Todd Gitlin

Todd Gitlin, professor of journalism and sociology and chair of the Ph. D. program in communications at Columbia University, has been writing frequently on media and the campaign for His next book is a novel, The Opposition.

Recent Articles

Worried About the FBI? No.

The night after the news broke about the FBI collecting material from Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s office and hotel room, a friend who is a prominent social scientist and a persistent liberal, asked me: Do you have any qualms about the FBI poring through a lawyer’s files? 

My honest, spontaneous answer was: No.

On hearing the news about the warrant issued for the search of Cohen’s premises, I could honestly say that I’d felt nothing but joy that laws are being enforced by an apparatus unswayed by the gold-plated would-be king in the White House.

My considered answer was again: No qualms. None.

I am eternally mindful of the depredations of the FBI in the 1960s and early 1970s. I am steeped in the knowledge that the FBI conducted illegal, depraved wiretaps of Martin Luther King Jr., and that a high FBI official, in 1964, sent to King’s home an anonymous letter not so subtly suggesting that King commit suicide. The letter was accompanied by tapes of King’s extramarital sessions. It ended: “King, there is only one thing left for you to do. You know what it is. … You are done. There is but one way out for you. You better take it before your filthy, abnormal fraudulent self is bared to the nation.”

I am equally mindful—thanks to the research of the historian Arthur Eckstein—of the FBI’s readiness, in 1970, to open concentration camps for American radicals.

So why do I feel no qualms about the FBI excavating Michael Cohen’s files? Because J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI is not the FBI of the 21st century. Because in the current circumstances, the FBI operates as a professional civil service enforcing the law. In the case of the Cohen search, the agents had a lawfully issued search warrant.

Is the FBI above suspicion? No. There is a notable exception to its 21st-century by-the-book standards: The New York City FBI claque that operated with Rudy Giuliani’s connivance to pile up dirt against Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign. (Giuliani’s “most remarkable claim,” The New York Times’s Jim Dwyer reported on November 3, 2016, “is that he has a pipeline into the Federal Bureau of Investigation and that agents tell him they are ‘outraged’ that they have not been able to bring Mrs. Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, to justice.”) Arguably, the lobbying of this claque weighed on James Comey when he decided to intervene to damn Clinton by releasing, on October 28, 2016, the nothingburger about Clinton’s emails found on the laptop computer of Anthony Weiner, the disgraced former husband of Clinton aide Huma Abedin.

But I am aware of no shred of evidence that the FBI failed to operate in a lawful, aboveboard way in searching the premises of Michael Cohen.

Charges that “the deep state” is acting illegally to undermine the depraved regime of Donald Trump—one of its regular depravities being the slathering of opposition as “fake news,” “deep state,” “enemies of the American people”—are without any visible foundation. Which is why I am thankful that the FBI acted lawfully with respect to Michael Cohen, and that the ghost of J. Edgar Hoover is safely ensconced in hell.


The Vote Matters

An on-the-ground left knows that politics is not a laptop activity.

Don Campbell/The Herald-Palladium via AP
Republicans have an insight: Votes matter. That’s why they work so hard to suppress them. They believe that the smaller the total, the greater the weight of their voters. Understandably, a party encumbered with a sweepingly unpopular platform­—and disencumbered by attachment, sentimental or otherwise, to democracy—values the vote so highly that they do all they can to diminish, compress, and redistrict the opposition into oblivion. In particular, Republicans pull out the stops to restrict the franchise and manipulate the electoral map to jam minority votes into the smallest possible number of congressional districts. The practical Brothers Koch get the message, as do the Republican operatives who, by gaining the power to redistrict, “built a firewall against the popular will,” to quote David Daley’s important study of victory through gerrymandering, Ratf**ked: Why Your Vote Doesn’t Count. These operatives, to quote Daley again, know the...

From 'Liberal Media' to 'Fake News'

The war against the press has descended beneath the level of rational argument.

(AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
In the past couple of years, the focus of the right-wing attack on journalists has been shifting from “liberal media” to ”fake news.” It’s a significant but underappreciated shift that reveals a sinister truth about our historical moment. It’s nothing new to charge media “bias”­—usually leftward, though sometimes rightward. The charge that the media slant to the left has been a right-wing staple for more than five decades. Implied in the charge is a remedy: Liberal media need countering by conservative media. Usually, the charge has been leveled in a spirit of spiteful resentment, as, for example, in 1964, when Barry Goldwater’s press secretary passed out gold pins to reporters that read “Eastern Liberal Press.” But bias per se was not—at least not consistently­—held to be taboo. During Goldwater’s campaign, for example, the newsletter Human Events , beloved of Ronald Reagan, sought to...

The Republicans’ Leninist Respect for Democracy

The Republican Party is the B-team of politics. The B stands for Bolshevik. They strike even before the iron is hot, partly because they fear it won’t stay hot for long, partly because they know how unpopular their moves are, and partly because they believe in the exercise of raw power.

The Republican commandos are in a hurry because, so far, they haven’t been able to legislate themselves out of a paper bag. They fear, reasonably, that the midterm elections will go badly for them even if last-minute sweeteners for the likes of Marco Rubio, Bob Corker, and Susan Collins give them an ambiguous legislative trophy to campaign on. They also must fear—if they’re paying attention—that their president is marching them over the precipice into a full-blown constitutional crisis by arranging to fire Robert Mueller, and that however the imbroglio turns out, it won’t nourish further legislation.

The Republican commandos are also rushing because their deep-pocketed donors are impatient. They want their tax ripoffs! When do they want them? Now!

They’re in a hurry, too, because the more time that elapses before they pull off their oligarchic robberies, the more time public opposition has to crystallize and mobilize to stop them in their tracks.

They’re also in a hurry because they believe in raw power, not the power of persuasion. They’re not into argument, which require a certain respect for logic and evidence, and takes time. They’re not into slowing down to make deals with the minority Democrats. They prefer secrecy, writing bills no one has read. They prefer, in other words, the logic of the putsch.

As Kevin Drum and Joshua Holland have written, they’re also afraid that their demographic clock is ticking and that even voter suppression, gerrymandering, and the arousal of white nationalism might not be potent enough to sustain their congressional power for long.

This is the way of the Bolsheviks. Take power now, wield it brutally, and to hell with anyone who has another idea.

How to Fight Racism and Plutocracy in 2018

Taking back the House of Representatives

Tina Russell/Observer-Dispatch via AP
The most potent political force behind white supremacy in America is voter suppression, which takes place partly through voter suppression laws, partly by control of redistricting, partly by discouraging minority voters. The most effective way to fight it is by registering and mobilizing voters. It’s all very well and good to shake your fist at Milo Yiannopoulos, Ann Coulter, Mike Cernovich, & Co., when they show up on campus, but that’s no more than a feel-good exercise. It brings an adrenaline rush, nothing more. What dries up the toxic flood of racist and plutocratic policy is winning elections. That requires voter registration work and donations. Between yesterday and November 2018. Take, for example, New York’s 19th Congressional District, which starts north of New York City and runs north and west to skirt Albany and its suburbs, which are majority Democratic. The district was set up that way to cram as many Democrats as possible into nearby districts...