Marcus DiPaola is Not a Journalist

If you’re on TikTok, there’s a good chance that you’ve stumbled across Marcus DiPaola on your For You Page. He has 2.5 million followers and he doesn’t follow anybody back. With thick-framed glasses, poorly groomed stubble, and hair parted in the middle in a manner that suggests that he could be the love child of Alfalfa and a Williamsburg hipster, DiPaola reads the news in an intense and fearmongering style against an Olan Mills backdrop that is grossly at odds with his “I spend most of my time in a basement” aesthetic. Think of DiPaola as Awkward Family Photos enhanced with white male rage. Like many grifters who have made a name for themselves in an age in which facts, fairness, and the appearance of objectivity are increasingly devalued, DiPaola cloaks his inadequacies behind his mission statement: that he is, according to his own bio, using a writing style “designed to make it possible for middle schoolers with learning disabilities to understand the news.” But if this were truly the case, why then does DiPaola enunciate innocent words like “trains” with all the sinister timbre of Richard III chewing up the scenery just before hiring assassins to kill his older brother? If he is truly speaking to children, why then does his content have the feel of Walter Winchell with severe anger management issues? DiPaola reminds me of that Simpsons bit in which Christopher Walken read Goodnight Moon, only for the kids to scurry away in fear.

Up until recently, DiPaola’s bizarrely aggressive “reporting” style was largely tolerated as something you had to endure before scrolling onto a shirtless Russian man loving his bear in subzero temperatures. But on March 29th, DiPaola offered a preposterously inaccurate report that “LGBTQ residents of Philadelphia are getting attacked by criminals so often that, today, the person in charge of dealing with crime in Philadelphia created an advisory board to figure out how to deal with the problem.” It is certainly true that a transgender woman was attacked in Philadelphia on March 20th and that there was an uptick in transgender attacks last year. But DiPaola’s hysterical rhetoric suggested that Philly was something out of Frank Miller’s apocalyptic portrayals of Gotham. Last year, USA Today reported that Philadelphia was among the friendliest cities to LGBTQ people. The city was one of the first places in America to initiate a yearly Pride parade in 1972.

@marcus.dipaola

If you don’t recognize the real world is a scary place, it’s time to grow up.

♬ original sound – Marcus DiPaola

DiPaola faced rightful pushback for his histrionics, which felt more like the bilious white supremacy spewed by Tucker Carlson than a man who professes to “anchor the news” on his Twitter bio. He never once corrected his inaccuracies — the basic responsibility of even a soi-disant journalist. Instead, he doubled down on his demagogic fury with a video that was swiftly parodied and widely condemned:

Journalism exists to point out things going wrong so people can change them. It is never my job to cheerlead or to make people happy. It is my job to point out the scary and bad stuff happening in the world, to build up pressure on the people in power so they fix things. If you want to make a change in the world, this is the channel for you. If you’re scared of real life and want to pretend things are perfect, follow someone else.

As the user @jewishanarchist observed, this represented a case in which DiPaola refused to countenance the LGBTQ-friendly truth of living in Philadelphia. “You might not have the job to cheerlead,” said @jewishanarchist, who grew up in Philly and who noted the vibrant drag scene in the City of Brotherly Love, “but you have the job to represent the accurate facts. Because what you did? You made the people of Philly look bad. You didn’t make the government of Philly look bad. You made the people look bad. That’s bad reporting.”

Moreover, there’s something incredibly dodgy in DiPaola’s partisan approach here. It is a journalist’s job to present the facts fairly and accurately. If the reader (or, in this case, the viewer) decides that she wants to change things, then that’s on the audience, not the journalist. But these basic responsibilities are clearly beyond DiPaola’s wildly limited faculties. He often fails to cite his sources. And a cursory exhumation of his feed instantly reveals numerous inaccuracies or willful misreadings of other reports. Irrespective of who your audience is, this is a deeply irresponsible approach for anyone who claims to report the news.

