Discover more from Silent Lunch, The David Zweig Newsletter
Updates, and a Recommendation
A recent article in Silent Lunch gained a huge audience
I have a number of pieces in the works—all on topics or with details you are unlikely to find anywhere else—the first of which will post next week. So stay tuned. In the meantime, I wanted to give this quick update and thank everyone for enabling me to continue to grow the Silent Lunch newsletter. On that point, I have some exciting news:
My last article, The Most Important Test You’ve Never Heard Of, has reached close to 1 million people. An interview I did about the article for The Hill TV instantly became one of that channel’s most widely viewed videos. I gave radio interviews on the article, and threads and posts on Twitter, Reddit, Hacker News, and TikTok all covered it. But most consequentially, unbeknownst to me until the other day, Russell Brand devoted an entire video to the article—delivered with his usual exuberance and editorializing—on YouTube and Rumble, with views between the two sites totalling more than 665,000.
Though the article covered a topic as mundane as a Covid test, and delved into nerdy scientific details, it unearthed something that people recognized was highly consequential, and that they hadn’t heard about elsewhere.
The success of the article is an interesting case study of the power of the alternative media landscape today. Increasingly, important stories can reach large audiences yet exist entirely outside the network of major legacy news outlets. Matt Taibbi and a few others have demonstrated this for quite some time. But it’s fascinating to witness an ecosystem of increasing synergy between YouTube and Rumble “TV” shows, Substacks, and podcasts enabling this to happen for my work.
This type of reporting is labor and resource intensive, though. If you’re a free subscriber please consider joining the growing community of paid subscribers. For less than the cost of one beer each month, your support will help me to continue to bring original investigative pieces and features, unfiltered by any gatekeepers, to your inbox.
Speaking of independent media, there’s a new Substack from a young journalist named Rav Arora, and public health economist and physician Jay Bhattacharya. Arora’s inaugural post is intriguing because it covers his experience of being shut out by editors, in particular those he had prior successful relationships with, at various publications because the articles he pitched challenged mainstream and government narratives around the Covid vaccines.
As a freelancer, getting rejected is the norm. So one shouldn't construe rejection as an automatic sign of censorship. Moreover, if you are pitching articles that challenge deeply held norms on highly sensitive topics you need to have an arsenal of evidence to back up your work. And I don’t know the particulars of what Arora pitched.
Nevertheless, the responses to him from some of the editors, including those at centrist or center-right publications, suggest that his work was rejected not necessarily because it lacked intellectual rigor or sufficient evidence for its claims, but simply because it went against dogma.
Arora's story is important, I think, not because of the specifics of whatever he presented but because of the responses.
In a piece he pitched about Joe Rogan’s comments on young people and the vaccine, he was told no because the publication was afraid of being construed as “anti-vaccine.” Nevermind that plenty of countries did not mandate or even recommend the Covid vaccine or boosters for healthy kids, the editor concluded:
I don’t want any ambiguity on the issue.
Another editor in response to several Arora pitches:
We are a pro-vaccination newspaper, and personally I just wish everyone would get vaccinated already.
Journalists need to be responsible in not sowing distrust in public health guidelines that are meant to keep us safe.
Notice, these quotes from the responses were not critiquing details, or suggesting Arora needed better research. Perhaps there were additional, more specific criticisms that he didn’t excerpt. But the quoted sentiments are problematic regardless. It strikes me as against the public interest for a news outlet to have a fixed institutional position on a complex, developing story with facts that are inchoate, ambiguous, in dispute, or interpreted differently by health authorities depending on which country one is in.
There are, of course, legitimate concerns about publishing garbage. But it’s not hard to spot outlandish, QAnon-style claims about Bill Gates wanting to inject a microchip into everyone. There’s a wide chasm between nonsense and reasoned criticism or even just raising important questions. But the editors’ responses reveal an ethos of binary thinking, á la George W Bush’s “either you are with us or you are with the terrorists”—an attitude liberals had rightfully mocked as overly simplistic.
Saying a newspaper is “pro vaccine” is like saying it’s “pro medicine.” It’s essentially meaningless. Each vaccine or medicine or treatment should be evaluated on its own merit, and its benefits and harms weighed for each individual or population group.
Journalists, naturally, should be very careful about not publishing potentially misleading information, especially that which could lead to harm. But that duty does not preclude challenging narratives. On the contrary, the purpose—and responsibility—of the press is to interrogate those in power, not just to report what they say.
One more note before I go —
I’m slowly spiffing up and building out this newsletter. Podcast episodes, guest writers, and other features are slated for the future. On the aesthetics front, my friend Erich Hartmann sent me the image below that he created with AI image generator Midjourney. He gave it the text instruction “silent lunch,” along with a few other prompts he toyed around with. Seems like a cool logo for the newsletter? (And, fittingly, that fellow has a pretty good, passing resemblance to me.)
The phrase silent lunch gained traction during the pandemic as the name for the policy enacted on countless schoolchildren throughout the country who were prohibited from speaking during mealtime. (As many of you know, I wrote about a school in Ithaca, New York, that still had this policy in place, along with mandatory masking indoors and outdoors, this spring.) To me, mandated silent lunches represented the epitome of cruelty and stupidity of some of the measures imposed on children. (It should go without saying that there is zero evidence silent lunches led to any fewer cases of Covid.)
But I like to think of Silent Lunch meaning something else, too. It is the idea of reading, or perhaps writing, of quiet contemplation over a sandwich or a cup of coffee. Perhaps that’s what some of you are doing right now.