Neo-Nazis and white Supremacists take part in a march the night before the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Aug. 11, 2017. (Photo/JTA-Zach D Roberts-NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Neo-Nazis and white Supremacists take part in a march the night before the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Aug. 11, 2017. (Photo/JTA-Zach D Roberts-NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Vice Media valiantly covered the far-right. Jews should care that they’re on the verge of collapse

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This story was originally published in the Forward.

The torrent of news coverage of Vice Media’s filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy can be summarized in five words: Another one bites the dust.

After all, Vice’s face plant followed the closure of BuzzFeed News and massive layoffs at NPR, Insider, CNN, ABC News and other news organizations decimated by the drop in digital ad revenue.

But dismissing Vice as just another casualty of yet another tech bust overlooks one of the site’s signature achievements: fearless and relentless coverage of extremism, white supremacy and antisemitism.

Most impressive of all was Vice’s reporting on the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Vice News Tonight correspondent Elle Reeve embedded with the organizers as they rampaged through town. Her video reporting made their anti-Black, antisemitic and anti-immigrant motivations clear. It was Reeve’s footage that proved the lie in then-President Donald Trump’s subsequent statement that there were “very fine people on both sides” of the protest.

It was in Vice’s footage that you can hear chants of “You will not replace us” morph into “Jews will not replace us.”

“I’m trying to make myself more capable of violence,” march leader Chistopher Cantwell confided in Reeve on tape. “I’m here to spread ideas, talk in the hopes that somebody will come along and do that. Somebody like Donald Trump who does not give his daughter to a Jew.”

As a document of America’s potential slide into darkness, the Vice documentary stands apart — as does Reeve’s courage.

Vice went on to create an Extremism Desk, which consistently turned out some of the internet’s most important stories on domestic and international antisemitism, such as how a good ol’ boy Florida sheriff Mike Chitwood stood up to white supremacists in his small town, and paid a high price, or how Jewish students at UK universities are facing rising antisemitic harassment, or how Facebook’s algorithm “actively promotes” Holocaust denial content, or how a 21-year-old man accused of torching an Indiana synagogue was radicalized against Jews by reading Stormfront, Breitbart and … Ben Shapiro.

The fact that the site had progressive, multiracial bona fides made the reporting even more important. An article by the Black Jewish American journalist Nadine Batchelor-Hunt, for example, looked at how antisemitic statements by Kanye West and other Black celebrities actually played into a white supremacist agenda.

“Nobody but white supremacists will benefit from all this, watching on as two communities they loathe use racist and antisemitic tropes to attack one another,” she wrote.

RELATED: White supremacists drove the increase in antisemitic incidents in 2022

This laser focus is even more welcome, and inexplicable, when you consider Vice’s origin story. Vice was co-founded in 1994 as a weekly alternative print magazine in Montreal by Shane Smith and Gavin McInnis.

Smith would go on to become the longtime CEO of the company, taking it from a throwaway freebie to a nextgen media conglomerate with 3,000 employees, a dozen websites, an ad agency, two HBO shows and a $5.7 billion market valuation before stepping down as CEO in 2018.

McInnis, in stark contrast, left Vice in 2008 and veered hard right. In 2016 he founded the all-male neo-fascist Proud Boys, whose members have engaged in antisemitic, homophobic and other hate speech and activities, as well as being found guilty of seditious conspiracy for their role in the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capital.

As McInnis worked to rouse the hidden fascists among us, the site he spawned served as a journalistic zombie-killer, exposing their torches to the light.

Vice reporters went after McInnis himself, proving that despite his formal disavowal of the Proud Boys in 2018, he still defended them and wore a black hoodie embroidered with the group’s name on his podcast. McInnis accused Vice of having an “obsession” with the alt-right.

It turns out, Vice had reason to obsess. Since Charlottesville, white supremacists have been a key driver in increased antisemitic incidents, accounting for at least 852 incidents of white supremacist propaganda in 2022 alone, according to a recent ADL report.

That should make us all worry about the murky future of Vice. A group of creditors is set to take over the ailing company for $225 million, taking on up to $1 billion in liabilities. Meanwhile the company has shuttered its Vice News Tonight and Vice World News and laid off 100 of its 1,500 workers.  If no buyers step forward, the lenders will acquire Vice.

If there’s a ray of hope in all this, it’s that one of the creditors is Soros Fund Management, whose founder, the Hungarian Jewish immigrant George Soros, has contributed billions of dollars to the spread of democracy and the fight against extremism — of which he himself has been a frequent victim.

In fact, if you search Vice’s archive for stories about Soros and extremists, you get over 200 pages of results. “Facebook admits its PR company tried to link critics to George Soros.” “How Hungary helped make George Soros the ultimate villain to nationalists around the world.” “Trump’s QAnon Lawyer Inspired Even More George Soros Disinformation.”

These and hundreds of other stories came out long before Vice knew Soros could be the one coming to its rescue. If Soros himself doesn’t have time to read them all, let me offer, in five words, why he should keep Vice’s journalism alive: It’s good for the Jews.

Rob Eshman
Rob Eshman

Rob Eshman is a senior columnist for the Forward. Follow him on Instagram @foodaism and Twitter @foodaism or email [email protected].