The Lies, Libel, and Deceit of Molly McArdle: Rebuttal to a Hatchet Job, a Personal Reckoning with What I Actually Did, and an Exposé of Literary McCarthyism

“In 1970 my mother said to me, ‘I would have been glad to testify to get back at those bastards for what they did…But I suspected, from my own experiences working within the Hollywood system, that people used the blacklist as a way of getting back at other people for things that had nothing to do with politics. And that’s not unique, because it happens in academe too. A lot of people who testified did so to get back at people who had gotten jobs away from them, who had won assignments. It was an opportune moment; in a very cynical way, it was a golden opportunity. This was the government who wanted your testimony. It was sanctioned.”

— Jacoba Atlas, interviewed in Victor Navasky’s Naming Names, an excellent volume on McCarthyism.

“Conformity is a way of guaranteeing and manifesting respectability among those who are not sure that they are respectable enough. The nonconformity of others appears to such persons as a frivolous challenge to the whole order of things they are trying hard to become part of. Naturally it is resented, and the demand for conformity in public becomes at once an expression of such resentment and a means of displaying one’s own soundness. This habit has a tendency to spread from politics into intellectual and social spheres, where it can be made to challenge almost anyone whose pattern of life is different and who is imagined to enjoy a superior social position — notably, as one agitator put it, those in the ‘parlors of the sophisticated, the intellectuals, the so-called academic minds.’”

— Richard Hofstadter, “The Pseudo-Caonservative Revolt –1954”

“Google is an instrument of humiliation. I google a rival to see if I can discover unflattering tidbits. And the very process of googling is humiliating to the rival (in magical form), but also humiliating to me. Any time I exercise the privilege of ‘googling for the hell of it’ I am humiliating myself.” — Wayne Koestenbaum, Humiliation

“I can’t beat it.” — Manchester by the Sea

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I slept for many weeks in a stale caged room, surrounded by fragile people who were just as broken and twice as devastated. I had no refuge. I had no family. They left me for dead and still want me vanished to this day. My partner wanted me invisible. I can’t say that I blame her. It seemed as if I didn’t have any friends, although I will always remember the rare ones who did not give up on me as I lived in this hopeless way station of ceaseless grief. Some part of me knew that I had to find a way to appreciate what I still had, which was a roof over my head and a psychiatrist meeting me for about ten minutes each week. It wasn’t much, but the room at the hospital was still more spacious and a bit more private than the cramped expanse I would later land at the homeless shelter. I lived with a friendly schizophrenic who talked in many voices, a shattered congenial man who came to New York to reclaim unspeakable loss from his past, along with several dozen troubled souls. After a few weeks, there were occasional escorted trips up the elevator to play basketball, where I practiced aloof moves on a rooftop asphalt slab that felt something like heaven. I’d wake up in the middle of the night to orderlies quietly sifting through my scant possessions, looking for contraband razors or anything else that I might use to kill myself. That was, after all, why I was there. It was what I had tried to do on the morning of September 26, 2014, after I cracked and did something terrible the night before, something that was fueled by alcohol and a mental breakdown.

I took showers in which I had to dry my naked vulnerable heartbroken body — always surveiled by the cameras — with paper towels. The woman I once loved, the woman who I personally pledged with every honorable bone to leave alone, had served court papers on me as I was trying to recover. I had received the cruel and unnecessary envelope just after finishing a relaxation session. I accepted the summons and burst into tears and fell shellshocked into a blanketless bed that was not mine for what seemed hours, wondering how much lower I’d plummet. She knew that I didn’t have the funds to defend myself, although I was appointed an attorney, arriving embarrassingly late to the first court appearance weeks later after I’d been rustled out of bed only hours before, moved to another shelter at four in the morning in a part of the city I did not know. I am never late. I pride myself with being on time. I am a man who, for better or worse, shows up. But I was late. I was also exhausted, disoriented, heartbroken, and humiliated. She knew that I was never violent towards her, much less any person (save for self-defense against a man who attacked me at Coney Island and, to be completely transparent, a thin young man I verbally confronted at the Franklin Avenue subway station, who repeatedly punched me as I handed him his dropped books and who I never once hit back), and that my father was a damaged man who burned me with cigarettes, who choked me, who abused me, who tried to suffocate me as my sister watched, who told me he loved me just before popping me in the jaw. I had worked very hard to escape this cycle of violence, quietly volunteering off and on over the years with domestic violence hotlines, often interceding whenever I saw a man threatening a woman, and disarming countless near-pugilistic situations with my wit. Now I was this deadly man by legal implication. It was just about the worst thing that she could have done to me. And I suspect she knew this. But then my mentally addled and drunken behavior on the night of September 25, 2014, which momentarily sullied her well-deserved reputation before she excelled quite well without me, was probably the worst thing I could have done to her. All acts of justice, large and small, come down to petty retribution in the end. But the question we’re too hopped up on hurt to answer is when it should stop.

She had visited me once. It wasn’t a long visit. There was upset and sadness in her hardened brown eyes. Warm orbs that once jittered with joy were now forever gone, reduced to a dimming memory of a shimmering figure now more mythical than real. I knew I’d never get back what I once had, that I’d somehow managed to lose it all, and this cold truth caused me to cry for months, even though I had to parcel out my tears because I rarely had space to myself and I couldn’t let the rough men I lived with see me weak. In our last meeting at the hospital, I saw her hands shake. Her voice quavered. Her curls, which once pulled towards me of their own accord, now retreated away with a natural instinct from the suicidal madman. I remember her being so afraid of me that she rattled upon the door, begging for someone to let her out, even though the door was open. I wasn’t in my right mind and had no defense. The nurses and the orderlies, who were all so terribly kind and who later told me how much they liked my writing and a few poetic songs I composed for others to sing, went out of their way to get me a pen and paper. They believed I could win her back. I knew they were wrong. I had little more than twenty minutes to write her a poem. I am sure that the incoherence I put down in words scared her too. For many months, I would have no private place to recover from my crackup and my heartbreak: the terrible, terrible pain of seeing someone who once looked at me with such love shudder and retaliate because she was afraid.

I watched minds break and I witnessed troubled men piss their pants. There was a brilliant Russian intellectual with an unruly shock of wild jet hair demanding his own room to escape the “peons.” There were many very smart people inside, but they were all fragile and broken and needed to get through their pain. At least two of my cellmates — one offering to pay me to house sit, later buying me an extravagant sushi dinner that felt beyond my wildest dreams after I lost thirty pounds on a benefits card diet of cheap sandwiches (always cold, never hot) — took their lives in the year that followed. I played chess with a man because he was lonely and nobody else wanted to push forward pawns with him and, well, I wasn’t going anywhere. And I won. It was a perfunctory victory, one arrived at in a heart-battered haze. Then he sought me out. Because I was the only one he couldn’t beat. And I let him win. Because he needed that and that seemed the decent thing to do. Like all of us, he needed a little hope. He needed just a little dignity, a little faith in himself. This was, after all, the only way to beat the shame and accept the truth of who you were and what you did. But when I left the hospital, reclaiming the confiscated phone that got me in trouble, I had no idea how much more public shaming awaited me online. Most of it involved actions that I never committed.

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Jon Ronson has written about victims of public shaming sitting paralyzed at their kitchen table for nearly a year, frozen and broken by online impressions of what they are not tendered by people they have never met, debased in their efforts to rebuild their lives and to do the hard work of confronting and correcting the impulses that led to their transgressions in the first place. No amount of kindness or honorable action or good faith efforts at redemption will ever win over the crowd. The roots of this cultural disease reside in vengeance trumping compassion, of myths replacing facts, of false allegations begetting more false allegations, of the whole putrid and untrue stew being summoned whenever you say anything, no matter how kind and thoughtful. In an effort to keep up with the fickle jonesing from easily angered social media consumers, longform journalism, which was once committed to an airtight presentation of the facts, has aligned itself with the absolutism of public shaming. It has faltered from its original mission, with cynical editors crafting and encouraging outrage-inducing clickbait, often published at places like Slate and Salon, that have caused perfectly decent writers to debase themselves as they willfully traffic in half-truths for a paycheck.

When Rolling Stone reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely began investigating an alleged rape gang operating at the University of Virginia in July 2014, she was driven by a passionate need to redress a great wrong. She became so consumed by a larger cultural malady, one that certainly requires a devoted army of journalists, essayists, poets, and fiction writers to keep in check, that the underlying facts, which disproved her thesis, no longer mattered. A real journalist might have clung to doubt and skepticism, or gone out of her way to paint the scene with a subtle and careful brush, but Erdely was determined to push forward even when the professed ringleader of the gang was never interviewed or found out. Erdely never bothered to interview key witnesses who offered differing accounts. She believed too easily in a story that kept changing, one that mimicked details from books and television shows. And because Erdely made several serious mistakes, she set back a vital discussion of an important issue plaguing our nation, one recently reopened with the many courageous women assaulted by Trump stepping forward.

On June 10, 2015, a little more than a week after I escaped my homelessness and moved into a very hard-won one bedroom apartment, the universe did not grant me the dignity to celebrate my near insurmountable triumph against incredibly bleak odds. That day, Brooklyn Magazine published a 9,000 word libelous diatribe written by a self-proclaimed “writer and editor” named Molly McArdle. The article was a nasty seven layer burrito stuffed with hearsay, uncorroborated rumors, conjecture, quote manipulation, speculation, outright lies, willful exclusion of key facts, and other spurious claims that were designed to falsely portray me as a monster with a pattern of abusive behavior that had been silently tolerated for many years by the publishing industry. It was quite uncanny that this reckless person’s name was so close to the infamous witchhunter Joseph McCarthy. For like McCarthy, McArdle had no intent whatsoever in pursuing the truth. “I am more scared of silence than false or petty speech,” declares the article in its final paragraph, meaning that falsehoods and invented grievances matter more to McArdle than the facts. She sought to destroy a man who had suffered a nervous breakdown and committed the worst mistake of his life: a man who lost his home, his partner, his shaky and far from lucrative stature, many friends, and likely the ability to publish anything, no matter how good, for the rest of his natural life. McArdle’s article was also anti-intellectual fundamentalism of the type that the historian Richard Hofstadter once called the one-hundred per cent mentality: “a mind totally committed to the full range of the dominant popular fatuities and determined that no one shall have the right to challenge them.” It was this one-hundred per cent mentality that a group of novelists, publishing insiders, and industry people chose to believe in, willing to promulgate any lie if it meant stubbing out the voice and ruining the life of of a vociferous critic. And if these smart people can willfully buy into such a deceiving and prejudicial account, one riddled with at least fifty-eight unsubstantiated statements and factual errors, then imagine the myths that will bamboozle Americans in our new era of fake news.

There was a time when irresponsible journalists who lied about and fabricated their stories were held more accountable by the public, when Janet Malcolm’s wisdom about impulsive subjectivity and character assassination was better heeded. But a compelling lie or the Liberty Valance idea of “printing the legend” — such as the false claim that Alexander Hamilton called the American people “a great beast,” first falsely promulgated as a fourth-hand rumor more than fifty years after Hamilton’s death — has an ability to latch itself onto a person for life like an unshakable leech, overriding considerable accomplishments and providing no possible allowance for reform. This tendency has become worse in our age of social media and outrage culture, where rapturous fury is rarely tempered with the clarity of thoughtful reflection or even a proper consideration of what actually happened. The experience is often as bad as a prison sentence or a financial setback or a bad breakup, causing pain not only for the wrongly accused party but for his friends and family.

Yet readers continue to have a great appetite for perceived monsters, with even the sharpest blades in the kitchen willing to believe in an untruth if it is juicy enough. Before Jayson Blair and Stephen Glass were discovered to be fabricators, Janet Cooke famously reported on a eight-year-old heroin addict who moved Washington Post readers (including then mayor Marion Barry) to track down this victim, who only existed in Cooke’s imagination. Cooke managed to fool many smart people and even won a Pulitzer Prize for her efforts.

So what today of the self-styled reporter who invents lies about a real person and tarnishes that person’s reputation when the facts don’t line up? What of the journalist who wallows in malice and ice cream rewards like a spoiled adolescent when the lion’s share of her story cannot withstand an extremely rigorous challenge? What of the slipshod character assassin who goes out of her way to destroy the reputation of a man who made one deeply terrible mistake (and a few minor ones) that he has already suffered greatly for, that he continues to seek help and care for, and who must now expend precious time answering to potential employers and creative collaborators and lovers who cannot reconcile the kind, capable, and caring person before them with the alleged demon represented in a work of scabrous sensationalism? If “comment is free and facts are sacred,” as C.P. Scott has famously observed, should not the narrative uniting the twain be rooted in something more diligent than pumping out “the first draft of history”? Should not a journalist go out of her way to take up her allegations directly with the source or accurately set forth the facts to slam dunk her claims?

On September 26, 2014, I tried to take my life. And I want to be clear that what I did the night before was terribly wrong and over the line in every way. It was not, however, the final capstone in a sustained run as Edward Champion the literary terrorist. I tried to kill myself after I became massively drunk, suffered a nervous breakdown, committed a diabolical act on Twitter that involved threatening to publish the name of someone who had photographed novelist Porochista Khakpour in a compromising position, which I ended up tweeting and which my then partner deleted soon after. This came after Khakpour had spread poisonous lies about me and whipped up the fury of the literary community. I was broken and desperate and traumatized and had the kind of life-altering meltdown that no amount of regrets or remorse or apologies or setbacks or soul-searching can ever appear to atone for. I was besieged by hate from all corners and lost everything I had.

Many articles followed in the wake of these events when I was in the hospital trying to get well, my only refuge a homeless shelter on the outside where people shot up and smoked K2 (a cheap and deeply potent synthetic drug with a dreadfully lingering second-hand odor more industrial than any pesticide; it is one of the worst smells I have ever experienced) and shouted at all hours and contended with the indignities of a callous and corrupt and graft-happy and largely indifferent administration that was supposed to help them. It was there that I barely escaped very real threats from a psychopathic champion boxer who slept across from me, recently released from Rikers Island and not liked by anyone, who regularly rattled me when he wasn’t starting bloody fights and who sent several of my fellow residents to the hospital. But eight months after the furor had died down, McArdle felt the need to dig her self-righteous heel into what remained of the twitching corpse. No amount of punishment or humiliation was enough for her. If she could use prevarication and invention to bolster her case, she would. She was right about one thing. The “literary community,” as last year’s Charlie Hebdo PEN Gala protest revealed in abundance, is no longer tolerant of anyone who even remotely challenges its rightfully rocky hold on culture. Indeed, why face an opinion you despise, why argue smartly against it, when you can pretend it doesn’t exist or damn the odious orignator without knowing all the facts? The literary community was thus quite willing to believe McArdle’s fraudulent spin. It needed a bad guy, much as trolls need someone to crush. It failed to understand that writers are meant to be united rather than carving up solipsistic parcels of superficial territory that only a few dozen people care about at best.

McArdle created the mirage of journalism by talking to a lot of people, even though, as the evidence will soon abundantly demonstrate, when she wasn’t mangling her facts, she never bothered to perform due diligence to corroborate any of her claims. All she had to do was toss out a damning sentence that she could stitch to her Frankenstein monster of casual and reckless libel and wait for the greedy reward of ice cream after the article was published.

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The irresponsible kernel was there from the beginning when, on June 29, 2014, McArdle announced her capitulation of objective bona-fides on Twitter, stating her intent to go after me, beginning with a prerigged thesis that I was someone who went out of his way to hurt and abuse people. McArdle started with an assumption of guilt and spent several months working on an article with the sole purpose of gainsaying more than a decade of honest journalism and positive contributions to the literary world, including 551 in-depth conversations with some of the finest minds on our planet. It was little more than a power grab, a temerarious hit job counting on the reliable monomania of mass rumor and cheap belief, designed to punch down an acerbic voice at the bottom of his game and the end of his rope. She never once called her assumptions into question or took up any of her points directly with me, save through a highly general email on May 7, 2015 that mentioned little more than writing a profile. Indeed, one of her most preposterous smoking guns on the charge that I am a misogynist, a misogynist so hopelessly set in his ways that thirty of the last fifty guests who appeared on Bat Segundo were women, was the apparent use of “cunnilingus” in a joking manner. By that measure, I suppose we should add The Awl‘s Alex Balk, Robin Williams, William Shakespeare (“tongue in your tail”), and Judd Apatow and James Franco onto the list of diabolical comedians hating and oppressing women through prolific usage of and reference to the C word. (See ¶103 below for statistics on how comparatively infrequent my usage was when stacked against other websites.)

When I telephoned a representative at Brooklyn Magazine asking for a retraction to McArdle’s piece and received no reply back, I decided to ignore the article and move on with my life. I truly did not fathom why anybody in the universe would be this obsessed with me. What I did not count on was that people were indeed more interested in me than I was. While I have lived a very happy and positive life, attempting to atone for my sins trying to be more peaceful and graceful after rebounding from a down-and-out existence where stabbings and drug use were regular occurrences, and while I have clawed my way up from an abyss of poverty, humiliations, and joblessness that I would not wish on my worst enemy, I have seen my personal and professional life severely damaged because of McArdle’s article. Where other writers, such as Elon Green, were sensible enough to confine their essays to opinion and speculation (comment is, after all, free), McArdle recklessly and irresponsibly presented her distorted and blinkered version as the truth. And there is simply no escaping what my name now represents.

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I have consulted with attorneys who have suggested that I have a case for defamation, largely because McArdle acted with “actual malice,” recklessly perpetuating a story that had been killed by The New Republic by occluding key details that, as the considerable evidence demonstrates, show that the New York Times Co. v. Sullivan standard does not apply. But in order to carry forward with a lawsuit, I have been informed that it would involve a retainer ranging somewhere between $10,000 and $15,000. Aside from not being able to afford this staggering sum (along with any exorbitant costs beyond that), especially after a tough uphill climb from homelessness, a protracted legal battle for financial restitution doesn’t feel nearly as appropriate as factual challenge. And in our epoch of Peter Thiel-financed bullying, I truly don’t feel that stifling the free press is something I want to be part of. I only want journalists to be fair, accurate, and reasonable. Also, if I want to evolve and become a better person, it has to be based on the facts. It has to be based on who I really am and what I really did. This very long document isn’t merely a rebuttal. It’s a personal reckoning. It’s also an examination of how common we are in our perceived transgressions, for some of my accusers have committed far worse behavior than I am alleged to have done. But I am not trying to settle scores. I am trying to come to terms with the facts.

Another reason I didn’t want to respond was because this involved the moral dilemma of republishing emails, instant messages, and Twitter DMs from parties McArdle who interviewed for her piece. I am a big believer in the covenant of private communication, or whatever remains of it in our age of massive data breaches (Sony, Ashley Madison, Target, Anthem, eBay, Wikileaks, Russia’s claws slithering inside the Beltway) and NSA wiretapping. But if people are going to libel me without presenting the underlying facts of the actual correspondence, then I must reveal, with considerable reluctance, the misrepresentations and conduct of my accusers. I shall confine my citations only to those parties who spoke public untruths about me. And after this article is published, I shall maintain my long-held policy of keeping all correspondence sent to me in confidence.

Despite my progress, my life continues to be jarred because of this defamatory article. And I am fairly confident that McArdle still basks in her hatchet job, possessing no remorse or reflection for what she did to me. In a December 19, 2016 tweet, McArdle, who I have blocked on Twitter, intercepted a tense but conciliatory Twitter conversation I was having with Colin Dickey, where I pointed out to Dickey that only four of the article’s six dozen or so claims were valid. McArdle declared, “Which four claims were true? Read to find out!” Truth and journalistic integrity do not matter to her. And the Twitter crowd would rather pass the popcorn and delight in misfortune manifested by myth rather than conjure up some spell of compassion. There is no modern day Joseph Welch asking, “Have you no sense of decency?” Noblesse oblige died sometime in the 21st century, frogmarched and gassed in the same concentration camp that took out bipartisanship and forgiveness.

While I have been fortunate enough to land a very hard-won job with serious responsibilities, I have been denied writing and editing gigs. I became a well-loved regular at a Village bar, where I befriended many of the staff and other customers. Until one night when I accidentally paid with my credit card instead of cash and the staff caught my last name and Googled me and became frosty towards me. And my refuge was taken away from me. My dating life is little more than a string of short-term affairs, each fizzling out the very minute I reveal my last name. I am nothing less than kind and courteous to a woman. She puts my full name into Google. And in most cases, it’s over. (To cite one of many all too common examples, I went on a date with a marvelous woman who I very much liked. She knocked over her beer, which I proceeded to mop up. I was polite and nothing less than a gentleman. This was easy. Because she was very nice, smart, and we hit it off. I wanted to know more about her. (I am sorry to be so general with my description, but I really don’t want to cause this woman any more grief.) This woman told me that she had been on far too many dates and said that I was the first man she had felt anything for in five years. I respected this, did not want to exploit this, and said that I would be happy to take it as slow as she needed. We both wanted to see each other again. She bragged to all her friends about this very nice and smart man that she had met. Unfortunately, one of her friends had been involved in the books world and I discovered, mere hours before the second date, that this friend had scared her off. And there was no appeal. I went to see the feminist hip-hop show I had bought two tickets for alone.) A few “journalists” went out of their way to shame me this year by outing my OKCupid profile. Some women have been kind enough to stay after I’ve told them what happened to me (and I have remained friends with many women I’ve dated), but this means I have to work ten times as hard to find a partner. The happy family I hope to make someday to replace the broken and hateful one I came from may never happen. I’ve taken improv classes at UCB in an attempt to find a new and healthier outlet for the performative streaks that landed me in trouble in the past and, despite being nothing less than affable to my classmates, I was ratted out to the registrar for “rejecting the UCB philosophy” after some student discovered the article. (The registrar, who was a good guy, and I patched it up by telephone.) And when I passed the class, I was quietly dropped from the improv practice sessions. My classmates ended up forming an improv team without me.

But what truly pained me, what caused me unspeakable sorrow, was when two podcast producers who I had never met used the article to lead a campaign to kick me out of the audio drama community. You see, I’ve been working on an audio drama project for a while. I’ve worked on it every day of 2016. It’s my attempt to do right as a person and as an artist. I’ve written some very visceral scripts and, after many years of hiding myself within the seductive certainty of clever writing, I reached a point where I could at long last be real and emotionally vulnerable in my work. As a temporary member of the audio drama community, I went out of my way to be kind, encouraging, professional, and constructive. I did not utter an unkind word about anyone. It was easy to be kind because these people were very kind. But my impeccable behavior, which flowed quite naturally from may largely sanguine disposition, was not enough to overturn the taint of the article. These two podcasters were so driven by malicious zeal that, on July 22, 2016, they even rejected my good faith efforts to meet up and buy them beers, include them in my thoughtful Audio Drama Sunday interview series, and support their project on Patreon, for which they refunded my donation within seven minutes. I took my leave. I didn’t want to cause anyone any undue upset. But I also took it very hard. For I had done nothing wrong other than to have a past that had been distorted into a largely untrue hatchet job.

So it’s become necessary to respond to the article. It’s hurting my life. It’s not going away from Google anytime soon. It’s not helping me come to terms with what I did. There’s also the worry that if McArdle plays this loose with the truth in describing me, she may very well do this to someone else.

I don’t wish to let myself off the hook here. Part of reckoning with your personal history, good and bad, is being completely up front about your flaws. Even before my nervous breakdown, there were a few instances in which my communications were over the top, many of which I have documented in full detail below. I’m not perfect. I don’t know who the hell is.

If McArdle had confined her article to the night of September 25, 2014, as others did, I wouldn’t have to respond with this lengthy rebuttal. McArdle is absolutely right to condemn my behavior triggered by a mental breakdown. And I can personally guarantee that no amount of hatred, scorn, relish in my continued suffering, or vengeance that McArdle or anyone else possesses for me can ever equal how terrible, contrite, and ashamed I feel about what happened. The question here is how much suffering is enough. I lost everything I had. I suffered a mental collapse. I was locked up in a hospital. I was harassed by my abusive mother calling me at all hours on the hallway pay phone as I was trying to get well. I was thoroughly humiliated and heartbroken. I spent months of my life homeless and jobless after being shunned by my family and by people who I thought were my friends. I lost the woman I loved. Is that enough? It is clearly not my question to answer. Some of you may undoubtedly feel that I have not received enough punishment, that I should continue to suffer for the rest of my life. Some of you may feel that I deserve no mercy, no compassion, no dignity, that I should neither have happiness nor offer happiness to others – despite making serious and good faith adjustments to my life with therapy and positivism.

Here is the truth: My transgressions were hardly the frequent and rampant run that McArdle has made them out to be, nor did they reflect an abusive pattern carried out over years. The article severely discounts the considerably more numerous cordial communications I had with writers, publicists, editors, and related parties for more than a decade. (See ¶¶60-61 below for examples of how I typically conducted myself.) Moreover, the many death threats and belligerent communications I received from writers (including a Pulitzer finalist and a National Book Award finalist) over who they believe me to be have suggested very strongly that my extreme behavior on one regrettable night isn’t nearly as uncommon as what goes on regularly among a savage and insular group masquerading as progressive-minded champions of literature.

Because this is a very long document with much evidential spillover, I have included two appendices for the sake of keeping this clear and organized. The first appendix outlines in complete detail how the Twitter exchange between Khakpour and I happened, how Khakpour willfully lied and distorted our communications, and how I, in turn, reacted with even more despicable desperation. The second appendix responds to Jessa Crispin’s defamatory claims by including the entirety of our correspondence. Crispin has been making libelous claims about me for many years and her false assertions helped persuade the literary world to howl for my blood, yet conveniently she has never produced any evidence. Unfortunately for her, I have copies of all of our exchanges. Her claims do not hold up. She is a liar and a libeler in the Goebbels tradition.

I have responded to each claim by paragraph number. I do not want to give Brooklyn Magazine any traffic, but the curious can download a copy of the article here.

I have done my best to be as complete as possible and have tried to mitigate against any subjective views by sticking with the facts. I have, however, offered a few personal asides in some cases, in an effort to point out how one’s own shame and guilt is often unseen as the crowd cries loud for retribution. Since I am defending myself, I am sure that my defense will be called into question anyway. And it should. The only way we learn anything in life is through constant challenge. But if there are any mistakes, I will correct this article and hold myself fully to the fire.

One further but very important note: This is a rebuttal grounded in facts, not an invitation for harassment in any form. I seek with this article to not only reveal the truth, but to consider, where I am able to, how my words may have caused the literary community to condemn me. (An interlude on satire and the thorny subject of violence expressed in words can be found sometime after ¶83 below.) I realize that my writing voice is loud, erudite, and often aggressive. But this confession is about how I have actually behaved. I am holding my own terrible deportment on one night up to even more exacting standards than McArdle’s “journalism.”

Claim, ¶2: “On September 26, 2014, Ed Champion stood again…”

FALSE. I made only one suicide attempt on the morning of September 26, 2014. (Reported by The Brooklyn Paper, September 26, 2014.) Why is such a detail important? Because a person who tries to kill himself always remembers the date. The date is a shameful shroud that slowly becomes invisible as the time passes, but it’s a permanent reminder burning into the deepest parts of your soul with the telltale message that you were once so hopeless that you wanted to end it all. Every day away from this diaphanous millstone is a painful baby step, an increment measured in tears that becomes easier as the weeks and the months and the years roll on. But when someone disrupts this melancholy marker by planting another one, it’s akin to smothering a toddler who is just learning to walk. For just as there’s no going back to your life if you do successfully kill yourself, there is also no returning to the person you were before. You must learn how to live again. It was for this reason that I returned to the Manhattan Bridge on September 26, 2015 and walked across it with a deep sense of joy. Finding the beauty and marvel in life is the only way you can beat the suffering. September 26, 2014 will be forever burned into my memory in the same way that others remember their wedding anniversaries or the birthdays of their children or a moment in which their career took off. Despite the dark context, it’s a date I must live with.

Claim, ¶2: “…had written a despairing note on Facebook the night before.”

TRUE on despairing note. FALSE on time. The Facebook post, since deleted, that McArdle incorrectly quotes (see brackets) from in ¶1 (“If I have any advice to young people, I urge you [to] never write or become part of the publishing industry.”) was actually posted on the morning of September 26, 2014 circa 7:00 AM. See below screenshot from Brandy Zadrozny (“38 minutes ago”). Time stamp for Twitter is Western time. Zadrozny’s tweet is 4:45 AM, or 7:45 AM Eastern time.

2

Claim, ¶4: “’Middling Millennials’ overflowed with grotesque descriptions of Gould’s body. She is ‘cold,’ ‘a minx’; she was ‘hatched’ rather than born; and Champion speculates about her ‘dewy newborn hands’ reaching ‘with hollow hunger’ for Twitter even before her umbilical cord is cut.” This is later used to buttress a claim in ¶5 that the essay is “starkly misogynistic.”

GROSSLY MISLEADING BUT SOMEWHAT TRUE. Some very respected writers informed me privately that my essay was not misogynistic. This was very kind, but I don’t entirely agree with them, yet I don’t believe that the 11,000 word piece that I wrote in protest of Emily Gould and superficial thinking was rooted in a desire to hate women, even though I now recognize how some of the language that I used could be perceived that way and am forced to conclude that the essay was partially misogynistic. The paragraph’s topic sentence suggests that the essay “overflow[s] with grotesque descriptions of Gould’s body,” but the examples cited are metaphorical, mostly aligned with a recurring motif of baptism and birth.

Uses of “cold”:

“One clearly sees that, even before she poured the Internet’s water over her naked confessional form in an oddly bathetic baptism, Gould’s relationship with other people was predicated upon diminishing their perspectives and rigging the narrative so that she emerged as the coldblooded white bread winner.” The use of “naked confessional form” here is clearly metaphorical. “Cold” is used in reference to her temperament.

“Did Gould have any sympathy, any sense of the impact of her actions, or any understanding about the way the book business worked (even after her Hyperion stint)? Not at all. She was colder than the mist on a chilled champagne glass.” No reference to the corporeal.

Use of “minx”:

“But when a minx’s head is so deeply deposited up her own slimy passage, it’s often hard to see the sunshine.”

