Editor's note

An Apology to the media industry, re: my behavior and words

By Rocco Castoro, editor-in-chief

Published July 1, 2022

Dear Overlords of the Industrial Media-Advertising-Blackmail-Public Relations Complex:

I’m sorry for my abrasiveness and not indulging your thinly veiled threats about my “reputation” being affected if I didn’t play ball, and for getting off on publicly confronting you with uncomfortable questions and your most embarrassing mistakes (the same way you did with me, behind my back, for things I never did).

Please take mercy on my inability to care what people think of me. It was stripped from me over the last ten years as ignorant and malicious falsehoods spewed from mealy, crooked mouths. 

A twisted definition of “reputation,” enclosed in scare quotes because the types typically warning me about such things inevitably swooped onto their great, all-seeing perches after their masters discovered something that must be kept a secret, or else these types might just be disowned by their adoring colleagues.

I apologize to your families and friends that this scandalous, secretive information, much of which I clutch dearly like a teddy bear in the pitch-black of Roger Ailes’s Black Room, might adversely affect your “reputation.” 

And therefore you have chosen to pivot from journalism into a career of licking the white shoes of corporate counsel and hobnail boots of the powers that be. Sorry about that.

It’s a shame it has been weaponized against you, but it will never stop without sunlight. Asking me to keep it secret only underscores my point.

I’m sorry I did not leak my NDA and non-compete agreement sooner, to show the dozen major outlets listed, in black-and-white, what they have become.

An agreement unprecedented for a journalist and former editor-in-chief of a $5 billion media company – one that I signed on leaving VICE under the naïve fantasy my now-worthless equity would be enough to carry me far, far away from the ink-stained grubs of Manhattan editorial bullpens and their lecherous, roofie-administering bosses. 

(By the way, Buzzfeed staffers, how’s that SPAC working out for you?)

Rocco apologizing for being the Martha Mitchell of journalism.

I’m sorry that, after my time at VICE, I shared information and documents with several ace reporters – in the public’s interest and at great personal risk – from places like the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and other outlets that happily used it to win Pulitzer Prizes for, in some cases, deeply flawed stories that I could decimate if I were as terrible as they wish I were so they’d finally have a cogent point.

Perhaps instead I’ll have to apologize later for auctioning off NFT passwords to access the audio, video, and other related documents of the media’s most sinful transgressions with which I have been entrusted by those wiser than I who knew this day would come. 

Head bowed and hat in hand, I saunter to you asking for mercy after reading the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism’s 2022 Digital News Report

According to the Reuters survey, for the second year in a row the U.S. ranks dead last among 46 countries. Only 26 percent of Americans surveyed “trust news generally,” three percent less than last year.

It’s not only piss-poor, it’s not only F-minus garbage, it’s not only a national travesty – it’s dog shit on a stick, rolled in corndog batter and force-fed to your senile grandma for Thanksgiving dinner. 

That, dear reporters and editors, is what you’re doing to your country if you don’t call out your publishers, marketing departments, and corporate hatchet-men in a way that makes them fear your gaze as though you were Medusa. 

Get them fired. Besmirch their undeservedly good names. Lock them in a pillory and throw rotten produce at them.

Do whatever you need to do, however you need to do it, to exorcize them from this industry because this really isn’t about me, you, or them. 

It’s about The People’s right to be informed, living by an unbreakable code, and nothing else.

And there are some absolutely astonishingly talented and underappreciated reporters out there, you know who you are and so do we. We thank you, but we will not mention you here so we can poach you later. ;)

Ergo, dear reporters and editors, I’m so terribly sorry you sheepishly foam your pants at the thought of the “Day of the Rope.”

This is what you signed up for. If you have to, return the threats in kind.

To be fair, like sticky-faced children batting at a donkey-shaped piñata until candy falls out, a recently empowered readership segment of disgraceful cretins share almost as much blame as the media.

But I suspect what people really mean when they say they don’t trust the media is that most journalists haven’t appeared to do much but cheer it all on while worrying about follower counts, likes, and making a splash into whatever circle-jerk is trending.

Instead, what’s actually coming is the Day of the Dope: the inflection point at which audiences obtain forensic digital evidence that their palatable fear is purposefully being frothed and monetized by “both sides,” like some carousel of doom. 

I’m sorry, my esteemed colleagues, you keep feeding quarters into the machine because you’re either too addicted to the ride or scared somebody will say you “don’t play well with others” or – most cliché of all – are “difficult to work with.” 

