Way back in 2017—a year before the scheme he is currently charged for is alleged to have begun—jurors were unable to reach a verdict on charges including conspiracy, bribery, and honest services fraud. Menendez, who had then been in the Senate for more than a decade, insisted then that the charges were related to a simple misunderstanding: Menendez and the man who was accused of bribing him were simply friends who enjoyed exchanging gifts and favors.

The other is that the current conservative-led Supreme Court has shown again and again that it does not care about corruption. The charges Menendez was facing were beyond the pale—he and his wife had over $400,000 in cash stashed in their home, along with several gold bars—but this court has consistently been skeptical of all but the most overt bribery and corruption charges. Menendez still had a chance, in other words.

But with Thursday’s charges, that seems to have all but evaporated. A new indictment filed by a federal grand jury in Manhattan on Thursday claims that Menendez “provided sensitive U.S. Government information and took other steps that secretly aided the Government of Egypt.” According to prosecutors, Menendez’s wife and a New Jersey businessman “worked to introduce Egyptian intelligence and military officials to Menendez for the purpose of establishing and solidifying a corrupt agreement.” As part of this agreement, businessmen with ties to Egypt “provided hundreds of thousands of dollars of bribes to Menendez and Nadine Menendez, in exchange for Menendez’s acts and breaches of duty to benefit the government of Egypt, [businessman Wael] Hana, and others, including with respect to foreign military sales and foreign military financing,” according to prosecutors.

That’s bad! It’s also, unlike more humdrum corruption, not the kind of thing the Supreme Court bats an eye at. Menendez is stubbornly refusing to resign—and is even suggesting that he might run for reelection in 2024. But the latest charges show that he’s in even bigger trouble than before—and that Democrats need to find a way to push him out quickly.

A Majority of Israelis Think Netanyahu Should Resign

Ninety-four percent of Israelis believe the government bears some responsibility for Hamas’s devastating attacks, while a slight majority think the prime minister should step down after the conflict ends.

Photo by JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this year

An overwhelming majority of Israelis blame their government and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for Hamas’s invasion last week, according to a new poll.

A recent survey by the Dialog Center found that out of 620 Israeli Jews polled, 86 percent felt that the surprise attack from Gaza was the fault of Israel’s government. Seventy-nine percent of coalition supporters also agreed, a damning assessment of Netanyahu’s leadership.

Nearly all of the respondents—a whopping 94 percent—said the government was responsible for the lack of security that led to the infiltration of Israel’s south, reported The Jerusalem Post.

But that doesn’t mean Bibi’s time as prime minister is in imminent jeopardy. A smaller majority, 56 percent, of Israelis polled said that Netanyahu should resign after the current conflict ends, with only 28 percent of coalition supporters feeling the same way.

The war between Israel and Palestine, sparked on Saturday when the Palestinian militant group Hamas launched a three-pronged assault on Israel’s southern border with Gaza, has so far killed at least 1,400 people in Palestine and another 1,200 in Israel, ABC reported. At least 27 Americans have also died in the escalating conflict, per reports.

Gaza, a small strip of land sandwiched between Israel, Egypt, and the Mediterranean Sea, is one of the most densely populated areas of the world, housing more than two million people, with some 40 percent of the population under the age of 14.

In a press briefing late Wednesday night, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant claimed that Israeli military forces would “wipe [Hamas] off the face of the Earth.”  Since the initial assault, Israeli defenses have launched more than 6,000 bombs over Gaza, and leadership has cut off access to electricity, fuel, and humanitarian aid. 

“Humanitarian aid to Gaza? No electric switch will be turned on, no water tap will be opened, and no fuel truck will enter until the Israeli abductees are returned home,” said Israel Katz, Israel’s minister of energy, on Thursday.

The fallout of that decision has caused what Gaza’s authorities describe as a “humanitarian crisis,” plunging the country into total darkness as it runs out of water and food.

But the front line is shifting. Early Thursday, Israel sent a large number of the 300,000 Israeli reserve soldiers to the country’s northern border with Lebanon, fearing a possible attack from the Iran-backed Hezbollah, reported the BBC.

