Right-Wing Trolls Weaponize Bad Faith Outrage, Get NYT Editor Fired (Allegedly!)
Last Tuesday, New York Times freelance editor Lauren Wolfe tweeted that she got "chills" seeing Joe Biden's plane land in Washington, DC.
Almost immediately, right-wing trolls launched a campaign to get her fired, claiming the tweet revealed she was "biased" against conservatives. By Thursday, Wolfe, a veteran reporter on the subject of sexual violence against women, was no longer employed.
Soon enough, there was a campaign to push the Times to hire Wolfe back, and also to stop cowing to the bad faith demands of internet trolls.
Let me tell you who Lauren is. How this has impacted her personally. And finally, how this is impacting her and her doggo right now.— Josh Shahryar (@Josh Shahryar) 1611445077.0
The New York Times responded to this by saying that they did not fire her over the tweet, but rather over something so bad they can't even tell us.
"There's a lot of inaccurate information circulating on Twitter," spokeswoman Danielle Rhoades Ha told the Washington Post. "For privacy reasons we don't get into the details of personnel matters, but we can say that we didn't end someone's employment over a single tweet. Out of respect for the individuals involved, we don't plan to comment further."
This is a common rhetorical device used by people who wish to discredit someone without looking like an asshole themselves. It also might be a tad more believable were it not timed two days after the campaign against her started.
The NewsGuild of New York, the union representing New York Times workers, has since released a statement saying that while Wolfe's firing "was done outside of the just cause protections of our contract due to her classification as a casual employee," they are investigating the matter and "have reached out to her offering support and representation."
TimesGuild statement on Lauren Wolfe: https://t.co/x555qHnAcq— NYTimesGuild (@NYTimesGuild) 1611531832.0
In the meantime, Wolfe has been subjected to a barrage of horrifying, misogynistic messages and emails.
comment on the post "Contact" is waiting for your approval https://t.co/I4nkOWJO2Z Author: hans fredrick (IP addre… https://t.co/z9swtvh69U— Lauren Wolfe (@Lauren Wolfe) 1611374184.0
Author: timmy (IP address: 22.214.171.124, https://t.co/zNy4cQQwwj) Email: firstname.lastname@example.org URL: Comment: Oh look… https://t.co/BQtYV8UR9R— Lauren Wolfe (@Lauren Wolfe) 1611374292.0
Unsurprisingly, this whole situation has drawn comparisons to GamerGate, the fake "ethics in games journalism" controversy from 2014. Just to refresh your memory, that all started when game developer Zoë Quinn broke up with her boyfriend and he was mad about it. So he went and posted a totally deranged essay about how she cheated on him with several other men, including Nathan Grayson, a writer for Kotaku. Angry male gamers then claimed she did this to get a good review for her text-based game Depression Quest, and to this day claim that Grayson did, in fact, give her a favorable review.
He did not. He never reviewed it and neither did anyone else at Kotaku.
This whole thing touched a nerve with a bunch of angry young men who had felt for some time that women were encroaching upon a space that belonged to them and injecting social justice and feminism into video games. Like for instance talking about how maybe it was bad that there was an actual video game in which players got points for murdering sex workers. And, of course, there is nothing more infuriating to misogynists than the idea of a woman supposedly using her sexuality to manipulate men for their own gain. That's how Jezebel got to be one of the Bible's primary villains.
These men (and some women) subsequently dedicated their lives to making life hell for Quinn, and also any woman involved with games journalism. Let me be absolutely clear about my own bias here, as one of those women was (still is!) one of my very dearest friends, so that made it personal. It was horrifying to watch, and also horrifying to cover as a writer at the time. They ruined careers, they ruined lives, all because they were spoiled brats scared that women were going to take their toys away. All of this, by the way, occurred only a few months after Elliot Rodger murdered seven people because he was mad that girls didn't like him. 2014 was not a great year to be a woman.
And yes, there are similarities — both in the vile, misogynistic attacks leveled against Wolfe and in the social climate of the time. In 2014, certain kinds of men were starting to feel a profound loss of power. They suddenly found themselves in a world where girls were no longer either "going wild" or worrying about not having a thigh gap, and were instead declaring that rape jokes and catcalling were no longer acceptable, that "manspreading" and "mansplaining" were obnoxious. They attacked and harassed women in hopes of regaining that power, they elected a man who bragged about grabbing women by the pussy to regain some of that power. Now that they have have lost him, well ...
Another similarity is that, in 2014, many publications and advertisers succumbed to pressure from GamerGate trolls, who took their campaigns against writers who criticized or mocked them in good faith. This appears to be, so far, what the New York Times did.
As much as conservatives like to complain that the media has a liberal bias, that's not really the case — in fact, in many cases, the media ends up having a right-leaning bias because outlets are so afraid of being accused of having a liberal bias that they overcorrect for it. The New York Times happens to do this a lot. What Wolfe tweeted was a little doofy, but it was hardly in the realm of extreme, could never possibly be "objective," bias. And now she's stuck in a situation where she not only doesn't have a source of income, but also has to deal with stalking and harassment.
That's my friend Lauren. On the side of the street. Huddled with her doggo. Her lip is red because she had just b… https://t.co/jbodC9aQUh— Josh Shahryar (@Josh Shahryar) 1611445939.0
So that's nice.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse