Donald Trump’s election and presidency exposed Isaac Chotiner as perhaps the least curious journalist in America.
Chotiner, an interviewer who makes his living by transcribing phone calls “edited for length and clarity,” is in many ways the perfect distillation of the “resistance” media caricature: high-brow sanctimony and snark.
His Q&As epitomize it this. When it comes to talking with or about conservatives, he plays the hard-hitting, gotcha interviewer, often raising his eyebrows at examples that can’t be fact-checked — take his sarcastic reaction to immigration examples raised by NATIONAL REVIEW’s Victor Davis Hanson.
But his manufactured interviews get softer the further left his guest leans. Take his May fawning over Chris Hayes — “I don’t want to put MSNBC in the same category as certain other cable-news networks at all,” he caveated while asking the MSNBC host a question about partisanship and cable news.
While he’s made a career sneering at everyday conservative voters from his perch at various media outlets, his go-to schtick during the Trump era has been his extending this lack of charity to the journalists who do try to understand how the other half of the country thinks.
“Do you worry when you’re reporting on people who are known to lie a lot, especially a President who’s known to lie a lot?” he asked Politico’s Tim Alberta about covering Republicans.
First at Slate and now at The New Yorker, Chotiner has repeatedly suggested that Hillary Clinton was correct in her evaluation that half of Trump voters fall into a “basket of deplorables,” and has argued they can’t be meaningfully understood through the typical reporting process.
After Trump’s shock victory in 2016, he warned on Twitter that he could not bear to “see another f*****g article about sympathy for Trump voters.”
The reasoning? “Kids going to be bed worrying their parents will be hate crime victims,” he posited. Maybe Jussie Smollett was taking notes?
“One of the things about a lot of the journalism about Trump voters is that it takes at face value people’s reasons for supporting him,” he told New York Times reporter Jeremy W. Peters in 2018, implying that Trump’s support stems largely from racist rubes who hide behind economic insecurity. While Peters has kept doing his job, Chotiner has continued whining.
We had to wait four years, but finally a political editor at the Times has assigned a piece about how Trump supporters in the Midwest are totally dedicated to him, and willing to believe anything he says. pic.twitter.com/mi6xqMTOSa
— Isaac Chotiner (@IChotiner) November 1, 2020
Chotiner’s fixation on the idea that working-class Trump voters are all white supremacists has morphed into an obsession with people like Chris Arnade, author of Dignity, a book profiling working-class Americans. Arnade, a former Wall Street bond trader, left his job and spent several years traveling across the country to meet left-behind communities, talking with and photographing the people he found along the way — in sharp contrast to Chotiner’s preference for talking to fiction authors, NBA players, and high-brow pundits. Arnade’s book is not about politics, in fact most of his subjects express disillusionment at the idea that politics can fix their predicaments, yet Chotiner has tweeted about him no less than 23 times.
“The few times I responded to him early on, to try and engage in what I had hoped was good faith, he would just mock me,” Arnade told NATIONAL REVIEW, adding that he has yet to receive an invitation from Chotiner to actually talk about the book.
Heading into the election, Chotiner took his theory that Trump’s miniscule support could be anything but racist and extrapolated it onto the idea that Trump would be blown-out in 2020. He published five interviews with election experts — two with mainstream pollsters Dave Wasserman and Nate Cohn, and one with Sean Trende of RealClearPolitics — with predictable lines of questioning.
Cohn and Wasserman got asked things like should the Democrats “compete” in Texas and whether “there is a chance that we over-learn the lessons” of Trump’s 2016 win. Trende? “We don’t really have any evidence that shy Trump voters actually exist, correct?” Chotiner asked, later deriding the concept on Twitter.
Chotiner’s incubated conversations with pollsters apparently gave him enough confidence to rail against any coverage pointing to the possibility of another Trump win. After Axios’s Jim VandeHei and Jonathan Swan ran an August story titled “How Trump could pull off another upset,” Chotiner expressed his disapproval. (“To be honest, I am unaware of anything he has written and couldn’t tell you where he even works,” VandeHei told National Review.)
When the RealClear polling average showed Trump eeking out a win in Florida, what was Chotiner’s response? “LOL.”
A New York Times piece that detailed how Trump’s Pennsylvania support could surprise pollsters only inspired more smugness.
What about pieces like this one? How do they affect your average? Would more of them between now and Election Day change your model? https://t.co/dZAACLQ1za
— Isaac Chotiner (@IChotiner) October 30, 2020
But now that Trump has been defeated, Chotiner should be vindicated. “There is no copying or repeating this—he’s one of a kind,” he tweeted Friday, making no mention of the fact that Trump won the highest share of non-white voters of any Republican presidential candidate since 1960 — including massive gains among African American and Hispanics — and only lost support from white men, according to one exit poll.
— Matt Bruenig (@MattBruenig) November 6, 2020
For Chotiner, these contravening facts are besides the point; he already has all the answers.