DiPaola could be easily ignored if he didn’t have such a large platform to deliver his venomous spittle-flecked tirades. The fact of the matter is that, for some people who are hopelessly hooked on TikTok (it is incredibly addictive!), DiPaola could very well be the first place that they hear about a news story. And if they hear it from a man who is so careless and capricious with the facts, then DiPaola’s outsize influence is incredibly dangerous. Not unlike Father Coughlin in the 1930s, who used his vast radio audience to whip up widespread anti-Semitism and support for fascism. Even comedians like Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and John Oliver have employed fact-checkers. Because they have known very well that millions of people are watching their shows and that they have a responsibility to convey the basic truth.

But DiPaola shows no such care or commitment. He cannot, by any standard, be called a journalist.

The Droppers, the Ghosters, and the Grifters

I am blessed to have friends who are far more brilliant than I am. I am fiercely loyal to all of my friends. And if my friends happen to toil in a creative field like me, then the admiration I have for their work, which is always honest and never false, only helps to seal the deal. But I am also someone who has stood out simply for being who I am. I try not to second-guess life. The universe could throw you an unanticipated curveball tomorrow. Thus, it is better to be instinctive and decisive and expressive and idiosyncratic and true to who you are. Still, people like me tend to attract a particular form of fawning admirer — usually a younger man on the make — who eventually turns into a peculiar rival.

They start off as fans in apparent awe of my talent. I am hopelessly confused but grateful. And I like them. For I am a congenial wiseacre who tends to be very fond of people and deeply curious about them. My curiosity in them greatly exceeds any interest I have in myself. I usually sense that someone who admires me and who reaches out is probably going places or that they are certainly on their way somewhere. And I spend months or years steering our dynamic towards one in which they are not so much acolytes, but creative and human peers. Being a self-effacing type, I have always felt strange being placed in the role of outlier sage. Thankfully, that happens less often these days.

I hedge my bets against this unanticipated game of impostor syndrome by expressing honesty and vulnerability and gentle truth about my life so that they understand that I am highly fallible. I would rather be a human being than a cult leader.

There comes some point in which they achieve some hard-won success and I congratulate them and I am never jealous but always in admiration. But the fame floats to their head much like a hot air balloon drifting over wine country. And the relationship swiftly careens into a spectacle. That’s when they drop me. That’s when they finally recognize the truth that I’ve known all along: that they are better equipped for achievement than me. That they can negotiate the false metric of fans and gigs and hosannas simply because they relish the guise of being a somebody who others look up to and I am more interested in admiring other people without a comparative yardstick. They are better at playing the game of ingratiation and sucking up and flattering other people — as if frangible souls who happen to be in the public eye are ridiculous superheroes being paraded and marketed before a horde of rabid zealots bedecked in cosplay. Maybe this was always their game with me, but I don’t look back. Maybe they recognized that I was the type of man who would quickly puncture their outsize estimation by being real and they needed to meet me for their hubris to swell.

1. The Ambitious Writer: He started off publishing chapbooks at very small presses, but he was hungry for attention. His ambition was limitless and this was certainly reflected in the massive and awe-inspiring volumes he published years later. I didn’t recognize how voracious he was when he first contacted me. But back then, I was being bombarded by everyone. I misconstrued his hunger to be hyperbole. He landed press and attention by starting feuds with other literary people. But before he did any of this, he contacted me with a fawning email, telling me that I was one of the most important voices writing about books. A few years later, I ran into him at an event and introduced myself. And he said nothing and stared right through me. As if I was an eidolon. Not even a friendly hello. What a stark contrast from the obsequious email from only a few years before! I couldn’t find it within me to read his books until years had passed and one friend who reads him told me that he didn’t have anybody else to discuss his books with (being a good friend, I obliged by reading the ambitious writer’s work). Another friend told me of his phone calls with the ambitious writer and this allowed me to see from a distance that this guy was human. Still, this isn’t someone who I would go out of my way to talk with. Far better to keep him at a distance so that I can read his books without prejudice.

