A recent news item out of Virginia caught my attention.
Last month Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam appointed a corporate lawyer and Democratic activist named Gail Gordon Donegan to the state’s Council on Women, which advises the governor and lawmakers on issues important to women.
But a problem soon arose. The Richmond Times-Dispatch found Donegan’s Twitter feed. It featured a series of foul-mouthed rants that mostly taunted Republicans but did spit at a few Democrats as well. Donegan reserved her most intense hatred for Catholics. In one 2010 post, Donegan, a self-proclaimed atheist, wrote, “Abortion is morally indefensible to Catholic priests bcuz it results in fewer children to rape.”
Needless to say such a jerk should not be a part of any council advising any politician. But Donegan’s dopey comments cast a spotlight on the national media’s latest pearl-clutching.
Typically, in stories like this, we read how despicable social media posts “emerged,” or “resurfaced.” Translation: a reporter got a tip on where to find this stuff from a third party who dislikes the person in question and wants to discredit him or her, or the reporter just scoured the person’s account. We’ve seen the adverse effects with people like movie director James Gunn, comedian Kevin Hart and Kathy Zhu, a former Miss Michigan -- all of whom lost career-enhancing gigs after old social media posts “emerged.”
Now, that includes Donegan, apparently, who resigned from the women’s council after the Times-Dispatch story ran.
But The New York Times suggests picking these nits is an abomination — at least when it happens to them.
According to the Times, Arthur Schwartz, a President Donald Trump supporter, leads a cadre of trolls who have stockpiled “dossiers of potentially embarrassing social media posts and other public statements by hundreds of people who work at some of the country’s most prominent news organizations.”
The group plans to dribble the material out as the 2020 election nears — and has fired shots across bows to make its point.
For instance, the Times last month published an editorial condemning Trump for promoting anti-Semitism and disgorged an unflattering profile of the president’s new spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham. In response, conservative Breitbart News filed a piece featuring some racist and anti-Semitic Twitter posts that Times political editor Tom Wright-Piersanti made while in college a decade ago. The Times dubbed them “a clear violation of our standards.”
Reading between the lines, the suggestion is that Schwartz supplied Breitbart the intelligence on Wright-Piersanti.
The subsequent weeping and gnashing of teeth about Schwartz’s campaign were discernible in newsrooms across the land. A New York magazine writer said Schwartz “intends to weaponize the old, bad ideas of journalists and leftist activists in an effort to discredit sound reporting on the president and other conservative figures.” A CNN spokesman called such tactics against reporters “a means of suppression” that signaled “a clear abandonment of democracy for something very dangerous.”
This is amusing for two reasons.
First, the Times acknowledged that the liberal group Media Matters for America pioneered this gotcha routine in seek-and-destroy missions against conservatives.
Secondly, the Times appreciate being “gotchaed.” Its article sniffed, “Using journalistic techniques to target journalists and news organizations as retribution for — or as a warning not to pursue — coverage critical of the president is fundamentally different from the well-established role of the news media in scrutinizing people in positions of power.”
Thanks for clarifying. I suppose that list of powerbrokers includes folks like Shawn Brooks. What? Never heard of him? Well, back in May, Brooks shared a meme of a slowed-down video of Speaker Nancy Pelosi that made her appear drunk. The Daily Beast immediately pounced, doxxing Brooks, a black warehouse worker from the Bronx with a conviction for domestic violence, and subjecting him to ridicule and condemnation.
Sorry, Times, CNN, New York mag and the rest of this clique. Schwartz & Co. are playing by the rules set by your supporters — and which you have adopted and relished, until the tweets were trained on you.
It’s curious that by and large these outlets have chosen to denounce Trump and Schwartz instead of, perhaps, saying it’s not a good idea to post or share partisan garbage. They’re not learning the lesson: If you don’t want to be exposed as a hypocrite whose biased against conservatives, don’t act like one.
In Virginia, Donegan’s departure from the council is not to be lamented. But coupling that incident with the faux fainting over Schwartz’s antics only proves our elite journalists like streets named after themselves — they’re called one way.
Bill Thompson (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the editorial page editor of The Ledger in Lakeland, Florida.