Nico Pitney Knows Politics

pitneyn.jpg Nico Pitney’s more than a pretty face. The Tokyo-born, California-bred 26 year old currently works as Huffington Post’s National Editor, but traces his occupational origins to more activist endeavors at the Center for American Progress. Editor Andrew recently sat down with Pitney to discuss the intersection of journalism and activism, the state of the conservative movement and how there’s no such thing as objective reporting. Read all about it, after the jump… First, Nico, I’m curious to know why you decided to go into journalism. It’s a particularly torturous profession. I was doing essentially opposition research for years and found the process of digging into these issues really fascinating. There’s so much going on that doesn’t get picked up and the web allows for so much of that to come out. So, with Huffington Post, I have the ability to do some more advocacy oriented stuff if I want to and also I dig up new information through the journalism we do there, so that’s why I went there. So you were politically conscious and active prior to your transition into journalism… Yeah, I had worked on campaigns coming out of college and then I joined the Center for American Progress, which is nonpartisan, but progressive and we started a blog there, Think Progress, and basically did opposition research on conservatives and conservative ideas, policies and figures. That’s where I got the urge for it. It’s not surprising, but it can be worrisome to think about the ties between journalism and activism. I spoke with someone recently who started in journalism and went into politics. You’re telling me that you involved in political advocacy and went into journalism, afieldwhich I think is great and motivates a lot of us to tell the underdog story and dig deep to inform the public. That said, in the effort to satisfy the news consumer, certainly journalists can get ahead of themselves. That activist spirit can come out unintentionally. I think you really have to judge the reporters and the outlets on their work and they’ll develop a track record. The readers have to know – any place you get information, everyone knows you can’t accept it at face value, you have to try to do your best to determine whether the outlet has a history of accurate and responsible reporting and whether the facts presented have basis and the evidence is presented in the piece. It’s kind of a philosophical question: “Is there such a thing as objective journalism?” Obviously there are always facts that left out of stories, so that the information that is chosen is being screened by the journalists and editors. If everyone can agree that there’s no such thing as completely objective journalism, then the difference is one of degree – not of advocacy, but if the outlet has a perspective on certain issues, for example, that global warming is a fact, then that should be on the front of their banner and that should be taken into account by readers. We’ve seen a number of stories this political season in which journalists or networks or papers have come under fire either for comments, like David Shuster’s Chelsea comment or the New York Times with the John McCain lobbyist story. It seems to me that these incidents and others come from two things. One, of course, is the 24-hour news cycle and the other is – I don’t want to say resurgence, but more reliance on sensationalism. Journalists have taken to “popping” news stories in this competitive news arena. You’re right in a sense. It’s unfortunate that some of the most important issues of the day aren’t sexy enough to get thirty seconds on a 24-hour news network. But, frankly, they can still do well online where the field is a bit more open, specifically with international news. Everyday unbelievably important things happen all over the world and virtually none of it is covered anywhere, even in the most progressive blogs that deal with issues that the news networks wouldn’t cover. I think “popping” is an unfortunate development, but it’s been around for quite a while. But I do have some sympathy for efforts to make news more appealing. If you have to give a little sugar with the medicine to get people interested in it, it’s just a matter of when it becomes counterproductive. I don’t mind making the news pop more or have a little bit of a sensational headline if the content is good.

The journalistic field ain’t what it used to be…
I may answer my own question and say “no,” but do you think there could be backlash against the 24-hour news cycle and that direction of pop news?

Well, there certainly is some backlash – people write about it – but, you know, networks and cable stations have the resources to do the kind of reporting that ordinary citizens can’t do. Despite any backlash, they’re still incredibly vital, so I don’t think backlash will lead to major consequences. But, on the other hand, MSNBC, for example, has a big success with Keith Olbermann providing a progressive voice on television, and they’ve learned from that and now they’re duplicating it on other programs.

Also, having a progressive or subjective political perspective is necessary to create a narrative that a viewer can relate to and you have to – I was speaking to Rachel Maddow and she said that political analysis is inherently emotional. Do you agree?

I mean, in the strict sense of “emotional,” then yes. If people are generalizing something and providing their own views – it’s tough to, especially when your professional career is wrapped up in these issues, it’s hard to separate your own feelings. I know some journalists make every effort to separate themselves and try to stay balanced, but it’s virtually impossible to do. So, yeah, I think there’s a close pairing there.

I believe it was last week or the week before, but the Washington Times recently decided to not put gay marriage in quotation marks. And obviously the word “homosexual” is outdated. I think about this a lot, because I don’t know how many times a day I say or write “gay,” and it gets tiresome. How important to you, personally, is it that there are standards of what a social group is called? Obviously we can’t have papers calling gay people “faggot,” but do we need to have these strict regulations?

