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Catherine Cusick
Catherine Cusick is the audience development editor of Longreads. She was previously a rep at the American Booksellers Association, as well as the social editor for IndieBound, a nationwide local-first movement.

Fox & Friends in High Places

Bill Shine
Bill Shine, former co-president of Fox News, now director of communications and deputy chief of staff at the White House. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

For The New Yorker, Jane Mayer chronicles how the revolving door of personnel between Fox News celebrities and the Trump administration has turned Fox into something like state TV and the White House into its one-trick ratings pony. (The trick is using fear as a business strategy.)

Mayer focuses on Bill Shine — the former co-president of Fox News and current director of communications and deputy chief of staff at the White House — and his well-documented history helping to create hostile workplaces as one of Roger Ailes‘s key enablers.

Shine led Fox News’ programming division for a dozen years, overseeing the morning and evening opinion shows, which collectively get the biggest ratings and define the network’s conservative brand. Straight news was not within his purview. In July, 2016, Roger Ailes, the co-founder and C.E.O. of Fox, was fired in the face of numerous allegations of chronic sexual harassment, and Shine became co-president. But within a year he, too, had been forced out, amid a second wave of sexual-harassment allegations, some of them against Fox’s biggest star at the time, Bill O’Reilly. Shine wasn’t personally accused of sexual harassment, but several lawsuits named him as complicit in a workplace culture of coverups, payoffs, and victim intimidation.

Shine, who has denied any wrongdoing, has kept a low profile at the White House, and rejects interview requests, including one from this magazine. But Kristol contends that Shine’s White House appointment is a scandal. “It’s been wildly under-covered,” he said. “It’s astounding that Shine—the guy who covered up Ailes’s horrible behavior—is the deputy chief of staff!”

But at least four civil lawsuits against Fox have named Shine as a defendant for enabling workplace harassment. One of these cases, a stockholder lawsuit that Fox settled in 2017, for ninety million dollars, claimed that Ailes had “sexually harassed female employees and contributors with impunity for at least a decade” by surrounding himself “with loyalists”—including Shine. The suit faults Fox for spending fifty-five million dollars to settle such claims out of court.

The use of company funds for payoffs prompted a criminal investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan. In 2017, Shine was subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury, but instead he agreed to be interviewed by prosecutors. The criminal investigation seems to have been dropped after Ailes’s death, but Judd Burstein, an attorney whose client was interviewed by prosecutors, told me, “I don’t think someone can be a serial sexual abuser in a large organization without enablers like Shine.”

Two months after Shine left Fox, Hannity became a matchmaker, arranging a dinner with the President at the White House, attended by himself, Shine, and Scaramucci, at that time Trump’s communications director. Hannity proposed Shine as a top communications official, or even as a deputy chief of staff. A year later, Shine was both.

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When Accepting Support Feels Like Becoming a Burden

Elderly Care
Raquel Cuellar / Getty Images

In an essay for Topic called “The Color of Money” — part of a series on how a financial windfall can change your life — Ijeoma Oluo writes about receiving her first large royalty check for her book, So You Want to Talk About Race. Oluo tells a fellow black writer that she wants to use the $70,000 to buy her mother a home, but her mom isn’t as excited about that dream as she is.

“Your mom’s white, right?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I answered, still not getting it.

He nodded like I just answered my own question. “White people don’t buy their parents homes. They put their parents in homes.”

I laughed. Of course that wasn’t true. I had white friends who took care of their aging parents. Plenty of them. Furthermore, I was pretty sure that after 37 years, I had already encountered all of the different nuances of my mom’s whiteness.

But his words lingered in my head, and I began to understand what was at the heart of what he was saying. My mom wanted my siblings and me to be proud of our blackness, and she tried to make sure that we were not lacking in black culture because we had a white mom. We saw every movie with a black character, went to every black and West African community event, listened to all the most popular black musicians. So it is no surprise that my dream of walking my mom into a new home I had just bought was a scene straight from countless movies and hip-hop videos. Black success was a black family’s success. A black community’s success. You’d help your brother, your sister, your cousins—but first and foremost, you’d help your momma.