McArdle’s case against me is far from airtight, but in the interest of entertaining her interpretation and trying to grow as a person, I would say that, if the essay is in any way “starkly misogynistic,” it’s probably with this line. This essay was written from a place of welled up anger that had been boiling for years. I am deeply ashamed that it exploded in this feral form with this line, which I should never have included. It was clearly an elegant variation on Gould having her head up her own ass. Many readers interpreted an altogether different cavity from the one I described. It never occurred to me that I was objectifying Gould at the time that I wrote it. And I have in the intervening years reached out to feminist thinkers and worked with therapists in an effort to deracinate this impulse. (As ¶¶99-100 reveal below, while I’d hardly call myself a monk, I rarely sexualized women in my writing.) Two people (both women) reviewed this paragraph before it was published and did not say anything. I made the mistake of not running the essay by someone who was more sensitive to language. And I definitely made the mistake of letting anger overcome my otherwise progressive-minded views on gender inequality, which I am firmly against.

“Minx” is typically a ”a young, pert, wanton girl” or a woman who is daring. This was not intended as a misogynist term, but to reference the image that Gould promoted of herself in both her New York Times Magazine cover story (“‘I’m bad at describing sex, or maybe everyone is,’ I wrote at one point, but I didn’t let that stop me from trying!”) and her memoir, And the Heart Says Whatever. Nevertheless, the word’s etymology goes back to the Low German minsk, which is a vulgar term for “wench, hussy, slut.” And I now comprehend that it’s pretty commonly understood that “minx” is misogynist. Needless to say, I won’t be using this word ever again in describing anyone.

Use of “hatched”:

“Emily Gould was hatched in Silver Spring, Maryland on October 13, 1981: the bouncing daughter of a public relations man and a self-employed lawyer and mediator.” This sentence does not refer to Gould’s body in any way.

Use of “dewy newborn hands,” et al.:

“Had social media and smartphones been around more than three decades ago, it is almost certain that her dewy newborn hands would have stretched out with hollow hunger to replace the default egg avatar on her Twitter account not long after overworked doctors snipped her umbilical cord.” Again, this is a reference to baptism and birth.

Claim, ¶7: “Minutes later he tweeted a picture of a bridge walkway.”

FALSE. I never tweeted an image of a bridge walkway on June 26th, 2014. This suggestion of intent is recycled from an erroneous article published by an equally irresponsible writer named Miles Klee at The Daily Dot on June 27th, 2014, which took a tweet that I published on June 20, 2014 (and later deleted), claiming that this was evidence that I was going to kill myself. I had no suicidal thoughts when I took this picture, but very much enjoyed the view. I am sure you would too, if you ever have the honor or the good fortune to walk across the Triborough Bridge. And if you examine the tweet timestamp, you will find that the time I tweeted the picture was June 20, 2014, at 8:10 PM

4

Claim, ¶10: “Millions writer Maureen Murphy offered up a screenshot of a comment Champion had directed towards her: ‘Learn how to think or you’ll end up dead and useless.’”

MISLEADING. The claim here is used to suggest that I threatened Maureen Murphy with this line, but within the context of what Murphy quoted, I clearly proffered a philosophical question, whereby one is alive and thinking or dead and not thinking. This is no different from Max Müller’s sentiment in Science of Language: “Words without thoughts are dead sounds.” Or Samuel Johnson’s idea of existence without thought: “He that lives in that torpid insensibility, wants nothing of a carcase but putrefaction.” Murphy never claimed that I threatened her. This observation is used by McArdle to buttress Maud Newton’s unsubstantiated claim in the same paragraph: “The venom is so widespread and continuous few people keep up with the extent of it.” Here is a link to Murphy’s tweet and to the Millions comment in question.

5

Claim, ¶11: “’Middling Millennials,’ the collective voice of my Twitter feed suggested, did not come out of left field. How long had this been going on? I wondered. Why hadn’t anything been done about it? What could be done now? And who would be the person, or people, to do it?”

followed by ¶12:

“When he very publicly disparaged another woman online in September, it looked to me not like a duplicate of what had happened in June but like the prolonged conclusion of what June had begun: an individual and an industry coming to grips with a pattern of abuse that stretched back over a decade.”

FALSE PROPOSITION. McArdle’s willingness to play armchair shrink with someone she has never met or spoken with belies her baleful intent. The suggestion here is that my Emily Gould essay was the peremptory cri de coeur of an abusive and threatening man who terrorized the literary world for more than ten years. McArdle suggests that there is a “pattern of abuse,” yet the examples that she serves up throughout the essay are easily debunked by her specious evidential support and the actual correspondence I had with the interviewed parties.

Claim, ¶14: “The catalyst, according to Khakpour, was a comment Champion had written on her Facebook page that disparaged Slate senior editor Dan Kois, a man on his lengthy list of personae non gratae. Khakpour deleted it, perhaps signaling to Champion that she had finally sided with his many censors—had, in fact, become one herself.”

FALSE. Aside from the preposterous suggestion that I maintained a Nixon-style “Enemies List,” the argument against this claim could very well be that McArdle was not entitled to conduct due diligence. But this is nevertheless a one-sided account that fails to tell the full truth. The catalyst for what set me over the edge was the combination of alcohol, mental health issues, and Porochista Khakpour calling me “shockingly nasty” and then railing against me as “cruel and abusive,” suggesting that I was a stalker, when in fact this was not the case. (See Appendix A: The Porochista Chronicles, which documents the entirety of what actually happened. I am ashamed of my reaction.)

Claim, ¶18: “Every agent in the world was rejecting him…That’s why his final tweets where he’s outing me, being really nasty to me, what he’s really saying is fuck you publishing. I’m just a weird symbolic sacrifice.”

FALSE. Aside from the astonishing narcissism driving the “symbolic sacrifice” claim, I establish in Appendix A that Khakpour’s venomous and frenetic communications helped inspire me to crack and do something stupid and horrific. (Again, this reaction was my fault, my gormless and insensate alcohol-fueled decision, my crackup.) Moreover, I only submitted my novel, They Came for Blood, to ten agents, many of whom requested the full manuscript. This is a comparatively small number of agents to query and a decent conversion rate. This unsubstantiated line is adopted by McArdle to paint me as a failed writer.

Claim, ¶22: “’It’s hard to overstate what a positive, moderating force she’s been for him,’ said blogger Eric Rosenfield. Weinman ‘practically defines the term ‘long-suffering.’”

FALSE AND MISLEADING. In my modest friendship with Eric Rosenfeld, he was consistently rude, antisocial, and outright clueless, even though I fondly remember a few times where we sang Bowie songs in his apartment. I introduced him to one of my well-loved, longtime friends who moved out here from California and we all spent time together. There was one time, when we went out to eat in Chinatown, where Rosenfield harassed an overworked restaurant worker who was on his break and demanded to eat his soup. It was some of the most heartless and debasing behavior I have ever seen imparted to an underpaid blue-collar worker from someone I knew. And as someone who grew up relatively poor, this outrageous conduct pretty much signaled to me that I could not have this man in my life. Furthermore, when Rosenfield and I hosted the short-lived Wold Newton reading series at Word Brooklyn, Rosenfield made several science fiction/fantasy writers feel uncomfortable. I did my best to smooth things over with publicists and authors alike. I quietly extricated myself from my involvement with the reading series, but fulfilled my responsibilities. If he considered Weinman “a positive, moderating force,” it was only because I vocalized our collective horror and she didn’t.

Claim, ¶28: “This seemed to go well for a while, but the stream of work trickled to a stop ‘as he began progressively alienating the people who he needed to get freelance work from’ around 2011.”

MISLEADING, UNSUBSTANTIATED. Eric Rosenfield was not privy to my relationships with editors. Thus, he is not a reliable source. McArdle did not appear to contact any of the editors I worked with for this piece. This is, in short, sloppy and unfounded journalism. I had cordial relations with most of the editors I worked with (but with full candor, I will report that there was one unnamed editor, who I became angry with after he did something especially cruel to my former partner: a case where I was very unprofessional), but book review sections were being ruthlessly cut around the same time period, with freelancers among the first to get the axe.

Claim, ¶30: Jason Pinter’s claims. “I could hear Ed in the background screaming and ranting.” “He was completely unhinged.” McArdle sourced from three tweets below:

From September 30, 2014, 9:22 AM:

pinter1

From September 30, 2014, 9:24 AM:

pinter2

From September 30, 2014, 9:25 AM:

pinter3

A SUBJECTIVE MESS. PARTIALLY DISPUTED. I was certainly shouting that evening as the tweets came in. The only acts of violence I committed that night were punching a file cabinet and sliding my phone across a hardwood floor. I had no desire to be physically violent to anyone. This doesn’t excuse what I tweeted to Khakpour. At one point, Weinman called the police, but the police, seeing me sit quietly if sodden and near catatonic on the couch, told Weinman that they couldn’t do anything. So was I unhinged? Or was I in a state of shock? Does such a man deserve compassion or is he a monster who cannot possibly be forgiven? The atmosphere of the apartment was a bleak climate of fear, especially because the tweets from others were menacing. But what did Pinter actually hear? He wasn’t there. Was he permitting the impression generated by Twitter that evening to color and influence his viewpoint? More accurately, was he allowing his justifiable concern for a friend (Weinman, not me; despite the fact that I had nothing but positive things to say about him, Pinter viewed me as some stray diseased dog accompanying Weinman that he had to endure) to cause his own fears and perceptions to run wild? It seems very likely.

In an email exchange I had with Pinter on June 29, 2015, here is what he had to say:

It’s easy to splice and parse every moment of that night in hindsight. But you’re looking to make me the aggressor here, or blame me for not being able to talk you out of it, which is childish and cowardly bullshit. And that’s all this email chain is – you looking to deflect blame, to demonize people who criticize your appalling actions. If this ‘herd’ means not standing for sexual threats or bullying any longer, then fuck it, I’m in the herd. I don’t think you’re a monster. So blame me for whatever you want to blame me for if it helps you feel better about yourself, and so you can keep believing this false narrative that you’re this misunderstood man chased by angry villagers wielding pitchforks and torches. You brought every iota of this upon yourself. You did something unspeakably awful, and while I’m sure some of what was written about in all those articles was also or blown out of proportion, a lot of it was true. And I could write thousands of words trying to get you to see how misguided you are in, nine months later, reaching out solely for the purpose of blaming me for, what? I’m still not exactly sure. Defending your behavior? I’m not going to do that.

I never asked Pinter to defend my behavior. I wrote to him, “I am aware of my transgressions and am more punitive towards my own monstrous behavior than you ever can be.” He wrote, “You’re constructing a narrative to fit whatever story you’ve made up, that I’ve viewed you as a monster for years, or whatever else you need to view yourself as a victim here (you are not).” It never occurred to Pinter that I was drunk and having a nervous breakdown on that night, that I could be both a transgressor experiencing a crackup and a victim of vigilante justice erected by an online impression that was wrong, which I responded to with behavior that was also wrong. It never occurred to Pinter that asking him about the night in question might have been a way for me to come to terms with the full horror of what I did. It never occurred to Pinter that he and McArdle were also constructing a narrative, that all of us create narratives. Can you forgive a man who lost his marbles? Jason Pinter can’t. But Edward Champion sometimes can’t either. That’s why I’m writing this rebuttal, and I’m not liking what I see in myself. Or to quote Gandhi, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”

What Pinter does do quite helpfully with his response is to demonstrate that there is no possible redemption for the transgressions of one night, that all perceived and invented transgressions outside that night are solely interpreted through that night, that any efforts to reckon with what I did represent a “false narrative,” and that the lies and conjectures promulgated by McArdle of a sustained performance of “sexual threats or bullying” are nevertheless “true.” Is this how we contend with troublemakers? Is this how we help people who we perceive as awful? Is this how “monsters”are “reformed” in the digital age? Do we not forgive people even when they’re actively working to change? Do we not listen to people? Or do we simply create largely mythical articles that nest like punitive parasites in the top Google search results?

Claim, ¶31: “Though the suicide attempt was reported in the Brooklyn Paper, few in publishing connected the Friday morning bridge closure with Champion.”

WILLFUL EFFORT TO EMBARRASS AND HUMILIATE. This is a deliberate effort to embarrass me. I do know that Laura Miller, who delighted in her blinkered and error-prone condemnation of me in Salon (“countless obsessive grudges,” unsubstantiated “horror stories”), was probably aware of my suicide attempt, as were others. But to their credit, they underplayed my suicide attempt. Because some part of them still believed in respect and noblesse oblige. McArdle, however, does not. It is humiliation to reinforce the image of suicide thirty paragraphs later. (She also repeats my Facebook note at ¶32.)

Claim, ¶43: “His first episode featured David Mitchell, who has since appeared on the show a total of four times.”

FALSE. Three times (one in two parts). She can’t count.

Claim, ¶46: “…but at the same time you could see his some of his personality flaws coming through. He could get self-aggrandizing with guests. Sometimes he asked questions that were challenging in the wrong ways, trying to make a point for himself.” Quote from Jacob Silverman.

SPECULATIVE, UNSUBSTANTIATED. Silverman has, in his quotes, largely confined his ideas about me to speculation. But he never cites a specific example of my “personality flaws,” how “self-aggrandizing” I was as an interviewer (and, hell, aren’t most interviewers self-aggrandizing in some way?), or how my questions were “challenging in the wrong ways.”

My interviews were certainly challenging and quite intellectual. It was likely my rigorous engagement, my efforts to conduct interviews that were unlike anything else and that didn’t fall into PR boilerplate, that caused people like Silverman, who frequently interpreted my work falsely, to be “challenging in the wrong ways.” But I think the late David Rakoff, a terribly kind man and a first-class wit, probably summed up why authors sometimes felt scared:

To: Edward Champion

From: David Rakoff

Date: 11/26/2007 11:39 AM

Subject: Re: Thanks!

Ed:

Many thanks right back to you. I’d say yours was among the smartest and most exhaustive (and therefore scary: my Helmut Newton hackdom still rings in my ears) interviews I’ve ever had/done.

Hope all the deadlines are being conquered.

david

Claim, ¶48: “She spoke of conflicts that took place on individual Facebook pages, in direct messages, through at-reply conversations on Twitter. ‘You might see parts of it but not the whole megillah.’”

FALSE, CIRCUMSTANTIAL, AND UNSUBSTANTIATED. There are no examples cited by Jennifer Weiner. What conflicts? As a former journalist, she should know better. But then this is the same writer who invents conspiracies playing out at The New York Times.

Claim, ¶49: “Over the past few months, I’ve spoken to twenty-four people by phone and nineteen more by email. Nearly every person I spoke to had a story about Champion: how he threatened them by phone and by email, on Twitter and in DMs, in comment sections and on his own blog; how he contacted their bosses and publishers and family members; how he created a reputation so toxic people—still—fear drawing his attention. Though his most public clashes have only occurred in the past year, Champion’s history of misbehavior stretches back to the early 2000s.”

MISLEADING, CIRCUMSTANTIAL, AND UNSUBSTANTIATED. This paragraph is used as the basis for the fabrications, conjectures, and rumors that follow. It attempts to establish:

1. Ed Champion threatens people by phone and by email.

2. Ed Champion threatens people on Twitter and in DMs.

3. Ed Champion threatens people in comment sections and on his own blog.

4. Ed Champion contacted bosses and publishers and family members.

5. Ed Champion created a toxic reputation.

6. Ed Champion has been misbehaving since the early 2000s.

This is where the claims start to go south in this deceitful piece, turning into an elaborate inductive fallacy that can be summed up as follows:

1. If Ed Champion had a breakdown and terrorized Porochista Khakpour on one night, then Champion must have done this to other people.

2. We have heard a few things about Champion and we really don’t need to corroborate.

3. Therefore, Champion terrorized nearly everyone he encountered for more than a decade.

McArdle has every right to comment upon the quality of my writing or to even report upon my despicable tweets to Khakpour or my suicide attempt. She does not have the right to stretch the facts so completely out of proportion so that my bad behavior, mostly confined to one night, is symbolic of an entire life. To parrot McArdle: Reader, this is defamation (although grounded on something more than a subjective opinion).

Claim, ¶50: “’We were friendly—and I think this is how a lot of these stories start—he and I were friendly,’ Jessa Crispin told me. ‘I had one of the first breaks with him in that community.’”

FALSE AND UNSUBSTANTIATED. As is clear from Appendix B: The Jessa Crispin-Edward Champion Correspondence, which contains the entirety of my emails with her, it was Jessa who often contacted me, expressing umbrage. I replied back with several kind and largely cordial messages. She undermined the blogging community, accused me of “talking shit,” and I responsibly corrected a blog entry when she brought an error to my attention. I also sent a condolence email when one of her family members died. I even lobbied for her inclusion in the Litblog Co-Op despite her vituperative emails and her dismissiveness of its members. Despite not contacting her at all for a seven year period, she continued to mention me.

Claim, ¶51: “’Ed sent this incredibly unhinged email to Steve,’ Crispin described, ‘and I thought it had to be a joke. Ed essentially threatened him because he wasn’t formatting his paragraphs properly on the blog. That was literally the complaint.’ (Almond has ‘a vague recollection’ of the incident.)”

FALSE. Crispin can’t produce the email, but I never threatened Steve Almond. The “email” was public, part of my old blog, Plight of the Reluctant. The entry was circa mid-September 2003. Since this was more than thirteen years ago, I have been unable to locate it in my archives, but, without evidence, this is a patently false claim. It is interesting how she echoes Pinter’s “unhinged” for an invented transgression, almost as if the narrative established on Twitter is the only one that matters. Elizabeth Loftus’s Eyewitness Testimony is an excellent volume that documents in stunning detail how easily words and details can be implanted in a witness’s memory. The longer that the eyewitness moves away from the events, the more easily manipulated the testimony becomes. It is for this reason that, in reconstructing what I have actually done (and I am not entirely innocent, as can be seen with ¶55, ¶56, and ¶79), I have been very careful to stick with notes and emails that I wrote in the immediate aftermath of the events.

Claim, ¶52: “He sent one of these crazy emails saying ‘You will live to regret this’ and on and on and on. It was terrifying. I immediately deleted it. I didn’t go in the room for two days. It’s just words and he lives in another city, but there is something so violent and body-based about it. You feel so unsafe, like he is behind you with a knife.”

FALSE, MISLEADING, UNSUBSTANTIATED. As Appendix B demonstrates, I never used the word “regret” in any of my exchanges with her. Nor were my messages drenched in “violent and body-based” imagery. That McArdle uses this false and unsubstantiated claim with the “like he is behind you with a knife” claim to suggest that I am some homicidal maniac is outrageous, defamatory, irresponsible, and damaging.

Claim, ¶53: “I started noticing things.” Quote from Laila Lalami.

FALSE AND UNSUBSTANTIATED. What did she notice? No specific incident is mentioned.

Claim, ¶53: “E. Max Magee.”

FALSE. The editor’s name is C. Max Magee.

Claim, ¶54: “Over the years I heard the same story. The details might change and the people might change, but the story was always essentially the same. Somebody would say something that they thought was completely innocent or innocuous, then Ed would take great offense, and then would confront them and demand something, an apology or taking down a post or putting up a post, and if his demands weren’t met then he would become extremely angry. Frankly it was frightening.”

UNSUBSTANTIATED. Why isn’t there a specific incident cited? This is a speculative template. It is not concrete evidence. This is designed to create a myth, to get people believing in a phony pattern suggesting that this is the only way I communicate with people. Yes, I have confronted people when facts are wrong. But there is nothing cited here to buttress this “same story.”

Claim, ¶55: “He flew off the handle at me ages ago (don’t remember when) for a perceived slight,” book marketer Kalen Landow told me in email, “He had put together a list and I shared it on Facebook. For whatever reason he thought I’d stolen his content and I got a blistering series of DMs about it. I clarified with something like, ‘Uh, I posted a link.’ He apologized and that was the end of that. It was a red flag for me.”

FALSE, DEFAMATORY, AND GROSSLY MISLEADING. Here is the Twitter exchange with Kalen Landow. As you can see, the exchange was far from “a blistering series of DMs,” but a misinterpretation on my part which I calmly expressed when I was very tired:

kalen

kalen2

kalen3

Claim, ¶55: Elyssa East’s claims.

TRUE. What’s missing from this story, however, is the email I sent to Elyssa East on July 1, 2014 at 10:20 PM:

Elyssa:

Just so we’re clear, on November 1, 2012, I sent you two emails during the turmoil of Hurricane Sandy.  I was deeply impassioned, extremely worried about people I knew, and concerned about the plight of the poor and sent you a strongly worded email.  This was, by no means, intended an attack or threat upon you personally. Nevertheless, I apologize for my tone and language at the time.

Sincerely,

Edward Champion

I never contacted her again.

Claim, ¶56: Emily Mandel’s claims.

TRUE. The tweet in question was intended as satirical. Months later, in realizing how my satire was being misinterpreted, I made amends through this exchange:

To: Emily Mandel

From: Edward Champion
Date: 7/30/2014 3:47 PM
Subject: An apology

Emily:

My apologies if you receive this message twice. I don’t wish to pester you, but I do want to be sure that you get this important message.

On August 30, 2013, I tweeted the following: “Victory is not resorting to the subtweet. I don’t respect you either. Why don’t you go swallow a glass of cyanide?” The intent of the tweet was to present a physically impossible proposition in a satirical context. I never wished for your death nor did I intend to threaten you. I have been on the receiving end of several death threats in response to an essay I wrote, and now understand that my words, despite the jocular intent, were inappropriate. I have deleted the tweet and offer my sincere and heartfelt apologies for any distress that the tweet caused you.

Thanks and all best,

Ed

To: Edward Champion

From: Emily Mandel

Date: 7/30/2014 4:47 PM

Subject: Re: An apology

Thank you, apology received and accepted.

I never contacted her again.

Claim, ¶58: “I’m not saying that Champion could do a lot of damage, but the fear of damage he could do, even by manipulating Google searches, is real.” Quote from John Freeman.

FALSE, ASSUMPTIVE, AND CIRCUMSTANTIAL. John Freeman, one of the most imaginative and defamatory liars quoted in this piece, makes a lot of false assumptions and libelous claims about me. He contends that I could manipulate Google searches, but, if I knew how to do that (and I don’t), I wouldn’t be writing this rebuttal.

Claim, ¶59: “Fear of intimidation, physical safety, and career backlash kept people quiet.” Quote from Rebecca Schlinsky.

SPECULATIVE, ASSUMPTIVE, NO EXAMPLES CITED. The piece never establishes a convincing case for where I threatened anyone’s physical safety. The “intimidation” angle is repeated by Porochista Khakpour’s publicist two paragraphs later. This piece becomes less and less a work of journalism and more of an elaborate smear campaign as it continues.

Claim, ¶60-61: “Every publicist has been harassed by [Champion] at some point,” Summer Smith, associate director of publicity at Bloomsbury, also said on Twitter.” AND “He bullies & threatens, intimidates & insults, that is how he gets interviews.”

FALSE AND DEFAMATORY, PARTIAL EVIDENCE. No incident is cited. I was not in the habit of harassing publicists. Much to my amazement, some even reached out to me after the September incident. I landed interviews because I respected the work and the schedules of authors and publicists.

From a March 19, 2008 email to Summer Smith:

Thanks for getting back to me. Unfortunately, as much as I’ve enjoyed Meg’s work, this is one of those cases in which deadlines and other interviews have precluded me from committing the time, quality, and energy that I usually invest in these conversations. So I’m sorry that I have to pass this time. But I’m happy to touch base the next time around. And again, please feel free to let me know about other authors.

From a June 10, 2010 email to Summer Smith:

It was a pleasure to chat with you on the phone yesterday. This email confirms that Scarlett and I are set to talk on the 22nd at 3:00 PM. Location TBD. It just occurred to me that you’re probably now on summer hours. So what time would your office at Park Avenue South be closed on Friday in order for me to pick up the book?

From a November 11, 2010 email to Summer Smith:

Thanks so much for getting back to me. And I hope all is well! This would be like Scarlett. Around 45 minutes or so. Some public place that’s convenient for him. In person, anywhere in the five boroughs. So if there are a few good time windows and neighborhoods that you have in mind, that would be a good start! How long is Andrew in town for? And what times are looking good? Also, I should add the proviso that I’ll be doing a live interview with Paul Murray at Word Brooklyn on the 5th. So the 7th would probably have to be our earliest day for this.

From an April 18, 2011 email to Summer Smith:

I was wondering if you could direct me to the person handling Susan Freinkel’s PLASTIC: A TOXIC LOVE STORY. This very much sounds like a book that I could generate some coverage around. Additionally, are there plans for Susan to come to New York?

From a June 19, 2013 email to Summer Smith:

Apologies for being slightly late on the draw, but I’m writing to see if we can squeeze Anchee Min into the Bat Segundo lineup when she’s in NYC. My understanding is that she’s here on Monday. I have the book. But I’m also doing two other interviews on Monday without a lot of flexibility for a massive Follow Your Ears show. It is possible for me to meet up with Anchee between noon and 2PM, and even maybe right before her event at B&N. (But we would need a quiet room.) My instincts suggest that this would be an intriguing conversation. Let me know if we can swing this! If not, happy to work with you both on another author.

From an August 13, 2013 email to Summer Smith:

That sounds like a plan, Michelle. And, yeah, I figured Jesmyn’s schedule was tight. You know, we could do this at the Bloomsbury office to make things easier — perhaps scheduling this around signing stock. If we had an office that was quiet, that should work for radio. Let me know if that works and I will get back in touch with you in a few weeks!

I was certainly persistent in my efforts to get interviews, but I was not in the habit of bullying, threatening, intimidating, or insulting. Additionally, Smith has served as Porochista Khakpour’s publicist, a fact and a conflict of interest that goes unmentioned in McArdle’s piece. Moreover, Smith is the only publicist (outside of Shannon Browne in ¶111-115, who is used to impugn Weinman) directly quoted in this piece. I have also spoken with two other publicists to rebut the Joanna Rakoff claim at ¶62 and the Sloane Crosley quote manipulation at ¶160. It is clear that I was a journalist in good standing.

Claim, ¶62: “Elon Green, in his article on Champion for The Toast, reported that writer Joanna Rakoff appeared on The Bat Segundo Show unwillingly this past June. “I had a couple of awful incidents with him, and asked not to do his (awful) show this time around.” Her publicist said, “We don’t want to make him angry, as he might go crazy and smear you.”

FALSE, PARTIAL EVIDENCE. The only communications I had with Joanna Rakoff before she appeared on The Bat Segundo Show was for my Shteyngart Blurbs documentary in which she appeared. Everything went fine. She did ask me to clarify the nature of the documentary over the phone before talking with me and I did so in a courteous and respectful manner. Which was presumably why she agreed to do it. (In a telephone conversation with the publicist on the morning of July 26, 2016, I asked the publicist if she had said anything along the lines of “We don’t want to make him angry.” The publicist told me, “These are words that I would never speak.” The publicist said that Rakoff felt that I was being overly persistent in my efforts to schedule the interview, even though my requests were courteous. “[Rakoff] felt like she was being slightly harassed,” said the publicist. “She was feeling a little bit worried that there was an element of, I don’t know, contentiousness.” Of course, a book publicist’s job is to protect her author. The publicist, who is a highly accomplished veteran who I worked with many times, also told me that most authors feel skittish about interviews and insinuated that such trepidations were normal. She did feel that my persistence was aggressive, if only because there were two simultaneous email exchanges going on, one with her and the other directly with Rakoff, in an effort to schedule the interview. I apologized to the publicist if my persistence was interpreted that way, pointing out that I never intended to come across as aggressive and that journalists do have to be persistent if they want to land interviews.) Rakoff is also very good friends with the man I threatened to name on Twitter on the night of September 25, 2014. So her statement, delivered second-hand, is partial and tainted, even though her sentiments are completely understandable. I bear no bad feelings whatsoever towards anyone who was sticking up for a friend, much less an accomplished author dealing with the butterfly nerves of publication. But it’s clear that this never happened.

Claim, ¶65: “Levi Asher, who calls Champion his best friend…“

FALSE. I love the man formerly known as Levi Asher to death, but he’s not my best friend and, according to Asher, he never said this to McArdle.

Claim, ¶68: “Referring to a period of time in which Champion decided to award “brownie points” to the New York Times Book Review on an issue-by-issue basis and then mail their office actual brownies, Weiner said, “there is a universe in which it’s creepy,” but another “in which I could see myself doing it.” Why not, after all, bring pies representing VIDA’s gender-based pie charts to male-dominated publications?”

NOTABLE OMISSION, TENDENTIOUS: For three years, I conducted the Tanenhaus Brownie Watch on an intermittent basis, whereby each issue of the NYTBR was judged on three criteria: (a) the fiction to non-fiction ratio, (b) the quirky pair-up test, whereby I observed what interesting voices were assigned to reviews, and (c) years before VIDA, the ratio of male to female reviewers writing for the NYTBR. Why is (c) important? Because I was doing a version of McArdle’s “pie charts” as part of the Brownie watch more than a decade before. In other words, between the years 2004 and 2006, I was doing the VIDA count five years before anybody else was. If McArdle were a responsible journalist, she would have observed this, instead of suggesting with her elision that gender balance was never one of my considerations. But of course, this championing of women writers does not fit in with her false thesis that I am a repugnant and unrepentant misogynist going out of his way to attack women.

Claim, ¶70: “When Champion assumed the role in public, Johnson said, ‘it was a scary character. He had a booming voice, very loud, very abusive. He’d come up and say ‘I’m Bat Segundo, who are you, bitch?’”

batsegundoFALSE, DEFAMATORY: I only performed the role of Bat Segundo once in person (pictured) on the evening of May 15, 2006 at The Big Hunt in Washington, DC, accompanied by a reporter who now works for a major newspaper who was in on the joke. It’s true that he was a loud and annoying Tony Clifton-like character. But he was not abusive and, to the best of my knowledge, he never said, “I’m Bat Segundo, who are you, bitch?” (I reached out by email to a few people who attended the party to be absolutely clear on this point.)

