Recognize a bad-faith campaign to discredit a journalist when you see one

The latest target of Two Minutes Hate on the Internet is somebody unusual, in that it’s somebody I know. But the story here is manufactured outrage as usual.

Until Thursday, few people outside tech-journalism circles could have name-checked Sarah Jeong or described her Twitter presence. I’ve been following her since sometime in 2014, so I can: sarcastic and often bitterly so, expletive-laced, and grounded in a deep knowledge of how tech intersects culture and the law

That makes Jeong an essential read in my world, and also an amusing one–see her unpacking of the PETA’s monkey-selfie case. She’s also a student of how social networks fuel online harassment and wrote an excellent book about it, The Internet of Garbage, that led me to quote her in Yahoo Finance posts in 2015 and 2016.

Now Jeong is again experiencing the subject of her own research, thanks to a cut-and-paste screencap compilation quoting her saying such mean things about white people from 2013 to 2015 as “it’s kind of sick how much joy I get out of being cruel to old white men.”

Why 2014 tweets in 2018? The New York Times announced Wednesday that it had named Jeong to its editorial board. The creator of that image, who calls himself Garbage Human on Twitter, apparently saw a chance to bully the Times into hitting the Undo button on its hire–what’s happened to other young writers, some right-wing, hired by traditional media outlets.

So is Jeong a racist whom the NYT should dump? That argument is, as Jeong would put it, bullshit.

First: No, she isn’t racist. I have interacted with her, online and in person, more than enough to determine that, and I’ve yet to see any co-workers of her say otherwise. And yes, that insight trumps yours if you hadn’t heard of Jeong until yesterday. Seen in context–as you can, since she hasn’t deleted them–most of the tweets at stake are cranky jokes received as such by white friends. One’s a profane distillation of a multiple-tweet legal argument. Others look like her venting about the misogynistic, racist word vomit that can greet a woman or person of color on Twitter; I will not tone-police people in that position. 

Second, consider the sources. After Garbage Human, whose tweets show a fondness for InfoWars hoaxer Paul Joseph Watson, Jeong’s tweets got publicized by Gateway Pundit, a conspiracy-theory-spouting factory of lies. I first became acquainted with its dreck last January, when it wrongly named my friend Doris Truong as the Asian reporter taking pictures of Rex Tillerson’s notes at his confirmation hearing without bothering to ask her if she was even there.

These are not honest critics, and their arguments are no more founded in a belief in racial equality than GamerGate harassment was about ethics in gaming journalism. You don’t owe time to the talking points of a bad-faith actor, not when it’s based on a context-free sample of a handful of tweets out of 103,203 available.

I know this because I saw this strategy employed successfully against my then-Post co-worker Dave Weigel in 2010. That’s when the journalism-gossip site FishbowlDC and then the Daily Caller (both with a history of ginning up right-wing outrage, facts or context optional) published cranky e-mails about various politicians that Weigel had sent to a private mailing list. Post management did not have the spine to stand up for its new employee against this selective copy-and-paste hit job or the absurd theory behind it that reporters should never share opinions about the stuff they cover, and Weigel resigned.

Five years later, the Post hired Weigel back. He’s been kicking ass at the paper since.

I look forward to Jeong doing the same at the NYT, as it declined to take the bait. Its PR department defended their new hire while adding that it “does not condone” her earlier banter and including Jeong’s tweeted apology that “I deeply regret that I mimicked the language of my harassers.”

Jeong’s current employer until she starts at the Times, The Verge, took a stronger line in a post:

Online trolls and harassers want us, the Times, and other newsrooms to waste our time by debating their malicious agenda. They take tweets and other statements out of context because they want to disrupt us and harm individual reporters. The strategy is to divide and conquer by forcing newsrooms to disavow their colleagues one at a time. This is not a good-faith conversation; it’s intimidation.

Exactly.

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Weekly output: wireless plans (x2), broadband infrastructure, ATSC 3.0, wireless discounts

BARCELONA–I arrived here Saturday morning for my fifth Mobile World Congress trade show. Most of that afternoon was spent wandering around Barcelona and trying to stay awake, while today involved a series of press events scattered around town. The show formally starts tomorrow morning, which is also when I start owing copy to various editors. I’m here through Thursday morning, so if you have questions about upcoming (non-Apple) smartphones, this would be a good time to ask them.