I didn’t get the same messaging about success from white American culture. What I learned about white success was that those who earned enough to be comfortable became not only independent, but isolated. They’d move to another town and set up their own families away from their old ones. They’d visit on holidays. They’d never borrow money, and the only money they’d share would be in the form of a loan to younger relatives to help them on their way to financial independence. (Eventually, when those younger relatives found success, they could fully pay you back and move away to their own home.)

I thought about whether any of my white friends were proud to be able to help their families financially. Few were. Many were embarrassed for themselves and their parents.

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This Month in Podcasts: Innocent Until Proven Grifty

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* * *

Let’s start right off the bat with a correction:

When our team introduced the Longreads Podcast last month, I opened the series by saying that on April 17, 2009, Mark Armstrong tweeted the tweet that launched a decade of #longreads, noting (for the comedy!) that this auspicious announcement had only been retweeted twice.

But now that I’ve listened to our first roundtable episode on fact-checking — and Mark has since helpfully reminded me that, in the spring of 2009, Twitter hadn’t formally rolled out native retweets yet — I would like to redress my cavalier lack of rigor by issuing a belated correction. Because lo and behold, he was right: retweets weren’t formally introduced as a native feature on Twitter until November 2009.

So more than two people retweeted that first tweet! It was more like four.

More importantly, the first attempted retweet appears to have graced Twitter on April 17, 2007. So not only does this first monthly podcast newsletter give me a chance to set the record straight, the checking process has given me the additional gift of discovering that retweets and @Longreads have the same birthday! (Is running an account according to its zodiac sign the next frontier in social? Should I be reading @Longreads‘ horoscope? Are you an Aries? Talk to me at catherine@longreads.com.)

So to celebrate Longreads’ tenth birthday in two months, we’ve decided to follow up Bundyville — just nominated for a National Magazine Award in Podcasting! — with a twice-weekly podcast in 2019. Every Tuesday, we run a narrative feature or recent interview as an audio companion to Longreads’ original reporting, essays, and criticism. Every Friday, we host an editors’ roundtable, where Longreads editors discuss what we’ve been reading and nominate stories for the Top 5 Longreads of the Week.

In this first month of roundtables, we’ve covered antidotes to hot takes, rethinking what you “know,” revisiting overlooked and underreported stories, investigating even the more innocent-seeming grifters, and processing discomfort in the face of climate denial. Here are links to all five of our first feature episodes:

Living With Dolly Parton

In Conversation with Doree Shafrir: Dress You Up in My Love

Checking Facts in 2019: Fact-Checker Roundtable

Every Day I Write the Book

Poached Eggs: An American Caviar Crime Caper

I’d recommend starting with our most recent true crime feature on counterfeit caviar from David Gauvey Herbert, the aforementioned fact-checking episode, and our editors’ roundtable on the latest in long cons.

If you’d like to receive new episodes as they air, you can subscribe here on Apple Podcasts or anywhere you listen to podcasts. Tune in tomorrow morning to hear Lily Burana read from her recent Longreads original essay, “Elegy in Times Square,” and Friday morning to hear what Longreads editors have been reading in the run-up to this week’s Top 5.

Just 59 days until Longreads turns 10! Count down with us at longreads.com/podcast.

Thanks for listening!

Audience Editor
Catherine Cusick (@CusickCatherine)

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Repairman-man-man-(wo)man

Utility worker installing cable
Jiangang Wang / Getty Images

At HuffPost, Lauren Hough recounts a decade of bizarre, bittersweet, and dangerous jobs she was assigned as one of the few women cable technicians in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.

Maybe next I had the woman with the bull mastiff named Otto. I don’t remember much about her because I like bull mastiffs with their giant stupid heads. I told her I needed to get to her basement. She said, “Do you really? It’s just it’s a mess.” (That’s never why.) I explained the signal behind her television was crap. The signal outside her house was great. With only one line going through the cinderblock wall, there was probably a splitter. She was taller than I am. That’s something I remember because, like I said, I’m tall. And probably a useful trait for her considering what I found next. I told her what I told everyone who balked about their privacy being invaded: “Unless you have a kid in a cage, I don’t fucking care.” Kids in cages were an unimaginable horror then. A good place to draw a line.