Claim, ¶71-72: “He’s a big guy, a pretty stocky guy.” Johnson, who is 6’2”, described Champion as a few inches taller than himself. “He has this huge voice, and he would lean over these women and call them names. It was borderline violent.” At one BEA event, Johnson was asked by a few women “to get [Champion] out of there because he was terrifying people. I ended up escorting him out of the party.”

batsegundo2FALSE, DEFAMATORY: Not only is Dennis Johnson a liar inventing a story that suits McArdle’s phony narrative of me as a relentless misogynist, but he gets several key details wrong. Bat Segundo appeared at The Big Hunt, part of a Litblog Co-Op party. He did not lean over women and call them names. As can be seen from the photo, he was making people laugh. But perhaps Johnson is consulting the below photo of “Bat Segundo” smiling and talking with Weinman, in which I am seen talking with Weinman, leaning over and falling in love with her. It’s a rather terrible poetic irony, given that this was the evening that my flirtations with Weinman began. Which is why I remember the evening so well.

“Bat Segundo” must have captured Johnson’s imagination. Because my height is 6’2″, not “a few inches taller” than Johnson. Additionally, much as Johnson would like to cast himself as the maverick gunslinger hurling the bad dude at the bar into the dusty street, Johnson did not escort me out of the party. I was kicked out because I briefly left the establishment and, when I returned, I refused to show my ID to the bouncers. I figured this would be in character for Bat Segundo. I called them “blackguards” and, as I recall, my over-the-top performance had the bouncers cracking up. It was a comedy performance, not an opportunity to hurt or abuse people.

Claim, ¶73: “The book he is shopping around is very violent in nature,” Khakpour tweeted on September 26, 2014, “which normally I would never bring up, other than he wrote me many times saying that he was starting to become the main character, who I believe is a murderer.”

FALSE, SPECULATIVE, DEFAMATORY: Khakpour was only sent the first two chapters of They Came for Blood: the first on March 26, 2014 and the second on April 18, 2014. She knew only scant details about the full story, much less the actual character. In the chapters sent to Khakpour, the main character does not murder anyone. He is ruthlessly beaten to a pulp in a bar. He is confronted by the mother of his child. He informs a married woman he is having an affair with that her husband is dead after he sleeps with her. If you want to mine for autobiography in an author’s work – and you probably shouldn’t then this theme of self-loathing and the pain associated with being part of a broken family is probably a bit more accurate of where I was at mentally. I was in deep anguish dwelling on these issues. Much as an actor will use the Stanislavsky Method to summon emotional energy to inhabit a character, a writer will very often summon comparable energies. The suggestion here is that, in writing about violence, I was becoming more violent, when in fact I was never physically violent towards anyone — other than myself when I tried to take my own life.

I’ve reviewed my correspondence with Khakpour three times and I cannot find a single instance where I said that I was “becoming the character.” I did speak with Khakpour on the phone on the evening of January 27, 2014, in which I discussed the progress on my novel, but my notes don’t reveal anything about “becoming the character.” Weinman did once observe me speaking like the character while having quite a lot to drink and had the good sense and the effrontery to confront me during this unsettling episode. But that is the extent of “becoming the character” that I am aware of. The closest passage I can find is from this encouraging email I wrote to her on September 22, 2013, after she had emailed Weinman and me about “a strange group that has formed to hate me suddenly”:

It has been widely observed by several sharp blades that most writers are crazy. Most of the time, this is manageable and (in most cases) charming eccentricity. I mean, we all go into rooms and create weird worlds, right? That’s a really weird job description. But there are a handful of people in the literary world are craven, mean, attention-starved, and truly miserable. We’re not talking people who are in clear need of serious psychological help like Ayelet Waldman, but the slow leeches who project their moribund obsessions on people who are “successful” in some sense, who have little more than crass competition as their raison d’etre. In most cases, these types have lost the ability to marvel at language. In nearly all cases, these types are socially clueless. I’ve had more than a few encounters with these people. No matter HOW nice I am, they still view me as devil incarnate. It’s a no win proposition. So why bother?

The only thing you can do is ignore them. Or call for backup (Porochista, you DO understand that we’re on telephone standby for you, right?) if you feel any impulse to give them power by acknowledging their presence.

But there’s one other thing you can do that these people can’t.

They can’t do the work.

They can’t do the work even when natural forces try to stop them. They can’t do the work even when the world ignites in madness.

But YOU and I can. I wrote close to 500 words of fiction today in a very uncomfortable train, as my stomach quivered with mild motion sickness. And I know you’ve done the same. THAT’S how you win, Porochista. And the brilliant thing is that it’s a victory that is simultaneously constructive and something in which you don’t have to acknowledge the people who want to tear you down. Because they CAN’T take away that.

I want to be clear. It goes without saying that you have done ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WRONG in soliciting help for Lyme disease. Only a heartless or incorrigible type — someone along the lines of what I’ve described above — would demand accounting or, heaven forfrend, a “reward” (Christ, isn’t your life enough?) for having the audacity to say, “Guys, I REALLY need help.”

Claim, ¶74: “On at least two occasions Champion called his threats of violence towards other writers ‘performance art.’”

SPECULATIVE, MISLEADING. There are only two “threats of violence” that McArdle can conjure up and, even here, these are predicated upon the mythical assumptions that there were dozens more. I have responded to McArdle’s wrong, patently ridiculous, and outright defamatory ideas of violence in ¶90.

Claim, ¶76: “Champion made a practice of violating the boundaries between public and private. When some would ignore him, it was not usual for him to contact their siblings or spouses. The message would inevitably reach its intended recipient, Champion’s original target, and speak its true meaning: no one is safe.”

PATENTLY FALSE AND DEFAMATORY. She cannot cite any true example to uphold her claim that I terrorized families or contacted siblings and spouses with malicious intent, especially with the “no one is safe” interpretation. The Freeman story is patently false and debunked at ¶77. The Lennon story (¶79), which is the second worst transgression I ever committed to anyone in the literary world of a mere four that I have concretely determined to be over-the-line and in which I am contrite and ashamed about in every way, involved Lennon’s wife approaching me to mediate between the two of us. Beyond this, these claims, even if true, don’t really do the job of getting a transgressor to own up to how he has actually sinned and what might have triggered him to do so (which I take up at length in ¶79). The Kiesling interpretation in ¶92-93 of a satirical April Fool’s Day comment is a family member reacting to it, not me going after her family. But the article is framed to make it look as if this was my intent all along.

Claim, ¶77: “Champion, who attended high school with Freeman, has written over 100 blog posts that mention the critic since 2004.”

FALSE, MISLEADING. I have published nearly 8,000 posts since December 2, 2003, largely about the book world. John Freeman was an omnipresent part of this and he practiced as a highly prolific critic swirling around in dozens of newspapers. Thus, by Freeman’s sheer ubiquitous presence, he was inevitably going to be mentioned on a regular basis if I wanted to cover the books world properly. I have conducted two independent searches through the entirety of my website. A mere 72 items show up. Many of these references are positive or neutral. Most of these references are part of link roundups I used to do, daily collections of useful articles that litbloggers often assembled in the days before Twitter which would often contain as many as 25 links in one post, such as this October 11, 2007 roundup (note the URL as well: “roundup-193”) in which I wrote, “John Freeman has a surprisingly decent report on the Frankfurt Book Fair.”

Claim, ¶77: “After Champion moved to New York around 2006, he began to show up to Freeman’s events, taking pictures of him, confronting him. Freeman made it a practice to ignore Champion, and so the blogger started reaching out to Freeman’s family members. ‘I wrote some personal essays about my family,’ Freeman told me, ‘and my mother was dying. Ed found my younger brother and started posting comments on his blog.’ Freeman, who had already endured some of Champion’s most extreme attentions, was shocked by this last violation.”

FALSE, DEFAMATORY, MISLEADING. I’ve tried to be very careful about this because I really want to be accurate. Because a source has informed me that Freeman once told the critic Carlin Romano that I was “stalking” him, which is the same suggestion implied by McArdle here. I’ve looked through past calendar entries and many years of emails, and I have concluded that I attended a grand total of four Freeman-moderated events, two during the same weekend when I was covering BookExpo America: (1) a June 1, 2007 BookExpo America panel on ethics in book reviewing (of which I wrote a two part report: Part One and Part Two), (2) a June 3, 2007 BookExpo America panel on the “crisis in book reviewing” (written about here), (3) a June 13, 2007 National Book Critics Circle panel called “Save Our Book Reviews,” in which I asked Freeman why book reviews were so dry and without any vibrancy, and (4) a January 23, 2008 event at McNally Jackson, attended with Levi Asher, largely because the two of us were curious about Lee Siegel (Freeman happened to be interviewing him) and this was a pit stop on the way to an event at the Boxcar Lounge. Why was I taking pictures of him? Because, as the links above demonstrate, I was reporting on the panels.

Tim Freeman, John’s younger brother, actually reached out to me through comments he left on this blog. On October 14, 2009, after I posted a video of an acting performance from my college days, Tim Freeman wrote, “Hah-hah, I like this! That’s exactly how I remember you.” He also left affectionate and cordial comments on another post, when I had put up a video from 1993. I liked Tim. He was a nice and enthusiastic kid. So I left some comments over at his blog not long after this cordial colloquy, which I regrettably can’t corroborate because Tim has made his blog private. (I emailed Tim Freeman to determine the date when I first left a comment on his blog. He did not respond.) John Freeman’s writing had nothing to do with this exchange.

It’s true that I did read some of John Freeman’s personal essays and wrote about this as an example of confessional writing’s dangers on February 8, 2007, in which I referred to Freeman twice as “a good guy” and openly asked “if Freeman’s personal confessions were creating more rancor than resolution.” But in McArdle’s characterization of my reporting – which involves taking pictures, asking questions, and writing lengthy dispatches – she is being outright defamatory and misleading with her language. And Freeman, claiming that my exchange with his brother had to do with him and by suggesting motives that he never took up with me and that were entirely nestled in his deranged imagination, is McArdle’s willing executioner.

Claim, ¶78: “Champion also made a practice of contacting his targets’ employers and—regardless of how unhinged he might sound in those emails—raised uncomfortable conversations for them in their workplaces.”

FALSE, DEFAMATORY, UNSUBTANTIATED. Her examples are fallacious, as the forthcoming responses will reveal.

Claim, ¶79: “On one trip to New York, however, [J. Robert] Lennon had become absorbed in a particularly painful family issue and emailed Champion explaining why they wouldn’t be able to meet up. Champion rejected Lennon’s reasons, called the family issue ‘a first world problem,’ and broke off the friendship. Then Champion forwarded the email in which Lennon had described this dreadful, and clearly private, situation to every contact he had at Graywolf Press, Lennon’s publisher. Champion demanded that they drop Lennon as an author: Graywolf could not in good conscience support the work of a person whose family was involved in such circumstances.”

PARTIALLY TRUE, PARTIALLY FALSE, MISLEADING, A RECKONING FOR WHAT I REALLY DID WRONG. In late 2012, Weinman and I were trying to help Lennon find another agent. We had hoped to meet with him. This was a series of misunderstandings on both sides, one in which Lennon’s wife, Rhian Ellis, attempted to intervene nearly two years later. I had total sympathy for his family situation, but I never sent these details onto Graywolf during our initial exchange. Still I did not appreciate it when Lennon emailed me on November 12, 2012, “Are you insane?” That was the source of my anger. I replied, “Only an inconsiderate and judgmental asshole spouting his litany of fairly legitimate First World problems would further sully the waters by broaching the question, ‘Are you insane?’” Note that, even with my vitriol, I did say that his problems were legitimate.

I never forwarded Lennon’s 2012 email to Graywolf, nor will I publish the details here, nor did I demand that Lennon be dropped as an author. (In fact, I interviewed Graywolf authors Kathryn Davis on September 9, 2013, Dorthe Nors on February 12, 2014, and Leslie Jamison on March 21, 2014 – a very long conversation that I never aired for stupid and irrational reasons chronicled below.) I did, however, contact Graywolf about Lennon two years later.

On March 29, 2014, Graywolf editorial director Ethan Nosowsky tweeted at me, suggesting that I could not read an essay by Geoff Dyer. He was egged on by Lennon. There had been an ongoing feud between Nosowsky and me. In a now deleted tweet, Nosowsky had belittled a thorough investigation I had conducted into the affairs of Dave Eggers, his former employer, in which I had discovered financial improprieties and reported on Abdulrahman Zeitoun’s violent assaults.

I wish I could say that I responded gracefully, but I didn’t. I tweeted, “Yes, @nosowsky, I read it through to the end, you imperious, cowardly, tweet-deleting, shit-talking, midcult cunt.” I was extremely stressed, writing a very difficult chapter, and was nearing the home stretch of finishing my novel (which I completed the next day, on March 30, 2014). I was very sensitive about my work. I should never have been on Twitter. I should not have tweeted what I did to Nosowsky. I also should never have telephoned Lennon that night to confront him about what he was doing on Twitter, in which both of us reacted to each other with outsize theatrical outbursts: he laughing diabolically and me responding with some melodramatic impression of a villain. This doesn’t excuse my behavior, for which I remain ashamed and slackjawed, but it does point to the beginnings of the burgeoning anxieties and path to self-destruction that led me to crack on the evening of September 25, 2014. Because the email I sent to Erin Kottke and Fiona McCrae – demanding an apology, not Lennon dropped as an author — makes absolutely no sense at all:

To: Erin Kottke

Cc: Fiona McCrae

Date: March 29, 2014, 7:51 PM

Subject: Unprofessional conduct from Ethan Nosowsky

Erin and Fiona:

I am very sorry to send this email, but Ethan Nosowsky is absolutely out of line.  He has spent much of Saturday harassing me on Twitter, tweeting abusive remarks at me and then deleting them.  Admittedly, I stepped over the line and responded with forceful language.  But Mr. Nosowsky has continued to badger and malign me, even as I have curtailed my efforts. This is absolutely unacceptable.  It’s worth noting that this is a continuation of Mr. Nosowsky’s efforts to impugn me for my journalism over a two year period (specifically in relation to an investigation into Dave Eggers’s The Zeitoun Foundation). He has also solicited J. Robert Lennon, one of your authors, to perpetuate these childish games.   I am sorry that one of your authors has to suffer, especially when she has produced a remarkable volume, but I refuse to air my Leslie Jamison interview (a two parter of 90 minutes) unless Mr. Nosowsky immediately apologizes for his misconduct.  And I will have absolutely nothing to do with Graywolf in any capacity unless Mr. Nosowsky (and Mr. Lennon) issues a public apology by Monday morning.  His conduct has effectively secured a Graywolf boycott unless Mr. Nosowsky can illustrate that he is an adult.

I cannot believe that Graywolf, a press that I have held in great esteem over the last several years, would allow one of its employees to make slanderous public remarks.  But if this is the way that it must be, then it is Mr. Nosowsky who has forced my hand.  And I will pursue with additional remedies if this egregious conduct continues.

Sincerely,

Edward Champion

Producer, THE BAT SEGUNDO SHOW

Nosowsky’s remarks were critical, but not slanderous. My ultimatum was ridiculous. In my self-loathing, my persona began to become a desperate place of refuge rather than a character to perform. It was to culminate in my total breakdown on the night of September 25, 2014, when, greeted with all manner of falsehoods on Twitter, I gave the crowd the villain it always wanted in a savage act of psychic break.

Lennon’s wife, Rhian Ellis, had sent a number of very kind, conciliatory, and compassionate emails, trying to bridge the divide. I had received a lengthy email from her on March 30, 2014 that I had intended to reply to in the morning. I wanted to sleep on it. But her husband beat me to the punch with a hurtful email that shocked me, revealing that Kottke (for whom I had nothing but kind and positive feelings and had several friendly conversations with in person and on the phone) and McCrae both viewed me as a crackpot. I have reproduced Lennon’s email below, along with my note to Kottke. I have elided the personal details that were inadvertently forwarded to Kottke, feeling shock at the news.

To: Erin Kottke

From: Edward Champion

Date: March 31, 2014 9:02 AM

Subject: Fwd: Twitter

If indeed you and Fiona consider me a crackpot, as Lennon claims in this nasty and accusatory email, I would appreciate the courtesy of a direct reply instead of hearing it from someone else. 

Sincerely,

Ed

——– Original Message ——–

To: Edward Champion

From: J. Robert Lennon

Date: March 31, 2014 8:44 AM

Subject: Twitter

Hi Ed—

I’ve publicly apologized to you on twitter for hurting your feelings. You won’t see it in your feed, because I have (and will always have) you blocked, but here’s a link: https://twitter.com/jrobertlennon/status/450613325303275520

I’m writing this against my better judgement, but I feel as though it’s necessary. I really am sorry that I hurt your feelings. But, true to form, your reaction was bizarrely, scarily extreme. Ethan gently mocked you on twitter and you called him a cunt. I told him to ignore you and you rage-subtweeted me and blasted off emails to my publisher and wife, saying god knows what. It doesn’t make sense.

When you originally decided to cut me out of your life, it was because I forgot to answer an email at a time when my personal life was in utter turmoil. I told you that [PERSONAL DETAILS REMOVED], and you said that you didn’t want to hear about my “first world problems.” It’s hard to imagine a more callous and insensitive response to the utter horror and tragedy my family was enduring. So, needless to say, our friendship was over. But I continued to get emails from people I know—writers, editors—telling me I should go see what you were saying about me online. Why, Ed? I forgot to answer an email (in fact, I never did find it, and suspect it never arrived). I was mildly rude to you, by accident. In exchange, you exploded with rage at me in public. (I still don’t know what you said, because I don’t read what anyone says about me on the internet, like any sane person.) People forget to answer my emails all the time, because they have complicated lives. I forgive them, without question. Because they’re my friends.

This is why you aren’t widely known as a writer. Your rage permeates every aspect of your personal presentation and your writing. Even your praise for writers is contextualized by this strange “us-versus-them” attitude. You do people “favors” that they didn’t ask for and don’t want and then you feel slighted when they’re insufficiently grateful, and they become “enemies” and you try to destroy them. Healthy people don’t conceive of the world this way. You’re an intelligent man who should be of real influence in the literary sphere, but you’ve opted to tear things down instead of making things of lasting value. Giving a shit that mediocre writers are famous is a waste of time. Who cares if Dyer wrote a boring essay, or at least an essay you think is boring? Who cares if Eggers and Franzen are overrated? Hell, man, Eggers actually, substantively hurt me back in the day, and do you see me denouncing him in public? I even positively reviewed one of his books in the LRB, because, to my surprise, I actually liked it, and was forced to man up and admit that a guy who was a jerk to me one time might actually write a decent book.

It genuinely shocked me to hear that you had written to Erin and Fiona, people I love, and with whom I have had an excellent relationship for five years. What makes you think that a bunch of invective from some random crackpot could change their minds about me? Because that’s what you are, to them. And now you have permanently lost the potential respect of these wonderful women.

In other words, you are not making my life a living hell. You are making your life a living hell.

I’m sure this will enrage you, but I want to beg you to try to get control of your life, to get some better meds, if you can (and this is not condescension but genuine concern—it’s obvious that you are at the very least bipolar, and I assume under care for it, but if not, please get help), and make amends, publicly, to the many, many people you have bewildered, hurt, and frightened. Rhian won’t tell you this, because she is too nice, but right now she’s in western New York with her sick mother, whose cancer has come back to kill her. That’s the real world your hurtful nonsense is casting its shadow over—it’s distracting my wife from her final months with her mother. I don’t want you in my life, but I care enough about you to tell you how things look out here in the world outside your head. It looks like this: people think you are crazy and dangerous. I know you’re a good person, but most people are not going to give you the benefit of the doubt. They’re just going to shun you.

I’ll unblock you from my email for the day, if you want to reply, but I won’t write again. It is too stressful.

Good luck—

John

I sent this email to Ellis on March 31, 2014 at 9:13 AM:

Rhian:

I received your email last night.  I had intended to sleep on it before responding, but this email from John is absolutely nasty, judgmental, out of control, and not reflecting the truth.  I greatly appreciate your kind efforts to intercede.  You have been nothing less than reasonable, cordial, and fair-minded.  I wish to point out that I never wanted to hurt anybody.  But when John is this obsessed with smearing me, backbiting, and trying to paint me as a crackpot who is off his meds, it is abundantly clear that I cannot communicate with him in any way. 

I am sorry that you have had to contend with this situation, as you face a very difficult time in Buffalo.  Again, I offer my greatest hope that your mother will recover swiftly and my gratitude for your efforts under the circumstances. 

Sincerely,

Ed

What was happening in March 2014 was this: I was a frail man who didn’t know what to do with his life, a man who had tried to evolve as an artist, but who was contending with the demons of his own self-loathing — demons that I confessed to and later came to terms with with this December 19, 2015 essay. In November 2012, I had shuttered The Bat Segundo Show. I needed to move on. I wanted to do more important and more serious work. I wanted to do more positive work. Because I was tiring of some of the anger and the negativity that was coming out in my writing. I began work on a documentary on Gary Shteyngart’s blurbs in the next two months, a positive work celebrating the silliness of blurbs and Shteyngart’s sense of humor about this, which was uploaded to YouTube on January 3, 2013. Then, when I was morally appalled by the Sandy Hook massacre, I started a new podcast, Follow Your Ears, opening with a two part episode on guns. While I enjoyed making this new radio program, it also became clear that the show was taking far more time than Bat Segundo to make.

So I started a benign Indiegogo campaign on March 18, 2013 to walk across the nation and collect oral history and was deeply humiliated. I only raised $3,185 of the $25,000 that I needed for six months of support – this after I had conducted three trial walks ranging from 25 to 40 miles (complete with photographs, audio, and written reports) that took every bit of mental, emotional, and physical energy I had. My best and my most good faith and my most ambitious work was not enough. It was a failure and that failure felt like the worst thing that could happen to me at the time. And I hated myself for being a failure. I also hated that my partner at the time had to live with me like this: the pathetic man pushing forty who had nothing to contribute. For by then, she was the one supporting us, not me. And that was equally shameful and loathsome to me. The only thing I had left was the beginnings of a second novel (the first had been rightly rejected by agents who were nice enough to read it). But I also had something else.

I revived The Bat Segundo Show, airing the first new episode in May 2013, when it became clear that my Indiegogo campaign was a wash. I needed something that I could do for which I could save face. But even though my interviews were always impeccably conducted, this was a step backwards. And, as I toiled to finish my second novel, I became increasingly sensitive to criticism.

Is any of this forgivable? Why wasn’t I grateful for what I had? I had a kind and tremendously understanding partner and a great deal of time to work on whatever I wanted to (and I worked sixteen hour days). Who was I to believe that I was entitled to some reward for good work when many artists, far smarter, more brilliant, and decidedly more talented than me, go decades without a shred of recognition? Why didn’t I reach out to more people? Why was I so obsessed with going it alone? Why did I throw myself into my labor with the resolute work ethic of a Victorian sweathouse?

Is this the mark of some awful, self-absorbed person? Maybe. Can that person be reformed? Yes. I have seen people more troubled than I am go on to do incredible things. And if he is reformed, if he does recognize and address his own failings in the worst way possible, how much punishment is enough? I’ve asked myself these questions hundreds of times in the past two years as I’ve learned why it’s important to stay grateful and humble and to be as kind as you can. Clearly, for Kevin Nguyen and the 182 people who want me dead (who include writer Warren Ellis, Metafilter founder Matt Haughey, Los Angeles Times books editor Carolyn Kellogg, The Theory of Everything‘s Benjamen Walker (a merciless opportunist who exploited me when I was recovering in the winter of 2014, by repeatedly hectoring me by telephone, feigning friendship, pressuring me for an interview shortly after I was released from the hospital and then humiliating me when I didn’t have a cent to my name by trying to cram my story into his preordained thesis and by showing up with one cup of coffee, just for him, as I took him to the place on the bridge where I tried to kill myself, and then editing the segment to make me look as lousy as possible), B&N Review editor Bill Tipper, writer Kelly Link (who I never uttered an unkind word to and for whom I once helped break down the Small Beer booth at BookExpo America one time), Slack developer Garrett Miller, transgender comedian Avery Edison, New Republic culture editor Michelle Legro, Quartz editor Jean-Luc Bouchard, “perspective counselor” Leah Reich, and Verge entertainment editor Emily Yoshida), who favorited an anti-intellectual December 19, 2016 tweet claiming that something I wrote was “a nonsense Ed Champion complaint” without actually unpacking it, no amount of humiliation is enough. The only thing I can do now, after divulging the underlying facts and emotions of this episode, is to not do anything like this again, to now publicly apologize to Ethan Nosowosky, the people at Graywolf, and J. Robert Lennon – for this very lengthy document is the more definitive and truer assessment of my character. But I’m pretty sure it’s not enough. I’m convinced that, no matter how hard I am on myself here (and I am doing my best to show no mercy), I will never be viewed as a human being. I am fated to be condemned to a lifetime of walking death, for which the parties I’ve cited in this very long piece would happily provide the pistol so that I might blow my brains out on a livestream for the benefit of maximum lulz from the public, ideally broadcast during the holiday so that the family can enjoy this bloodbath with some egg nog and a nice hummus spread just before going to mass. We can even hire James Urbaniak to narrate it! “Will he kill himself or won’t he? Find out if Ed Champion will figure out how to unlock the safety after this message from Blue Apron! Be sure to use the hashtag #killyourselfmisogynistscum!” But, of course, I can’t let that happen. I do, in fact, want to live. And, as someone who enjoys throwing dinner parties and attending potlucks, I certainly don’t want a company that makes cooking too conformist to be involved with sponsoring my death.

This was never about Lennon’s family. The above evidence and the soul-searching that I’ve just excavated makes that clear. This was about the considerable hatred I felt for myself. Before the Emily Gould essay published on June 27, 2014 and my subsequent suicidal ideation, before my Twitter meltdown and my subsequent suicide attempt, before the nine month debasement after I lost everything, I already had plenty of shame and self-destruction that I was inflicting on myself. It turns out that I had to lose everything to find out who I really was and how I needed to live.

Is this candor enough to overturn my mistakes? Or will this document be inevitably compared to the very long and quite frightening manifestos written by Jared Lee Loughner or Elliot Rodger? I haven’t killed anyone, nor did I ever have the desire to kill anyone other than myself. Instead of confirming my absolute misogyny, the hope here is that I’ve addressed some of the modest bits of misogyny, mostly expressed through a few sentences in my essay on Emily Gould, that are perhaps ineluctably intertwined with the unfettered and uncontrolled anger that I’ve tried not to summon (although I haven’t been entirely successful; I can cite one incident from September 2015 in which I got very heartbroken and very angry and very drunk after learning that a writer who I was once friendly with and had nothing but respect for had compared me with a creepy professor sleeping with his students and I made a phone call that I don’t remember and, after the recent presidential election, I did leave an angry voicemail to an Apple employee who called my family “racist”).

Claim, ¶81: “In Champion’s email to Nguyen’s supervisor, he claims he’s trying to take the high road. ‘Then he threatens physical violence against me,’ Nguyen told me. ‘It’s a gem.’”

FALSE AND DEFAMATORY. Kevin Nguyen has a wild imagination. I never threatened physical violence against him. I didn’t want to confront him, possibly in person, with harsh invective. And I had hoped that one of his co-workers, a very kind and far from retaliatory man who I was friendly with and who I will not name, might be able to intervene and find a peaceful resolution. Presumably, Nguyen is too graceless or too stupid to understand how clearing up matters works.

To: ______________

From: Edward Champion

Date: November 15, 2013, 12:45 PM

Subject: Kevin Nguyen

____________:

I’m sorry to involve you on this, but I was hoping you could help me clear up a matter with this guy you work with at ____________ named Kevin Nguyen, who has been tweeting about me in a manner unbecoming of an ____________employee.  I’ve never met the guy.  But it all started with this tweet back in August 30th:

Kevin linked to a tweet of mine directed at Emily Mandel, but did not comprehend the satirical intent.  (I was rereading ULYSSES at the time and was inserting various false interpolations in the style of “Wandering Rocks.”  As any basic chemistry student can tell you, it is physically impossible to swallow a glass of cyanide, let alone pour cyanide into a glass.)  Kevin decided to smear me as “the worst person in publishing.”  I didn’t respond, in large part because I was curious to see if anybody would question the premise of swallowing a glass of cyanide.  (A few did off the grid.)  I also wanted my Twitter feed to become a riskier place and I was simultaneously testing out some ideas about passive-aggression and subtweets that I later incorporated into this Salon essay:

http://www.salon.com/2013/10/22/how_subtweets_are_ruining_twitter/

I ignored Kevin.  But he decided to keep at it, with this tweet from a few days ago:

I’m emailing you because I’m trying to take the high road here. If Kevin’s behavior continues, he is going to have face some very serious repercussions from me, likely face-to-face.  As you know, I’m not the type who takes who takes this cavalier smearing, which is patently false and arises out of circumstances that Kevin does not and refuses to comprehend, lightly.

So I was wondering if you — or, even better, one of his direct superiors — could have a talk with him and get him to stop.  It’s not worth my time to pursue this.  It’s not worth his time to perpetuate this nonsense.  And it’s not in anyone’s best interest to disseminate invective when it’s not predicated on fact.  (And if only my 2006 self heard my 2013 self typing that last sentence! Maturity or something close to it, who knew? Ha!)

Again, my apologies for bringing you into this.  I do hope that all is well.  Looking forward to more of your editorial efforts and, of course, your writing!

Thanks and all best,

Ed

To: Edward Champion

From: ______________

Date: November 18, 2013, 11:11 AM

Subject: Re: Kevin Nguyen

Hi Ed,

I would just let it slide — I’m sure Kevin will, too. We aren’t actually colleagues — I know him more from the writing world — but when I see him next I’ll talk to him.

To: ______________

From: Edward Champion

Date: November 18, 2013, 11:38 AM

Subject: Re: Kevin Nguyen

Thanks, ____. I appreciate any words you can offer.  You going to be at the National Book Awards?

All best,

Ed

I certainly didn’t want Nguyen to lose his job. I wanted his smearing to stop. I knew this contact to be a kind and reasonable man. But of course, this didn’t stop Nguyen from spreading the lie on September 26, 2014 that “Ed Champion tried to get me fired because I subtweeted him.”

Claim, ¶82: “I want to take a moment, here in the middle, to remind you that as Champion harassed, stalked, and threatened various members of the literary community…”

FALSE AND DEFAMATORY. A real journalist never has to remind her readers of the claims. But since McArdle has assembled more of a patchwork quilt of shoddy and unfounded allegations, she must drive home a thesis that is largely fallacious. So far in her essay, McArdle has failed to establish a clear case of stalking. I’ve debunked every single one of these claims except for four. Of the “threats,” one is a satirical tweet to Emily Mandel and another is a misunderstanding with Elyssa East (both of which I apologized for long before the publication of McArdle’s article and my crackup). The only real case that should trouble anybody, aside from Khakpour, is my reaction to Ethan Nosowosky and J. Robert Lennon, which we have already established never overtly involved revealing Lennon’s family secrets to his publisher.

I have owned up to the streaks of misogyny in the “Middling Millenals” essay. This leaves (so far) four outright factual errors, several cases of deliberately misleading the reader, insufficient psychoanalysis from a person who cannot count or spell the names of prominent online editors correctly, an overall failure to conduct due diligence, quotes from someone who was not privy to my professional life, a “witness” who reveals his partiality and his willingness to condemn quite easily, efforts to embarrass and humiliate, endless speculation from prominent authors without evidence, a thesis based on post hoc ergo propter hoc and inductive reasoning, defamatory accusations and suggestions of intent without evidence from (1) an aspiring media personality with 47,500 Twitter followers, (2) a book marketer, (3) a partial-minded publicist, (4) the head of a prominent independent publisher, and (5) a former literary critic who spews lies to sustain his precarious hold in the books world, insinuations that my work reflected my desire for violence from someone who has not read my novel, and three outright misunderstandings that have been forged into a conspiracy theory. And we are only halfway through the piece.

Claim, ¶83: “Fairly constant throughout his career, however, is the threat of physical violence, which seemed to hang about Champion like a shadow.”

FALSE, SPECULATIVE, DEFAMATORY. Once again, McArdle does not offer anything specific. She frames the threat against Khakpour on one night when I was having a nervous breakdown as indicative of a pattern that is reflected in all of my correspondence. This is just as defamatory as the claim in ¶49, where McArdle writes, “Nearly every person I spoke to had a story about Champion, how he threatened them by phone and by email, on Twitter and in DMs, in comment sections and on his own blog.…” I have rebutted all of these stories (the lies of Jessa Crispin, the unsubstantiated claims of Summer Smith, the gleeful misinterpretation of Kevin Nguyen, et al.) using the actual correspondence, the actual exchanges, and by corroborating the impression of my communications with other parties. The additional phrasing “which seem to hang about Champion like a shadow” suggests that threatening people was an inescapable part of my being, and is also defamatory.

An Interlude on the Subject of Violence and Satire

Is Jessa Crispin (or her critic J.C. Hallman, who parroted the same words to Crispin) “violent” for writing “I want to drown her in a bathtub” (arguably more severe than expressing a preposterously mock desire to put out a cigar in someone’s mouth)? Or what about Molly McArdle herself, who expressed a desire “to kill Thomas Jefferson” in order to change the course of history, suggested that Matt Mullin kill his doppelganger, and wanted to punch Jenn Northington’s ex-husband? By McArdle’s own standards, it sounds like she’s a violent monster with a “long history of physical threats” too.

Just as one would never accuse a standup comic who “killed” of harboring a murderous impulse, I don’t believe that we should hold the “homicidal” way in which we express certain frustrations about people up to such interpretive rigidities.

In May 2009, the writer Sherman Alexie got into trouble with the books world for saying that he wanted to hit a woman who was sitting on a plane with a Kindle. I recognized his remarks for the conversational theater that it was and made a point to contact him about it. Is John Lennon “threatening” when he sings “Well, I’d rather see you dead little girl / Than to be with another man / You better keep your head, little girl / or you won’t know who I am”? Or how about Brotha Lynch Hung when he raps “Cut niggas up, sector by sector / Next to her dead first cousin and nephew / Next to her head, bloody intestines / Next to her bed, other intestines”?

In a 2015 Supreme Court decision, Elonis vs. United States, the Court ruled in a 7-2 opinion that Anthony Elonis, in writing Facebook poetry shortly after a divorce (“There’s one way to love ya, but a thousand ways to kill ya / And I’m not going to rest until your body is a mess”) and serving prison time for it, did not commit an actual threat. The ACLU’s amicus brief in Elonis offers a very useful breakdown of the current free speech problem:

Online communications can easily become decontextualized by third parties. A speaker might send an email to one person, only to see that person forward the message to dozen of others or post it on a public mailing list. Or a speaker may post a comment on his own Facebook profile page, intending it only to be seen only by those friends he has allowed to view his page, and later find that one of those friends has taken a screen-capture of his comments and posted the image to an entirely different website. These actions, completely beyond the control of the speaker, place the speaker’s statements in front of audiences that the speaker had no expectation or intent to reach. Further, such decontextualization circumvents any effort by a speaker to provide additional context, outside the plain words of the statement, that would make the non-threatening intent of the statement clear. Different online communication fora will often develop their own conventions for expressing emotions and sarcasm.

It seems especially incumbent now, especially in an age where freedom of the press faces severe danger under a Trump administration, for any journalist examining a perceived “threat” to know precisely what its intent is before reporting on it. And as I have sufficiently established, McArdle (a) failed almost completely to get the words right, much less the context behind all this right and (b) failed to understand that sarcasm and satire have different conventions in different communities.

Nevertheless, in an age where cyberbullying and aggravated harassment is distressingly and increasingly more the norm, we should probably consider the context and the recipient whenever we do express violence in a verbal way. The point of satire is to expose human follies and vices through exaggeration. If there is an obsession or a relentlessness attached to satire directed at one person, especially satire that imparts violence in some way, then it seems fair and reasonable for the satirist to take some care to let the recipient in on the joke if it is misperceived.

In 2015, Jace Connors (aka Jan Rankowski) made a satirical YouTube video claiming to crash his car while he was on the way to Brianna Wu’s home. It caused Wu enough alarm for her to contact the authorities.

Wu, a prominent game developer, had every reason to fear for her life. She had been mercilessly targeted by 8chan, where users violated her privacy during the GamerGate campaign. She had received multiple rape and death threats. She was so frightened that, depending upon how many threats she would receive on any given day, this would determine whether or not she would sleep in her home or in a hotel. It is harrowing and despicable that any woman would fear for her life and have to adjust her daily existence this way.

Rankowski was not associated with GamerGate. He had uploaded videos of himself brandishing knives. And given Wu’s history, one must legitimately ask why she should be the subject of edgy satire. Is making fun of a frightened woman’s clear fear an act of cruelty? And if the violent impact of any expression is lessened or rendered more ridiculous – such as Bill Hicks’s famous bit asking advertisers to kill themselves – is the satire more acceptable?

Rankowski also suffered consequences for his videos, although hardly as severely as Wu. He was harassed and doxxed, forced to sign an agreement at work pledging not to make any further videos. “I didn’t take this situation seriously,” said Rankowskio to BuzzFeed, “but I see what it means now to be in the other person’s shoes. What her life must feel like. I have this newfound respect for the people who are having to deal with GamerGate, Brianna Wu and Anita [Sarkeesian].”

The question of where satire should function now is underscored, I think, by the following questions: (1) What is the nature of violence expressed in the satire? (2) Is the target of satire in a reasonable position to brace it? (3) Has the target of satire been made aware of the intent? And how close to the actual release of the satire was the underlying intent communicated? (4) How plausible is the violence?

In order for me to come to terms with a strain of writing and performance that has involved the satirical and comical expression of violence, one interpreted to be “threatening,” I am forced to examine the question of whether immediately informing the recipient of your intent and/or apologizing to the recipient actually lessens the perceived “threat” of the expression. I am forced to ask why so many people believed me to be violent when I was not a violent person.

At the time that I made jokes to Boris Kachka, Matt Zoller Seitz, and Mark Athitakis (see below), GamerGate did not exist. The ongoing harassment campaigns initiated bv trolls, as we now know and observe them, were inconceivable. Public shaming on Twitter, as documented by Jon Ronson, was in its infancy. I confined my communications to words and voicemail and I did inform Kachka and Seitz of my true intent. In the case of Mark Athitakis (or even the absurdity of the comments I was leaving at The Millions, although editor C. Max Magee comprehended the comic message), I probably should have contacted him at some point to inform him of my intent. Since these people did not contact me, I had no reason to believe that they were being interpreted any other way other than in a light context. Had I known that my words were harassing people – and in the case of Athitakis, I was not informed until July 15, 2011 — I would have stopped or let them in on the joke.

There’s likely to be a contingent of people reading this essay who may very well ask, “Well, what possessed your mind to spout such crazy talk in the first place?” My immediate answers are “I don’t know” and “Because it’s fun” and “Because when I expressed similar sentiments to my friends, they thought it was hilarious.” Humor, of course, is subjective. Certainly, the outrageous and angry humor in Paul Beatty’s The Sellout was potent enough to rightly earn that comic masterpiece the Booker Prize. I’d like to think that the literary world is intelligent enough to draw distinctions. I can only reply that I did not mean any harm by my comments and I felt that any reasonably intelligent mind would be able to suss out my theatrical hyperbole for what it was. It’s worth pointing out that C. Max Magee, editor of The Millions, did contact me on April 1, 2014, stating, “Can I get you to cut it out in the comments? I get your sense of humor and play and that you like to challenge people, and I think that’s great.” And I agreed to do so. We had a friendly exchange. (For more on what transpired with Magee, see ¶¶92-93.)

In the case of Ron Hogan, I was genuinely concerned about the situation because I feared for the safety of Sarah Weinman. In the case of Glenn Kenny, who continues to troll and obsessively delight in the misfortune of others, I was standing up to a bully who was disruptive to my work and that of others.

Claim, ¶90: “to punch blogger Ron Hogan in 2007”

MISINTERPRETATION; MY SIDE OF THE STORY. While working unhappily at Kinko’s in the 90’s, Ron Hogan spent a good deal of his spare time posting hateful messages under the pseudonym “Jesse Garon” — the misspelled name of Jesse Garron, Elvis’s twin brother who died at birth. “I’ve taken the Usenet by storm!” declared his website. Presumably, his hateful behavior came from a humiliating job.

Nasty messages under both “Ron Hogan” and “Jesse Garon” were both attributed to the email “grifter@primenet.com.” There were some 13,575 of them when I conducted a USENET search on April 5, 2009.

What were some of Garon’s stunts? Well, consider this testimony:

David joined in with Hogan (Garon) because he loves try to enlist people on his side, no matter how slimey. Hogan/Garon became infuriated when someone alluded to a bathroom tryst at the infamous party. The reference was so obscure no one would have ever guessed that anything had occurred if Hogan/Garon hadn’t made sure that everyone did find out. He attacked everyone who so much as liked the people he decided were his enemies, much like David did (and does). He even repeated [sic] taunted a woman, who had never done anything to him at all but was known to like the people he hated, for a miscarraige she had. He found out about it from searching dejanews (when it was called that) and finding posts from her to a support group and then he mercilessly taunted her from then on, although she had never done anything to him. And this was the person that David holds up as an innocent victim all the time. Ron/Jesse posted home addresses and did everything he could to destroy ASG for everyone there, attacking those involved and anyone who was friends with them no matter how they avoided the quarrel. All because of an obscure hint. Sure things escalated and the affair was spelled out eventually, but only because Garon/Hogan pushed the people involved into these actions that they are so vilified for.

Posting home addresses? Taunting women for their miscarriages? Humiliating someone by publicly mocking their efforts to seek support?

But extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and the helpful archive of Google Groups provides us with ample and concrete proof that Hogan used USENET as a blunt tool for harassment.

Here’s Hogan (as Garon) on June 8, 1997, making threats towards Melody Clark:

And if you persist in this attitude, we’ll have to find your home address and phone number and post it, which is okay, since you’re not famous.

Here he is again, weeks later, on June 25, 1997:

On the other hand, if you’re a private citizen they happen to resent, then ASG has no problem posting your home address and telephone number or issuing threats of physical violence. But stars are special, unless of course they’re conservative.

On February 1, 1998, here’s Garon responding to the idea of posting another poster’s home address:

Perhaps you should. I certainly have no objections to you doing so, and I gather that Judith cares even less for Desiree than I do.

Here’s what Hogan had to say on October 30, 1997 to Melody Clark:

If Melody Clark wants to run around telling people that she has the FBI investigating me for kicking her ass in a flame war, then tells people who disagree with her that they must be part of the plot against her, if they aren’t actually me in disguise — you know she’s still trying to convince people I’m Stephen Wellington? –, well, I’m just going to have to tell people what a fucking loonytoon she is. Apparently she either took too many drugs in the 60s or isn’t taking enough in the 90s. Either way, this doesn’t end until she admits her mistakes and stifles herself.

If you don’t like that, Monysmom, fuck you. Nobody asked to hear your useless opinion in the first place.

There are countless other incidents, including the following:

In which “Jesse Garon” attempts spin control concerning the bathroom incident.

Or consider this thread, in which someone from alt.showbiz.gossip left the group and Hogan responded with the heartless “Actually, the problem is that Melody Clark seems to have had problems getting her daily dosage of Zoloft calibrated, and runs around telling perfect strangers that (1) the I does her favors and (2) if you don’t agree with Melody Clark, you must be Ron Hogan in disguise.”

The late Steve Gilliard, a man who wrote with conviction, was forced to declare:

It’s time you take your leave of ASG.

Besides your mysoginist [sic] treatment of ASG women, both online and in person, you waste bandwidth.

Look, it’s no big deal you can’t deal with real women, have a small penis or can’t tell the difference between civil behavior and acting like a lovesick spoiled child.

You have no social skills, OK. We can all deal with that. But, you simply can’t call women bitches, beat up on them online and expect to be treated like a human. Sorry.

All this tapered off around 1998 because of the bathroom incident.

I was aware of all this creepiness when, at a cocktail party hosted by St. Martin’s at ThrillerFest on the evening of July 13, 2007, Ron Hogan took a picture of Sarah Weinman and me without permission and then boasted to her about publicly posting it, knowing very well that she was sensitive about such matters. She was Jewish. I was not. This was a delicate matter for Weinman’s family that I went out of my way to respect. Weinman and I had been photographed before by others, including Gawker, but the photographers at least had the decency to ask us if we could be snapped by a camera. But Hogan captured us in a private moment at the corner of the room. Hogan was drunk and slurring his words, lumbering up and down on the floor. It is possible that Hogan’s drunkenness contributed to his insensitivity. As my own incident on September 25, 2014 with Porochista Khakpour confirmed (see Appendix A), alcohol and mental affliction are a toxic mix.

Seeing Hogan glowing about the photo and seeing how hurt Weinman was, and witnessing Hogan’s failure to back off as Weinman became more visibly bothered and as we were both telling him that this was not okay, and observing his unceasing desire to hurt a person I deeply cared about, I couldn’t stand seeing Weinman hurt and humiliated. I walked up to Hogan and said, “If you fucking do anything to fucking hurt Sarah, I will beat the fucking shit out of you. You think that what you did over there was cute? You are persona non grata. Again, if you do anything to hurt Sarah, I will kick your fucking ass. Do you understand?” Hogan never offered an apology. All he said was a sheepish “Yes.” Sarah and I then left the party.

Is it acceptable to confront a man with a clear documented history of terrorizing women on Usenet in this way? I can understand why I said what I did, even if I’m not entirely proud of it. But this was a defense against a man who I knew for a fact to have harassed women online for years and who I had also heard stories about on the party circuit, which included terrible anecdotes of Hogan groping women, that I have been unable to corroborate. I didn’t want him to harass Sarah. And since Hogan was unremitting with the photograph, I reacted with strong emotions.

I believed in 2009 and I believe now that everyone (including Ron Hogan) is worthy of forgiveness. But forgiveness is tough when the transgressor continues to commit the same behavior in the present. This is why I have done serious work on myself to ensure that any behavior I commit which might even be perceived as a threat isn’t a part of my existence. The tricky problem with this, of course, is that the goalposts change from person to person.

The next day, after contemplating what I said, I emailed Hogan and apologized, making an effort at diplomacy:

To: Ron Hogan
From: Edward Champion
Date: July 14, 2007 2:55 PM
Subject: Last night

Ron:

I speak only for myself here, but I feel that at least one of us should take the high road.

First off, I apologize for my words to you last night.  I am not fond of seeing people I deeply care about hurt — particularly when the subject of the offense tells you in explicit terms that what you are doing is wrong, and you continue to do it anyway, and when you act without so much as a shred of empathy or human decency, or even attempt to patch things up on the spot (which you could have easily done; I’m not unreasonable).  Nevertheless, my own reaction was not the ideal one.

I was prepared, after you acted as if I were an eidolon for the second time — when I was standing right next to Sarah (the first, of course, was at the Mediabistro party at BEA; I had thought that rudeness more or less rectified after our friendly voicemail exchange; I had intended to follow up with a meetup; alas, health and freelancing circumstances got in the way, if this somehow contributed to your most recent spate of rudeness) —  to simply go about my business with other folks who were friendlier.  Being a more or less affable fellow, this is generally what I do in such circumstances.

But (and this is important) without discounting my own behavior, please understand that you stepped over the line in a very big way.  You crossed into a territory of inconsiderate behavior that good people do not wander in if they are interested in keeping the peace, as you have regularly claimed — falsely, I must now presume.  I am wondering if some similar event transpired between you and Dave Itzkoff.  I am wondering if you truly comprehend how many people don’t care for the way you conduct yourself.  (And I should point out that I have often defended you to these naysayers.)  You took me aside one BEA ago to admonish me about this sort of behavior.  And now I am asking you to consider long and hard about some of the reasons you’re in the spot you’re in right now.  And I don’t just mean between you and me, or you and Sarah.

To speak directly to the situation between you and me, I don’t know what particular personal circumstances you are going through or what has warranted your ongoing passive-aggressiveness towards me — which I trace back to December.  Before your actions last night, I was open to resolving these circumstances in some peaceful manner. But now I feel that this is no longer possible.  Thus, I feel that it would be best if we simply not speak with each other or refer to each other again, thereby ensuring that we can inhabit the same settings, as will likely be the case as long as you and I are on the literary beat.

The upshot is that I cannot trust you in even the smallest sense.  Your inability to own up to your own actions, your failure to come to me directly with any problems you’ve had with me, your propensity for passive rapids and rivulets over active resolution, and, to be perfectly blunt, your emotional cowardice leaves me to believe that you and I simply aren’t meant to tango.

But, more than any pedantic quibbles that I have, you hurt someone who is very important to me.

I’ve done my best over the years to highlight your achievements, to draw people your way, to treat you seriously as an author by opening up a Segundo slot for you, and to funnel your name under the radar.  Under the present circumstances, this is no longer possible.

I find this all to be a great shame.  But as Andre Gide put it, “It is better to be hated for what you are than loved for what you are not.”  I am more forgiving than Gide.  I do not hate you, but since you cannot be true about who you are or what you feel towards me — well, Gide does have a point.

Sincerely,

Ed

Hogan chose not to reply. But he did reply to Weinman, accusing me of “morning after” behavior:

To: Sarah Weinman
From: Ron Hogan
Date: July 14, 2007, 11:56 AM
Subject: [None]

Just before the two of you left the party, Ed came back into the room and suggested to me that you had been upset by the incident with the photo. I had not sensed any genuine discomfort on your part, and I’m sure you know that I would not have run any photo of you without your approval, no matter who was in it, so I’m genuinely sorry for any distress you felt during that situation.

You should know, however, if Ed didn’t inform you of this himself, that in order to communicate what he perceived as your emotional state, he interrupted an informal interview with two writers and threatened  to “beat you to a fucking pulp” if I “ever pulled a stunt like that again.”

Setting aside the issue of your boyfriend threatening your friends–it is totally Not Cool for your boyfriend to threaten your professional colleagues with physical violence, no matter what your emotional state may have been. It is beyond comprehension that he would do so while your colleague is working, no matter how informal the setting, and in the presence of your industry peers. Obviously, I’m not going to hold Ed’s behavior against you, but if he ever pulls a stunt like that with Dylan or any of your other editors, the consequences for your career as well as his could be much worse than ensuring that two thriller writers now know Ed primarily as “Sarah’s psychotic boyfriend.”

I had hoped to be able to speak with you directly about this last night, and was concerned that I was not able to reach you until I realized what night it was. Please do touch base with me this weekend when you get a chance.

Yours,

Ron

I regrettably don’t know the identities of the two thriller writers who Hogan was talking with. And I really wish I could corroborate what happened with them. But I wince at the threatening tone that Hogan uses against Weinman, hoping with all my heart that my own communications have not been perceived the same way. But the one thing I am capable of doing, that Hogan is not, is sincerely apologizing when I do wrong and owning up to my bad behavior in the most forthright way I can.

Claim, ¶90: “to punch New York magazine writer Boris Kachka in 2008″

FALSE: Boris Kachka regularly harassed me. In addition to leaving vituperative comments on this website during 2009 (“Hey loser, did you even read the whole review?”), he also called me multiple times at insanely early hours (6:00 AM) on the morning of September 14, 2005. Since Kachka would not stop, it became necessary, at least to my mind at the time, to have a bit of fun with him. The one thing I did not do was threaten “to punch Boris Kachka.” However, I did leave a highly theatrical voicemail to him, which Kachka understood within hours of my message to be “an interesting and frighteningly convincing homage,” as is reflected in the below email exchange.

To: Edward Champion
From: Boris Kachka
Date: April 21, 2009, 4:26 PM
Subject: Threats of physical violence?

I think this proves my point–there is indeed something wrong with you that can’t be worked out no matter how many convoluted Thesauran passages you spew at the expense of others. Now you have to leave profanity-laced tirades on my voicemail. Stay classy, bud. My recommendation: start smoking again, or consider the patch.

I wasn’t being anonymous, you idiot. I just didn’t want your assinine [sic] website showing up in my Google alert. How many Borises who despise you are in regular contact? Wait, don’t answer that. You’ve posted on my stories, I’ve posted on yours. So I don’t see what there is to get huffy about. The only difference is I’ve only posted on yours when you’ve personally attacked either me or other people. But fine, let’s agree we’ll never be in touch in any form, ever. If I ever meet you, I won’t be throwing the first punch. I have other things to get excited about. That said, I’m sure you wouldn’t amount to much in a fair fight, in person, in print, or anywhere.
Now back to work…

To: Boris Kachka
From: Edward Champion
Date: April 21, 2009, 4:55 PM
Subject: Re: Threats of physical violence?

It doesn’t prove anything, except that you are so literal-minded that you did not hear the specific aural clues I placed in that voicemail. Play it again if you haven’t deleted it (I presume you have). You assume my tone to be rigid and sociopathic, but are you so certain? Do you truly know the full range of the emotional spectrum from the sad small sinecure from which you now sit? If you weren’t anonymous, why then did you not leave your last name or your URL at New York Magazine? (Oh, that’s right. There’s this thing called the yearly review, not to mention keylogged emails.) And why did you feel entitled to call me at 6:00 AM Pacific Time so many years ago? That was quite rude. You chastise me for resorting to ad hominem, and yet here you are with “idiot” in this email and “loser” in the comment. I have specific observations. You have hollow schoolyard nouns that mean nothing. All cowardice and hypocrisy. Just as you assume that writing a book about a publishing house that hardly anyone in Middle America knows or cares about — will it even sell a thousand? — represents some meaningful journalistic contribution. Oh, to be so enslaved to a day job you clearly despise and a medium you clearly loathe. To feel not one ounce of joy about books! No, you’re too uncomprehending for pity.

To: Edward Champion
From: Boris Kachka
Date: April 21, 2009, 5:16 PM
Subject: Re: Threats of physical violence?

Of course I didn’t delete it! It’s fucking hilarious! I’m playing this thing at parties, then for the authorities if a restraining order is deemed necessary.

Well, I hope whatever books you end up writing do fantastically (maybe you’ve written some already–I don’t know, and I don’t really give enough of a shit to find out. Because I hate books, they give me no joy!). I’m sorry to disappoint you by writing about an obscure topic. Here I thought I was at fault for only covering the big stuff–but there’s no pleasing you, no matter how hard I try!

To: Boris Kachka
From: Edward Champion
Date: April 21, 2009, 5:25 PM
Subject: Re: Threats of physical violence?

Well, let me know if you need a remix.  Not sure if you’ve heard this clip, but I am known to do mash-ups that turn out to be quite prescient months from now.

Anyway, Boris, you’re a funny guy.  I’ll make sure they name a drink after you at a bar in Peoria.

To: Edward Champion
From: Boris Kachka
Date: April 21, 2009, 5:38 PM
Subject: Re: Threats of physical violence?

Okay, you can’t expect me to pick that up from a simple string of profanity (though I’ll grant you “What don’t you fucking understand”). I don’t see the leap from “have you heard the Christian Bale rant” to “sad small sinecure,” and all the hating my life stuff, and it’s those little leaps of logic that concern me.  (I don’t know what it takes to make you believe that being paid decently to read books and see plays and do interviews is really not all that bad.) But I grant you, it was an interesting and frighteningly convincing homage…

Claim, ¶90: “to put a cigar out in critic Matt Zoller Seitz’s mouth in 2010”

FALSE, MISLEADING. On the evening of November 16, 2010, Matt Zoller Seitz tweeted a number of sentiments that I interpreted as comical tough guy trash talk.

seitza

I replied back with equally preposterous imagery. This was never a threat. I truly did not comprehend how any mind, especially one who had been been a Pulitzer finalist, would take the idea of “using a mouth as an ashtray” seriously, and was careful to preface my ridiculous description noting the “faux trash talk.”

seitzb

seitz1

seitz2

seitz3

But Matt Zoller Seitz is a violent and deeply angry man. Unlike me, he actually has inflicted violence and bullied upon the weak, openly seeking out violence. He wrote about this in an August 19, 2014 essay called “Different Rules Apply” that was published on rogerebert.com:

When I came out of the deli, this man said something about my shoes and my hat, and because I was looking for a reason to hit somebody, I put my grocery bags down and confronted him. We cursed at each other for a while, puffing up our chests and barking threats, and then he poked me in the chest with his index finger.  I knew the second he did it that he didn’t actually mean to touch me, that he was probably just jabbing at me for emphasis and misjudged the distance between us, because it wasn’t a hard impact and the contact seemed to surprise him, too. But I hit him in the face anyway. He stumbled backward, turned around in an attempt to regain his balance, tripped and fell face down on the sidewalk. I jumped on his back and put my forearm around his neck and locked it, to keep him from getting up again. It was a chokehold.

Seitz, in his own words, was “looking for a reason to hit somebody” and went out of his way to be violent towards another man. This is arguably a far worse transgression than anything I have ever done or am alleged to have done (where’s the McArdle hit piece on Seitz?), yet Seitz’s essay was highly commended upon its publication as “one of the best, most compelling essays I’ve read about white privilege written by a white man” and “the difference between knowing and understanding.” But has Seitz truly reformed? And does he really know and understand? He remained so much a bully, presumably “looking for a reason” to be angry, that, on the night of my suicidal ideation of June 26, 2014, when I was recovering and when even my most vociferous and nastiest critics had long stopped commenting upon my Emily Gould essay, sending me the following message to me at a very late hour threatening to beat me up and insisting that my very real emotional problems involved “pretending.”

Contact Form Submission
Date: June 27, 2014, 1:30 AM
From: Matt Zoller Seitz

Message:

Anytime, anyplace, Flatbush Eddie.

I am so confident in this that I promise not to put my hands up.

Stop pretending.

Ed

I decided at this point that the best thing to do was to own up through a peaceful and good faith resolution. What followed were more threats by Seitz.

To: Matt Zoller Seitz

From: Edward Champion

Date: July 1, 2014, 11:20 AM

Subject: Re: Contact Form Submission from matt zoller seitz

Dear Matt:

On November 16, 2010 — nearly four years ago — we had an exchange of tweets on a late night. I was drinking. I suspect you might have been too. I replied to your tweet with macho imagery intended to come across as preposterous, “I’ll be happy to use your mouth as an ashtray for my blunt to keep it real.” You responded with a series of tweets in which you took what was intended as a joke seriously:

There was also a comment I left at the L.A. Review of Books on a Calum Marsh piece, but it appears to have been scrubbed. So I can’t reference the context.

Because you have intermittently nettled at me ever since, and won’t let this go — even going to the trouble of threatening me with the below email on a night when I experienced a suicidal ideation, which I foolishly expressed online — I haven’t exactly felt inclined to apologize for what I tweeted. It is a low blow indeed to want to inflict violence upon a man who has hit his lowest point.

Nevertheless, I was the first to strike. More importantly, it was a low blow for me to ridicule your Salon memoir to your late wife. That was tremendously insensitive of me, even in the impulsive heat of the moment. Who the hell am I to tell anybody how to grieve? What kind of a prick does one have to be to dictate feeling like this?

I sincerely apologize to you for these tweets.

Please understand that I am working very hard right now — with current therapeutic help — to understand how my behavior sets people off. But I cannot issue empty apologies. Because that would satisfy neither of us. I need to understand what I have said and, more importantly, how the other person felt so that I truly feel the searing sting of my impact.

This may not be enough for you, but it’s the best I can do during this time of healing. I assure you that I’m far more effective than you can ever be in destroying myself.

Take care, thanks, and all best,

Ed

To: Edward Champion
From: Matt Zoller Seitz
Date: July 1, 2014, 2:12 PM
Subject: Re: Contact Form Submission from matt zoller seitz

Ed:

Does Ed Champion, writer, understand that words have meaning? The answer, apparently, is no. You thought you could insult a fellow writer who live less than a mile from you on social media and it would not provoke a response. Then you thought you could challenge me to a physical confrontation and I would not accept. You were wrong. Now you come at me with the contrived language of therapeutic apology, though filled with mealy mouthed excuses and passive-aggressive “but remember, you’re just as bad” formulations, and characterize the cigar line as “a joke.”

There are a great many people in this world who do not joke about violence. I am one of those people. I don’t make jokes about that. I respond to threats.

You are a bully. Since your most recent public meltdown I’ve been contacted by six people, two of whom I barely know, who have shared their own versions of being harassed, insulted, stalked and threatened by you, at home, at work, and on social media. One man was reduced to tears by your viciousness. A woman feared for her safety.

My response to bullying is simple: destroy the bully.

Don’t peddle your emotional manipulation here. That email was sent knowing nothing except that you’d melted down (again) and that, unbeknownst to me, you’d been insulting me in the comments thread if the LA Review if Books. I don’t know you. I know nothing of suicide threats or your private demons and I don’t care.

You insulted me, my work, and my marriage, publicly. You pissed on that which is sacred, and you did it knowingly and with glee. When I challenged you to put actions to your words, you hid for for years. And now I recently discovered, through that ridiculous comment on Marsh’s piece, that you have been representing your cowardice as mercy, the classic move of a bully who’s been called out.

Bottom line: I’ll give this “new Ed” a year and see how it goes. If you haven’t terrorized anyone I’ll accept an apology from you, provided it is free of emotional manipulation, equivocation, excuses, and thinly veiled critiques of me that you don’t currently have the moral standing to offer. Until then: don’t write me or contact me or tag me on Twitter or so much as say my name out loud. If you see me coming, cross the street. If you are ever in the same room with me, leave immediately. I consider you a violently disturbed person, and I will deal with you swiftly.

I am saving this email, so that in the event that I ever need to deal with your in person, there will be a record of my warning you exactly what would happen, and under what circumstances.

Matt

Seitz then followed up this violent message with the following two emails:

To: Edward Champion
From: Matt Zoller Seitz
Date: July 1, 2014, 2:49 PM
Subject: Re: Contact Form Submission from matt zoller seitz

You know what? On second thought, I’m sorry about everything, including my own anger management failures. I apologize unreservedly for anything I’ve said or done that might make your healing harder.

I’m in Dallas with my Dad, who just suffered a stroke and might not play piano again, so my own judgment is poor.

My Dad just said, apropos is nothing, “Some depressed people feel better when they act line assholes, but not me,” and of course I instantly wished I could take that email back.

I bet we’re the same person in a lot of ways.

I withdraw any and all promises, threats and bad vibrations.

Matt

Sent from my iPhone

To: Edward Champion
From: Matt Zoller Seitz
Date: July 1, 2014, 3:23 PM
Subject: Re: Contact Form Submission from matt zoller seitz

Also I’m using an iPhone in a hospital, so my typing sucks.

Sent from my iPhone

To: Matt Zoller Seitz
From: Edward Champion
Date: July 1, 2014, 2:52 PM
Subject: Re: Contact Form Submission from matt zoller seitz

Matt:

First and foremost, I’m really sorry to hear about your father. That can’t be an easy situation and, when it comes to ailing family, all emotions are on the table. I do wish you and your father the best. My grandmother has gone through several strokes. So I’m well aware of how they can change people and how important it is to encourage the people you love to live.

I know that words have meaning and that, very often, attempts to communicate sincerity come across as trite, especially through instantaneous mediums like Twitter. I have not stalked anyone. I have never been in a physical altercation with anyone. One can only come across as a defensive lout when there is a witchhunt. But I’ll just say that my partner and my friends can back me up on this, and I will leave it at that.

The suicidal ideation I experienced was real. It was certainly selfish, but it was too caught within the mesh of raw absolutist emotion to be consciously manipulative. I am seeing a therapist.

I don’t think you’re a bad guy. And I certainly haven’t felt any anger towards you. I recognize the same fierce desire to fight when provoked. But I think that the people who love us in the real world need both of us. So I’m going to sign off, wish you well and your father a speedy recovery, and again offer my sincere apologies for any impulsive sentiments that hurt you.

Thanks, take care, and all best,

Ed

Despite this good faith exchange, Seitz continued to express no empathy, even as he continued to spout forth the lie that I had threatened him, not pointing to the above exchange. He has shown a complete incapacity to not only present the facts as they actually happened, and the context that I carefully explicated to him directly at length, but to feel any compassion for a man who he continues to view as one of the greatest villains in the New York culture world. Matt Zoller Seitz is forgiven for actions far worse than mine. I am not. I still forgive the man, even though he threatened multiple times to fight me.

Claim, ¶90: “to promise ‘serious consequences’ to critic Glenn Kenny”

FALSE, MISLEADING. Glenn Kenny is an irascible and often compassionless critic whose Twitter feed is a one-man three-ring circus for vitriol and invective. He has sustained an indefatigible feud with Hollywood Elsewhere blogger Jeffrey Wells extending for years that can be beningly described as overzealous, nasty enough to mock Wells’s sex life and make other untoward suggestions that are decidedly below the belt. He is a self-professed troll who revels in violent imagery, such as presenting Mike Daisey’s scalp to Ira Glass, and telling Emily Gould, “Um, not to put too fine a point on it—and believe me, I know this is going to sound ‘mean,’ but there’s just no way around it—but could you do the rest of humanity the favor of, like, throwing yourself in front of a bus or something? Thanks.” (Kenny later apologized for this.) When the distinguished critic Scott Esposito attempted to inform Kenny that he had written for several esteemed places, Kenny ridiculed him and has gone on ridiculing him, as recently as November 20, 2016 – more than three years after the exchange. Kenny is a man who cannot let things go. And this behavior comes not from some hopped up kid trying to make a name for himself, but a man who is nearly sixty, one who is widely published. He is a prominent example of what I never want to become.

So when Kenny loudly badmouthed me in public, as I was attempting to cover the New York Film Festival, I sent him this email on September 22, 2011:

Glenn:

I’m writing to you with a calm and level head, so that I might give you the benefit of the doubt. This email is written in confidence. It is between us and not to be forwarded to anyone. And if I hear you talk of it, then I will consider it rescinding on good faith.

Here’s the deal: I’m trying to cover a film festival. And that means using those intervals between movies to compose my thoughts.

You are an ostensible professional, but in recent days you have demonstrated a full-fledged commitment to amateurism, speaking loudly of “Guys like Champion” while I was sitting a few rows away. And this behavior has to stop. You can have any thoughts and feelings you want about me. I don’t care. But I will not tolerate efforts to disrupt my work. I certainly would not do that to my worst enemy. If you talk about me in earshot (as you did a few days ago before the Nicholas Ray film) or you encourage a peer to read my tweets aloud while I’m working,then there WILL be serious consequences. If you do not say a word about me, then we can both go about our work and there is no need for either of us to speak with each other or mention each other ever again. As part of the deal, I will not mention you at all at Twitter. Nonoverlapping magisteria is the operative term.

I trust that this clears up this matter. And I trust that both of us can work the rest of the festival in a professional manner rather than give into petty personal grievances.

Thanks,

Ed

Kenny replied on September 22, 2011 at 9:37 AM:

To Edward Champion:

I apologize that my voice carried as it did. But as it happens the discussion to which you refer pertained to matters that, for better or worse, had become part of the public record. I suggest that if you don’t want your tweets or writing discussed, you do not tweet or write.

If I receive any further threats from you referring to “serious consequences” they shall be conveyed to parties appropriate for dealing with threats. For the nonce, though, I will conditionally accede to your request pertaining to confidentiality. I get one phone call that’s a hangup, however, and I’ll have to reconsider. You have crossed a line here, Ed. You can’t not be aware of that.

I HAVE shared your threats with a family member, for that person’s information in the event that anything happens to me. And that is our “deal.” And that is all.

Glenn Kenny

I replied on September 22, 2011 at 11:47 AM:

To Glenn Kenny:

Thank you for your apology. To reiterate: You can have any thoughts and feelings you want about me. I don’t care.

The issue here is behavior along the lines of a few days ago: “in earshot” harassment, which I will not tolerate from you or anybody else. You have just confessed that you knew I was there. Please know that I am fully aware of New York Penal Code Section 240, recent legislation passed in Albany, and that I am prepared to consult with third parties if there are any continued infractions on your part.

So long as you keep your mouth shut about me in my presence and as I am trying to work, we won’t have any problems. It’s as simple as that.

Sincerely,

Edward Champion

Kenny replied at 12:00 PM:

I did not confess that I knew you were present. I was both unaware of your presence AND unaware that you were in earshot. You have now gone and created a situation wherein I absolutely do not wish to be made aware of your presence in any way.

We have no “understanding” from hereon in. I consider you a threat to my personal safety going forward. I will take appropriate steps as I deem necessary.

Glenn Kenny

I replied on 12:28 PM:

To Glenn Kenny:

This correspondence, like all, is personal and confidential.

As a point of clarification, please be advised that I have not made any “threats” to you at all. These emails were sent to rectify a grievance in a civil and timely manner, and adhere to [sic] the standards of information gathering and dissemination followed by reasonable parties. I presented you with a solution and you have responded with false and defamatory assertions.

Please be advised that I will seek appropriate remedies in numerous venues if you continue to slander, libel, defame, and harass me, or if you proceed to mischaracterize my actions as “threats,” in any form and in any medium.
Sincerely,

Edward Champion

Kenny replied on 12:43 PM.

Let it go, Edward. You’re clearly enjoying this far too much. If you don’t believe that your emails are threatening, I’d be glad to take the matter up with Lincoln Center security (for starters) which I shall do if I receive one more email from you. Now. Do YOU understand? We’re done.

Kenny, an angry and dishonorable man responding to Champion, phrasing a request in aloof and bizarrely formal terms, was quite happy to twist a civil if oddly worded effort to clear up a grievance into a “threat,” did not respect the “personal and confidential” nature of this preposterous exchange and willfully violated it on September 30, 2014. It is unknown whether Kenny forwarded the part to McArdle where I clarified that I did not make any personal threats, but his accusation that I was “enjoying [Kenny’s harassment] far too much” speaks to his obsessive mind and his willingness to demonize, which is further buttressed by his own threats.

To his credit, Kenny did once ask for compassion for me. But it seems pretty evident that his obsessive streaks of behavior greatly outweigh whatever benevolence he may possess. Kenny is a man who, like Seitz, is deeply enraged, unwilling to own up to his own part in his many vituperative exchanges and unwilling to see how his own nasty remarks might be perceived as “threats” to the many people he has insulted over the course of many decades. Glenn Kenny, a man now wasting his time and talent on insignificant and often invented beefs through Twitter, is what happens when you live a life where you hold onto grudges and refuse to grow. I feel nothing but empathy for him and hope one day that he will stop being such a mean-spirited person.

Claim, ¶90: “His history of explicit physical threats is long: to punch blogger Ron Hogan in 2007, to punch New York magazine writer Boris Kachka in 2008, to put a cigar out in critic Matt Zoller Seitz’s mouth in 2010, to promise ‘serious consequences’ to critic Glenn Kenny and decapitation to blogger and critic Mark Athitakis in 2011. Athitakis was one of the very few people who notified the police of Champion’s threats. Champion took to his blog to mock Athitakis for overreacting to what was ‘really a bunch of silly performance art.’”

FALSE, MISLEADING, AND DEFAMATORY. I have already addressed the illusory “physical threats” issued to Kachka and Seitz and the justifiable defense against now documented predator Ron Hogan. I have done a website search of Athitakis’s blog in an attempt to determine when or if I (jocularly) called for Athitakis’s decapitation. Aside from the comment for which I’ve provided a screenshot below, I can find no trace of directly “calling” for Athitakis’s death. Here is an excerpt from a December 9, 2011 essay, “2011: The Year in Broken Windows,” in which I articulate the truth behind the Athitakis spat:

On the afternoon of July 19, 2011, I was contacted by a detective from the Cheverly Police Department. The detective was a nice and reasonable guy. He explained to me that blogger and critic Mark Athitakis was accusing me of harassment. What was so harassing? Several comments — all under my real name, really a bunch of silly performance art that I had been leaving intermittently over the last few months, nothing intended to harm and more than a bit absurdist — one evoking a fictitious Shakespeare quote reading “let’s kill the critics” and the like. I told the detective that these comments were clearly satirical. That a comment containing the lyrics for Rebecca Black’s “Friday” could not possibly be written with violence or threats in mind. The detective agreed that he and I both had better things to do with his time. He was merely checking up on the complaint that he received.

At no time did Mark ever contact me personally to (a) clarify the beef that he has with me, (b) state that I was harassing him. He did email me on July 14th, writing, “Your behavior is abusive, disrespectful, and unacceptable. It has to stop.” I emailed him a suggestion on how to clear things up, writing, “If you want to use this email as an opportunity, then I’m all ears.” He repeated the same line in another email on July 15th. I replied, “This comment is not abusive. Here are the facts: you have no sense of humor, you are disrespectful of my thoughts and voice, and you cannot take criticism.”

That was the last direct contact I had with Athitakis. I did not visit his site again until July 19, 2011, when I was attempting to explain the situation to the detective. So Athitakis must have filed the complaint with the Cheverly Police Department after this exchange.

Claim, ¶92-93: “In response to a March 31, 2014 post, Champion speculates on where he’ll be in a year. ‘I am certain that it will involve answering a judge in a courtroom as Lydia’s attorneys stare at my manacled bulk with an admixture of vengeance and purchased alacrity. It will be ‘a hell of a legacy.’’ ‘This comment made my mom call me with real concern,’ Kiesling tweeted on June 28, 2014. ‘I’ve fielded plenty of critical comments without wanting to pack it in; the ones he left during his feud with the Millions made me dread opening my email the day I posted something.’”

MISCHARACTERIZATION, MISINTERPRETATION, MISSING CONTEXT. In October 2011, after a Year in Reading entry on “overlooked books” proved very popular with the readers, I spent a great deal of time writing an essay for The Millions on 20th century critic Dwight Macdonald. I pulled the essay due to editorial differences I had with C. Max Magee, who wanted to play it safe and remove the political elements and unethical conflicts of interest that I had included, which I felt were essential to understanding Macdonald. (The essay can be read here.)

In hindsight, I’m sure Max meant well, but his remarks rubbed me the wrong way. I declined his subsequent request to participate in the Year in Reading series. Magee approached me again in May 2012 to write a polemical piece about science fiction and I was bothered by the request, given that I was asked again to neuter my voice, which seemed contrary to the whole purpose of writing an essay that would work people up..

I suppose all this rankled me because I really liked The Millions and still feel that it publishes quality essays. But I started a playful comic feud with The Millions shortly after this problematic exchange to protest The Millions‘s failure to publish dangerous viewpoints. I left deliberately strange and increasingly odd comments in response to threads, which were taken seriously by people who didn’t know the backstory or who didn’t like my writing. (Mark Sarvas, who was one of my most obsessive haters, as chronicled below in ¶161 and ¶166, left numerous comments under pseudonyms.) Amazingly, Magee let all these comments stand, which I think is a tribute to his tolerance for other viewpoints. This “feud” culminated in an elaborate April Fool’s Day joke on April 1, 2014, in which I left comments on nearly every single thread, which includes the comment cited by Lydia Kiesling (time stamp: April 1, 2014, 12:03 AM). Magee emailed me shortly afterwards asking for a truce, which I agreed to.

Had McArdle actually interviewed Magee (whose first initial she cannot even get right; see ¶53) or even paid attention to the timestamp, she might have learned about this vital comical context. I was not “speculating” on where I would be in a year. I was playing a character. I was not going after Kiesling’s family. Kiesling’s mother, who falsely interpreted it without seeing the time stamp, reacted to it.

Claim, ¶96: “’It’s 100 percent mental illness,’ Porochista Khakpour agreed, ‘and I write a million tweets about misogyny.’ She paused. (We were on the phone.) ‘But Ed actually,’ she said, ‘there’s definitely a sexually violent angle to how he attacked Emily [Gould] and I.’”

FALSE CHARACTERIZATION, SPECULATIVE, UNSUBSTANTIATED. I have addressed the irresponsible and problematic approach of asking a person who is not an expert in psychology to opine upon my mental health in ¶136. And I establish, in ¶4, that my Gould essay, which contained some subconscious misogynistic language that I now own up to, was more rooted in baptismal imagery rather than a desire to inflict sexual violence. As I establish in Appendix A, what sent me over the edge were the lies that Khakpour was disseminating about me. If there was a “sexual violent angle,” then it clearly did not have anything to do with inflicting sexual violence on either Gould or Khakpour, but, in the case of Khakpour, using a humiliating piece of information to retaliate against someone who humiliated me by leading a campaign on Twitter to destroy me with misinformation. But I was drunk and not in my right mind on the evening of September 25, 2014. This was wrong.

Claim, ¶99: “In his writing, Champion regularly drew from a deep well of sexual hyperbole. Though men were subject to this kind of attention, women—far more often—have been subjected to Champion’s explicit descriptions of their bodies and of sexual acts involving them.”

along with Claim, ¶100: Jessa Crispin quote: “There’s something sexual in the way that he imagines a woman and writes about her.”

FALSE, DEFAMATORY, UNSUBSTANTIATED, NO QUANTITATIVE MEASURE, REBUTTED BY EXAMPLE: This rebuttal is very much about reckoning with who I am, and who I am alleged to be. I do not believe that writing from a place of sexual hyperbole automatically makes one a misogynist. But to consider McArdle’s viewpoint, I have cited below every example from my blog of how I described a woman from January 1, 2014 through September 25, 2014 (the night of my crackup), under the theory that examining how a man (i.e., me) describes women in his worst state is probably the better benchmark for what kind of “misogynist” he happens to be. I have omitted the Gould essay (already covered above in ¶4) because this has already been trotted out as the casus belli against me. If the below results damn me, then I clearly have a problem that I need help with. But if they do not, then McArdle is clearly at fault here for (a) not producing evidence and (b) falsely smearing my character to feed a monstrous and libelous myth that has perpetuated to the present day.

The below table is also a solid overview that demonstrates what I was spending most of my time doing: reading and writing about books, conducting journalism, and thoughtfully interviewing authors.

January 14, 2014 Operating Instructions (Modern Library Nonfiction #99) “as brave women document their battles with cancer and callous columnists bully them for their candor” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “It is also true that she attracts a large reading audience, a sin as unpardonable to hoity-toity gasbags as a man of the hoi polloi leaving the toilet seat up. Much as the strengths of Jennifer Weiner’s fiction are often dwarfed by her quest for superfluous respect, Anne Lamott’s acumen for sculpting the familiar through smart and lively prose doesn’t always get the credit it deserves.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Yet one is fascinated not only by Lamott’s unshakable belief that she will remain a single parent for the rest of her natural life” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Compare Lamott and Dooce‘s Heather Armstrong (perhaps the best-known of the mommy bloggers) as they describe contending with a breast pump:” VERDICT: Not sexualized. This is an effort to show the influence of Lamott on mommy bloggers.
February 5, 2014 Diane Johnson (The Bat Segundo Show) “Diane Johnson is most recently the author of Flyover Lives.”

“Diane Johnson is best known for her comic novels centered around France”

VERDICT: Not sexualized.
February 13, 2014 Jenny Offill (The Bat Segundo Show) “Jenny Offill is most recently the author of Dept. of Speculation.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Anyway, so the wife — I’m going to call her “the wife” because she’s the unnamed protagonist of this novel — she has this very unusual relationship with John Keats.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.In fact, Offill even cracks a joke during this chat that McArdle would likely interpret as someone possessing “violent impulses.”

Offill: That’s why I’m holding the knife to your throat and making sure that you start to praise the book really soon. But I do think…

Correspondent: Can’t I just give you twenty dollars instead? Maybe a hundred?

Offill: Are you kidding? Yeah, when I’m done. I’ll take twenty dollars.

February 17, 2014 Sarah Churchwell (The Bat Segundo Show) “Sarah Churchwell is most recently the author of Careless People.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
February 24, 2014 RIP Harold Ramis “coaxed Imogene Coca to appear as Aunt Edna in National Lampoon’s Vacation, despite Coca’s reservations about the character being too vituperative.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
March 11, 2014 Julia Angwin (The Bat Segunod Show) “Julia Angwin is most recently the author of Dragnet Nation.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
March 13, 2014 Save NYPL: How an Organized Movement to Stop the Destruction of Libraries is Being Ignored by Mayor de Blasio “I was fond of the Raging Grannies. Despite the insinuated belligerence, the Raging Grannies were a calm and lively group of women with an affinity for music.” VERDICT: Not sexualized, although I suspect describing these women as “calm,” even if it is meant to clarify the Raging Grannies’ temperament in relation to their name, would likely cause McArdle to declare me a “sexist” for “being fond” of calm women.
March 19, 2014 Dorthe Nors, Save NYPL, and Blake Bailey (The Bat Segundo Show) “Dorthe Nors, who is most recently the author of Karate Chop.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Locking Liv Ullmann up. “ VERDICT: Not sexualized. If anything, this was a pushback against Ingmar Bergman locking Liv Ullmann up when they lived together.
March 20, 2014 Fred Phelps, Hateful Homophobic Monster, Dead at 84 “When Judy Shepard, Matthew’s mother, was asked how she felt about Phelps, she replied..” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
March 25, 2014 Dinaw Mengestu (The Bat Segundo Show) “It’s the first of your novels to feature the first-person perspective from a woman, “ VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “So Helen. It’s interesting that it takes a woman for you to say, ‘I’m an American too!’”

“She’s a young American. She’s still trying to figure out how people work and how relationships work and where one’s place is in the universe. And I’m wondering why a woman’s voice was the best way for you to really show to yourself and show to the world that you were, in fact, an American as well. “

VERDICT: Not sexualized. Why was I asking Mengestu about writing from a women’s perspective? Well, because I was trying to offer a counterpoint to women writers who are often asked if they can write from a male perspective.
April 23, 2014 What Will Become of Uninformed Muttonheads Who Promulgate Misinformation on Slate About Public Libraries? “he once compared Lena Dunham’s artistic growth with ‘a kid playing with this incredible new toy.’” VERDICT: Not sexualized. Again, I was pushing back against a sexist dismissal of a woman showrunner’s artistic growth.
    “To say that Agresta gets public libraries very wrong is an understatement. It is like saying that Brad Paisley does not understand racism or Jenny McCarthy does not understand science. “ VERDICT: Not sexualized.
April 25, 2014 The Infinite Jest Review That Dave Eggers Doesn’t Want You to Read “this grown man remains a timid and irresponsible bumpkin who would rather pretend that his writing didn’t harm an innocent woman “” VERDICT: Not sexualized. Standing up for Kathy Zeitoun.
April 28, 2014 Yiyun Li (The Bat Segundo Show) “Yiyun Li is most recently the author of Kinder Than Solitude.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “All of the inferences she made are essentially thrown back into her face. And I think this novel dramatizes belief culture in very interesting ways.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
April 29, 2014 Evie Wyld (The Bat Segundo Show) “Evie Wyld is most recently the author of All the Birds, Singing.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “How much physical work have you done?” VERDICT: Not sexualized. An effort to ask Wyld about whether her compelling descriptions of physical exertion were rooted in experience.
May 13, 2014 Nikil Saval (The Bat Segundo Show) “Back in the late 1970s, Jane Fonda met Karen Nussbaum, a remarkable figure who organized women clerical workers in this Nine to Five movement. And Fonda and a screenwriter spent an entire evening talking with 40 office workers. “ VERDICT: Not sexualized.
May 14, 2014 Porochista Khakpour (The Bat Segundo Show) “Porochista Khakpour is most recently the author of The Last Illusion.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Older women?” VERDICT: Not sexualized. A followup on Khakpour’s observation on older women complaining about animal abuse.
    “And here you are blonde as well.” VERDICT: Not sexualized. Remarking on why Khakpour is unexpectedly blonde. Or is that too image conscious for McArdle?
May 19, 2014 Will the Cecily McMillan Sentence Dampen Occupy’s Future? “Cecily McMillan, a young woman who had been found guilty of assaulting a police officer on the most draconian and iniquitous of pretexts,” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    ” She is, after all, on a leash. Can she still be a revolutionary?” VERDICT: Not sexualized. I suspect McArdle’s disturbed and wildly imaginative mind would interpret “on a leash” as something kinky, but it’s clear from the contex that I was reporting upon a revolutionary’s activities being needlessly constrained.
    “I chatted with an African-American woman who identified herself as Aanis. She was waiting for another case in another chamber. She wondered if this seemingly indomitable group would stand up for her the next time she was arrested. But most ignored her.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
May 21, 2014 Why Trigger Warnings Threaten Free Speech, Original Voices, and Thoughtful Discourse “Loverin cited her own discomfort sitting through a film, one which she has refused to identify, depicting sexual assault. “ VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Loverin has stated that she’s a survivor of sexual abuse, but she has not suffered from PTSD“ VERDICT: Not sexualized, unless quoting how a woman is bothered by sexual assault in a piece on trigger warnings counts as sexualization. Which was certainly not the point of this essay.
    “She is a second-year literature major who has become an unlikely figure in a debate that threatens to diminish the future of free speech.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “In her thoughtful volume A Paradise Built in Hell, Rebecca Solnit examines numerous instances of people reacting to disasters.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “features the professor pushing Joan Short, one of the Christian activists and the person operating the camera, after she attempts to retrieve her sign from an elevator” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “But if an artist or a professor has to consider the way her audience feels at all times, how can she be expected to pursue the truths of being alive?” VERDICT: Not sexualized. Use of “her” as default pronoun.
May 28, 2014 Paula Bomer (The Bat Segundo Show) “Paula Bomer is most recently the author of Inside Madeleine.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Many of your stories here feature side characters who have their skin pocked or acned or stretched or otherwise maimed in some sense…. How much do you need to know a character physically before knowing her internally? How does a damaged physical appearance help you find unexpected internal qualities about a character?” VERDICT: Not sexualized. This question does concentrate upon Bomer’s aesthetics and resulted in an unsurprisingly thoughtful answer from Bomer related to Flannery O’Connor. A fixation on how people look in fiction does not necessarily mean that the person observing this is sexualizing characters. In this case, I clearly wanted to get a sense of how Bomer imagined her internally persuasive characters.
    “I love the way you fixated on a physical part like that.” VERDICT: Not sexualized, although asking an author why she started a story with a back is undoubtedly going to summon the people who think I am overly fixated on the body (thus, a misogynist), even though I used this observation to point out how I connected the hardened back to a Dorothea Lange photo.
May 28, 2014 How BookExpo America Turned Into a Ponzi Scheme for Booksellers, Exhibitors, and Readers “The annoyingly peppy moderator Dominique Raccah kept referencing a “pre-interview” she conducted with the five participants, as if this atoned for the vapid predictability of her questions.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Tattered Cover owner Joyce Meksis was rightly cheered for the 500 to 600 events she organizes yearly.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
May 30, 2014 BookExpo 2014: The Future of Gender Balance and Why Conversations Need to Grow Up “the justifiable grandstanding is getting in the way of building on heartening truths: namely, that women have gained significant (and in many cases dominant) ground as authors, as editorial tastemakers, and as reviewers in the past year. “ VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Paul picked up a recent issue of the Review and shuffled through the table of contents.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Later in the panel, Paul was to correct Weiner, claiming that the Review had full editorial independence.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Because unlike Paul, Weiner was willing to use case examples to bookend her thorny ideological sentiments.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “An amental agent, whose superficial sensibilities are writ large in her most recent sale.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “And the Women’s Media Group suggested that I was oppressing the room with my loud voice:” VERDICT: Nothing was being sexualized. I asked an honest question about ambitious novels written by women, which people were offended by.
June 3, 2014 Casual Sexism: The Author Gender Breakdown for the New York Times Daily Reviewers   VERDICT: No women was sexualized during an attempt to study gender balance in the New York Times.
June 5, 2014 Joanna Rakoff (The Bat Segundo Show) “Joanna Rakoff is most recently the author of My Salinger Life.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
June 19, 2014 Mimi Pond (The Bat Segundo Show) “Mimi Pond is most recently the author of Over Easy.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
June 27, 2014 Amanda Vaill (The Bat Segundo Show) “Amanda Vaill is most recently the author of Hotel Florida.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Virginia Cowles, on the other hand, she headed into the Nationalist zone and not only covered it, but did so when a Nationalist staff officer said, ‘You probably shouldn’t be writing about this.’” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
July 4, 2014 The Liminal Landscape of Valeria Luiseli “the perspicacious young writer Valeria Luiselli” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “the slipstream flow of an unnamed woman who has worked as a translator” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
July 5, 2014 Robin Black’s Parable of the Old and the Young “Between Black’s novel and Clare Messud’s The Woman Upstairs, characters named Nora are swiftly becoming the literary answer to NORAD, revealing cold domestic wars nearly as underestimated in their body count as some matter in the Balkans that will be surely resolved by Christmas.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “The book’s 47-year-old protagonist, Augusta, is known as “Gus” by her husband Owen — a teacher and writer whose birthday is strongly insinuated as Bloomsday — and “Augie” by everyone else.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “We learn she is an artist of some kind, yet she is diffident about the projects she has painted. Augie is Jewish.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Augie is hiding something: not dirty laundry, but an inner turmoil.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “For Augie, making art becomes a strange, seemingly liberating narcotic, a curious, ego-flexing gauze to throw over the more important gaze you need to direct at the world.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Black introduces a new neighbor named Alison, who has temporarily rented an adjacent house after retreating from an abusive husband.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Laine, the daughter of the man she had an affair with, offering her pointers on how to be a painter and she hasn’t told her husband about this.” VERDICT: Not sexualized. The novel is, among other things, about having an affair. Should I elide this detail from my description because the Literary Scooby-Doo Squad finds even an oblique reference to adultery “sexual”?
    “Nora, Alison’s daughter, who becomes smitten with Owen and who understandably takes up more of Alison’s time.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
July 17, 2014 The Journalist and the Murderer (Modern Library Nonfiction #97) “Malcolm is really exploring how journalistic opportunity and impetuous judgment “ VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “found MacDonald’s wife Colette, and their two children, Kimberley and Kristen, all dead in their respective bedrooms” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “she has called upon all journalists to feel ‘some compunction about the exploitative character of the journalist-subject relationship,’ yet claims that her own separate lawsuit was not the driving force in the book’s afterword. Yet even Malcolm, a patient and painstaking practitioner,” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “even if she believes herself to be morally or factually in the clear, the journalist” VERDICT: Not sexualized. Note again my tendency to use “her” over “his” as the default pronoun.
    “she is struck by MacDonald’s physical grace as he breaks off pieces of tiny powdered sugar doughnuts” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “another excellent book which sets forth the inherent and surprisingly cyclical bias in writing about Sylvia Plath” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Malcolm confessed her own disappointment in how Ingrid Sischy failed to live up to her preconceptions as a bold and modern woman” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “lining the crisp and meticulous forms of her svelte and careful arguments” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “other middling men who are inexplicably intimidated by women who are smarter, have attempted to paint Malcolm as a hypocrite, an opportunist, and a self-loathing harpy of the first order.” VERDICT: Not sexualized. Protesting sexism.
    “Malcolm is not James Wolcott; she is considerably more thoughtful and interesting” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Malcolm is not as relentless as her generational peer Renata Adler, but she is just as refreshingly formidable. She is as thorough with her positions and almost as misunderstood. She has made many prominent enemies for her controversial positions” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Adler was ousted from The New Yorker, but Malcolm was not. In the last few years, both have rightfully found renewed attention for their years among a new generation.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “One of Morris’s documentary subjects, Joyce McKinney, claimed that she was tricked into giving an interview for what became Tabloid” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Brabantio over why he had eloped with the senator’s daughter Desdemona” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
July 22, 2014 On the Cowardice of Literary Omphalskepsis “attacked Roxane Gay” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “cited Gay’s Goodreads review of Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams (offering the additional claim that Gay never read the book), Gay’s response to an AWP questionnaire” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “This was not only disrespectful towards Gay and Taylor” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “or because of any allegiance I may have for Roxane Gay or Justin Taylor” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
July 23, 2014 The Human Value of Cultural Preservation “Petrusich is kind but keeps her distance. She does not encroach upon or judge her subjects, never painting them as freakish. She heeds their advice and is never condescending, even when they belch in her face.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Along the way, Petrusich is candid enough to contend with her own music listening issues as a young critic” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Petrusich levels, by her own admission, some shaky Asperger’s charges near the end of her book, but her vivacious reporting is better at answering these questions more than any armchair psychoanalysis.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “she is at a loss to pinpoint the methodology behind his passion VERDICT: Not sexualized.
July 24, 2014 Native Sons in Philadelphia: Why We Need More Novelists LIke Jean Love Cush “Malik’s mother, Janae, who works as a cafeteria worker, tries to rescue her son between work stints she is barely able to reduce to half-shifts. She cannot afford an attorney who can offer the appropriate defense on her meager salary.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “As Janae becomes a more uncomfortably visible participant in her son’s story, she comes to understand how the media has built a regressive belief culture on racial bias:” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
August 4, 2014 On Sworn Virgins and Albanian Tradition “a former woman who becomes the male household head in exchange for a vow of chastity, dressing as a man to earn the respect granted to a man” VERDICT: Not sexualized, although this is an essay on the “sworn virgins” of Albania and one must be clear in describing gender roles..
    “Sworn virgins, who are found mostly in northern Albania, act and carry on as men, but do not undergo any surgical change.”” VERDICT: Not sexualized. Declaration of facts.
    “The bride and the groom do not meet, with flirtation considered a boorish quality for a man. The bride sheds demonstrative tears when she leaves her family home and, as a wife, a woman is expected to perform quite a bit of labor, often more than the man.” VERDICT: Not sexualized. This is an anthropological description. Of course, those who wish to declare me a misogynist will use the description of gender to further declare me a repulsive oppressor of women.
    “Hana’s early years in America in 2001-2003 and her time in Albania, in which she becomes a sworn virgin (1986, 1996).” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “There is also the fragile health of Aunt Katrina” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “we see how swiftly Hana has changed, wondering if it will be easy for her to establish yet another new life. She must contend with shaving her legs and skirts that are too wide and operates having ‘no real experience of femininity,’ and she must figure out the new rules of the game before her job interview.” VERDICT: Not sexualized. This is an anthropological description. Of course, those who wish to declare me a misogynist will use the description of gender to further declare me a repulsive oppressor of women.
September 4, 2014 Battling the Digital Babysitter: The Case for Reading and Curiosity “he has gone out of his way to document his reading experiments with his daughter, Olive” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “through the statements of Lisa Guernsey,” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “If a parent is too beleaguered, perhaps she can find a bedtime solution with the physical book,” VERDICT: Not sexualized. Indeed, the pronoun choice I am fond of using is the female “her” rather than the male “his.”
    “Boog is extremely diligent in limiting his daughter’s digital usage” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Betty Hart and Todd Risley conducted a famous study” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Judy Blume’s oft-quoted suggestion that children should be allowed to read” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
September 9, 2014 Giving the Upscale Types the Graphic Novels They Want “Corrina Park, a young woman who works in an advertising agency. There is nothing interesting or unusual about her, unless you believe the occasional pilfering of a magazine from a convenience store to be jaw-dropping criminal mayhem.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Corrina is no different from millions of young bourgie aspirants whinging throughout North America.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
September 13, 2014 The Zombie Adulthood Ideal of A.O. Scott Was the choice of the accompanying photo featuring Scott with a leggy woman an attempt to sexualize her? It certainly wasn’t, but because McArdle is losing this quantitative count big time and I’m feeling generous, let’s say that it was and give her a complimentary “Sexualized.” VERDICT: Sexualized.
    “Rebecca Mead rightly called out Ira Glass…” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Ruth Graham telling Slate readers that they need to be ashamed of reading YA (a charge adeptly parried by the Washington Post‘s Alyssa Rosenberg) “ VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “He can commend Walter White on Breaking Bad as a seductive monster, but not examine Olivia Pope’s comparable qualities on Scandal.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Olivia Pope is arguably a “grown-up” character. Is it not fruitful to examine how Shonda Rhimes depicts adulthood in our culture?” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Olivia Pope is arguably a “grown-up” character. Is it not fruitful to examine how Shonda Rhimes depicts adulthood in our culture?” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
September 17, 2014 The Cultural Redemption of Stefan Zweig, Anthea Bell, and George Prochnik (The Bat Segundo Show) “Anthea Bell, one of the best translators working today.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Anthea Bell is Stefan Zweig’s most renowned translator” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “why Lotte Zweig wasn’t just a factotum, attempts to undermine Lotte’s legacy” VERDICT: Not sexualized. (An attempt, in fact, to stand up for Lotte Zweig.)
    “the rigidity reinforced by this woman who goes to a luxurious hotel, is confused with upper-class, who then has to deal with the fact that she can’t pass that way, and is then forced back into this terrible existence where she has to work in this post office.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “And not even her fault. Because her family actually got a bad rap and she fell into this rote impoverished kind of existence.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
September 25, 2014 Merrit Tierce (The Bat Segundo Show) “Merritt Tierce is most recently the author of Love Me Back, a lively and fierce debut novel about a young single mother who works as a waitress and disguises her pain and humiliation behind a smile.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Although in Marie’s case, it becomes just utterly painful to read and to see what she’s going through.” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “where Marie subjects herself to self-harm, to cutting” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Marie’s life has been thrown into this degrading trajectory because, well, she’s been thrown into the wilderness without a handbook” VERDICT: Not sexualized.
    “Marie has to learn much of this at the behest of men.” VERDICT: Awkwardly phrased to demonstrate patriarchy, but not sexualized.