While there was a great deal of speculation in the immediate aftermath of the attacks that Netanyahu’s government would be strengthened, that does not seem to currently be the case. 

Donald Trump Praises Hezbollah, Criticizes Israeli Government in Wake of Attacks

The former president called the Lebanese militant group “very smart” on Wednesday.

Donald Trump speaking in West Palm Beach on Wednesday

Politicians on both sides of the aisle came down hard on Trump Wednesday night after the former president praised the Lebanese militant group and longtime Israeli enemy Hezbollah, calling the group “very smart.”

“Two nights ago, I read all of Biden’s security people, can you imagine, national defense people, and they said, ‘Gee, I hope Hezbollah doesn’t attack from the north, because that’s the most vulnerable spot,’” Trump said at a gathering in West Palm Beach.

“You know Hezbollah is very smart, they’re all very smart,” he added.

Trump also took the opportunity to complain about Israel’s leader, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for refusing to aid his administration in the 2020 assassination of an Iranian Revolutionary Guard chief, Major General Qassem Soleimani.

“I’ll never forget that Bibi Netanyahu let us down, that was a very terrible thing,” Trump said.

Governor Ron DeSantis was quick to slam the comments, taking a hard line against his former mentor, tweeting that it was “absurd” that the GOP presidential front-runner would “praise Hezbollah terrorists as ‘very smart.’”

Trump, who has recently polled as much as 40 percent higher than DeSantis in the GOP primaries, has a long history of vocally supporting authoritarian states and leaders around the world, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping, and North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un.

The White House also condemned the statement, calling Trump’s language “dangerous and unhinged.”

“It’s completely lost on us why any American would ever praise an Iran-backed terrorist organization as ‘smart,’” White House deputy press secretary Andrew Bates said in a statement.

Is the GOP Too Chaotic to Elect a Speaker?

Steve Scalise is struggling to secure enough votes, as more than a dozen Republicans oppose his candidacy.

Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images
Representative Steve Scalise, who is vying to become the next speaker of the House

Representative Steve Scalise narrowly won the GOP nomination for speaker of the House of Representatives on Wednesday, but a slew of Republicans still have their doubts.

The party’s razor-thin majority requires a nearly unanimous vote to win the speakership, but so far 13 Republicans, including Representatives Nancy Mace and George Santos, have publicly stated that they plan to vote against Scalise whenever ballots are cast.

That’s more than enough to prevent the Louisiana representative from ever grasping the gavel. In order to win, the majority leader will need to earn 217 votes—slightly fewer than usual, since the House holds two vacancies. As of now, Scalise has only 208 Republicans backing him.

Scalise’s job is made more difficult by the fact that his holdouts are far from unified in their opposition: It’s not clear that he could offer a slate of concessions, as his predecessor, Kevin McCarthy, did, to appease enough of them to support his candidacy.

Before Tuesday’s nomination, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene told reporters that she feels Scalise isn’t healthy enough to handle the stress that comes with running the House. (Scalise has multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer.) Representative Thomas Massie wants assurances from the GOP nominee that the party won’t vote on omnibus spending bills. Meanwhile Mace, who campaigned with Scalise and trumpeted his endorsement in her 2020 race, says she can’t “in good conscience” get behind a candidate who once spoke at a white supremacist event and had compared himself to David Duke, according to Politico.

Team Trump, who had backed Representative Jim Jordan for the role, told The Messenger that the former president won’t be lifting a finger to help Scalise sway the outliers. The drama in the House is familiar: Last winter, McCarthy narrowly won the speakership after a historic 15 ballots—and only secured the gavel after agreeing to a number of concessions that ultimately led him to be removed earlier this month.

That plan of attack didn’t work out well for him. After months spent trying to appease far-right members of his party, McCarthy got the boot for negotiating a short-term bipartisan stopgap spending bill to avoid a government shutdown.

But Scalise, who is still the clear favorite after winning over Representatives Jordan and Matt Gaetz, has some advantages that the former speaker didn’t.

Namely, trust. Unlike McCarthy, Scalise has yet to make or break promises to the holdouts in his party—earning favor with members of the far right, who long distrusted the former speaker.