The same excuse Harvey Weinstein used when actresses wouldn’t give him blowjobs for roles. What intrepid truth-tellers you all are.

I’m so sorry I’m the Martha Mitchell of journalism. Cue the hit pieces…

So, like Martha, you’ll have to excuse me for constantly cackling about the fabrications others have whispered behind my back about being schizophrenic or on meth but don’t have the gall to say it to my face.

I know the source, and one day, a disgraced former VICE PR flack or two will truly understand the phrase, “Snitches might get stitches, but liars get pliers.”

I beg your forgiveness for my indignation at your utter disregard for me as a human being, let alone a colleague, tossing me aside like a used tissue after you receive the information you requested and continue on your merry way.

For your apathy, guilt, or fear of talking to me (to be fair, half of you can barely have a conversation with a source without sounding like Mr. Rogers’s insurance adjustor), and for your silence when I’m right – for all of this — I am so, so sorry if I inconvenienced you.

I’m sorry that when I catch you in lies or uncover your ulterior motives, you don’t want to admit it and run away as fast as you approached me unsolicited.

Please forgive me for your inability to admit when you were wrong or tricked by someone whose teats you suckle for a paycheck or glad-hand at your favorite mixology steampunk bar on the weekends.

My bad that former colleagues have tried to frame me for extortion schemes I only found out about half a decade later, because they were afraid I’d do my job and tell the truth about it. 

I’m sorry for expecting you to take personal responsibility for the public hating your guts for being bad at your jobs, or, even worse, actively profiting to deceive audiences in the name of some flaccid ideological concern. A concern that, if we’re being honest, only serves to make you and your friends feel less embarrassed about being morally bankrupt cowards without standards.

I’m sorry I’ll talk to anyone, regardless of political affiliation or their bad faith attempts to wrap me up in schemes to discredit me.

I’m sorry I think it’s funny and enlightening to engage with troglodytes who might have good information, and that I think some of them lie less than reporters I know – one of the few things that actually disturbs me. 

I’m sorry the hypomania that makes me so excitable, energetic, and effective has been warped by social justice superstars into a reason you shouldn’t take me seriously. And I'm sorry I clowned, trolled, and hobbited (reverse-trolling) them into frowny little babies.

I’m sorry you’re going to have to buy some new underwear when audiences really find out how much data your publishers and marketing departments are collecting on them and what you’re doing with it (as if 99 percent of reporters will know or care until the “news breaks”). Ditto that it’s all propagated with amplified hugboxes and AI that tracks the hapless public down to their last cent and brain cell.

What should actually terrify you, dear reporters, are the true patriots and mavericks willing to stand up to powerful and corrupt systems. The ones blowing the whistle so hard it makes brains liquify and bleed out of ears. 

The ones who take their unjust jail time like a champ, and when released carry a chip on their shoulders so heavy it can be dropped like an anvil on the heads of the infidels of the free press, heretics who have self-cannibalized their own legitimacy and are so afraid of losing it they’re willing to lie more than their most disgraced subjects.

Much of what passes for news today is also, as my colleagues at The Knows and I will be reporting out over the next several months, diametrically if not demonstrably opposed to the public’s interest. 

The problem with politicians, activists, and social media (especially YouTubers) encouraging everyone that their voice matters is the result: a cacophony of gibberish and an “everyday dudes just asking questions” schtick that skyrocketed the likes of Joe Rogan into popularity and made their audience feel like it’s cool to be dumb.

As Shane Smith preached and Tim Pool proselytizes: “Perception is reality.” OK. Sure. Try telling that to a brick wall while careening toward it at 200 mph, with your brakes cut.

The problem with giant corporations and billionaire bankrollers is that they can lean on outlets to catch-and-kill whatever they please, whenever they please, and often the reporters and editors don’t know exactly how it happened. Word just comes from up high, and it’s dead. 

Amid this largely fraudulent digital advertising artifice, we rarely get the full truth because it’s precisely this sewage system that keeps all the turds afloat. 

Right now it appears many prefer eating content on par with the rancid sausage Upton Sinclair exposed in The Jungle or the bought-and-sold OnlyFans-esque modern version of “prostitute journalism” as defined in The Brass Check, written after Sinclair had been blacklisted by his colleagues. He made the mistake of being too right too much. (He was also acerbically hilarious about it, which made his colleagues feel inferior – and we can’t have that now, can we!)

