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Slash and Burn
Pedro Gonzalez takes on institutional media on the left and the right, from within and without.
The one thing you need to know about Pedro Gonzalez, a politics writer and editor at Chronicles, is that he’s completely self-made. He doesn’t have a fancy degree – in fact, he doesn’t have a degree at all. He didn’t enter the scene with a bunch of crazy connections, a rich network replete with people who were ready to help him succeed. There are no smoke and mirrors, no attention-grabbing stunts, or gags. He’s just out there, as the writer Oliver Bateman often quips, doing the work.
I remember an old Twitter bio of Pedro’s read, “Humble magazine salesman.” It was a joke, but a good one. There’s some real truth to that description: what you see is what you get. There are myriad interviews out there about what Pedro believes – what he’s fighting for. As for me, I want to know how he fights. How did he get here? How do we know his name? And what does he see as the future of the media machine, the reason you’re reading this article at all?
Katherine: What are three things readers who aren’t familiar with you should know about you?
Pedro: I don’t have a degree. I dislike most things and people in this industry. Douglas Murray and Ben Domenech are huge fans of mine.
Katherine: Given the state of the media landscape – why journalism?
Pedro: I’m good at one thing. Or maybe two things. That is, pissing people off and writing. I don’t like calling myself a “journalist” because I think most people who call themselves that belong in jail. I mean it. I hate these “people” – a term I use loosely. Because in theory, the journalist’s role is to inquire and interrogate and uncover.
Certainly, their intended target is the establishment – the “Man,” man. But this is rare today; many or most of these people are bootlicking hacks and bad writers to boot. They cannot properly question power or challenge the system because their existence depends on it. Sure, The New York Times occasionally will do good reporting, but it is ultimately self-serving and harmless to the established political order.
I write because I want to burn this house down and build something better. But I am not an anarchist or something. Like Ernst Jünger wrote, “I am not anti-authoritarian. Quite the opposite: I need authority, although I do not believe in it. My critical faculties are sharpened by the absence of the credibility that I ask for.”
In other words, I wouldn’t need or want to write if I didn’t believe this country was run by people who are sick and evil.
Katherine: Did you always want to be a journalist? And if not, what were you doing before you made the switch?
Pedro: Not at all. Why would I voluntarily work in the same field as Taylor Lorenz? She edited her Wikipedia page so people can’t determine her exact age. It’s listed as “October 21 c. 1984-1987,” like she’s an obscure medieval figure instead of a jowly modern-day mediocrity. She should be mowing my lawn, not publishing fiction in the pages of The Washington Post.
I started writing because I felt there was a need for certain points to be made a certain way. Before that, journalism never occurred to me as a possible profession. I don’t want to get into the dreary weeds of the past, but before I became a writer, I’ll just say everything about my life was physical.
Churchill wrote a “man’s life must be nailed to a cross either of thought or action.” I had chosen action. But things worked out differently, and I ended up doing something I never thought I would.
You know how Rousseau entered a competition hosted by the Academy of Dijon to answer whether scientific progress had been a good thing for mankind? He won by replying to the negative, by attacking the very idea of scientific progress. It was a kind of paradox: Rousseau had entered a competition hosted by the type of institution he viewed as harmful to man and won by making that point.
I’m not a Rousseauian, but this resonates with me.
Katherine: Your star has really been rising the last couple of years. What’s one piece of advice you’d give an aspiring writer?
Pedro: Don’t compromise yourself – do things the hard way, keep the chip on your shoulder. People in this industry tend to thrive on professional incest instead of the strength of their writing or thinking. You’re better off not being one of them, even if you have to struggle and suffer longer to get where you are going.
Katherine: It feels like right-wing media is experiencing something of a renaissance right now. Do you agree? And if you do, what are some ways you think they can take advantage of this moment?
Pedro: It’s complicated. On the one hand, you’ve got Fox News occasionally compromising their message. Hosts on that network are more concerned with feelings than honesty.
On the other hand, Tucker Carlson is sitting atop the world by hitting all the right issues, and you’ve got exciting new magazines like Compact out there, challenging energy sponges like National Review that are desperately trying to rehabilitate their image.
What’s indisputable is the appetite for a positive reaction: a rejection of the present that doesn’t necessarily want to “return” but go forward and build new things drawing on inspiration from the past.
Katherine: What are some ways they’re failing to take advantage of it?
Pedro: The right has a youthful energy now, an irreverence and combativeness that is in important ways incompatible with conservatism.
As Robert Lewis Dabney put it, “American conservatism is merely the shadow that follows Radicalism as it moves forward towards perdition. It remains behind it, but never retards it, and always advances near its leader.”
I think we on the right have a responsibility to meet the demand for radicalism instead of retreating from its implications and merely pretending or grifting. An obstacle to this is that many conservatives still take their cues from how liberal media sees them.
Take a recent Axios story that profiled the America First Policy Institute. If you know anything about the Trump White House, you know that organization is run and staffed by the worst people from the administration, it is a pit of vipers. But because Axios mentioned them as part of a long-term plan to purge the federal government if Trump wins again, many conservatives uncritically celebrated the story.
In other words, they allowed liberal media to pick their champions for them, and if you are the swamp, you want enemies like AFPI because you know they are harmless and stupid.
The inability of right-wing media to police its own movement, to create its own narratives, is a massive failure.
Katherine: You’re both involved in traditional publishing, with Chronicles, and independent publishing, on Substack. What’s your experience been like with both?
Pedro: I would like to see the two integrated more. Substack is great for individual writers, but institutions do matter, which is what traditional magazines like Chronicles represent. Institutions offer what platforms like Substack alone do not: infrastructure, legal support, editing, even camaraderie. But I think Substack can also help rebuild print media. Chronicles is 45 years old this September!
Katherine: What can traditional publishing learn from independent publishing, and vice versa?
Pedro: Substack offers the possibility of becoming mostly or totally independent of advertising. I think that is vital for good publishing. To use National Review as a heel again, the magazine boasts advertisers in its media kit like BP, Google, Facebook, Boeing, Chevron, Microsoft, and Koch Industries. What a joke.
On the other hand, while I like the independence of Substack, I think centralization is necessary. You can have a thousand voices crying out in the wilderness, alone and separated. Or you can bring them together to raise an army and march on your enemies together.
Katherine: Twitter influences the press, a lot. Obviously, this can lead to a lot of awful things – misinformation and smear campaigns can spread at what feels like the speed of light, and with little recourse for the affected party to defend themselves, to give just one example. Do you think there’s any way to repair this? Is it just the tax of a connected world?
Pedro: Unfortunately, this seems to be the wages of the internet. My family keeps me sane. But Theodore Kaczynski was right about a lot of things.
Katherine: Who are some of your favorite writers? What makes them special?
Pedro: James Burnham and his greatest disciple, Samuel T. Francis. Their style, insights, and courage have had – and continue to have – a profound effect on me. They both grappled with the world as it is, not how we would like it to be. Burnham and Francis saw clearly the self-loathing that has come to characterize the West, the managerialism that supplanted previous forms of government, and the yawning chasm between an elite of dead souls and the Middle Americans they work tirelessly to dispossess.
I think that to really understand the moment, you have to read them.