2/20/2017: Unlimited-data plans, WTOP

This interview was supposed to happen, as my conversations with Washington’s news station usually do, over Skype. But the app kept dropping the call within seconds of my clicking to answer it, so the producers punted and called my cell phone instead. Microsoft, please try to make Skype less painful to use.

2/22/2017: Broadband companies can’t build out their networks, and it’s hurting consumers, Yahoo Finance

Not for the first time this week, I got to revisit a topic I’d first covered in any detail several years ago.

Screenshot of story from NYT iPad app2/22/2017: Picking a New Phone Plan? Here Are Your Best Bets, The New York Times

The NYT’s Brian Chen interviewed me, in my role as maintainer of the (Times-owned) Wirecutter’s guide to wireless service, for this story breaking down recent changes to the big four carriers’ rate plans. The analyst he talked to gave recommendations I wouldn’t agree with, but on the other hand Chen gave me the last word in the story.

This, incidentally, represents the second time I’ve been quoted in the Times and the first time I’ve been quoted correctly. That other time happened in 1993, when the NYT’s Frank Prial wrote a feature on how Georgetown University had changed since Bill Clinton’s undergrad days. He interviewed a bunch of students at the Georgetown Voice’s offices and attributed a quote from somebody else (I’m guessing then-photo editor Darren Carroll) to me.

Lest it seem like I’m complaining about my treatment by Timesmen, I should note that looking up that 24-year-old story also led me to a few NYT pieces about my dad’s exploits playing football for Columbia University, including this section-front story about his game-winning field goal against Brown. Yes, they spelled our last name correctly.

2/23/2017: The FCC just gave you a reason to hold off on buying a 4K TV, Yahoo Finance

This post provided this week’s other stroll down memory lane. (Does this column I wrote just after the end of analog broadcasts in 2009 suggest a certain amount of built-up cynicism?) I’m cautiously optimistic about the coming, voluntary transition to “ATSC 3.0” broadcasts. I’m also content in my decision to hold off on buying a new TV until it includes a tuner for this new broadcast standard.

2/26/2017: The hidden wireless discounts you might be missing, USA Today

If you use AT&T, Sprint or Verizon, you may be able to chip 10 percent or so off your bill by taking advantage of your connection to an employer, a school or an association.

Yahoo.

When I saw the surprising news that longtime New York Times personal-tech columnist David Pogue was leaving the paper to head up a tech-news site at Yahoo, I figured the next details I’d see about his new venture would come on my one-time rival’s Twitter feed–or maybe at Jim Romenesko’s journalism-news site.

Yahoo Tech logoInstead, I heard about it from Pogue himself when he asked if I’d be interested in joining this operation. A few weeks of e-mails and phone calls later, you can now see my byline atop a lengthy guide to Facebook’s privacy and security settings at Yahoo Tech’s holiday guide–a preview of what will open in January.

I’ll be writing a weekly column about tech policy in all its forms. By that we mean not just the laws and regulations enacted in Washington, but the terms and conditions that companies enforce on their customers and each other–as well as the norms we come up with on our own.

I’ll be doing this on a freelance contract basis, not as an employee, so you can still find me at USA Today’s site on weekends (now with an extra disclosure sentence when I need to critique one of Yahoo’s consumer services). I’ll also continue writing for most of my other current outlets if they can continue to put up with me.

One, however, will get unfortunately squeezed out: my year-old gig blogging about tech-policy issues at the Disruptive Competition Project. I’ve really enjoyed the chance to unpack issues like the smartphone subsidies, retransmission fights and e-book DRM, but I would be bonkers not to take a chance on writing about them before an immensely larger audience.

At Yahoo Tech, the CMS seems non-toxic, we should have a lot of latitude to experiment with different kinds of reader interactivity, and I’ll be writing alongside some talented people (including my friend Dan Tynan). And Yahoo as a company is not only putting serious resources into getting “original voices” on its site but looks a lot less lost at the plate. Letting its subscription to the CEO of the Month Club lapse in favor of giving Marissa Mayer the job seems a good call.

Finally, after having competed with Pogue for so long, it should be fun to cooperate with him. David’s long been an astute judge of user interfaces and user experiences (I’m still kicking myself for not thinking to start a campaign to end useless voicemail instructions), he’s willing to wade into comment threads whether they’re supportive or not, and he’s a legitimate showman who has literally made tech coverage sing.

I just hope this new gig doesn’t require any singing from me.