GLENN GREENWALD: The Journalistic Tattletale and Censorship Industry Suffers Several Well-Deserved Blows: The NYT’s Taylor Lorenz falsely accuses a tech investor of using a slur after spending months trying to infiltrate and monitor a new app that allows free conversation.
A new and rapidly growing journalistic “beat” has arisen over the last several years that can best be described as an unholy mix of junior high hall-monitor tattling and Stasi-like citizen surveillance. It is half adolescent and half malevolent. Its primary objectives are control, censorship, and the destruction of reputations for fun and power. Though its epicenter is the largest corporate media outlets, it is the very antithesis of journalism.
I’ve written before about one particularly toxic strain of this authoritarian “reporting.” Teams of journalists at three of the most influential corporate media outlets — CNN’s “media reporters” (Brian Stelter and Oliver Darcy), NBC’s “disinformation space unit” (Ben Collins and Brandy Zadrozny), and the tech reporters of The New York Times (Mike Isaac, Kevin Roose, Sheera Frenkel) — devote the bulk of their “journalism” to searching for online spaces where they believe speech and conduct rules are being violated, flagging them, and then pleading that punitive action be taken (banning, censorship, content regulation, after-school detention). These hall-monitor reporters are a major factor explaining why tech monopolies, which (for reasons of self-interest and ideology) never wanted the responsibility to censor, now do so with abandon and seemingly arbitrary blunt force: they are shamed by the world’s loudest media companies when they do not. . . .
The profound pathologies driving all of this were on full display on Saturday night as the result of a reckless and self-humiliating smear campaign by one of The New York Times’ star tech reporters, Taylor Lorenz. She falsely and very publicly accused Silicon Valley entrepreneur and investor Marc Andreessen of having used the “slur” word “retarded” during a discussion about the Reddit/GameStop uprising.
Lorenz lied. Andreessen never used that word. And rather than apologize and retract it, she justified her mistake by claiming it was a “male voice” that sounded like his, then locked her Twitter account as though she — rather than the person she falsely maligned — was the victim.
But the details of what happened are revealing. The discussion which Lorenz falsely described took place on a relatively new audio app called “Clubhouse,” an invitation-only platform intended to allow for private, free-ranging group conversations. It has become popular among Silicon Valley executives and various media personalities (I was invited onto the app a few months ago but never attended or participated in any discussions). But as CNBC noted this week, “as the app has grown, people of more diverse backgrounds have begun to join,” and it “has carved out a niche among Black users, who have innovated new ways for using it.” Its free-speech ethos has also made it increasingly popular in China as a means of avoiding repressive online constraints.
These private chats have often been infiltrated by journalists, sometimes by invitation and other times by deceit. These journalists attempt to monitor the discussions and then publish summaries. Often, the “reporting” consists of out-of-context statements designed to make the participants look bigoted, insensitive, or otherwise guilty of bad behavior. In other words, journalists, desperate for content, have flagged Clubhouse as a new frontier for their slimy work as voluntary hall monitors and speech police.
Fulfilling her ignoble duties there, Lorenz announced on Twitter that Andreessen had said a bad word. During the discussion of the “Reddit Revolution,” she claimed, he used the word “retarded.” She then upped her tattling game by not only including this allegation but also the names and photos of those who were in the room at the time — thus exposing those who were guilty of the crime of failing to object to Andreessen’s Bad Word. . . .
Numerous Clubhouse participants, including Kmele Foster, immediately documented that Lorenz had lied. The moderator of the discussion, Nait Jones, said that “Marc never used that word.” What actually happened was that Felicia Horowitz, a different participant in the discussion, had “explained that the Redditors call themselves ‘retard revolution’” and that was the only mention of that word. . . .
Besides the fact that a New York Times reporter recklessly tried to destroy someone’s reputation, what is wrong with this episode? Everything.
The participants in Clubhouse have tried to block these tattletale reporters from eavesdropping on their private conversations precisely because they see themselves as Stasi agents whose function is to report people for expressing prohibited ideas even in private conversations. As Jones pointedly noted, “this is why people block” journalists: “because of this horseshit dishonesty.” . . .
Just take a second to ponder how infantile and despotic, in equal parts, all of this is. This NYT reporter used her platform to virtually jump out of her desk to run to the teacher and exclaim: he used the r word! This is what she tried for months to accomplish: to catch people in private communications using words that are prohibited or ideas that are banned to tell on them to the public. That she got it all wrong is arguably the least humiliating and pathetic aspect of all of this.
These people are a disgrace to journalism, and to America. They are morally retarded.
But this is now the prevailing ethos in corporate journalism. They have insufficient talent or skill, and even less desire, to take on real power centers: the military-industrial complex, the CIA and FBI, the clandestine security state, Wall Street, Silicon Valley monopolies, the corrupted and lying corporate media outlets they serve. So settling on this penny-ante, trivial bullshit — tattling, hall monitoring, speech policing: all in the most anti-intellectual, adolescent and primitive ways — is all they have. It’s all they are. It’s why they have fully earned the contempt and distrust in which the public holds them. . . .
That’s the purpose, the function, of these lowly accusatory tactics: to control, to coerce, to dominate, to repress. The people who engage in these character-assassinating, censorship-fostering games — especially those who call themselves “journalists” — deserve nothing but intense scorn. And those who are free from their influence and power have a particular obligation to heap it on them. Aside from being what it deserves, that scorn is the only way to neutralize this tactic.
Greenwald and I have had our disagreements, but damn has he nailed it here.
TO OUR JOURNALISTIC CLASS, the narrative is more important than the facts.