2. The Fawning Podcaster: For many years, he ran a very smart podcast on a niche psychogeography topic that was unlike anything else out there. So he had my admiration already. But he also thought that I was terrific and even wrote a piece in which he didn’t understand why I wasn’t a huge star. So I wrote him an appreciative note and opened myself up slightly. I sent listeners to his podcast. And that was when he suddenly wished to have nothing to do with me. Now I am wondering if what he had to say about me had any genuine validity. I have stopped listening to his podcast. And I haven’t communicated with him in any way for many years.

3. The Chicken Farmer: On TikTok, there was a lonely man who lived with chickens who became a huge fan of my commentaries. Being an affable sort, I sincerely expressed my empathy for his situation and marveled over the fact that he expressed such affection for his chickens. Then, out of the blue, he left a number of vituperative comments on my feed, claiming that I wasn’t very intelligent and so forth. And I was forced to block him. What changed? Could it be that he resented me for taking the time out of my life to offer him solace and interest? There was no warning for any of this. I never said an unkind word about him.

4. The Admiring Commentator: I had read her work for years and admired it. Then we met. We became friends in San Francisco, meeting regularly to write together in coffeehouses. We had many hilarious and honest conversations. Perhaps my mistake was not letting her more into my life. But I’ve talked with other people she’s known and she’s done the same thing to them. She seemed convinced at one point that I was a one-in-a-million voice. At one point, when a major development rightly landed in her lap (she is incredibly smart and ferociously talented), I delivered a protective monologue urging her to be careful about having her writing voice compromised in any way and declaring that she was a vital writing voice. It’s not that I didn’t think she couldn’t handle herself. It’s that I wanted to see her blossom and I knew certain inside information about the editors behind the operation. Perhaps I overstepped. One day, she seemed to disregard me. She offered a writing job to a friend as I was sitting right there, never once considering that I might be in need of work. I was hurt. There are more discreet ways to handle an offer like this. When I went to revisit San Francisco after several years of living in New York and I met up with her, I was pushed to the side, feeling like an afterthought rather than a human being and I knew the friendship was over. But I do know that she pushes many people she befriends away until they are not useful to her. I haven’t communicated with her since.

5. The Competitive Blogger: I am not competitive with anyone other than myself. And when this blogger started out, he fawned over me. I hooked him up with publicist contacts and told him how he could get review copies and gave him several suggestions on how he could become a major literary website. Like all my other admirers, I got the gist that I was a “vital voice” and so forth. And then one day, he turned on me and turned into a wild egomaniac. Not just to me, but to friends who I had introduced to him. He started a literary criticism outlet. I sent a few people his way. He then decided that he was better than me and took on the practice of exploiting these people, who later came back to me. And I was forced to apologize to my friends for the competitive blogger’s conduct and buy them many beers.

* * *

These are only five exemplars of an underlying pattern. There are dozens more. The common element is me. So I clearly must be the problem. There must be some fatal flaw within me that allowed these relationships to veer into the dynamics I have described. It’s quite possible that I simply don’t possess any particular draw that allows a reader or a listener of my work to stick around for the long haul.

I have found, of late, that I am better at keeping friends. But that is only because I have never allowed my friendship to be defined by the art that I make. I usually never mention what I do. I am more keen on listening. I am not so in need of approval, as so many other writers are, to require constant validation for my work. If I send anything on, I do so because I know the friend is going to be entertained by that side of me. Or it may be referencing something we’re talking about and this allows me not to repeat myself. Or, if the friend is a fellow writer, I know that I can trust that friend to rake me across the coals, tell me what’s wrong, and not bullshit me.

But I do need to be validated as a person sometimes. And I find that, on the whole, people in the media world often make the worst friends. If your default position in life is admiration for a slice of someone rather than an appreciation of his totality, warts and all, then I think you’re doing friendship very wrong.

The Growing Indignities of Unemployment

The nine-month contract paid below market rate, but I went for it, under the theory that having some income coming in over time was better than scrambling for work. (I even turned down another shorter gig to make the nine-month contract happen.) Nine months would offer enough time for the pandemic to be theoretically at an end, with both regular life and the economy returning with a giddy vengeance. I offered five references instead of the usual three just to seal the deal. Got the job. Or thought I did. I signed the onboarding papers. I submitted my personal information. I received repeat assurances that the job was on. I looked forward to busting my hump as a content writer.