I don’t know about you, but I don’t mind it when people smarter than me make me feel inferior by doing their jobs correctly. It’s called learning. It’s inspiring. 

Especially if the smart people are sardonically funny about it, as the best journalists have been known to be throughout most of history. If you want compliments and fawning, there are many openings at pre-schools across the country.

Yet many people who ought to know better, most of all reporters and editors, have the nerve to feign surprise when the Capitol is raided or Roe v. Wade is overturned. 

These inevitable outcomes were visible from miles away many moons ago. Back when many happily pandering to the Outrage of the Day on social media averted their gaze, even when they knew and could’ve done something about it.

The full truth and nothing but it, almost without exception, will be unpopular when first spoken.

Case in point: the emerging inklings of things like QAnon were largely dismissed by journalists who quickly tried to claim authority on the subject and monetize it like a newspaper beat through laughable “investigations” into Q’s identity. I look forward to nuking their credibility; maybe I’ll even get a few books pulped for libel, we’ll see.

Journalism, as we know it today, is the bastard child of the most tepid qualities and self-serious tendencies of a long progeny of the world’s most horrible and successful men. 

It doesn’t have to be. Everybody knows that now; it’s indisputable. 

As always, history provides plenty of precedent: the Spanish-American War would’ve never happened if Joseph Pulitzer and Randolph Hearst weren’t engaged in a profitable and, one could imagine, highly addictive battle of sensationalist yellow journalism. 

Locked in a dead heat for circulation dominance, Hearst and Pulitzer’s tabloids scapegoated Spain by fabricating their supposed attack on the U.S.S. Maine, killing three-quarters of its crew.

The explosion was later found to likely have resulted from an internal accident involving the ship’s coal bunkers. And, even then, this little boo-boo of the historical record wasn’t fully corrected until the 1970s.

Remember the Maine! To hell with Spain! was the bogus rallying cry Pulitzer and Hearst pimped to an enraged public. 

Sound familiar?

How can you be sure of how to Make America Great Again when many of its most shining moments in real-time look like war crimes in hindsight?

Hearst and Pulitzer’s short-lived but consequential war was socially engineered by a man whose name still adorns one of the world’s largest media conglomerates and another whose surname is shorthand for the alleged highest honor in journalism. It’s a joke, in case you didn’t get it, and the public is the punchline.

Today’s parallels are ominous, they are super-charged with machine learning so blame can be distributed on a peer-to-peer and virtually non-prosecutable system.

What many of you will perceive as grandstanding is actually a modus operandi, so I never have to explain it to anyone again past sending a link to this page.

As such, I’d be negligent to omit why I have any authority to discuss such matters.

I was shot out of a cannon into this industry like Evel Knievel, quickly moving from aspiring musician to community college to j-school student at the University of Florida to senior editor at an independent monthly in Gainesville.

A few years later I arrived in Brooklyn, where I had two prospects: a tiny newspaper in Queens whose editor looked like the comic book guy from The Simpsons and told me I had the job, but: “You look like a nice kid – you don’t want this job.” He was perhaps the most tragically honest journalist I’ve ever met.

The other prospect was a free magazine for Lower East Side hipsters called Vice, which started as a Canadian welfare scam and, at the time I joined, was struggling with heaps of debt after being defiled by its estranged co-founder Gavin McInnes. 

We’ll have lots more on McInnes and his pudwhacking crew later, I assure you. Outside of one instance where he made fun of my name in reference to an SCTV sketch and a second a few years later when he drunkenly approached me and I offered to punch his teeth down his throat – my first actual conversation with him was on Christmas Eve 2020, years after I left VICE. Two weeks before January 6th. He called me. I don’t think he liked what I told him.

So, antifascist “researchers” who think they are relevant to anything at all: I could see the trajectory as early as 2006. Could you?

If you couldn’t, what were you doing in 2006? Can I judge you for it sometime?

I largely transformed VICE’s editorial operations from a free lifestyle magazine facing bankruptcy into a global news brand eventually valued at $5 billion, with half a billion dollars of investment from Disney. I say this to show my scrappy nature. I’ll live under a bridge like an actual troll to dole out justice as I see fit to my pursuers and distractors, if I have to. 

So imagine the alternative once the bombs drop and we hire 30 laser-pilled reporters and producers who will be working on throwing away the trash full-time, under my direction. It’s happened before, and it could easily happen again. Beware.