In the nine month period before my mental breakdown, outside of the Emily Gould essay, I described various women 114 times — never in sexual terms, never in body-based or violent imagery (except when the conversation pertained to descrbing an anthropological phenomenon). This proves, without a shadow of a doubt, that both Crispin and McArdle are absolutely inaccurate in their assessment of me. It also concludes that I did not sexualize women in my writing. These two casual defamers are relentless and inveterate liars who don’t have the evidence to back up their claims. A further quantitative breakdown of my “obsession” with sex can be found at ¶103.

Claim, ¶101: “In 2004, he talked about what he’d do to a then 27-year-old assistant at a literary agency in exchange for a look at his manuscript. “We here at Return of the Reluctant have offered to give 24-7 cunnilingus to Kate Lee, if only she’d check out our wares. She’s declined. She doesn’t like our tongue action.”

TRUE, TENDENTIOUS, TAKEN OUT OF CONTEXT: This is taken from a satirical May 26, 2004 post and omits the fact that the post was celebratory of another woman – namely, Maud Newton – who was experiencing anxiety at the time. The idea was to cheer her up. Is a jokey reference to cunnilingus enough to mitigate a non-sexual paean of encouragement to another? You make the call. The commenters on the post certainly didn’t think so. Nobody had complained about this post, more than a decade old, at all until McArdle did. We have already established in ¶99 that I was not in the habit of sexualizing women. McArdle’s deep dive excavation is, in short, a desperate effort to find some scrap of evidence that will fit into her smear campaign like a stray number in a Sudoku puzzle.

Claim, ¶102: “But Champion did not reserve this pattern of deeply inappropriate sexualization to the relatively unknown and powerless. He describes a 2008 video conversation between America’s only living Nobel Laureate in literature and the then-editor of the New York Times Book Review with an equally repugnant image. The interview was so fawning, Champion writes, Sam Tanenhaus’s ‘lips nearly lick[ed] Toni Morrison to a needlessly sensual premature death.’”

TRUE, TENDENTIOUS, TAKEN OUT OF CONTEXT: McArdle, in her eagerness to depict me as a repulsive satyr, fails to detect the clear John Updike parody contained within the December 8, 2008 post in question. This was a critique of then-NYTBR editor Sam Tanenhaus’s tendency to favor review coverage of books published by Knopf and used sexual imagery (in large part because this was a stylistic response to Tanenhaus’s love for John Updike, who was infamous for injecting strange sexual imagery throughout his books). It not only contained an “update” appended a month later describing “the concerns satirized below” to alert readers that this was a joke, but it was also careful to point to a well-written review of a book more pertinent at the time: Alison Bechdel’s The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For. . I selected an incredible book by a gay woman to serve as counterpart for Sam Tanenhaus’s white heteronormative male emphasis. It’s a judgment call whether my Updike parody was “repugnant.” Certainly many considered Updike’s prose repugnant. I guess this means that I parodied Updike accurately.

Claim, ¶103: “Fun fact: if you search Champion’s website for the word “cunnilingus,” Google returns 187 results—twelve pages worth.”

FALSE, INACCURATE, INAPPROPRIATE CONTEXT, LIBEL, DEFAMATION: Fun fact: if you search Gawker for “cunnilingus,” Google returns 586 results.

Fun fact: if you search Thought Catalog for “cunnilingus,” Google returns 577 results.

Fun fact: if you search HTML Giant for “cunnilingus,” Google returns 32 results. So perhaps they are more enlightened than me. But I have been around many years longer. So maybe not!

Fun fact: if you search my website for “cunnilingus,” Google returns 121 results.

(The numbers reported above were from searches conducted on December 19, 2016. It is possible that the results may differ by the time that you read this. I have provided links above so that you can corroborate the data yourself.)

Fun fact: I have conducted two independent searches on my site. I have used the word “cunnilingus” a grand total of – hold on to your hat! – twenty times (not counting this referential essay). And what was the most recent usage of “cunnilngus”? February 23, 2010, in an interview with Kevin Sampsell, used in an informative context. Since McArdle has not been able to use her “Sexualized” card at ¶99 and six years is too long time a time for any self-respecting writer to refrain from writing about cunnilingus, I shall now give McArdle a more explicit opportunity to impugn me for generosity towards the genitals. In our age of selfish men who, despite possessing a plethora of online information (and we ain’t talking porn) on how to make a woman happier, never consider how light darts and angled lashes of the tongue sustains some orgasmic gender balance in the sack, one might think that anyone writing about this regularly in some capacity might be a blessing.

Fun fact: Google counts my use of “cunnilingus” many times because many posts are counted multiple times because of all the keywords.

Fun fact: Molly McArdle, in addition to not being able to count, is terrible with data and likes to fudge her numbers so that she can smear and libel a writer who wasn’t any more celebratory of “cunnilingus” than any other oddball website operating at the time.

This is the linchpin for which McArdle paints me as “a disturbing picture of a man who habitually describes or refers to women in a sexual manner in decidedly nonsexual contexts. Readers: this is misogyny.”

Readers: This is libel. This is defamation. This is reckless and absolutely irresponsnible journalism. This is the very sophist claim that people have used to falsely sculpt my largely innocent musings as the ravings of a misogynist. This is the sham onus I appear fated to carry for the rest of my life.

Claim, ¶111: “In 2007, when Little, Brown publicity manager Shannon Browne wrote a blog post for the National Book Critics Circle website critical of blog culture, she received a pointed email from Champion. ‘I’ll be sure to remember these words the next time you’re seeking an outlet, either print or online, for a thoughtful interview with Michael Connelly,’ a novelist who Browne did publicity for.

MISINTERPRETATION: This was clearly an ironic and self-deprecatory joke. Michael Connelly, being a best-selling author, hardly needed my help with publicity.

Claim, ¶124-126: “By the time Ed left an abusive comment on Book Riot, where Schinsky is content director, in May 2014, ‘I had heard enough versions of this story to know it was likely that he would respond publicly and that I would hear from Sarah privately as a follow-up.’ ‘I notified my colleague (and boss) Jeff O’Neal that I had deleted a comment from Ed and that he should keep an eye out for an angry email about it. And that’s basically what happened—Ed and Sarah both responded to me publicly and in DMs.’ Weinman criticized O’Neal and Schinsky for their zero-tolerance policy for abusive comments. (Champion had called another commenter a ‘preposterous and illiterate child’ and an ‘unthinking oaf’ among other things.) ‘Have a nice time on Sanctimony Island,’ she tweeted. Must be lovely out there.’”

PARTIALLY FALSE, MISLEADING, INCOMPLETE, A PROMINENT EXAMPLE OF WILLFUL DISREGARD FOR THE TRUTH. First off, this was a public dispute and my Twitter records indicate that I never sent a DM to Schinsky. So this is an outright lie from Schinsky. Second, it is clear that McArdle saw the full exchange behind this incident, as she quotes from the conversation in which I confessed my pain and the “zero-tolerance” moderators at Book Riot deleted a comment in which I had said some very forthright things about experiencing abuse. This pivotal context, of course, was elided from McArdle’s article. Because the article’s intent, carried out executed with the idea of leaving out any information that would mitigate the gravity of an alarming charge, was always make to me look bad.

On May 25, 2014, a commenter at Book Riot – one who was completely ignorant of PTSD – denied that I had experienced abuse. So I left a comment drawing upon incredibly difficult emotions about a physically abusive incident in the past and it was deleted. The claim by Book Riot was that, in using relatively mild language like “preposterous and illiterate child” and “unthinking oaf” while attempting to summon the horrors of being beaten by my father, I was being abusive. I received an extremely nasty and insensitive corporate response. The especially condescending message from Jeff O’Neal (“Repost your story without insults if it is important to you”) enraged both Weinman and me, and the whole “if it is important to you” line was extraordinarily callous by just about any standard. For it remains my belief that, when people are hurt or abused, all emotions, provided that they aren’t outright lies or wanton defamation, must be expressed in order to aid the victim in coming to terms with the suffering and have a thoughtful discussion. O’Neal then trotted out my attempt to stand up to someone who had denied my experience, which was akin to someone denying the Holocaust, and this was used to bolster the fictitious “Ed Champion threatens everyone” template upheld by McArdle. But it is clear that my anger had more to do with someone deleting and denying and cheapening a painful personal story.

Claim, ¶135: “It is impossible to ignore the current that runs through this whole story—that Champion is not well. Again and again I heard code words about his mental health: eccentric, unstable, manic. I also heard more explicit descriptors: mental illness, crazy.”

UNSUBSTANTIATED, HEARSAY. It is also impossible to ignore the current of assumption and speculation that runs through McArdle’s bumbling drive-by shooting. What McArdle is doing here is no different from what Pentagon contractor Camille Chidiac did in 2012, smearing journalists Tom Vanden Brook and Ray Locker by casting aspersions on their character when they reported on “information operations” campaigns. It is no differernt from the Baja California smear campaign this year against reporter Navarro Bello that tried to undermine her work by revealing “disgraces” about her private life or the intricate fake news recently used to tar Anne Applebaum. As Applebaum wrote:

As I watched the story move around the Web, I saw how the worlds of fake websites and fake news exist to reinforce one another and give falsehood credence.

As I have already documented, descriptive adjectives such as “unhinged” used to uphold these falsehoods were gleefully lapped up not by right-wing news sites, but by people who actually read books.

Did the people who uttered “eccentric” (and I certainly am a bit eccentric, but that adjective, which my Random House Webster’s unabridged defines as “something that is unusual, peculiar, or odd” or “deviating from the recognized or customary character, practice, etc.” is certainly no bearing on a person’s mind) actually mean to use it to describe my mental health? We’ll never know. Because there are no actual sources cited. And, as I document at ¶160, McArdle’s sources often did not espouse the positions that she imputes to them.

Claim, ¶136: Porochista Khakpour: “People aren’t crazy the way Ed was crazy. This is absolutely a story of severe mental illness.”

PARTIAL, UNSUBSTANTIATED, OPINION FROM SOMEONE WHO IS NOT AN EXPERT. Should I call Porochista Khakpour an unstable person driven by severe mental illness because she has confessed to suicidal ideation? Or because she expressed depression and a desire for “someone in NYC to calmly walk me to a psychiatric ward” in a Facebook thread from June 2014?

I shouldn’t. Because I am not a psychiatrist. If you present a case in court, and you wish to establish the defendant as someone who is suffering from “severe mental illness,” then you need evidence and an expert witness who can affirm the claim. If you were an attorney who brought in some unqualified person — whether a writer like Khakpour operating from a place of vengenace or some rando clod at a bar — to opine upon the mental fitness of the defendant, the judge and jury would laugh you out of a courtroom.

There might have been a ripe opportunity for McArdle to frame her speculations about me by actually talking with a psychiatrist who specializes in how suicidal people express themselves on social media. Had I been a journailst writing this article about Champion’s social media outbursts, I would have contacted Dr. Jan Kalbitzer of the Charité-University Medicine Berlin to get a sense of whether social media can accurately predict a bipolar episode or asked Dr. Vasanth Kaliasam and Dr. Erin Samuels to offer thoughts on Champion based on their work looking into how social media can anticipate and prevent suicide. I would have asked these psychiatrists if one can sufficiently diagnose a person through social media. I probably would have chatted up this trio, who have some fascinating thoughts on how social media can be used to diagnose someone (and who offer the caveat that a diagnosis via Twitter is not entirely reliable). Such an emphasis would have spawned a far more thoughtful, more interesting, and more credible article, steering McArdle away from her thuggish prerigged thesis to find some compassion or understanding for her subject, considering the ways in which social media is both accurate and inaccurate in drawing conclusions. Lacking the chops to conduct such basic background work, McArdle instead asks the victim of my crackup, who is not a psychiatric expert, for her opinion on my mental health.

Claim, ¶142: Eric Rosenfield: “he had a tendency to see slights where they didn’t exist, to see someone bumping into him as a personal attack rather than an accident, for example.”

FALSE, DEFAMATORY. To the best of my knowledge, I have never expressed any sentiment to Eric Rosenfield in which I told him that a deliberate bump into me was a “personal attack.” Having experienced physical abuse in my childhood, I am certainly a little sensitive to touch. But as I have documented here, the people interviewed in this article have clearly gone out of their way to make up lies about me and to use this as the basis for personal attacks on my character.

INTERLUDE: I shall ignore many of the speculations on my character contained in ¶¶142-171, including the completely insensitive remarks from Emily Gould on suicide (who publicly longed for my death on Twitter before she deleted her tweet; I truly did want to die after losing everything).

Claim, ¶146: “ so many people have warned me away, expressed concern and shock, or (helpful but alarming) encouraged me to call the police if ever I felt threatened”

UNSUBSTANTIATED. Who are these people? On what basis would they make these base suggestions?

Claim, ¶152: “’The isolation of it,’ she said of being targeted by Champion. ‘The fact that nobody would talk about it in public. The way that there were real life repercussions to talking about it.’”

FALSE, DEFAMATORY, UNSUBSTANTIATED. We have already rebutted Crispin’s claims successfully at ¶¶51-52, Appendix B. But maybe there weren’t any “real life percussions” because I wasn’t actually a threat. (See ¶160 below.)

Claim, ¶154: Jennifer Weiner: “He was a scary abuser who was also a thoughtful, committed reader. What do you do with that?”

FALSE, DEFAMATORY, UNSUBSTANTIATED. Weiner continues with her unsubstantiated claims, carried over from ¶48, not citing a single example. Shall I accuse Weiner of trying to revive the Matamoros human sacrifice cult because someone told me that she’d visited South Padre Island and because some scabrous hack looking for dirt in the literary world wouldn’t stop pestering me?

Claim, ¶160: “Generally, people I spoke to who lived in New York City knew about Champion’s history of abusive, inappropriate behavior. ‘No one had to warn me about Ed,’ said essayist Sloane Crosley, who appeared on his podcast in 2008. ‘By the time I sat down to speak with him, I had been working in book PR for about seven years.’”

FALSE, QUOTE MANIPULATION, LEADING QUESTIONS, ASSUMPTIVE. In an email to me on November 24, 2015, Sloane Crosley told me that her statement had been willfully manipulated. “As I recall, the reporter asked if anyone had ‘warned’ me about you and I answered her. No one had to give me a heads up about anyone because I worked in book publishing, where everyone knows everyone. You have a sense of all these big personalities after a decade, good and bad, short and tall, everything in between. ‘Warn’ is obviously a loaded word and the better thing for me to do would to have just ignored her request.“ (See also ¶¶60-61 for a representative exemplar of my communications with publicists.) Crosley confirmed with me that, being a well-connected publicist, there was never any reason to fear me when she agreed to talk with me for The Bat Segundo Show. Because she knew everything I had done and everything that had been said about me, which did not include threats.

If McArdle phrased most, if not all, of her questions with such recklessly loaded verbs as “warn,” then this would account for the inaccurate, assumptive, and sensationalistic answers that did not reflect the truth. And speaking as someone who has conducted more than 900 interviews in his career, it is often important to be fairly open with your questioning at times, especially if you hope to get an accurate answer. In 1973, Richard J. Harris conducted an experiment which demonstrated that the wording of a question affected the answer. When his subjects were asked “How long was the movie?” his subjects responded with an average estimated running time of 130 minutes. When his subjects were asked “How short was the movie?” his subjects responded with an average of 100 minutes. There’s a big difference between asking, “Did anyone warn you about Ed Champion?” and “What were your feelings about Ed Champion?” One is a leading question that stacks the deck and misrepresents the subject’s position. The other allows the subject to accurately articulate how she feels.

Claim, ¶161: “I guessed—rightly as it turned out—that if I took away the oxygen and refused to engage with him, he would get bored and move on. That’s more or less precisely what happened.” Quote from Mark Sarvas.

FALSE, MISLEADING. For many years, Mark Sarvas was obsessed with me. To cite one of many examples, he became infuriated when I would not text him back within minutes (such as the fusillade of texts I received from him on January 5, 2009, to which I replied by email, “If you’re going to blow up at me over this, then, again, I think this says more about you than it does me. I’m going to chalk all this up to something else that is going on, something I’m happy to talk about with you. I’m not the one who wants to cut off the conduit here.  And I’m certainly not being the stubborn and inflexible one.  I suggest a cooling off period.  If you want to talk, I’m here.  If not, well then that’s your decision.”). I had to clean up many of his messes during the Litblog Co-Op days. I was never obsessed with him; it was quite the reverse, as the @drselfabuse Twitter feed that Sarvas co-created with Tod Goldberg demonstrated (chronicled further in ¶161).

When I sent him an email asking for a civil telephone conversation to resolve the @drselfabuse fiasco, Sarvas responded with the below email on August 13, 2009:

Gentleman? Civil? You are neither, not now, not ever.

How dare you write to me after your horrible, evil posts about me? You asshole. Go fuck yourself.

I apologize if I ever did anything to give you the impression I give the slightest shit about anything you say or do. I assure you I don’t.

I return to my policy of ignoring anything to do with Ed Champion and will not respond to anything else you say, however nasty, you evil goon. Harrass me [sic] and I will block your email and report you as a cyberstalker.  

Sent from my iPhone

Claim, ¶165: “When I saw he had interviewed Merritt Tierce [in September 2014]—how come nobody told her? What happened there? Reaching out to someone in retrospect saying ‘Ugh, I’m so sorry’—you know, no. That’s so pointless and useless. I think of them differently than I used to.” Emily Gould quote.

FALSE, MISLEADING. The Merritt Tierce podcast was not defamatory or threatening in any way. (The introduction pointed to 2 Broke Girls‘s sexism and celebrated Tierce’s novel as a corrective against this regressive portrait of women.) Merritt Tierce was not harassed, threatened, or bothered in any way. She agreed to talk with me of her own initiative. What precisely is the point of this quote other than to smear me? There are no examples taken from the podcast that could be used to demonstrate that I was a sinister misogynist interviewer.

Claim, ¶166: “Even giving him a taste of his own medicine—Mark Sarvas, with a partner, started an Ed Champion parody Twitter account, @drselfabuse, in 2009—failed to teach Champion a lesson. There was nothing you could do to make yourself safe, at least, not on an individual basis.”

drselfabusetitle

FALSE, MISLEADING. Mark Sarvas and Tod Goldberg created a vulgar feed that harassed me 24/7. It got very ugly. It often went above and beyond many of the claims that McArdle and company have made about me, as the below screenshots reveal:

drselfabuse1

drselfabuse2

drselfabuse3

drselfabuse4

Sarvas revived the @drselfabuse account in March 3. 2012. (I apologize for the poor quality of the screenshot. While I was able to save the tweets, I was not able to snag the accompanying graphics.)

drselfabuserenewed

I was more concerned for Sarvas’s well-being than anything else. I sent the following email to a friend of his, who shall remain nameless:

To: ____________

From: Edward Champion

Date: March 4, 2012, 6:58 AM

Subject: Mark Sarvas

____________:

I hope that all is well. I’m writing to you because I’m concerned that Mark Sarvas, who recently heeded your advice to join Twitter, may be in need of serious help.

You may be partially familiar with our previous history and our fallout, which arose after Mark harassed me through numerous text messages and emails. I’m not asking you to choose sides. This email is about Mark.

Mark and I had a lot of intense communication. But it got to the point where I was being used. I finally had enough and publicly called him out about his behavior in May 2009. I have not mentioned him since.

Shortly after my post, Mark started a number of pseudonymous Twitter accounts which attempted to defame me — for example, the @drselfabuse account in August 2009 (with a few others), the @AlfredYule account in April 2011, et al. He has left references to “champion” and “reluctant” in many of his Elegant Variation posts. (And, honestly, I’m not seeking this information out. Others have been sending along this stuff for years.) My response has been to ignore him and to never engage him publicly — a policy which I will adhere to, because attention is the very drug he craves.

I have learned this morning, however, that Mark has again been posting under the @drselfabuse handle. My present theory is that my recent appearance in the New Yorker may have tipped the balance. I realize that it has to be quite difficult for Mark right now — especially, because he doesn’t have a second novel and there have been radical changes to online literary discourse in the last three years. I also understand that there may be additional extenuating personal circumstances.

But I really think that Mark’s behavior needs to stop: not because I care about what he has to say, but because of the effect it’s clearly having on him. So I’m reaching out to you. Because I know he’ll listen to you.

When you’re bombarding Twitter with endless @ replies and you’re only getting a few polite responses back, that can’t be easy if you view online interactions as primary, rather than incidental elements of your life. The easiest solution for Mark would be to simply ignore the Troy Pattersons, the Bret Easton Ellises, and the Ed Champions of the world and get back to whatever is is he wants to do: literary criticism, fiction, whatever. That’s what well-adjusted and mentally healthy people do.

I realize that judging someone through online behavior is not always the truest indicator of where they’re at in the real world. But I’ve had my share of stalkers, and Mark’s obsessive behavior towards me has been going on for years. My hope is that you, as a friend, might be able to gently point this out to him. There’s no need to invoke this email at all, if you do decide to talk with him. And my apologies for getting you involved in something you may neither have the time nor the energy to pursue.

I’d be happy to speak about this by phone with you, if you require any further clarification or information. My number is (718) _____________ I’m sorry that it’s come to this. But I’d be plagued with considerable remorse if I didn’t do something to help someone who was clearly troubled.

Thanks again and all best,

Ed

Claim, ¶167: Quote from Khakpour. “These are only the stories we know. There might be double that number. This is a serious, dangerous situation.”

FALSE, MISLEADING, SPECULATIVE. This implies that I have been spending all of my time calculating how to hurt people. I was spending most of my time reading and writing.

Claim, ¶171: “I am more scared of silence than false or petty speech. At least, with the latter, we are talking.”

WILLFUL ADMISSION OF INCOMPETENCE. I can’t think of any self-respecting journalist who would willfully celebrate the possibility of being wrong like this. And yet, astonishingly, this fake news practitioner, who is as guilty and as invidious and as inveterate as any hate merchant toiling at Breitbart News, has parlayed this defamation into gigs at GQ, Travel + Leisure, and Nylon, leaving one to wonder if Jim Nelson, Nathan Lump, and Melissa Giannini actually care about journalistic integrity or maintaining quality control. Let me tell you about what’s truly scary and what’s really worth talking about.

When I was homeless, I discovered strands of invisibility and humiliation that I never could have envisaged when I was domiciled. I was debased, humiliated, further humiliated even after I had been thoroughly humiliated. Homelessness is a seemingly inescapable abyss that causes anyone locked within this sorrowful perdition to feel angry and shriek all manner of profanity and fierce words leagues beyond any of the remarks attributed to me. Even if you manage to escape this state, there is still a great deal of luck and chance involved. But grace is always the other side of rage. Grace is passion and the will to live applied in a more positive sense. This is something that our society does not observe because the homeless are always placed in an undignified and an invisible position.