Then, after heading all the way to Astoria to resolve one part of the background check and just over a week before I was set to start, I got a phone call. In less than twenty-four hours, the agency had moved from texting “What’s the address to send the equipment to?” to a telephone call in which I was told, “The client has decided against hiring people for the position.” As much of a cruel last-minute act of disrespect as this was, I somehow wasn’t upset. Maybe I’ve become dead inside. Maybe it’s adjusting to the brusque reality of living during the apocalypse. Maybe it was an unanticipated side effect from getting the first Pfizer shot the day before.

I do wonder what the point of looking for work is. Because I’ve never had problems like this before in my life. Never. I’m not lazy. I’m a go-getter. And I’ve never been fired from a job. I even landed work during the Great Recession.

Yet I still look for work. Every weekday morning like clockwork. This is easily the most demoralizing job hunt of my life.

In the past year, I’ve applied to more than 700 jobs and can’t seem to catch a break. It doesn’t matter how targeted my cover letter is. There are just too many applicants for every job. You rarely hear back from hiring managers. And even if you go around a hiring manager and talk to people who work directly in the department and get them excited about the possibility of you being a co-worker (as I have done several times), it really comes down to the whims of hiring managers, who seem to thrive on the petty despotism of being a small-time tyrant squeezing wages and breaking the down-and-out when not subjecting candidates to callous indignities. Honestly, I’ve known bill collectors and criminal prosecutors who possessed better manners. Even the automated Phil from ZipRecruiter is far more respectful.

Since I started my quest for work, I have been the victim of an elaborate identity theft scam. I was proud to work at a vaccination center for a week. I enjoyed cheering up numerous nervous people who were getting their first shot in the arm. And, as such, the twelve-hour shifts flew by fast. But then the agency that hired me started playing games. They would text me a shift and, just as I was replying to the text message (a mere three minutes later), they would pull it. There was the audio production company that said that it would send me a job offer after I aced a lengthy Zoom interview. And then the company ghosted me. I came very close to getting an audio producer job at another place. Took the editing tests and everything. But they went with the other candidate. Now I’ve had this nine-month contract dangled in front of me and pulled away. Much in the manner of a sociopath torturing an ant with a searing magnifying glass.

No matter how justifiably confident you are of your professional abilities (and I have more than twenty years of experience to back it up), this all does a number on you. Especially now, as life as we once knew it is locked in amber. I’ve had nights where I’ve cried and imbibed too much scotch. And this too is embarrassing. Because others out there are much worse off than me. I’ve been nimble enough with my finances to pay my rent on time and remain debt-free. The fine freelancing art of cutting costs and living like a grad student. But who knows how long that will last?

When I started venting about my job-hunting woes on TikTok, an unremarkable person in Maine lathered up her peers and led a cyber-bullying campaign against me. An easy target for a garden-variety sociopath who, lacking any real life, lashes out at others with unbridled selfishness. So I know for a fact that anything I have to say here really doesn’t matter. But I’m one of 10.1 million Americans who feel this way. One of many Americans with a hard thumb on his mental health and his emotional wellbeing. But sometimes your grip slips and you reach for the bottle and you can’t leave your bed or call your friends. You certainly can’t tell anybody about the pain you’re fending off or the hell you’re going through. It’s a bit like the bleak joke in Richard Aldington’s Death of a Hero, in which there was no sympathy for returning soldiers. You have shell shock? Who cares? Everyone does.

Being unemployed is only one step above being homeless. You’re something of a leper and a walking slab of shame to those who have lucked out enough to keep their jobs during the last year. And you wake up the next day for more indignities. More automated replies (if you’re lucky to get these) from people you know you could have won over if they had only given you a shot. A stronger sense that, despite your best efforts, there isn’t a future for you. Merely a tenuous present.