I quit VICE in 2015, at its zenith, because clout is for posers and losers. Real people stick to their guns, and brave individuals don’t need guns to shoot a hole through people’s lives. 

I just need documents, audio, video, and words. That’s it.

And just handing you your comeuppance is more than enough for me to drop dead happily. 

What will it take for you to do the same? 

That said, and as Buzzfeed’s SPAC (and VICE’s failed attempt to do the same) proves, the “news business” isn’t really a business at all unless you’re the one holding the bag and decide none of the people who built your entire operation deserve a cent. 

If you think I’m the bad guy, I’d love for you to write something like I have here and explain your prerogative – maybe it will warm the cockles of my heart and result in actual apologia – but you’re going to have to prove it to me with something other than I hurt your feelings with some words that were true.

It doesn’t have “customers” or a “product” in the traditional sense – only in the sense that the customer is never going to be right if your product is worth a damn.

Advertisements are not a product offering. How many ads do you click in a week? Probably zero.

Nobody likes them, nobody wants them, and nobody cares about them except the slack-jawed winners of the Cannes Lions Festival. However, unlike journalism, ad-blockers are actual products and until we send those people to Mars, nothing will get better in this industry. 

News media is supposed to operate in the public’s interest alone, a unique facet of American freedoms, but also the only reliable backstop for the free world when things, as they do from time to time, get all Nazi-like.

Behold the “Fourth Estate,” a term coined by Edmund Burke during a British House of Commons parliamentary debate in 1787. 

Thomas Carlyle explained in On Heroes and Hero Worship: “Burke said there were Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters’ Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all.”

An ideal that must be protected at all costs and defended without mercy from its detractors.

Which is why I’m doing this. Why we are doing this.

If not us, who? The old guard rebranding with a new coat, launching by platforming one of the loudest liars in media?

I’m sorry you wonder why the worst of the worst are running their mouths about “fake news” and consider the press the “enemy of the people.” 

Instead of toeing the thin gray line, like a post-nasal drip of brain matter dribbling from your skulls, journalists should be demanding accountability in the ranks of an institution built for force-feeding accountability to liars, crooks, and dictators.

If your excuse for avoiding my work is “I do not like Rocco’s attitude,” which is fair if you’re looking to become a K-pop fan or something, you should instead talk to either of my colleagues whose Midwest-nice candor is far less curt than my Floridian “wordcel” trash mouth.

They haven’t had their kind hearts run raw yet like mine, so roll the dice and see what happens if you want mercy. Ain’t my area of expertise.

I’m incredibly sorry how much I loathed to write this, and I only did so because I want to a) be honest, and b) never have to explain “my truth” (perhaps the most insipid phrase of the millennium) again. 

If you can’t write something this honest about your practices, intentions, and point of view, then you’re a snake in the grass. Please stop cluttering the airwaves with your feelings and need for people to understand your “identity” when all you are and have is a target market.

A few days ago, I made a bet with my colleague Emily Molli, to whom I made a promise in early 2020 that I’d do everything in my power to ensure our success. 

She is convinced that if I give people the chance, good people will take me up on it. 

So here I am, extending that olive branch: I apologize for my behavior and words. What else do you want from me? A job? You know I wouldn’t be like your current boss.

Your move, people who are supposedly working for the public good. You have six months. Then I enact the Pentagram Pain Plan I have been engineering for seven years for your downfall, one-by-one. 

And it is precise, destructive, and all-encompassing in a way that just might send the news “industry” careening off a cliff, but by that point it won’t be my problem anymore. It’ll just be the truth. 

Considering all of the above, this is me being kind.

Find out what it’s like to get pissed on, if you so desire. I guarantee it’ll be a lot worse than me being pissed off. And I’ll eat asparagus beforehand, just for you.

I’m sure some clown on Substack will desperately try to reframe this into some sort of manifesto, saying that it’s a threat or that I’m going to go shoot some place up or whatever crap they land on after spinning the Wheel of Delusion that particular day.

But don’t worry your pretty little head about that. 

At worst, the only shooting spree I'd be pushed to is filling a Super Soaker with my own urine and spraying it all over my targets’ fancy shoes. 

Bend down and collect the drips, get it analyzed to see if it tests positive for any illegal substances or the legal pharmaceuticals y’all are on. 

In fact, I know of a guy who’s a professional piss expert. Maybe he can help you if I can’t.

Until then, Godspeed fellow travelers of this uncharted dimension into the dark heart of humankind.