We choose not to see them. We cavalierly cut benefits — such as Obama signing an $8.7 billion cut in food stamps in 2014 — and because this callous and inhumane bill is enacted with a pen stroke from a mighty hill, tall and far from the huddled throngs who long with every throe for a better life, we cannot acknowledge our potent culpability in this indignity. What nobody understands is that dignity is the way in which we transform rage into grace.

Now I am in another abyss. It is better than the pit I occupied before. But this one is more indomitable, more contingent upon other people granting me dignity. I have been fortunate enough to find some respect with the forty incredible actors who have graciously agreed to work with me on my audio drama project, somehow believing in my vision and tapping the heart that I poured into my stories in ways that exceeded my greatest expectations, and with those in the audio drama community (and a few literary people who took the trouble to meet me and communicate with me) who did not shut me out, knowing that the kind, smart (if a bit difficult), and humorous man is who I really am. But because McArdle’s article nests at the top of Google and because many of us only judge people by what Google says, I am fated to be hated and condemned. When I spend countless hours with potential new friends and we share a number of wonderful moments, and someone Googles my name, I cannot even convey the pain of seeing all that bonhomie painstakingly piled over a long period instantly demolished. How can I not be indignant?

When such compassionless industry people and willful liars as Emily Hughes, the social media person at Penguin Random House, accuse me of racism, misogyny, and homophobia that I have abundantly debunked above, how can I not be a little angry?

Calling Lisa Lucas a “cult leader” (not entirely true; I didn’t call her a cult leader, but used this as a metaphor in a December 15, 2016 email in which I wrote, “You’re as unifying as a tendentious cult leader who considers any view outside her own poison.”) or sending an email to Laura Olin with the subject header “Fuck you!” days after the 2016 presidential election (true) represents the rage I want to transform into grace. I had my anger mostly in check until Trump became President, where I was subsumed with a fury that I had not felt since my breakdown. I was reminded of the first abyss and began to see its connection to the second. The nation I loved was dying, careening towards an ineluctable despotism. But people like me are not allowed to be angry, are not allowed to be passionate, are not allowed to work through emotions, are not allowed to atone, are not allowed to apologize, and are not allowed to be themselves. In a 2003 essay, the great Tom Bissell described a pre-Twitter literary world that was decidedly friendlier than the junior high school online/real world amalgam that exists today. In addition to smartly observing that all literature is written by outsiders, he writes, “One explanation for why writers enjoy hanging around other writers is because writers often instantly forgive one another for being difficult or weird.” This is no longer the case. Among most people, I will always be known as the misogynist literary crank who terrorized women and tried to kill himself. There is no redemption. There is no forgiveness. There is no compassion. There certainly isn’t anyone considering the actual facts. There is no achievement or essay or positive gesture I can ever offer that will overturn my Google curse.

This lengthy rebuttal represents my efforts to finally put the many false claims that have been bandied about me to rest, to tell the truth (and if you’re looking for the real dirt, my real crime is contained within Appendix A), and to reveal the publishing world for what it is: a McCarthyist den where one’s every minor indiscretion is used in lieu of the actual work to impugn a voice who offers an opposing viewpoint, a place where one’s sins are neither forgiven nor forgotten years after a setback, a realm where insignificant and childish minds lash out at each other for small scraps, and where any perceived transgressor is considered the most vicious villain alive instead of a human being.

I have not suggested that women should be “grabbed by the pussy.” I have not sexually assaulted anyone like Devin Faraci. I have not tried to force my way into anyone’s bed like Stephen Elliott. These are thoughts that I have never had and actions that I have never committed. As my 2014 data breakdown in ¶99 clearly demonstrates, I have been a proponent of women writers, purely on the basis of their minds and their work, for more than a decade. My worst crime, memorialized below in Appendix A, was getting drunk and doing something stupid and unthinkable and wrong on Twitter.

All these lies, which grow with the ignoble horror of a flesh-eating virus to the present day, have made me very angry. I do not deny or doubt that. But if I’m to be judged, it must be on what I have actually done. But there’s no escaping the dreaded Google algorithim. Thankfully (and amazingly), I have not had any desire to kill myself. Some friends have described me as the strongest person they know. I don’t know who the hell they’re talking about.

I can’t control how people perceive me, much less the vile myths they wish to ascribe to me. Undoubtedly, most people reading this article, should they get this far, will have no compassion whatsoever for me, much less the other parties revealed here who are even more monstrous than I am, and will still despise me, even after everything I’ve meticulously documented and memorialized. And why not? In an era where fake news reigns over facts and the President-elect willfully tweets misinformation, it’s more comfortable, even among left-leaning literary types, to believe that someone’s an irredeemable monster rather than a human being. It’s more important to condemn a man rather than contemplate what he actually did or how he might contribute. It’s far easier and much more satisfying to wish that he did the world a favor and threw himself off a bridge. And should the sinister villain have the misfortune to live, it’s vital to ensure that he is considered purely as the awful troglodyte that the rumor mill claims him to be rather than the flawed and far from valueless human being he truly is.

But I’m going to forgive these people, including McArdle. And I’m hoping that you will too. It is Christmas Eve, after all. It is said that the purple saxifrage grows in the world’s roughest mountains, blowing bright purple stars from its stems with a sweet smell even while smothered by rocks and battered by the harshest snow. And if forgiveness is the fragrance from which a garden of crushed flowers might rise from the trampling boots of a brutish digital age, maybe all of us have a lot of potential blooming inside us, blooming that will not wait for a surefire spring to exude grace and plant a new field brimming with the beauty of inclusive dignity.

Appendix A: The Porochista Chronicles

SARAH: 98 was a bad year at that school. Either you were being bullied and picked on or you had to turn around and become the bully.

JULIA: Yeah. There was something toxic. Something dark.

SARAH: I think normal bullying, if there’s such a thing as normal bullying, you can identify the perpetrator and the victim and the, like, but it was just so pervasive.

JULIA: Do you remember the day that you realized I was gone?

SARAH: I don’t actually. No. I remember feeling like you were just sad all the time.

JULIA: I remember you being sad too.

SARAH: Yeah.

JULIA: One thing I remember, people would call you “Tubby Taba.”

SARAH: Doesn’t surprise me. Yeah. I remember a lot of stuff like that. I…I can’t help but think that our grade’s behavior had impacts on the staff.

JULIA: What do you mean?

SARAH: Well, actually, I assume — I’m assuming you knew this, but maybe you didn’t. But Miss McDonald killed herself the following year.

JULIA: [DEEP BREATH] Yeah.

NARRATOR: Miss McDonald was Julia’s favorite teacher. And Sarah’s too. Miss McDonald had gone to the school as a student and later returned to teach biology. She was the fun teacher. Who wore frog earrings.

JULIA: You think that there was something to do with what was happening in the school that caused her to, to commit suicide?

SARAH: I think it had a role in her, in her depression. She left right in the end of our good eight year. She…cause what I knew of her. And with her school, it was her passion. It was — she was an old girl. She was there teaching. She wanted to instill this love of animals and biology in all of us. And we were a bunch of brats. I remember there being a lot of associations between that pig that she had on top of her TV and her. A lot of comments about her weight. Yeah, it had an impact.

NARRATOR: Miss McDonald had been hospitalized over the summer. And when she came back in the fall, she was no longer the biology teacher, but a substitute. The last period of the last day she taught before she killed herself was a class called “Personal and Religious Communication.” The students considered the class a joke.

Heavyweight, “Julia”

On September 23, 2014, I left a lighthearted remark on a Facebook thread in relation to a Slate/Whiting Second Novel List celebrating second novels. Regrettably I don’t have a copy of the comment, but there was nothing ad hominem contained within it. I merely suggested that this would permit Dan Kois, the man behind the contest, to celebrate the overrated novelist Lev Grossman (who famously doesn’t list his first novel, Warp, in his credits). Khakpour deleted the comment and then immediately DMed me on Facebook. Here is the exchange:

porochista-facebookexchange

I sent the following email to Khakpour later that afternoon:

Porochista:

I apologize for my contributions to the fracas. It seems utterly stupid for the two of us to blow up some crossway above the River Kwai over what was essentially a miscommunication on both sides. What follows is an attempt to impart where I was coming from:

You deleted my comment because you placed what was essentially a modest spitball standing positively for literary standards on the same guttural level as the misogynistic venom from some #gamergate creep. Your followup IM to me was nebulous. So I clarified by replying, “Gee, thanks.” You then barraged me with more IMs, in which you ascribed some Machiavellian intent to my remarks (“you were commenting negatively so he’d see it”). If there was any subtext, and it seems especially odd to get into such an a posteriori speculation at this point but what the hell, it was my justifiable worry that you would fall into the same trap as Jennifer Weiner, Ruth Graham, Michelle Dean, and various other women who Kois has edited or distorted to look worse than they are for Slate clickbait. Kois is one of those guys who does “something nice” for someone, but who never defends or makes his writers or his purported inspirations look good — and he does so when these writers only collect a mere $300 per piece. He’s one of those despicable hucksters who deliberately promulgates anti-intellectual garbage, such as the “eating your cultural vegetables” nonsense, and actively contributes to a cultural landscape that is hostile to the kind of ambitious and quirky and alive literature that people like us tend to throw off our clothes for. Knowing that Slate has a certain reach, he pits certain literary crowds against each other — such as YA and literary or those who speak only English vs. those who speak multiple languages — because he knows that he can get clicks for fractious division. (Honestly, in thinking about this, he’s probably got a more devoted mission to making people feel upset than I do.) It’s true that he has used his position to foment lies and misinformation about what an “awful” person I am, much as Jessa Crispin did with her three-day torrent of false charges and defamation, but I am vocal about him, perhaps inordinately so, not because of his smears towards me, but because of his attempts to present himself as a legitimate house organ. (Ergo, “who cares if I despise the guy?” We all participate in threads in which people we don’t like show up. Can’t we have discussions anyway?) I will grant that I’m probably one of the only people considering the long-term ramifications of a Slate/Whiting admixture, but, for better or worse, I am fond of anticipating the chess game several moves ahead.

Which brings us back to idiocy, and why your deletion and ancillary charges greatly rankled me. Perhaps it’s overly idealistic of me to believe that those who read books or who are familiar with “stet” on a regular basis are capable of either accepting a comment, challenging a comment, ignoring a comment, or otherwise carrying on a conversation about what the Second Novel news means in various tones and forms. But I don’t think so. After trying to find out why I was so pissed off this morning, Sarah rightly reminded me that Facebook is not a medium where people can work out their differences, whether through IMs or threads. Like its more sinister cousin Twitter, Facebook turns even the finest minds into ravening monsters. The issue I have here is how you have tossed me into some inexplicable troglodyte category — namely, that I am some dilettante (probably) or arriviste (certainly not) whose every vaguely provocative sentence should be flensed from public consciousness and that your impression seems to be predicated on the summer’s events. Three months ago, I had one ideation that lasted five minutes. One. Five minutes. No more, no less. I never made any attempt to kill myself. I have learned in the subsequent months that this is more common than we care to know (and certainly Robin Williams’s suicide put much of this in perspective) and that there are plenty of people out there, people whom both of us know and love, who have it much worse than I ever did. We both know there’s no need for me to belabor the point, because I know you are doing far more research on this than me right now.

I sought therapy, have been writing my ass off (I have written, polished, and submitted four of the five short stories), and reclaimed my bridge walking through the 30 Days project — a kind of improvised exposure therapy — which was necessary after a tabloid jackal attempted to ascribe suicidal intent after the fact and made several false statements that were then mangled out of proportion by reporters from the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and various parties with prominent influence. And even though we are both very aware by personal experience that there are people in the literary world who are far worse than me, I was still diagnosed by the armchair Scooby-Doo Squad as some lunatic stalker. The literary world regularly misreads my playfulness as baleful intent (much as you did this morning), overlooks the crux of an argument to find bits deemed misogyny (incidentally, the “slimy passage” line referred to a gender-neutral orifice), and has refused to rebut my argument at length. But then this world is composed of cutthroat jackals fighting for scraps. I’m not a depressive. I’m a very positive person, as I think the lion’s share of the essays and conversations I have published since (most of them women writers) demonstrate. PTSD is what I have, and, in lengthy and tearful talks with my therapist and through a great deal of painful off-the-grid writing, I have been forced to stare at the threads leading back to an especially traumatic and deeply hurtful childhood, likely one of the reasons I am five to ten years behind everybody else. But I persevere anyway, even when I had one agent last week mutter inappropriate comments about my appearance and blurt about having my manuscript in earshot of prominent publishing people at a bookstore. It was deeply humiliating. When I returned home, I withdrew my manuscript from her submission. I offer this as some context as to why I am especially touchy right now.

On that June day, I could handle the many beeps and blurps and buzzes of hate and death threats that spurted from my phone for nine hours — it was hardly anything compared to the hell that Anita Sarkeesian and Zoe Quinn later went through, but quite rough all the same. When so-called friends joined the unthinking mob (they had books to hawk and crowds to court, after all) and went out of their way to condemn me, that was especially hurtful and led me to consider that I should throw myself off a bridge. So at the risk of coming across as melodramatic (although I prefer to see it as the mark of a highly sensitive person; it comes out when people I am fond proceed to backstab me, defying the Wildean definition of a real friend), when you elided my comment and continued to refer to it as “nasty” and “hurtful” — as if I had made some unseemly rape joke about Dan Kois’s family — this felt to me like a very deep betrayal, especially because I spent quite a good deal of time persuading people to read and/or talk about THE LAST ILLUSION and ensuring that people were aware of your prestidigitation on several fronts. I realize in hindsight how my rapid unfurling of “co-opted” (without the Kois intelligence expressed above) caused you to push back, much as I pushed back at your suggestion that my playful comment at the behest of upholding standards was a conspiratorial attempt to make Kois upset. The Facebook IM kerplunks that boomed through my speakers this morning, which I attempted to ameliorate by suggesting we take this to email, were a reminder of that unpleasant day of relentlessness in June and your words reinforced this infuriating impression that any vague razz I offer is a hundred times worse than the laziest Internet troll. That weighted consideration deeply infuriates me and make me feel that I am being unduly penalized. Yet I cannot allow my writing, whether fiction or nonfiction, to be defined by anyone else but me. I blocked you because you would not let this go.

I’m about to abandon the Internet for a while and I’m leaving my phone at home, as there are a few meetings this afternoon and I really do need a break from brawls on the battlefield of blips and pixels. But I am genuinely contrite. In the past, we’ve moved past bigger flareups than this. It would be utterly foolish if both of us permitted something this small to get the better of us. On the other hand, we’re both passionate people. I’ve been as transparent as I can about my part in this exchange. So however you want to resolve this, I’m cool with it.

Thanks and all best,

Ed

There was then the below exchange:

From: Porochista Khakpour

Subject: Re: one last note:

To: Porochista Khakpour

Date: 9/23/2014 1:12 PM

Ed,

I’m sorry my deleting the comment upset you and I’m sorry I’ve upset you in any way.

I don’t believe I barraged you with comments or “I would not let things go.”. My reading of our exchange reveals the opposite actually. It is clear from the transcript you though I called you an idiot and that’s why you blocked me in the end. I did not. And I actually had to go. I was very pressed for time and had to get to a meeting.

I also did not intend to bring up your past or this summer at all. YOU did with “I didn’t see you defending people when they declared me misogynist.” So then I had no idea why you were making this about something bigger. My feeling is that because of what happened last summer, you think people are constantly thinking of that and reacting to it. It makes you defensive and paranoid. You’ve sent me a few emails since then that seem to imply you think I am mad at you or don’t like you or am not your friend. I think you’ve been overly concerned about it and that’s what happened here. 

I’m only explaining what I think here, because you spent many (more) words below explaining what you think happened, or I would have preferred not to reach out today at all.

From: Edward Champion

Subject: Re: one last note:

To: Porochista Khakpour

Date: 9/23/2014 5:22 PM

Porochista:

Just to be clear, I was never mad at you before this morning.  I don’t know where you’re getting this impression from.  I didn’t hold any negative feelings against you at all (although I was very pissed off at you this morning). Maybe this is something that should be clarified and resolved with a phone call or a coffee or something?  Let’s pick this up later. You have a big HarperPerennial shindig tonight and I’ve got a cold and a few deadlines to beat.

Take care and all best,

Ed

There was no response from Khakpour until September 25, 2014 at 12:55 PM:

khakpourtweet1

I emailed Khakpour at 5:54 PM that day. At this point, I was heavily drinking due to a series of attacks orchestrated that afternoon from Emily Gould in response to my Merritt Tierce interview, to which I tried to reply with grace:

I was in low spirits. My initial email to Khakpour was reasonable, but I overreacted in my subsequent reply:

From: Edward Champion
Subject: Shockingly nasty?
To: Porochista Khakpour
Date: 9/25/2014 5:54 PM

Saw your tweet.  I was not “shockingly nasty.”  We apologized to each other, but apparently you prefer to shit talk me rather than hash things out.

From: Porochista Khakpour
Subject: Re: Shockingly nasty?
To: Edward Champion
Date: 9/25/2014 8:35 PM

Yep, “FUCK OFF” is “shockingly nasty.” I’ve never said that to anyone. Plus the deleting and blocking. That’s not shit-talk. That’s reality.

From: Edward Champion
Subject: Re: Shockingly nasty?
To: Porochista Khakpour
Date: 9/25/2014 9:10 PM

Porochista: “Fuck our banks & our public transportation.”  (https://twitter.com/PKhakpour/status/506969004934561792)

Porochista: “and i’m fucking proud to be “NPR” by yr def. violently fuck up any racist, misogynist, homophobe that gets near me, the end” (https://twitter.com/PKhakpour/status/490217577725960192)

Porochista: “oh fuck that trash, I’M TALKING SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE, DUDE (had to google that)” (https://twitter.com/PKhakpour/status/479827698248728576)

Porochista: “It’s not even food. It’s just . . . WHIMSY or some shit. Fuck yr whimsy.” (https://twitter.com/PKhakpour/status/477466513356505088)

Porochista: “also fuck Amazon while i’m at it, but that seems obvious” (https://twitter.com/PKhakpour/status/470256377211125760)

Porochista: “Men can all go to bro hell for all I care, but when you fuck with young women, I take that seriously.” (https://twitter.com/PKhakpour/status/469495249094864898)

That took all of 20 seconds, by the by. 

Don’t paint yourself as the virtuous sweetheart, you shockingly nasty, shit-talking hypocrite. 

I didn’t delete a goddam thing.  YOU did.  THAT’S reality.

Don’t contact me again.

Have a nice life.

From: Porochista Khakpour
Subject: Re: Shockingly nasty?
To: Edward Champion
Date: 9/25/2014 9:15 PM

Yeah there are many uses of the word “fuck.”  I don’t say it to my friends.

You are now being an embarrassing asshole, Ed. With some time I thought I could come around but now I can’t.

You did EVERYTHING. 

 I am not alone in the long list of people you have alienated and frankly many times I thought this day would come.

You are the one who FUCKING contacted me. You are delusional to think I contact you. Please stop.

From: Porochista Khakpour
Subject: Fwd: Shockingly nasty?
To: Sarah Weinman
Date: 9/25/2014 9:21 PM

I’m sorry, Sarah, I no longer can do this. I took your advice to not contact him and he contacted me repeatedly and I replied. Today was too much. He has been monitoring my twitter for a misstep and frankly “shockingly nasty” was the kindest way I could put his behavior.

Please know I adore you hugely. I have incredible respect for you. I just can’t do this anymore with him. He is abusive I am now seeing, to pretty much everyone–I just hope not you.

In the last month two agents and two editors–unrelated–came up to me to ask me about Ed, knowing I was his friend. I recommended him hugely, wrote them long emails, begged them to give him a chance (they had ALL read of the summer’s events, all it takes is a google) and one even said “It is not great for your rep to be associated with this crazy person.” And still I pushed for him.

But to see his hugely awful behavior, now firsthand–I’m done. I’m sorry. Because I think the world of you–and really did Ed as well. But I’m sorry he’s being so reckless. This is not good for him in the least. But he obviously knows this. I cannot do this many favors for someone, be such an intense ally, and see him crash and burn everything after he made a disgusting misstep on my FB page.

I am cc-ing because I have nothing to hide here. I don’t want to go behind his back. But I will go public with this if he keeps pressing and provoking me.

I totally understand if you choose not to talk to me again. But I will miss you and I am grateful for all your kindness.

thanks, P

Khakpour is establishing a narrative that is grossly out of proportion with the crime, a false narrative that was later lapped up by McArdle: the idea that I was abusive to everyone, that I am a “crazy person.” I also overreacted and was lubricated by drink. While I take full responsibility for the unspeakable mistake that followed, this exchange, and the events that followed, might have ended if Khakpour and I had talked it out over the phone like regular people. At this point, I had said nothing public about the exchange.

Minutes after this email to Weinman, at 9:35 PM (please note that the below screenshots were taken with Twitter reflecting Pacific time), before Weinman even had the time to compose a response, Khakpour took to Twitter to memorialize what an apparently horrid person I was:

porochistatweet2

And this was just the beginning of Khakpour’s distortions. A volley of tweets from Khakpour followed, suggesting that I was a stalker, that I was “abusive and cruel,” of committing “horrible things behind closed doors” when, in fact, the worst of my sins was telling Khakpour to “fuck off” and calling her a “shockingly nasty, shit-talking hypocrite.”

And when Khakpour wasn’t spinning an incredibly wrong and remarkably malicious portrait of me as a monster publicly, she was doing so privately in emails to Weinman, who was painfully fighting a two-front war involving my anguish at the response and the remarkable Twitter shitstorm that followed Khakpour’s baseless charges. Khakpour, claiming that Weinman had been cast under the spell of a “dangerous” man, was incapable of independent thought, and was not a strong woman. As someone who knew and lived with Weinman, I can assure you that this was absolutely wrong.

From: Porochista Khakpour

Subject: Re: Shockingly nasty?

To: Sarah Weinman

Date: 9/25/2014 10:28 PM

See, Sarah, at the end of the day we are all human. Ed is not the only person who gets to be human. He namecalls, harasses, insults. Ruins people’s days. For me, much of this week has dissolved in his manic hysteria. Never sees any real consequences. Helplessly, people can only tweet. This is the bare minimum I can do to stay sane. Sorry if that seems too much.

He crossed way too many lines over and over.

You have done way too many years of damage control.

I considered you a strong woman and even a feminist. But you seem to me like someone under siege.

I understand and except you not to be my friend. But I do feel for you. You are allying yourself with someone who has now proven—to all sorts of people, no patterns, many who were originally his friends (HOW CAN WE ALL BE WRONG??!)–that he is unstable to the point of dangerous.

I went public because I don’t trust him. He freaks me out. That is an acceptable reaction. And now I see why others have gone public.

I will be happy to talk to you again once he is not in your life. I do believe that day will come, but for now, I totally understand.

I am not in the mood to talk to anyone on the phone or spend another minute on this. Thanks, P

Upon seeing this email and all of these malicious tweets from someone who I had thought my friend in a highly drunken state, I cracked and, at 10:50 PM in a terrible act of self-destruction and harm that I have spent two years regretting and hating about myself and trying to come to terms with, one that I have already issued many apologies for, tweeted sentiments (now deleted) that were absolutely over the line, catered to the very charges that Khakpour had leveled at me, and that was the worst mistake of my life:

From: Porochista Khakpour

Subject: Re: Shockingly nasty?

To: Sarah Weinman

Date: 9/25/2014 11:06 PM

Okay, his fucking twitter went too far. There will be police and lawyers–I ACTUALLY HAVE EXPERIENCE WITH THAT. IF HE WANTS TO GO TO JAIL, CONTINUE. I KEEP ALL FILES TOO.

I confirmed with the New York Police Department that Khakpour did file a complaint on September 27, 2014. The investigation did not result in any criminal charges against me. It scarcely mattered. Because I was locked up in a psych ward, having lost everything I had: my home, my partner of nearly nine years, my reputation. I was homeless for nine months. I applied to nearly 200 positions and went on dozens of interviews before I landed the job I have now.

If McArdle’s article had focused on these facts, it would have been fair game. I have certainly received any number of unwanted and often hostile attentions from the media and from numerous parties pining for my demise by email.

It is not for me to answer whether any of the consequences for my abominable act, which I assure you were felt very painfully by me, are punitive enough. But it is clear that, more than two years later, I will only be known for what I did to Khakpour. In the eyes of the literary and media worlds, I am a savage mongrel who must be put out at the pound. I must continue to suffer because I am apparently beyond repair.

This is what social justice and reform is in the digital age. This is what “community” means in the literary world.

I have confessed to everything, which, notwithstanding the awful response to Khakpour, is far lesser than what McArdle has charged me with. I have been forced to expose what others have done in an attempt to provide the complete context. It is all a wretched and sad business, one predicated on a belief that people cannot change, because none of us can forgive or understand each other. We cannot believe in redemption. We cannot believe that we can learn from our mistakes. Not when there’s a vile social medium that allows us to channel our inner id without reflection. Believing the worst in people is the most seductive part of expressing yourself online.

Appendix B: The Jessa Crispin-Edward Champion Correspondence

Two reliable sources close to Crispin (I am protecting their anonymity because I don’t want them to experience any defamatory retaliation) informed me that she spent every day reading my website because she hated me that much. The following Google Instant Search screenshot, taken on August 6, 2014, is a good litmus test for how obsessive Crispin had become:

jessacrispingoogle

For a three day period, beginning on June 28, 2014 at 10:57 AM PST and concluding on July 1, 2014 at 9:20 PM PST, Crispin spent nearly her entire time on Twitter writing about me, expressing outrageous untruths about me over the course of three dozen tweets. The spurious charges included the false claims that I stalked John Freeman in 2007 and 2008, showing up “to every event John Freeman hosted for months, simply to intimidate and harass” (untrue: as established above in ¶77, I attended a grand total of four Freeman-moderated events, two while I was reporting on BookExpo America. Crispin’s charge is an insult to bona-fide stalking, such as the one that Helen DeWitt wrote about for the London Review of Books), that I had “threatened friends” (conveniently, no friends were named and no examples were tendered), that I had sent “threatening emails” to Crispin in 2003 (Crispin, of course, could not produce evidence and wrote “I really wish I had not deleted them”; unfortunately, for Crispin, I have the tendency to save everything and I have produced the entirety of our correspondence below, dating back to 2003: it is clear that there were no threats).

When Crispin posted her defamatory tweets, I emailed her for the first time in six years, respectfully asking her to remove her tweets and issue an apology. Instead, she continued to promulgate untruths.

Crispin’s reckless recalcitrance inspired Jane McGonigal to spread defamatory untruths about me, including such extravagant claims that that I had sent her an email that I was a “huge fan” and proceeded to threaten her. Not only have I never sent McGonigal a single email (I don’t even have her email address), but I have never claimed to be a fan of her work. All of my communications in setting up the interview were through the publicist. Here is the email that I sent the publicist on November 15, 2010:

Edward Champion here from The Bat Segundo Show here. Hope all is well.

I’m looking at 2011 guests right now, and I was wondering if you could direct me to the appropriate publicist who is handling REALITY IS BROKEN. I understand that Jane has an event at Fordham on 2/2/11, and this definitely sounds like the kind of book/guest I’d be interested in covering. Can you let me know about what the current galley situation is and so forth?

McGonigal also claimed that her publisher, The Penguin Press, had stopped sending me books or booking authors on my podcast, The Bat Segundo Show, because I had written a lengthy criticism of her book, Reality is Broken. This too was the kind of delusional thinking that runs counter to the facts. I worked closely with The Penguin Press, an imprint that I respect, to include many of their authors on Bat Segundo since, including Eric Schlosser (airdate: September 24, 2013), Sarah Churchwell (airdate: February 17, 2014), and Ben Tarnoff (airdate: April 22, 2014). The truth of the matter is that I had done a great deal of research on Reality is Broken for a Bat Segundo podcast, discovering many lines of specious reasoning and sloppy thinking. I had hoped to discuss this with McGonigal. I am a journalist, not a publicist. McGonigal canceled at the last minute. Because I had spent about ten hours of my life reading about gamification, it seemed profitable to reclaim some of my lost labor by writing about it. McGonigal took offense to her views being challenged, because she lacks the maturity to have a conversation with anyone isn’t a fawning sycophant. I publicly challenged her to a debate on Twitter in a playful nod. She blocked me. She continues to block nearly anyone who disagrees with her (including a few friends of mine). Years later, I continue to receive emails on the McGonigal essay from frustrated grad students contending with lackluster assigned reading, video game designers, and numerous other readers. Instead of responding to my essay, McGonigal has opted to invent libelous untruths. As we have seen, this is a common tactic in the literary world: if you can’t challenge someone on the facts, sketch a fresco of him as a monster.

But the true source of this defamation is Jessa Crispin, an incoherent fabulist who is so conspiratorial minded that she can’t even represent the facts in an essay for the L.A. Review of Books:

Every other issue of The Atlantic carries a cover story on the topic. “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” “The Confidence Gap.” “All the Single Ladies.” Then there are the checklists. How many women are heads of Fortune 500 companies? In Congress? Published at The New York Times? Is this men’s fault or women’s fault? And then the surveys. How many women in positions of power at work are married? Unmarried? Have children? Is having children hard? Do women feel conflicted? How is their work-life balance?

The Atlantic essays were respectively published in July/August 2012, April 14, 2014 and November 2011. Three articles published over a three year period do not constitute a cover story that appears “every other issue.” As the complete correspondence between Crispin and me will reveal, not only does Crispin take offense at anything that enrages her, but she maintains the kind of wild and childish grudges that have no clear source of enmity and no grounding in facts.

The first time that I ever contacted Crispin was over a Laura Miller review of Chuck Palahniuk’s Diary, which Crispin was condemning on her blog on August 2003. I had emailed Crispin because she claimed that Salon had not printed her letter to the editor.

From: Edward Champion
To: Jessa Crispin
Date: 8/21/2003 11:19 AM
Subject: The Salon flap

Jessa:

Thanks for chronicling the Miller piece.

I’m going to write Salon a very thorough letter about the Miller piece, but I’m wondering if you can send me a copy of the letter that you sent Salon. I suspect there’s more going on here than we realize, but I’d like to be able to respond with as informed an opinion as I can muster.