And the Louisiana Republican has already started churning some undecided votes into yeses. On Tuesday, Representative Anna Paulina Luna flipped to Team Scalise after the nominee spoke with her about impeaching President Joe Biden and subpoenaing his son Hunter Biden. Scalise may ultimately turn it around. For now, the deck is stacked against him. House Republicans are increasingly ungovernable. There may be no figure who can unify them.

Mary Trump: My Uncle Is a Deeply Insecure Fascist

The former president’s niece explained his enduring appeal despite his obvious fraud and failures.

Mary Altafeer/Pool/Getty Images

The stakes of the 2024 election could not be clearer, says Mary Trump: It’s “​​a choice between democracy and fascism.”

The psychologist, author, and niece of former President Donald Trump spoke at The New Republic’s Stop Trump Summit on Wednesday about why her uncle still has deep support across much of the country. It’s not what many observers believe, she said.

“They identify not with Donald’s strength … but they identify with his weakness,” Trump said, arguing that his supporters know to some extent that he’s a fraud. In fact, they like that about him. “They identify with the fact that he gets away with everything.”

“To me, one of the biggest scams was this myth that Donald was this successful businessman … that he was a champion of the working man,” she said. “By the way, that’s not something he ever says. Somebody else made that up about him.”

Trump said that Donald’s portrayal in the media as a working-class hero is founded on a misunderstanding—he grew up privileged in Manhattan, after all—and that he then exploited it. “He just then flew his stupid private jet from rally to rally, and I guess that was enough to convince people that he really cared about them,” she said.

Asked by moderator Molly Jong-Fast whether Donald is a “dry drunk,” Trump said, “He acts like one” but declined to “diagnose” him.

“I do think it’s important to understand the roots of what’s going on,” she added. “The deeper cause is his insecurity. This is a man who knows on an unconscious level that he is absolutely nothing of what he claims to be.”

Trump Ghostwriter Reveals How Much of His Royalties Went to Causes Trump Hates

Tony Schwartz admitted what he did with the “blood money” from ghostwriting “Trump: The Art of the Deal.”

Chris Williamson/Getty Images
Author and journalist Tony Schwartz

The ghostwriter behind one of Trump’s most successful books, Trump: The Art of the Deal, says he’s donated several hundred thousand dollars from the book’s proceeds to causes he believes the former president would hate.

During The New Republic’s Stop Trump Summit, author and journalist Tony Schwartz said that since the beginning of Trump’s presidency, he’s given away $375,000 to “causes [Trump] would despise,” including environmentalism, immigration advocacy, and other progressive causes.

“I consider it blood money,” Schwartz added, noting that he’s “thrilled” to be able to donate to causes that Trump has attempted to topple with money that the disgraced businessman himself helped generate.

But for Schwartz, the contribution is bittersweet.

“I still feel like I’m doing penance,” he told panel host and fellow author Meryl Gordon. “I knew while I was doing that book that it was a mistake to do it. I knew who he was. He was not a different person than he is now.”

Schwartz, Trump, and their royalty checks over the New York Times bestseller have a complicated history. After Schwartz shared in a 2016 tell-all in The New Yorker that he felt he had “put lipstick on a pig” and felt a “deep sense of remorse” for making the real estate mogul more appealing than he was, Trump sued his co-author for defamation.

In a cease-and-desist letter drafted to Schwarz hours after the interview’s publication, Trump demanded “a certified check made payable to Mr. Trump” for several million dollars in royalties that the ghostwriter had earned on the book, along with half of the book’s $500,000 advance.

Robert De Niro Rips Donald Trump: He’s “Evil”

In a speech at TNR’s Stop Trump Summit, the actor also called the former president a “wannabe tough guy with no morals or ethics.”

Robert De Niro
Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Tribeca Festival

Robert De Niro didn’t mince words when describing Donald Trump on Wednesday, branding the former president as “evil.”

De Niro, an outspoken Trump critic, was slated to speak at The New Republic’s Stop Trump Summit, but he was brought down by a last-minute bout of Covid-19. He sent a statement instead, which was read out by former Trump administration official Miles Taylor.