This is a good time to say, if you’re planning on growing massive quantities of marijuana, look, I respect it. But don’t use a $3 splitter from CVS when you run your own cable line. Sooner or later, you’ll have a cable tech in your basement. And you’ll feel the need to give them a freezer bag full of pot to relieve your paranoia. Which is appreciated, don’t get me wrong. Stoners, I adore you. I mean it. You never yell. I can ask to use your bathroom because you’re stoned. You never call in complaints. But maybe behind the television isn’t the most effective place to hide your bong when the cable guy’s coming over.

Anyway, Otto’s mom laughed and said, “Not a kid.” It took me a second. She went down to get his permission. And I was allowed down into a dungeon where she had a man in a cage. I don’t remember if she had a bad splitter. So that was probably early on. After a few years, not even a dungeon was interesting. Sex workers tip, though.

(Special thanks to late-nineties era Nickelodeon for the headline inspiration.)

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The Case of the Poisoned Calves

A newborn calf
(William Campbell / Corbis via Getty Images)

In Longview, Texas, someone poisoned eighteen of the Birdsong family’s calves, killing them one at a time over the course of four years by feeding them a mysterious grain. But who? And why? Texas Monthly writer-at-large Leif Reigstad digs into a confounding true-crime cold case with no leads, no motive, no patterns, and no suspects.

In more than two thousand investigations over a twenty-year career as a special ranger with the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, Scott Williamson, who now serves as the executive director of law enforcement and theft prevention, has never seen a case like Buck’s. “Typically, anything we saw was either small numbers or ended up tying back to more of a prussic acid poisoning, which is just a natural poisoning of grasses that come under awful [drought or frost] conditions and can kill cattle in a short period of time,” said Williamson. “It’s just an act of God through a natural process. But I have personally never worked a case of intentional poisoning.”

After a fourth calf died, in 2014, Buck took a pair of night vision goggles that Becky had bought him for Christmas and went out into the pasture after dark, hoping to catch the perpetrator in the act. For four nights, he sat on a bucket behind the cover of the trees along his fence line, so that he could see almost the entire pasture, staking out his land through the night with a cooler full of water and Gatorade beside him. He was alone with his thoughts, and all the possible scenarios and unanswered questions began running through his head again and again. But by the time the sun came up, he’d be no closer to catching the killer than he was the first day he heard the terrible wailing of the mother cow.

Everyone had a theory or a quick fix. Put up game cameras, one suggested. (Buck had.) Was it blackleg? one commenter asked. (None of the calves exhibited symptoms of the fatal disease.) Leptospirosis? No. White snakeroot? Bad bull semen? Larkspur? Nightshade? Hemlock? No, no, no, no, and no. Get a Great Pyrenees guard dog. Get a Doberman. Buck has had dogs on his ranch, and they’ve never done much good. I’d sit out there all night with night vision goggles, someone said. Of course, Buck had done that too.

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‘I’d Rather Import Water Than Export Children’

Moab, Utah
An unusally wet spring in the Desert Southwest. (George Rose / Getty Images)

In Outside MagazineMark Sundeen visits St. George, Utah, “the fastest-growing metropolitan area in America,” to report on the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline.

“The battle over the pipeline is a proxy for the debate on growth,” Sundeen writes. Some Utahns hope that the water project, which is projected to cost between $1.1 billion and $1.8 billion, will support a growing economy and provide the next generation with opportunities for local employment. Without enough water, pipeline advocates believe that the state’s investments in education and infrastructure will go to waste.

But local activists believe Utah’s urban centers should follow examples set by desert cities like Albuquerque, Las Vegas, and Tucson, which manage to conserve water while serving far larger populations. Continued growth may also create more environmental problems than economic solutions for the next generation, especially in cities where the landscape is already naturally inhospitable.

“There is no lack of water here,” Sundeen quotes author Edward Abbey, “unless you try to establish a city where no city should be.”

