In the midst of all the thinkpieces and the navelgazing and victim-seeking of the past few weeks, we’ve learned a really ugly fact about our culture: the media, or rather, the sources we trust to tell us what’s up, are much uglier, pettier, sloppier, and more dishonest than anyone would ever like to believe.
We shouldn’t be surprised.
On one hand, we hold up certain sources and magazines as stellar examples of journalistic integrity: The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Washington Post, to name a few. They’re the sources read by the important, the movers and shakers, the mucky-mucks, and we’re supposed to feel smarter for reading them.
On the other hand, we denigrate certain sources and magazines as reporting to a lesser standard – The Daily Mail, Rolling Stone, bloggers, and now Twitter users. After all, they didn’t get their journalism degrees, they didn’t go to the “right” schools, they report on the stories nobody else chooses to report on.
weed AND marriage trouble? you’re spoiling us, daily mail
If they don’t have a White House press pass, then who the hell are they?
But despite all that, the Hunter S. Thompson style of “gonzo” journalism is the ultimate aspirational oeuvre of the journalistic community. It’s a Chuck Palahniuk version of reporting in the 40s and 50s – a grim, gritty, nihilistic, “everyone sucks but they suck more” version of journalism.
Jeb Lund, the admittedly-brilliant forefront of said journalistic movement
So why am I surprised to read my feed on a Tuesday night to find that the major issues being discussed are not Senate committee hearings, or questions about Japan’s economic recovery, or even the bewildering shade thrown at Angelina Jolie in the leaked Sony memos, but instead a series of juvenile excoriations of a 26-year-old journalist named Chuck C. Johnson?
For those of you who don’t know who he is, here’s a brief recap: went to Claremont McKenna, writes for GotNews.com, crowdfunds his journalism, politically leans right-of-center, and is known for live-tweeting his journalistic exploits.
This week’s scandal-du-jour?
He (before any major news outlet) published the name of “Jackie”, Jackie Coakley, the source for a huge Rolling Stone story by Sabrina Rubin Erdely on a brutal gang rape at a University of Virginia frat house that turned out to be wholly inconsistent (no party at that frat the day of the alleged rape, alleged predator was not a member of the frat as previously stated, no member of the frat was a fellow lifeguard of the victim as alleged, alleged predator had never even made contact with the alleged victim).
Worse, Rolling Stone royally screwed up the reporting, from claiming Jackie’s friends saw her “bloodied and battered” (they didn’t) to claiming witness accounts were “consistent” with her story (they weren’t) to claiming they interviewed dozens of witnesses (once again, they didn’t). Rolling Stone claimed they simply couldn’t track down the attacker, when in reality they agreed with Jackie to not contact the alleged attacker, as well as a friend that saw Jackie immediately after the attack. Some of the interviews were faked, with interviewees claiming they either weren’t even contacted or that the story written about them was completely false.
The consequences of this story were damaging. University of Virginia suspended not just the frat house named, but all fraternities through January. The University lost alumni donations, the potential for federal funding, and a great deal of reputability (and likely, applications for new students).
All because of Jackie’s story in Rolling Stone.
So Johnson uncovered Jackie’s identity, as well as the fact that she’s made false claims of rape in the past. It’s the kind of story any media figure would positively salivate over – for example, the Duke lacrosse case, where a capricious prosecutor used the unsupported testimony of a young woman to drag three students through a protracted legal and media battle over another false gang-rape accusation only to find the young men were completely innocent and the attacker, deranged (who has since been found guilty of murder in one of those fun “where are they now?” bits of trivia).
But all of a sudden, Johnson is Public Enemy No. 1.
In less than 5 hours, Gawker wrote not one, but three stories on him, exceeding even their Gawkeriest levels of obsession. One of them an explainer, one of them making fun of the Daily Caller for distancing themselves from him (he’s a former contributor), one of them accusing him of sh*tting on the floor in a dorm while at Claremont McKenna.
We’re in the real-life Mean Girls.
It’s not just Gawker either (despite the fact the first one is, again, Gawker):
Jezebel called him “vile.” Slate called him a “vicious troll.” The Frisky called him a “complete piece of s–t.”
And as the Washington Post (in their recent profile of him) mention, Twitter has been less kind, replete with memes comparing him to an orangutan, accusations that his wife due to her Asian heritage was a mail-order bride, claims that he’s mentally ill, the requisite threats of harm and encouragements toward suicide—and that’s just the polite stuff.
Hate is coming from all directions in the media too, from Richard Lawson of Vanity Fair to John Podhoretz of Commentary/New York Post.
What nobody seems to realize, especially those in the media who claim to be journalists or even halfass-decent writers, is this:
He’s a kid compared to most of you. He’s not the most socially adept, but he’s smart and he’s motivated and he really doesn’t give a damn about who he has to call out in defense of the truth.
In essence, journalists, he’s everything you are and wanted to be. So where did it change? At what point did you turn into the conservative parents you so despised trying to tell your own flower child to get a haircut and a job?
You all imagined yourselves as reporters with a sole purpose – finding the truth, no matter the cost.
The truth here?
You’re the cloistered, no-girls-allowed, tree-fort-like old-boys-network you’ve always aspired to take down. You’ve turned the media from the voice of the downtrodden to the wheels doing the downtrodding.
You think you’re going to solve the world’s problems by taking down a kid with a blog, who’s written zero that’s affected you whatsoever and you just learned about this week? Do you feel better about yourselves now that you’re doing the pushing into the locker that you got throughout school?
You claim to be tolerant, and open-minded, and anti-bullying and inclusive and all that other menial, mindless, self-soothing tat you tell yourselves so you sleep at night.
But you all sh*t the floor on this one.