“It’s a moment, I think, where Americans generally feel they need to become better citizens and companies feel the need to better demonstrate their citizenship,” says Richard Beckman, president of the Hill.
Editorial work on the project falls under the leadership of Michael Caruso, the former editor in chief of Smithsonian magazine (and VP of live events). There are 20 editorial staffers producing a “ton of original video, a ton of editorial content, and they will be aggregating and curating stories,” says Beckman.
Just not divisive stories. “This is a subject matter we felt strongly that no one was covering it from a bipartisan perspective,” says Beckman, who also described the site as “centrist” and said that it will pack “an emotionally evocative approach designed to inspire people to get involved and do more.” A video promoting the site trumpets the tagline, “Changing America: Shared destiny. Shared responsibility.”
Centrism is a delightful and all-but-extinct ideal. So we asked Beckman how it would work in practice. The “sustainability” content group, says Beckman, encompasses climate change, among other topics. How to fashion “centrist” coverage of climate change when only one side of the U.S. political chasm recognizes its existence and its menace? “It wouldn’t be covering it from a political perspective,” says Beckman. Yet acknowledging its existence is already political.
Squishy editorial plans emphasizing common bonds and ask-not-what-your-country-can-do-for-you sacrifice could well appeal to large U.S. companies seeking to avoid attaching their names to partisan sites. Beckman, however, declined to comment on the site’s sponsors.
Perhaps referencing the ongoing impeachment inquiry, Beckman says, “We feel its time is just perfect.”
Its time is perfect, also, because the Hill just recently parted ways with former executive vice president of digital video John Solomon. In more than two years in that post, Solomon distinguished himself not as a video producer, but as a producer of shoddy and conspiratorial “investigative” stories that have shaped the public image of the Hill.
As the impeachment inquiry bumps along, tidbits emerge about the damage done by Solomon’s output at the Hill. In March, for instance, Solomon reported a claim from then-Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuri Lutsenko that then-U. S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch had presented him a “do not prosecute” list. The State Department responded that it was an “outright fabrication.” Lutsenko later retracted the claim, but the slime campaign against Yovanovitch — whom Trump lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani saw as an obstacle to his machinations — continued through her early removal in May.
The flop was typical of Solomon’s product, as evidenced in the so-called Uranium One controversy and other issues — reliably amplified at night on Sean Hannity’s Fox News program, where Solomon is a regular.
When we opened the topic of Solomon with Beckman, he replied, “I was very happy to talk to you and make your acquaintance and I’ve read you a lot, but I’m not going to comment on any of that.” He also disavowed any connection between Solomon’s departure and the launch of “Changing America.” “We’ve been working on this for two years,” he says.
Aside from the news-consuming public, there’s a real-life victim of all this garbage: Yovanovitch, a career Foreign Service official appointed by Barack Obama and confirmed by a GOP-controlled Senate. During her interview last month with House committees conducting the impeachment inquiry, Rep. Sean Maloney (D-N.Y.) summarized the sequence of events: “There was a story in The Hill newspaper. Sean Hannity got involved, Pete Sessions wrote a letter, and there are apparently illegal campaign contributions, all related to you — isn’t that right? — and the desire to get you fired?”
Yovanovitch replied: “That appears to be the case.”
So as the Hill ramps up with its idealistic stuff on citizenship and national unity, perhaps it should perform an internal act of patriotism: Retract and apologize for the mess that Solomon has left on its pages.