Today is my fortieth birthday, giving me an opportunity for reflection. I’ve been thinking back to when I first entered political journalism nearly two years ago, after I decided I couldn’t sit idly by as news outlets large and small all pushed the same handful of ratings-driven false narratives each day. My insistence on reporting the factually accurate version of the story, instead of generically parroting the popular narrative, quickly earned me a large and appreciative audience. But it also meant I had to figure out what I was doing while a lot of people were watching. It’s been quite the learning experience. And it’s time for me to get better at this.
Not that I’ve been doing too badly. I now have an audience in the millions, and they all tell me the same thing: they love me for my insistence on factual accuracy and my refusal to play into the hyperbole seen elsewhere online. My Palmer Report news articles have been posted and shared by Governors, cable news hosts, and members of Congress. In several instances I’ve been the first to report major Trump-Russia stories, through my own digging, which later showed up on cable news.
I was reporting on Donald Trump’s relationship with Dmitry Rybolovlev long before that name was first spoken by anyone on television. I was reporting on Mike Pence’s email scandal months before it became a mainstream story. I called Mike Flynn’s immunity request before it happened. I reported on the connection between the Trump Tower Russian email server and Betsy DeVos a full month before CNN reported it as “breaking news.” And yet I’ve done all this leading edge reporting while I’ve been trying to figure out how to be political reporter, meaning my rough edges have shown at times. In addition, my willingness to go against the prevailing narrative has made me less than beloved by those who run some other liberal political sites.
For instance, back when most news outlets were pretending that Hillary Clinton’s email scandal involved criminal jeopardy and had the potential to end her campaign, I instead accurately reported that it was a whole lot of nothing (and accordingly, in the end she was fully cleared). When most news outlets were reporting single-state outlier polls in order to pretend that the Democratic primary race was a competitive one, I instead reported on the national polling averages which made clear it would be a 60-40 style blowout once it got past Iowa and New Hampshire (which is what it ended up being in the end).
But my willingness to break from prevailing false narratives is troublesome for the small and medium news outlets who prefer to safely cling to the same narratives the public is hearing on CNN an any given day. When I point out the factual inaccuracy of those prevailing narratives, even if I diplomatically don’t call any out news outlets by name, it still pisses off my counterparts. Without trying to, I just happen to make some of them look bad by poking holes in the narratives they’re clinging to.
As such, some of these other independent news sites have been dishonestly targeting me from the start (one of them tried to falsely label me “fake news” more than a year ago, long before Donald Trump ever dishonestly used the term). This weird phenomenon caused my own audience to push back against these false claims about me, because they saw right through it. But it set up a framework where, despite the fairly boring and non-controversial nature of my reporting, lesser political writers (and tabloid style “fact checkers”) have regularly targeted me with ridiculously inaccurate attacks, and my audience has fought back ferociously in my defense. The battle, oddly enough, has been between liberals who appreciate how accurate I am, and liberals who don’t want me to be right because they find the prevailing narratives to be more soothing. Most conservatives don’t even know Palmer Report exists; even though I’m a liberal, my biggest detractors are all liberals.
Outsiders who are unfamiliar with my reporting have seen these endless battles among liberals on social media over my work, and that’s led them to closely scrutinize my work in order to figure out who’s right or wrong about me. As such, my entire career as a political journalist has been spent under a microscope of intense scrutiny. It’s the kind of scrutiny that virtually no other political news outlet, big or small, tends to face – and particularly not from those of their own political ideology. And although the endless fighting over me is an absurd and pointless distraction that I’d rather see go away, the one thing I don’t mind is the resulting scrutiny of my work. Because when people are constantly analyzing my every move as a journalist, it forces me to stay on my toes and keep getting better. I can either complain about the uniquely harsh curve upon which my work is graded, or I can just decide to try to live up to it.
Accordingly, I’ve taken a number of steps along the way to make Palmer Report better. To cite one example among many: I’ve always cited sources and included supporting source links as appropriate. I hand out far more credit in this regard than nearly any of my competitors. But they’ve nonetheless spread the persistent false claim that I “never cite sources.” Because onlookers hear these accusations about me and then scrutinize my sourcing closely to see if it’s true, they’ve seen that of course I do cite sources – but they’ve then ended up offering me tips on how I can place and format my source links to make them more clear and user friendly. I would not have been given the gift of this advice on how to improve, if not for the fact that the false accusations were hurled at me to begin with.
And although my readers are quick to defend me against the absurd nonstop attacks from the bottom-feeding journalists and the con artists who pretend to be fact checkers, my readers are also the first to let me know when I’ve done something less than perfect. This comes in incredibly handy, and allows me to get better more quickly. When news outlets aren’t under a microscope, they have no easy way of getting better. Oddly enough, my allies are the ones who tend to point out my actual mistakes, while my detractors are too busy making up sensationalistic things about me to bother noticing my real mistakes.
And yet, with the position I’ve now reached, the sheer number of people reading my reporting each day, and the importance of the political events I’m reporting on, I have a duty to continue getting better at this. It’s not enough for me to simply be better than the lower quality political sites and blogs out there that are so embarrassed by their inability to keep up with me that they feel compelled to snipe at me in response. They won’t cease their silly attacks on me no matter how good I get at this, and they’ll never stop trying to controversialize me out of resentment. But I don’t work for them. And they’re not a valid measuring stick of quality anyway.
I work for you, the public. I’m a hell of a lot better at this now than I was back in 2015. And I’m better than most of the crap sites out there that pass for political news, if only by default. But it’s not enough. I have a responsibility to the public to keep improving as I go. As I move forward with Palmer Report, that continues to be my overriding goal.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report