David Pakman can’t remember the last time he lost his cool.
That’s pretty rare for someone who makes a living talking about politics online, something Pakman has done for more than 13 years. Look through YouTube or TikTok and you’ll find videos of him forcefully but calmly advocating progressive politics, sometimes in digital places where those policies aren’t particularly popular.
That has given Pakman, 39, a peculiar profile. He is one of the few liberal pundits most likely to get name verified by Steve Bannon than Rachel Maddow. She’s a more familiar figure to Joe Rogan fans than Ezra Klein.
“I don’t get into shouting matches or yelling matches,” he said in a recent video interview from his home, part of which also doubles as the studio where he shoots “The David Pakman Show.” “I don’t really consider that I’m playing a character when I do what I do. It’s just my genuine conduct. But it’s also calculated in the sense that I don’t think the audience is well served if I get into those shouting matches.»
Another surprise is where you will not find Pakman. He is a liberal, a progressive social democrat, as he puts it, but he rarely appears in many of the places most left-wing pundits aspire to. He has never been on MSNBC (NBCUniversal is the parent company of NBC News and MSNBC) nor has he written for The New York Times. Yes, he’s on Twitter (where he has 254,000 followers), but he doesn’t engage in the kind of fights that could raise his profile.
Instead, he has made his mark in places where liberal commentators have struggled to gain ground or have been hesitant to go. Many are podcasts or web shows that aren’t household names but have dedicated fan bases that skew youth and men. An incomplete list of his most notable appearances: Joe Rogan Podcast (twice), Lex Fridman Podcast, Pomp Podcast, Modern Wisdom, and PBD Podcast.
Pakman said he’s not on a crusade to reach people who might not otherwise encounter progressive politics, though he hopes to do just that. Rather, Pakman said he built an audience outside of the mainstream partly as a function of his style, which brings some relief to people who have grown tired of the toxicity of internet-based political discourse. She wrote a freely available guide called «Building Arguments Without Burning Bridges.»
Which is not to say that Pakman will mince words or be above a bit of sarcasm. Many of his videos target the Republican and conservative media with a certain measured sarcasm. In a recent video about Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ presidential announcement on Twitter, he called the event a «global humiliation» along with some wry laughs.
Pakman’s home base is YouTube, where he has 1.7 million subscribers, followed by TikTok, with more than 485,000 followers.
“I’m like in a different space,” he said. «So the people who are going to pay me six dollars a month for my premium content, there’s some overlap, but it’s not necessarily the same people who just get MSNBC from 7 to 10 p.m. every day.»
Pakman is a small part of a large and thriving world of online media that focus on or dabble in politics. Much of this media takes the form of shows that resemble the political radio shows of years gone by, anchored by magnetic personalities who have gained a significant following, often through a combination of YouTube, podcasts and, increasingly, TikTok. .
And like the world of radio, there is a political imbalance, with right-wing and conservative commentators finding much more success than their liberal counterparts. Pakman’s subscriber numbers and most other left-wing online commentators are dwarfed by those of Ben Shapiro (2.3 million YouTube subscribers), Steven Crowder (5.9 million YouTube subscribers), Candce Owens (3.7 million Twitter followers), Matt Walsh (2.5 million YouTube subscribers) and others. It’s such a lucrative digital media world Shapiro and Crowder recently involved in a public dispute for a contract offered to Crowder worth $50 million.
The conservative part of that world is also far more interconnected than its liberal counterpart, both in terms of behind-the-scenes support from conservative donors and with larger media outlets like Fox News, according to Reece Peck, an associate professor in the department of media culture at the University of the City of New York. That’s something creators like Pakman can’t rely on.
“It’s just too hard for progressives to get funding,” Peck said. “They just don’t have that advantage, so they have to live and die by the algorithm and their audiences.”
Pakman, who was born in Argentina and moved to the US when he was 5 years old, began his show as a college student at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst on WXOJ, an independent non-profit radio station based in the outside of Springfield. Meeting with Cenk Uygur, presenter of “Young Turks,” at a press conference she convinced him to give YouTube a try and he launched his channel in September 2009. Uygur and his show became one of the most successful news shows on YouTube, now boasting over 5.4 million viewers. of subscribers.
Since then it’s been relatively slow work to where it is now. Pakman’s YouTube channel statistics show more than 30,000 videos uploaded, which have accumulated more than 1.5 billion views. He hasn’t had any particularly viral moments that have suddenly propelled him into the spotlight. Pakman said even some of his highest-profile appearances only delivered modest subscriber gains, but he’s seen considerable growth during the pandemic.
Pakman said he sees his primary audience in three groups: die-hard fans who may support him verbally online and possibly financially, then more casual consumers of politics and news content who sometimes find him in places where he receives vehement opposition, and finally , people who completely disagree with him.
The online news audience has continued to grow, particularly among young peoplemany of which list Youtube and Tik Tok as part of their media diet. That audience has become more lucrative as social media platforms become more commercialized, said Becca Lewis, an academic who has studied digital political subcultures.
Lewis added that many of those creators have flown under the radar, but that this dynamic is changing.
“Some of these figures, I would say someone like Ben Shapiro or Joe Rogan, have become household names in a sense,” Lewis said. “But a lot of people who are very popular and have a massive audience, that really devoted audience, don’t always get that household name recognition. It’s a different variety of fame, in a way.»
Like many internet content creators, Pakman has a few sources of income that he says are relatively uniform: direct sales to advertisers, ads on platforms like YouTube, and subscription memberships sold through his website, which cost $5. per month.
It’s lucrative enough that Pakman said he has no plans to try to use his current platforms to move into a more mainstream role. He said he values the freedom he has with his own operation and being able to set his own schedule, which includes taking the time to father his first child, who turns 1 in June.
“To be totally honest, 10 years ago, using this show to become a regular guest on some network and maybe eventually become a guest host to eventually get a show would have seemed like a reasonable path to take,” he said. «At my current level of success, it is no longer attractive.»