I think typically news organizations ought to use terms that are accurate and not offensive. Beyond that, the individuals or the groups that the phrase is describing should have a say. If there’s a variety of terms that are both accurate and not offensive, then they ought to have a say in which one is used, if they prefer one over the other. I think it’s a good thing that the Washington Times changed their standards – they have a new executive editor there who wants to take steps away from their current niche, which is being right wing newspaper – and that’s a good sign. I think that it’s tough to describe different groups and it’s important to find out which terms are politically correct, but I think the most important individuals to weigh in on that are the ones being described.

Speaking of the right wing, do you think that the conservative movement can last for much longer? William F. Buckley’s dead, John McCain obviously is not as conservatives as some previous Republican leaders. What are we seeing in the conservative movement right now? It seems to me that it’s losing a lot of its hot air.

I would say that a lot of Republican voters around the country are not dedicated conservatives who care so much about Buckley and that particular ideology of movement leaders. Like Democrats, they have their team and they vote for the head of their team. With John McCain, they may end up supporting him as much as they did Bush in 2000 and 2004. On the other hand, I think the movement leaders, I think they’ll be able to come together for McCain in the general election. I don’t think that will be much of a problem.

The real potential for division there is if he becomes president. He’s increasingly not voting in the Senate, he’s only really going to be forced to talk about – it’s his agenda, it’s his campaign. The issues that he’s going to be challenging the Democratic nominee aren’t the ones that the the base are interested in – they all agree with him on the issues that he’s using to attack the Democrats. When he’s president, then – it’s like the Harriet Miers thing or other decisions for which the conservatives really fought under Bush and it ended their love affair with him. For Bush, it took years and years for that happen. For McCain, in the first week, there are so many decisions that he’s going to have to make that have the potential to split that base.

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  • PalePhoenix

    Cute, smart, and well-spoken. Have we started the Queerty Poster Boy challenge yet? If we can induce him to craft some seriocomic, political metaphor about Sean Combs, then can we start calling him the ‘PuffHo?’ (Now forming a support group for aficionados of dark, curly hair and natural eyebrows. Apply…within.)

  • Charley

    Cute but very opportunistic, as is his boss, Huffington. She is a greek nobody, who married a rich gay oil Texan faggot, who was bored at being in the House of Representatives. When he didn’t win Govenor of California, the marriage dissolved. Up your ass, Adrianna.

  • akaison

    The preceeding post has been brought to you by IOA (Idiots of Amerca). Why? Because together we may add up to one whole brain. Hmmm.

  • meh

    LMFAO pretty face?

    more like butterface

    hes hideous!

  • Charley

    This idiot will probably be voting for Ralph Nadar.
    Quote from Nico Pitney.
    “I passionately supported the Greens in 2000 and 2002. I traveled 125 miles to see Dennis Kucinich speak when he came to Los Angeles in May, and had the pleasure of introducing him to a crowd of several hundred when he visited Santa Barbara recently. Kucinich is a guiding light in Congress and, of the nine Democratic presidential contenders, his views most closely mirror my own.”

  • Charley

    Nothing personal against either of them. Just having a temporary “hissy fit” over his boss, Huffington who went from Republican to Democrat when she started the blog, after the divorce from out gay man and Log Cabin Republican, Huffington.
    It really is an excellent blog and congratutlations to this young man.

  • todd

    He’s geeky HOT.

  • PalePhoenix

    “hes hideous!”

    To each, their own. I’m sure you attract a lot of model types with an attitude that allows you to deride perfectly normal looking guys. As for Arianna, not even I can stomach her 100% of the time, but it would be unfortunate if we’ve come to live in an age where you have to like every single thing a publisher, or politico–or some combination of both–does and says in order not to hate them absolutely. That’s a very ‘Fixed News’ mindset, and apparently not anathema to the GLBT community. Go figure.

  • M Shane

    It’s refreshing that one or two young gay people are interested in something other than the newest fashions and mindless jobs.

    i never understand the pissyness that goes to A Huffington; seems to me that she brings a pretty balanced, quality news-certainly not totally fucked like Fox etc.

    Of course sadly, he seems not to realise that almost nobidy tells what really goes on even with sugar. I’ve seen a few truely great op-eds on Huff Post, so he’s exposed to some great thinking.

    Unfortunately the truth is that the Media are all prejudiced by (what is it 2-3 companies own 50% of the news outlets) all neocon right wing
    spin crafters. Hope he can manage to tell some of the truth of the carnage the right wing is making of America while its still partially publically owned.

    That’s slipping away fast; so best to him for keeping.integrity the road he’s on is a slippery slope..

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  • Alexei

    The photo here is nice doesn’t do Nico justice. He’s actually VERY CUTE and charming in person and is exceptionally bright. Despite what another poster here believes, a person who works for the Center for American Progress is not an opportunist.

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