“I’ve spent a lot of time studying bad men. I’ve examined their characteristics, their mannerisms, the utter banality of their cruelty,” De Niro said in his statement, referring to his long career playing gangsters. “Yet there’s something different about Donald Trump. When I look at him, I don’t see a bad man. Truly.

“I see an evil one.”

De Niro noted that there really is such a thing as “honor among thieves,” and even criminals have a moral code. But Trump has none, De Niro said.

“Democracy won’t survive the return of a wannabe dictator,” De Niro warned. “And it won’t overcome evil if we are divided.”

De Niro has never shied away from condemning Trump and his actions. Over the years, he has called the former president “totally nuts,” “blatantly stupid,” and “a real racist.”

You can read De Niro’s statement in full below:

I’m sorry I couldn’t be with you today. A few days ago, I came down with a heavy case of Covid. I was looking forward to being with you, hearing the other speakers, and speaking with Miles. I first encountered Miles when he was still “Anonymous.” Through his writing, commentary, and books, I’ve come to admire his intelligence and courage. I’m grateful that he’s agreed to be my voice today.

I am with you in spirit. I am watching. This is an important conversation. What The New Republic is doing in this “Stop Trump Summit”—what you all are doing here today—can help determine our future.

I’ve spent a lot of time studying bad men. I’ve examined their characteristics, their mannerisms, the utter banality of their cruelty. Yet there’s something different about Donald Trump. When I look at him, I don’t see a bad man. Truly.

I see an evil one.

Over the years, I’ve met gangsters here and there. This guy tries to be one, but he can’t quite pull it off. There’s such a thing as “honor among thieves.” Yes, even criminals usually have a sense of right and wrong. Whether they do the right thing or not is a different story—but—they have a moral code, however warped.

Donald Trump does not. He’s a wannabe tough guy with no morals or ethics. No sense of right or wrong. No regard for anyone but himself—not the people he was supposed to lead and protect, not the people he does business with, not the people who follow him, blindly and loyally, not even the people who consider themselves his “friends.” He has contempt for all of them.

We New Yorkers got to know him over the years that he poisoned the atmosphere and littered our city with monuments to his ego. We knew first hand that this was someone who should never be considered for leadership. We tried to warn the world in 2016.

The repercussions of his turbulent presidency divided America and rattled New York City beyond imagination. Remember how we were jolted by crisis in early 2020, as a virus swept the world. We lived with Donald Trump’s bombastic behavior every day on the national stage, and we suffered as we saw our neighbors piling up in body bags.

The man who was supposed to protect this country put it in peril, because of his recklessness and impulsiveness. It was like an abusive father ruling the family by fear and violent behavior. That was the consequence of New York’s warning getting ignored. Next time, we know it will be worse.

Make no mistake: the twice-impeached, four-time indicted Donald Trump is still a fool. But we can’t let our fellow Americans write him off like one. Evil thrives in the shadow of dismissive mockery, which is why we must take the danger of Donald Trump very seriously.

So today we issue another warning. From this place where Abraham Lincoln spoke—right here in the beating heart of New York—to the rest of America:

This is our last chance.

Democracy won’t survive the return of a wannabe dictator.

And it won’t overcome evil if we are divided.

So what do we do about it? I know I’m preaching to the choir here. What we’re doing today is valuable, but we have to take today into tomorrow—take it outside these walls. We have to reach out to the half of our country who have ignored the hazards of Trump and, for whatever reason, support elevating him back into the White House. They’re not stupid, and we must not condemn them for making a stupid choice. Our future doesn’t just depend on us. It depends on them.

Let’s reach out to Trump’s followers with respect. Let’s not talk about “democracy.” “Democracy” may be our holy grail, but to others it is just a word, a concept, and in their embrace of Trump, they’ve already turned their backs on it. Let’s talk about right and wrong. Let’s talk about humanity. Let’s talk about kindness. Security for our world. Safety for our families. Decency. Let’s welcome them back. We won’t get them all, but we can get enough to end the nightmare of Trump, and fulfill the mission of this “Stop Trump Summit.”

Thank you.