It was easy to like Dean Cox and his tale of entrepreneurial grit. He welcomes the new growth. In the past, most local kids were forced to leave St. George—or Dixie, as it’s nicknamed—if they wanted a career. The area became a haven for retirees, the first wave arriving in the 1970s. One big achievement of this early boom, Cox told me, is the expanded new hospital. Instead of a handful of country doctors, they have a first-rate medical center with a roster of specialists. His daughter works there. “She wouldn’t be here—that job wouldn’t be here—” he said, “without the previous water projects.”

Old-timers like Cox say they have no right to shut the door behind them. He believes that the county needs the water for the next generation. “If we don’t have the pipeline, we don’t have the growth, and we can send our kids somewhere else,” he said.

Van Dam and Rutherford also dispute the line that growth makes the city more affordable for future generations. They showed me a report by a panel of university economists forecasting that, if the pipeline is built, it could raise water rates more than 500 percent. Eventually, Van Dam said, St. George will have to reckon with the fact that it’s living beyond its natural means. “They’ll keep building until you have more people here than God ever intended,” he said. “They are passing the hard decisions they should be making now onto their grandkids.”

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The Future of Decisions

Unisphere
Children ride their scooters in front of the Unisphere in New York. (Photo by Gary Hershorn/Corbis via Getty Images)

“How to live in a world where profound uncertainty is not a bug, but a feature?”

In a Wired UK excerpt from his new book 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, bestselling author Yuval Noah Harari argues that we must teach our children how to develop the mental and emotional flexibility to navigate decades of unprecedented change.

[Schools] assumed that as long as we give students lots of data and a modicum of freedom, the students will create their own picture of the world, and even if this generation fails to synthesise all the data into a coherent and meaningful story of the world, there will be plenty of time to construct a good synthesis in the future. We have now run out of time. The decisions we will take in the next few decades will shape the future of life itself, and we can take these decisions based only on our present world view. If this generation lacks a comprehensive view of the cosmos, the future of life will be decided at random.

As strangeness becomes the new normal, your past experiences, as well as the past experiences of the whole of humanity, will become less reliable guides. Humans as individuals and humankind as a whole will increasingly have to deal with things nobody ever encountered before, such as super-intelligent machines, engineered bodies, algorithms that can manipulate your emotions with uncanny precision, rapid man-made climate cataclysms, and the need to change your profession every decade. What is the right thing to do when confronting a completely unprecedented situation? How should you act when you are flooded by enormous amounts of information and there is absolutely no way you can absorb and analyse it all?

Technology can help you a lot, but if technology gains too much power over your life, you might become a hostage to its agenda. Thousands of years ago, humans invented agriculture, but this technology enriched just a tiny elite, while enslaving the majority of humans. Most people found themselves working from sunrise till sunset plucking weeds, carrying water buckets and harvesting corn under a blazing sun. It can happen to you too.

Technology isn’t bad. If you know what you want in life, technology can help you get it. But if you don’t know what you want in life, it will be all too easy for technology to shape your aims for you and take control of your life. Especially as technology gets better at understanding humans, you might increasingly find yourself serving it, instead of it serving you.

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Redlining in the Lap Lane

Red, white, and blue swimming pool lane divider
"Pools have historically been the sites of major feuds over race, income, and access." Olga Khazan for CityLab (Photo by Black 100/Getty Images)

In CityLabOlga Khazan revisits her hometown to ask residents in McKinney, Texas, how they’ve been faring since a 2015 viral video captured Eric Casebolt, a white police officer, using excessive force on Dajerria Becton, a black teenager, at an unauthorized pool party.

Khazan soon finds that tensions in the community are still running high three years later, and that the fallout tracks with how private club pools and homeowners’ associations have historically provided a cover for redlining.

The west has long been referred to as the “new” side, the “good” side, and sometimes the “white” side.

Builders have carved up the west side into sylvan subdivisions with names like Hidden Creek and Eldorado Lakes. The west-side neighborhoods are full of tidy lawns and brick homes. To combat the triple-digit heat that engulfs North Texas for much of the summer, they have swimming pools that are accessible only to residents.

On the east side, some homes are new or remodeled, but others are patched with plywood and corrugated metal. Eighty-six percent of the west side was white in 2009, when the city was forced to settle an affordable-housing lawsuit, compared with 49 percent of the east. The lawsuit claimed that all of the town’s public housing and most of the landlords willing to take Section 8 vouchers were on the east side.

