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(36,476 posts)
Thu Feb 11, 2021, 10:46 AM Feb 2021

Thread Man: Seth Abramson's viral meta-journalism unreality [View all]

For four years, America has been ruled by the tyranny of tweets, and the news media has been tangled in threads. Twitter threads are a way for journalists to gather information and to promote their work; Virginia Heffernan wrote in Politico that they have become the “literary form of the Trump era.” In some ways, virality has enabled marginalized voices to be heard, but an ecosystem ruled by likes and retweets is one in which nothing really has to be true, everything is entirely possible, and notoriety confers legitimacy. Traditional news outlets, vying for attention, reward online popularity with op-eds and TV guest spots, an ecosystem that has, in turn, given rise to a new class of political pundit—those who use Twitter threads to offer cheap clarity amid chaos.

One of the most prominent Twitter-thread stars is Seth Abramson, who came to the fore around 2017, as the American press was choking on news about Russian interference in the presidential election. Every story was cloaked in subterfuge: The hacking of the Democratic National Committee. That time Ivanka Trump sat in Vladimir Putin’s chair. When Donald Trump grabbed an interpreter’s notes and crumpled them up. The Miss Universe pageant. Cable news anchors sputtered out names: Maria Butina, George Papadopoulos, Paul Manafort. What did it all mean? If the frenzy of scoops presented a vast evidence board of clues and suspects, we needed someone to connect all the pieces into some kind of meta-narrative. Enter Abramson, on Twitter, arguing that out in the open was all the proof required to see the truth about our wildest fears and hopes: crimes had been committed, and the evidence was already being reported on by major media outlets. He was the man uniquely capable of pulling the loose threads together.

Now in his mid-forties, Abramson is a lawyer turned poet turned professor turned journalist turned influencer. His follower count on Twitter is close to a million—which, to compare his reach with political analysts employed by reputable outlets, is more than twice that of the New York Times’ Jamelle Bouie, eight times that of The New Yorker’s Masha Gessen, and eighteen times that of WNYC’s Tanzina Vega. His platform is powerful. From his first viral tweet—about how media outlets should not have put Kellyanne Conway on air—Abramson gained thousands of followers. Soon, he was offered guest spots on cable news shows, where he expounded on Trump’s and Russia’s misdeeds. His analysis—strung together over threads that are sometimes a hundred tweets long—offered a pleasant assurance: no, our country hadn’t voted for a racist misogynist; instead, we’d been manipulated by sinister outside forces—Russia, China, the Middle East.

Abramson began writing a regular column for Newsweek. He churned out books in rapid succession: Proof of Collusion (2018), Proof of Conspiracy (2019), and Proof of Corruption (2020). The first two were best sellers. He also started a podcast called Proof: A Pre-Election Special, which was, according to Abramson’s website, a “top 10 ‘Government’ podcast on Apple Podcasts in over 30 countries.” In October, he was a guest on Under the Skin, a show hosted by Russell Brand, who called him “charming, informative, brilliant, and bright.”

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