The incident was perhaps especially incendiary because it involved a swimming pool: Pools have historically been the sites of major feuds over race, income, and access. As my colleague Yoni Appelbaum wrote in the wake of the McKinney incident, in the early 20th century, public pools were plentiful—but segregated. As civil-rights activists pushed to desegregate them, many cities privatized the facilities rather than be forced to integrate them. Private and exclusive pools became more common; public ones, less so. “Suburbanites organized private club pools rather than fund public pools because club pools enabled them to control the class and racial composition of swimmers, whereas public pools did not,” the historian Jeff Wiltse noted in his 2007 book, Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America.

Many of the homes on McKinney’s east side were built before homeowners’ associations began incorporating gated pools into their developments. People in McKinney who don’t belong to homeowners’ associations can use the city’s public swimming pools. There are four, and rather than operating on homeowners’-association dues, they charge a fee for admission. The newest pool, at a facility called the Apex Center, features water slides and costs $10 a person for a day pass. (It’s on the west side.) If Rhodes had wanted to host her party legally, she would have had to rent one of these pools. For up to 200 guests, the cost is $110 to $800 for two hours, depending on the pool.

“Craig Ranch is a multimillion-dollar development,” said Henry Moore, a pastor at Saint Mark Baptist Church, an old black church on the east side, whom I spoke with one Sunday last month before services began. “On the east side, there is no Craig Ranch multimillion-dollar development. So there will be nicer things on the west side than there are on the east side.”

When the socioeconomic divide in a town is so stark, the line between feeling unwanted because you’re not from the neighborhood and feeling unwanted because of your race can start to blur. “Are you saying I’m not supposed to be here because I don’t live here?” Moore continued, speculating on the mind-set of some of the teens that day. “But I was invited.”

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Waiting for Mental Health Care

Waiting room
(Anthony Asael / Art in All of Us / Getty Images)

Do you need help? Ask for help. Do you need help now? Get in line.

In The Guardian, journalist Hannah Jane Parkinson responds to the many empty refrains encouraging mentally ill patients to just ask for help — a beyond-frustrating suggestion “when you’ve been asking for help and not getting it.”

There is a poster in my local pharmacy that exclaims, “Mental health can be complex – getting help doesn’t have to be!” Each time I see it, I want to scream.

I used to blame the system. Mostly it is the system: those never-ending cuts and closures; the bureaucracy; the constant snafus of communication; the government’s contempt for staff.

But sometimes, that system gets inside the staff, too. It is there when you are asked the same questions by 20 professionals, in a time of great distress, and then reprimanded for anger when you snap the 21st time. It is there when you are asked to fill out a form to assess a service, after being told you won’t receive that service until two birthdays in the future.

The waiting. The offers of therapies that aren’t suitable because there is nothing else. (Throwing a ball of wool to one another in a circle might be helpful for some people, but it absolutely wasn’t for me. I knew it wouldn’t be. But I gave it a go.) The being matched with a therapist who, through no fault of her own, is unsuitable (you have friends in common) but who you don’t ask to change because you know there isn’t another. The 10-minute GP slots that take weeks to secure.

After the sectioning and the 22-hour wait, there was a hospitalisation out of borough. Upon leaving the inpatient ward, there was a two-week stay at a crisis house (which helped), then that was it. I was ill enough to be sectioned, but well enough to have therapy discontinued. I was put on an 18-month waiting list for therapy. I called iCope, an NHS digital therapy service, but because I was on a waiting list, I was ineligible.

It took me about 16 weeks to get back to work – much longer than it should have done – because I had to clamber from a well without ropes. I would run into GP surgeries, suicidal; the receptionist said he would “pass the message on”. I sat in the consulting room, sweater over my head and howling.

Since I was sectioned, I have been hospitalised twice, once after a suicide attempt. I am still on a waiting list, a different one: this one is two years long. My friends and family simply do not understand the delay, cannot believe it when I tell them about the system. So, clearly, the Conversation isn’t as illuminating as it thinks it is.

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