Additionally, I would suggest that if you want to get Salon’s attention, flummox them with faxes or physical mail. Blockading their phone banks and offering some physical indication of their failure to conduct proper criticism is the way to draw attention to this issue. (Even if 500 people were to send them a letter, and they ended up in some physical form, that would certainly give them food for thought.)

Their fax numbers are:

San Francisco
(415) 645-9204

New York
(212) 905-6138

The addresses are:

Salon.com
22 4th Street, 16th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94103

Salon.com
41 East 11th Street, 11th Floor
New York, NY 10003

Talbot’s in SF and I think Miller’s in New York. Might be wise to hit both of them by fax AND snailmail.

All the best,

Ed

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 8/21/2003 12:35 AM
Subject: Re: The Salon flap

I wish I had kept a copy of the letter I sent. Here’s basically what it said:

I know that Salon.com has a long history of giving review assignments to people you know will write negative reviews. Stephanie Zacharek seems to have a personal vendetta against Wes Anderson, which she chronicles through her reviews of his films and also brings up how much she hates him in reviews of other movies. And yet you continue to assign her to review his movies. Charles Taylor has written articles basically stating there hasn’t been a good movie released since 1960, and yet he continues to review films, spewing his bile all over my screen.

And now you give a Laura Miller the new Chuck Palahniuk book to review. She spends the first two paragraphs detailing how much she hates him. It almost appears to be personal. I mean, she uses the word “execrable.” And then someone decided to make this review the lead story. Isn’t there a war on? Wasn’t there something more important you should be covering?

Perhaps you were simply trying to get people’s attention. Writing a review like that certainly gets people’s attention, especially a cult writer like Palahniuk. You get word of mouth, your hits go up, and maybe some of those people nod in agreement and decide to stick around. Unfortunately, it makes you look like the crazy old man in his bathrobe, yelling at his college aged neighbors to, “Turn that noise down!” It’s a cheap way to get attention, and it makes me embarrassed to be a subscriber to your premium program.

Jessa Crispin
Bookslut.com

When you send me a copy of the letter you send them?

Jessa

From: Edward Champion
To: Jessa Crispin
Date: 8/21/2003 12:10 PM
Subject: Re: The Salon flap

Jessa:

Thanks for the summation. I think I should be able to proceed with it. But on the flip side, dear me, ALWAYS keep copies of your outgoing correspondence. You never know when you might need to clarify something you’ve said, particularly if, like me, you’ve done the human thing and come across as an idiot. 🙂

I’ll send you a copy of the letter either tonight or tomorrow. However, the more I think about this, the more I may want to frame this with the Believer essay, Orwell’s “Confessions of a Book Reviewer” and the larger problem of book criticism, and why Dale Peck’s New Republic piece (which I’ll have to nab from the library because it’s not online) works as a rant that attempts to clarify, while Miller’s piece is attention-seeking vitriol.

All the best,

Ed

From: Edward Champion
To: Jessa Crispin
Date: 8/21/2003 1:20 PM
Subject: An age-old dilemma

Jessa:

Speaking of this, have you checked out Jack Green’s “Fire the Bastards!”?

It goes out of its way to illustrate how inefficient the reviewers were for Gaddis’s “The Recognitions.”

Here’s the complete text:

http://www.nyx.net/~awestrop/ftb/ftb.htm

All the best,

Ed

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 8/21/2003 2:51 PM
Subject: Re: The Salon flap

I usually do keep copies of correspondence. But I’m running on very little sleep. Here’s a hot tip: Don’t ever take an important freelancing assignment that is due three days before you move across the country. It slipped my mind.

Your letter sounds very involved. Good luck with it. I look forward to reading it.

Jessa

[EDITORIAL NOTE: On an old blog (“Plight of the Reluctant”), I had written an open email to Steve Almond, published around mid-September 2003. Unfortunately, I lost many of the blog entries in a data crash and have not been able to find the specific blog entry referenced by Crispin in the following email.]

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 9/19/2003 3:22 PM
Subject: Your comments to Steve Almond

Honestly, I was surprised to read your e-mail to Steve. It seems much more hostile (over typography? Is it really worth getting pissed over?) than I would have expected from you.

Jessa

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 12/2/2003 1:17 PM
Subject: e-mail

I’m not ignoring your e-mail. I’m about six weeks behind on responding to anything that’s not from my writers. I just haven’t had time to write back to anybody.

J.

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 12/2/2003 1:17 PM
Subject: e-mail

I’m not ignoring your e-mail. I’m about six weeks behind on responding to anything that’s not from my writers. I just haven’t had time to write back to anybody.

J.

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 12/2/2003 1:17 PM
Subject: e-mail

I’m not ignoring your e-mail. I’m about six weeks behind on responding to anything that’s not from my writers. I just haven’t had time to write back to anybody.

J.

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 12/2/2003 1:19 PM
Subject: e-mail

I’m not ignoring your e-mail. I’m about six weeks behind on responding to anything that’s not from my writers. I just haven’t had time to write back to anybody.

J.

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 12/2/2003 1:20 PM
Subject: e-mail

I’m not ignoring your e-mail. I’m about six weeks behind on responding to anything that’s not from my writers. I just haven’t had time to write back to anybody.

J.

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 12/2/2003 1:26 PM
Subject: e-mail

I’m not ignoring your e-mail. I’m about six weeks behind on responding to anything that’s not from my writers. I just haven’t had time to write back to anybody.

J.

From: Edward Champion
To: Jessa Crispin
Date: 12/2/2003 12:36 PM
Subject: Re: e-mail

Not sure if the five replies I received were automatic replies to all remaining emails in your inbox or not, but it’s all good. Just pointing out that unreasonable people like this Badgley dude sometimes need strange placating that you can never possible anticipate or predict (and of course the fact that HE’S not on the cover probably pisses him off to no end).

Plus, because of the lack of response, I wasn’t sure if you were still pissed about the Steve Almond thing (a truly idiotic move on my part).

Regardless of all this, congrats again on the Chi Reader cover. And to hell with this Badgley punk. The thing about the book world is that, for no apparent reason, sometimes columnists feel the need to make personal attacks. And they will continue to make personal attacks the higher you go.

(Witness the ridiculous Tom Wolfe-John Updike-John Irving thing from years ago, which had established authors calling ad hominen potshots, or, most recently, the King-Bloom thing, which was less about pointing out the strengths or the flaws of King than it was about Bloom making a ponderous appearance.)

Anyway, will stop blabbing. We cool.

All the best,

Ed

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 12/3/2003 10:59 AM
Subject: Re: e-mail

Sorry about the multiple mails. I was using webbased mail for a while, but it was deleting messages and sending multiple copies so I broke down and started downloading my mail at work. Tricky, but better than losing everything.

Did you see Neil Gaiman linked to the whole fiasco? Made me feel all warm inside.

Best,

J.

From: Edward Champion
To: Jessa Crispin
Date: 12/3/2003 11:19 AM
Subject: Re: e-mail

Jessa:

Wow. Just read Gaiman’s entry. The man’s a class act. I don’t think you could ask for a better write-up than that.

On an altogether different note, have you considered having someone at Bookslut review the 3,299 page Vollmann treatise? (Assuming, of course, that someone would be that devoted or masochistic.) Perhaps you can get seven people to review one volume a piece and then attempt to explain how it might make sense as a whole.

All the best,

Ed

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 12/4/2003 7:19 AM
Subject: Re: e-mail

McSweeney’s won’t send us review books. Too small, I guess. Ironic, eh?

Anyway, ain’t no way in hell I’m paying $120 for one goddamn book.

J.

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 12/6/2003 10:40 AM
Subject: Re: e-mail

Hey, any idea why you were included on an invitation list for the Austin Chronicle holiday party? Or for that matter, why I was invited?

J.

From: Edward Champion
To: Jessa Crispin
Date: 12/10/2003 10:11 AM
Subject: Re: e-mail

Jessa:

Was meaning to ask you this, but, outside of the Vollman suggestion, are you interested in more reviewers for Bookslut? I’d be happy to review “Everything and More” or “Wolves of the Calla” or the new Didion, or something else recent in my bookpile.

All the best,

Ed

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 12/11/2003 10:07 AM
Subject: Re: e-mail

I could use a review of Wolves of the Calla. Do you think you could have it to me by Dec 20? I prefer text attachments.

J

From: Edward Champion
To: Jessa Crispin
Date: 12/22/2003 1:02 PM
Subject: Re: Calla?

I sent you a “Wolves of the Calla” review on Sat. and you’ve been incognito via email, though posting public on your blog. I’m forced to conclude either (a) you’re swamped in holiday madness, (b) you didn’t receive it, or (c) you concluded that the review was terribly written, printed it off, tore into small bits, and burned it in a pyre with leftover copies of random mission statements. Vot hippent? 🙂

All best,

Ed

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 12/22/2003 2:00 PM
Subject: Re: Calla?

That would be a I’ll get around to it.

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 1/6/2004 3:51 PM
Subject: calla

Just so you know, I really liked the review. It’s going up with only minor changes.

J.

From: Edward Champion
To: Jessa Crispin
Date: 1/6/2004 3:52 PM
Subject: Re: calla

Okay. Cool beans. If you’re interested in any additional reviews (I spy with my eye the Clarke/Baxter collaboration, the new Leonard, the new Wolfe or Wolff — that is, “Wizard” (hubba hubba) or “Old School,” — a potentially disastrous run-in with the Tyler book, or “The Lady and the Unicorn” or that “Hunt Sisters” book with the little girl on the cover that’s everywhere all of a sudden), let me know.

All the best,

Ed

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 1/6/2004 4:51 PM
Subject: Re: calla

The only one I would say no to is Old School, as we’ve already reviewed it.

But I would run any of the others you mentioned.

J.

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 1/27/2004 2:18 PM
Subject: hunt

Sorry, I’ve had two author interviews over the past three days. It was pretty hectic. But I have some marks on this review. If you could get me draft 2 by this weekend, that would be great.

J.

From: Edward Champion
To: Jessa Crispin
Date: 2/10/2004 5:27 PM
Subject: Ollie Ollie Tivoli

Has anyone called “Confessions of Max Tivoli?” If not, I can get you review late next week.

Hope you landed the job.

All best,

Ed

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 2/11/2004 9:37 AM
Subject: RE: Ollie Ollie Tivoli

Already been claimed.

[EDITORIAL NOTE: On February 23, 2004, I made a modest joke about a feud between Jessa Crispin and Terry Teachout and received the following email. Note how Jessa implies that I “get snippy” when I don’t respond to her emails, inferring that my jokey blog post meant that I was upset at her. I wasn’t.]

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 2/24/2004 7:43 AM
Subject:

I know you get snippy when I don’t respond to each of your e-mails. (This is what, the second time?) But no hard feelings. I went after Terry Teachout because he’s smug and he tries to lay down too many laws on the blogging community. I don’t feel that “poaching” links is on par with plagiarism, which evidently many bloggers do.

Anyway, sorry there is animosity and you will not be submitting reviews anymore. I enjoyed having you write for me.

Best,

Jessa

From: Edward Champion
To: Jessa Crispin
Date: 2/24/2004 12:59 PM
Subject: Re:

Jessa:

I’m sick as a dog, but, I’m going to try and answer in brief:

1. As far as I know I haven’t nailed your photo to a dartboard (even with the antibiotics), nor have I removed a link to Bookslut or stopped regularly linking it or suggesting it as a place to go for people who need more. The major thing I took umbrage with was the blogosphere comment. And was surprised when Terry framed what I said as “shooting prisoner.” See most recent entry for attempt to clarify. As I said, this ain’t Manichean.

2. I’ll have to go into the link poaching argument and the e-mailing thing later. Because it’s a complex issue, and I would like to address it. But I’m trying to rest right now.

3. Never have I said that I would no longer write for Bookslut. I don’t know where you got this from. I queried you on the Max Tivoli thing. You told me someone had it. Was meaning to get back to you on that. But then I got sick. Plus, this big Fringe thing happened. Bad timing. So apologies on my front for being non-responsive on my score. Needless to say, no, there aren’t hard feelings here at all. Disagreement, yes. But nothing to start a Montague/Capulet style feud here (as I tried to preface my entry, contentiousness was last on my mind). And I can understand the immediate emotional impulse to respond to Teachout’s entry. I was definitely guided by a similar one when you singled out the blogosphere.

Anyway, hope this makes some sense. Will try to respond more completely when I’m feeling better.

All best,

Ed

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 2/25/2004 12:00 PM
Subject: Re:

A little background on my reaction:

In the past week, I have gotten many e-mails accusing me of stealing their links. Without exception, they were from blogs I never read. Also, I dislike Terry Teachout. I dislike him a whole lot. His first round of “rules of blogging” got on my nerves, so his second round just infuriated me. His constant references to his favorite bloggers and then a snide comment about “other bloggers” that he disapproves of didn’t help.

And I don’t like the idea of a blogging community. I’m with Jennifer Howard on this one, and I still feel a bit bad about not supporting her while she was being ripped apart on blogs. (And not just because she’s my editor at the Washington Post and has twice thrown work my way.)

Anyway, get well. Rest, fluids, all that bullshit.

J.

From: Edward Champion
To: Jessa Crispin
Date: 2/24/2004 12:59 PM
Subject: “Love Monkey” review

Jessa:

Will respond to other emails later. But, for now, here’s a review of “Love Monkey” for Bookslut if you’re interested.

All best,

Ed

From: Edward Champion
To: Jessa Crispin
Date: 2/26/2004 1:21 AM
Subject: Re:

Jessa:

Okay, getting better. Will address first part of these e-mails.

I didn’t realize the level of enmity you had for Terry. But as I said in previous post, it was a highly emotional response.

Personally, I think the whole link-poaching issue got a little out of hand — largely because there are limited newspapers and limited book coverage, and Google News ensures that almost everyone gets the same tags to cut and paste. However, stealing phrasing or context — that’s a whole different ball of wax. I think Ron over at Beatrice.com said it best: “My actual words, now those are copyrighted.” And since the context comes somewhere between the two extremes of something anybody can find and something an individual applies context to (itself, a form of discovery), when another person appears to abscond with that context without credit, the initial individual is probably going to feel a little miffed.

You may not realize this, but I’ve received several e-mails from people (well before and entirely independent of of the Terry post, along with a sizable deluge following my response to your post) who have been extremely upset by what I think is a perceived context theft. I’m not so much bothered by it, but I can certainly relate to their feeling. Particularly when it comes with a habit of not returning other people’s e-mails over issues that involve carrying out a favor, which, I’m sorry to say, is just plain rude. (What’s the old quote about wandering large in the world by saying something as small as a thank you. Can’t remember.)

The more aggravated ones react like Shawn Badgely. And this is the kind of thing you can either blatantly disagree with (and maintain enmity) or work something out by finding a microscopic, exceptionally minor compromise within yourself that will get you more respected and probably a lot farther. (Would Robert Redford or Lorne Michaels have been the butt of so many recent attacks if they hadn’t kept people waiting so long?)

The most immediate context analogy I can use is with roommates (or relationships). You wouldn’t walk into your roommate’s room, grab his keys, and run off with the car just for the hell of it. Just as you wouldn’t directly intervene in the way they come to a conclusion in their personal lives. You respect their space, their property, the way they make particular decisions, and their tics, and they (in turn) respect yours. You communicate when necessary. You put everything aside to make the living situation work, to talk things out, and to hash it out for the greater good of everybody.

The blogging community may not impress you as an idea, and you may not relish being part of something crudely formed or vague in nature (and there’s definitely a side argument over whether the blogging community is as abstract or as delineated as its supporters or naysayers expostulate). But I would contend that dismissing a community runs counter to the nature of blogging. Because blogging, and definitely topical blogging, is link-heavy, special interest based, and networked by nature. Other blogs support you, and you support them. Sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously. And since in the book blog world, everyone here has the common goal of pursuing the same ideas and exposing the same stories, many of the lit bloggers go beyond the link, pull up their sleeves, and try to apply context. And in the process they recognize or refer to each other, the same way that decent people do in everyday life. (If Tommy is an expert at the cross-stitching club or Alexia has the killer chicken recipe and you publicize it among friends, well, the decent thing to do is to point to them.)

Of course, a community, not to be confused with an amorphous, all-agreeing gestalt, also means that you can have healthy disagreement and discussion on particular issues (such as the whole link poaching thing or the Naomi Wolf deconstructions). It doesn’t preclude you from agreeing with Jennifer Howard or Caitlan Flanagan or, in Terry’s case, trying to work out some ground rules for blogging, even if he may not realize that people have tried this before. But why not encourage others to take the positions you might completely oppose? To stand on one’s own feet without a sense of community is to turn one’s face to the development and open discussion of topics. To not acknowledge one’s peers and jump off the boat giddily with their context is to say no to a really nifty developmental valve. And I highly encourage you to reconsider. Because you may find discoveries higher than the Post in the process.

All best,

Ed

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 2/26/2004 12:59 PM
Subject: Re: “Love Monkey” review

Sorry, but I’m really not interested in running a review of this book on the site. It’s not our thing.

J.

From: Edward Champion
To: Jessa Crispin
Date: 2/26/2004 8:34 AM
Subject: Re: “Love Monkey” review

So callout titles before? Ollie ollie oxenfree? Current Bookslut policy? Let me know.

Thanks,

Ed

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 2/26/2004 9:33 AM
Subject: Re: “Love Monkey” review

That’s usually best, if only to make sure that no one else is working on the same review.

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 2/26/2004 2:25 PM
Subject: Re:

I think something needs to be explained. I’m not really like the other litbloggers. I don’t have a day job that I blog during, something to fill the time. Not anymore. My schedule is to only be on the computer from 8:30 to noon. Instead of just blogging during that time, I’m contacting publishers, editing, working on my website template, screwing with Movable Type, proofreading, writing for other publications, transcribing interviews, answering e-mails, etc. E-mails from readers and other bloggers are my lowest priority. I get a hell of a lot of e-mail in a day, and most of it cannot possibly be answered. If I’m not off the computer by noon, I get frustrated. Today I’m only on at one because I was gone all morning, and I’m about to go to the living room and finish my book. The rest of the day I come in every once and a while to see if something needs to be taken care of, and the rest of the time I’m reading. Because it’s the books I’m interested in, not the community. So I didn’t have time to read the entire story, yes, I took your word for what happened in it, didn’t notice it was tongue in cheek because I was busy. Yeah, it was dumb. No, I didn’t credit you because I’m not religious about that and I don’t see the overwhelming importance of it, and I wanted to finish up the day so I could get to reading. I didn’t reply to your e-mail because I didn’t see why it was important. You corrected me, I changed it, done.

The blog is my least favorite thing about Bookslut. But that’s where the links to Amazon mostly come from, which gives me enough money to keep the website running and that’s where the attention comes from. That’s the only reason I blog as much as I do. So I don’t see myself as a lit blogger. I’m much more interested in the other parts of Bookslut.

I’m also not interested in getting all personal on the blog. I don’t write about my life. I provide links. But the lit blogging “community” seems to be all about talking about “cute little Maud” or Terry Teachout’s penis or dishing on which blogger had lunch with Old Hag this week. It’s boring. I stopped reading several of the lit bloggers a while back once I realized they were never going to stop writing about their mothers. I don’t want to participate.

I have had links poached. Months and months ago, a story I dug out of the archives of a website and linked to showed up on both Maud and Old Hag without mentioning me. Neil Gaiman links to things he found on my website frequently. But I don’t approach them and say, “Hey, you got it off my site, link to me.” It’s not important to me. After all, all I did was do a goddamn Google search. If someone quoted an interview I did on Bookslut without credit, yeah, that would piss me off. But that’s about it.

This is the most tiresome conversation I’ve had in months. Feel free to respond, but don’t expect any more from me. I was never interested in this in the first place.

J.

From: Edward Champion
To: Jessa Crispin
Date: 2/27/2004 12:16 PM
Subject: O’Hara

Jessa:

Would you be interested in a Yardleyesque John O’Hara retrospective? Not his New Yorker stories mind you, but covering his work as a novelist, the idiosynchracies of his prose, the way his characters carry burdens and interesting vicious qualities, and the like. Dealing primarily with “Appointment in Samarra,” “Butterfield 8,” and “Hope of Heaven.” If so, let me know. Turnaround time frame — probably week and a half.

All best,

Ed

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 2/28/2004 12:136 PM
Subject: Re: O’Hara

Sounds good.

[EDITORIAL NOTE: The following email was sent by Crispin in response to one of my blog posts, where I criticized Jennifer Howard, who wrote an article complaining about the blogosphere’s “coziness,” only to turn around and pimp her newspaper’s articles during a guest turn at Bookslut’s blog.]

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 3/2/2004 9:46 PM
Subject:

Lay off. Jesus. I asked Jennifer to guest blog because she’s a friend and she’s in the book business. She’s not a blogger.

First you attack Steve Almond for not putting enough lines between paragraphs, now you’re attacking Jennifer for referencing one of the most influential book reviews in American newspapers. Don’t you have anything better to do?

J.

From: Edward Champion
To: Jessa Crispin
Date: 3/8/2004 1:19 PM
Subject: O’Hara update

Jessa:

To assist with your timing, which I don’t know, it’s coming your way by Wed., Thurs. at latest. Will involve both stories and novels, and eschew the “Art of Burning Bridges” angle to dwell on the work (which apparently even Ben Schwarz overlooked). Sorry it’s slightly later than I initially promised, but I had to mop up some other deadlines this weekend.

On a side note, has anyone claimed “The Epicure’s Lament?” If not, I’d be happy to cover that one for April.

All best,

Ed

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 3/9/2004 5:06 PM
Subject: Re: O’Hara

Epicure is already being reviewed.

From: Edward Champion
To: Jessa Crispin
Date: 3/9/2004 10:31 AM
Subject: Re: O’Hara

Please note that I’m withdrawing my planned O’Hara profile.

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 3/9/2004 11:25 AM

Subject: Re: O’Hara

Okay. I’m beginning to think your taste in review books doesn’t really match up with what I want to cover on Bookslut, either. I read about the memoir you suggested, and it really doesn’t sound like the type of book Bookslut would review. I know we do the occasional fluff review, but your submissions have consistently been books I have no interest in for the site. I just don’t think you can be a regular reviewer.

Jessa

[EDITORIAL NOTE: After the above exchange, it did not seem especially fruitful to contact Crispin again. This did not stop her from contacting me over the years over any perceived slight. Nevertheless, I still wanted to give her a chance and, in the following excerpt of an email I sent to The Litblog Co-Op on November 18, 2004, I argued for Crispin to be approached and included in the group.]

From: Edward Champion
To: The Litblog Co-Op
Date: 11/18/2004 5:34 AM
Subject: [litblogs] Greetings and an opening sally

III. The Jessa Crispin/Michael Schaub Question

Many of you are aware of my position w/r/t Jessa Crispin. I have, in fact, had email discussions with her before hoping to argue for a sense of community rather than inexplicable anger and solipsism. To understate the obvious, they did not go well.

The fact of the matter is that Jessa doesn’t share the same values that we do. Or so our PERCEPTION would dictate.

However, I think it would be hypocritical NOT to invite her into this group. I like Michael Schaub too, but Bookslut’s editor is not Schaub. It’s Jessa Crispin. And like her or not, Jessa Crispin was one of the earliest voices in the litblog community.

If Jessa acts uncivil or spiteful, or exploits this group in some fashion, then a case can be made for her expulsion. But I truly think she deserves a chance here. It is important, I think, to include voices who are passionate about literature, but also varied voices (say, for example, a Banville hater or a Mitchell hater, both of whom I’d welcome). I’d hate to see a group that failed to include dissent amongst

its members. And for that reason alone, I think inviting Jessa (and perhaps Kevin of Collected Miscellany) would be an attempt to fulfill some of the unique possibilities envisioned.

[EDITORIAL NOTE: On April 19, 2005, I published a blog post pointing out that many of Bookslut’s contributors were unpaid and received the following email from Crispin, claiming that I had “talked shit.” As the correspondence (and the updated blog post) show, I updated the entry to reflect the correct information.]

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 4/19/2005 4:11 PM
Subject:

Oh, Ed. Talk shit about me if you like, but do some fact checking first. Bookslut pays for features. We don’t pay for reviews or columns as of yet, but we’ve been paying our writers for features since January.

Jessa

From: Edward Champion
To: Jessa Crispin
Date: 4/19/2005 6:02 PM
Subject: parasites

Jessa:

Thanks for letting me know about your payment procedure. I’ve updated the entry.

As for talking shit, this is yet another classic case of the pot calling the kettle black. You were the one who called us “parasites.” I felt the need to clarify what a parsite truly was.For what it’s worth, despite the fact that I’ve experienced nothing but solipsistic rage and rudeness from you, I was actually one of the people who suggested that you be included in the Litblog Co-Op. Not that I’d ever expect someone who has remained continually belligerent and dismissive of the litblog community to understand such a nuanced position.

Ed

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 4/19/2005 5:11 PM
Subject: Re: parasites

You should check the article again. I did not use the word “parasite,” Joy did, which you seem not to have noticed. And that whole conversation was taken way out of context anyway, not that I’m apologizing for it.

From: Edward Champion
To: Jessa Crispin
Date: 4/19/2005 5:35 PM
Subject: Re: parasites

A journalist’s job is to provide context. And I’d be inclined to agree with you, IF your direct quote hadn’t undermined the efforts of other people, while showing a wholesale lack of knowledge about the many reviews, interviews, and essays that are posted on a DAILY basis completely independent of media outlets.

And, if you don’t apologize for how you were portrayed, then you’re essentially agreeing with the statement.

If you’re “hurt” about why you weren’t included in the LBC, then you might want to examine the lacuna curves regularly spouting out of your mouth. Your continued lack of consideration for others often leaves them disinclined to consider you. That’s hardly rocket science. Without naming anybody specific, there’s more people than you think who you’ve brushed the wrong way.

But then that’s not really my problem, is it?

From: Edward Champion
To: Jessa Crispin
Date: 4/19/2005
Subject: Re: parasites

I never said I was hurt. Just to clear that up.

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 6/6/2005 5:26 AM
Subject: your mention of sacco

It’s not actually a follow up. It’s two previously comic book-length pieces being collected. The material is actually about ten years old, I believe. (One of them was the first Sacco I ever read.)

From: Edward Champion
To: Jessa Crispin
Date: 6/6/2005 10:12 AM
Subject: Re: your mention of sacco

Jessa:

Thanks. I will correct this. The laptop was dying and I was speeding through my transcribing. Did you see the new small-sized reissues of Sin City (with the oversized slip covers) at the Dark Horse booth? The guy there, Lee, was very cool and I passed along your name to him.

Good meeting you.

All best,

Ed

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 6/6/2005 11:22 AM
Subject: Re: your mention of sacco

I did see them, but I was disappointed in the quality. The binding is cheap, and the size makes some of the lettering difficult to read. But they are pretty from the outside, that’s for sure. I had the distinct pleasure of having drinks with Frank Miller during BEA, which was definitely the highlight for me.

J.

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 6/6/2005 12:07 PM
Subject: Re: your mention of sacco

And by the way, if you want to know what happened at the 18 to 34 year old panel, let me know. It was a freak show of the highest order from the very beginning stages to the minute where I lost the will to live. Since you keep referencing it, I thought you might be interested.

From: Edward Champion
To: Jessa Crispin
Date: 6/7/2005 10:12 AM
Subject: Re: your mention of sacco

Jessa:

Big-time backlog here. So pardon my inconsistent response time.

You lost the will to live? Jesus, what happened at the panel? People kept mentioning it to me. What I heard from several folks was that there was a good deal of craziness from the crowd concerning what 18-34 readers actually read. In fact, at the Generation Text panel, pretty much all of the editors there were adamant about not confining their work to just 18-34 titles, but, rather interestingly, they were very willing to dismiss this audience altogether with moribund ideas about video games and the like.

The big impression I got out of BEA (and this is reflected in one of my longass posts) is that the publishers not only don’t know anything about their audiences, but that they seem to view the 18-34 label as some all-encompassing demographic, rather than an interesting confluence of MANY types of people (there are your genre geeks, there are those who could care less about reading, there are those who are staunchly literary, et al.). It really is all about the mass demographic (the people who shop at Wal-Mart), rather than the subcategories of audiences and how some of these subcategories cross over. It’s pretty damn hilarious to me that the publishing industry STILL flourishes despite being completely disconnected from people who read.

All best,

Ed

From: Jessa Crispin
To: Edward Champion
Date: 6/9/2005 12:35 PM
Subject: Re: your mention of sacco

If you want to know what I did for fourteen hours yesterday, you can see Bookslut’s new issue. Now that it’s up, I can finally write some e-mail.

So Mark asked me to chair the panel, but I was, of course, not given any input into who was asked to participate. When I saw that three of the five participants worked at least somewhat in young adult books, I called Mark to find out why they were all invited, and I was told they wanted to talk about finding the bridge between YA writers and the 18-to-34 demographic. But when I got there, they didn’t want to talk about that at all. All they wanted to talk about was how YA novels like Gossip Girl are “really big” with my “demo” as well as self-help books. I tried to steer the conversation into something at all interesting, but there was no hope. There was some clashing, and about halfway through it I kind of just gave up and we just did audience questions. Many of the audience questions were along the lines of “What the hell is wrong with you people?” mostly directed towards the woman responsible for the Gossip Girl series.

It was really painful, especially considering there was just no hope. Audience members started leaving, I was called names by one particular woman on the panel, and there was no real discussion. The marketing folks really wanted to stay on message and just keep repeating the same bullshit over and over again. “The 18-to-34 year olds don’t read books, unless it’s YA or self-help.” After the panel, I was stopped over and over again by people at BEA saying they felt bad for me having to moderate that crap.

I don’t think I’ll be asked to moderate anything again. Mark saw me later on, said, “I heard about your panel!” and just started laughing…

J

From: Edward Champion
To: Jessa Crispin
Date: 06/11/2005 11:47 AM
Subject: RE: your mention of sacco

Jessa:

No worries. I’m still trying to conquer this vicious post-BEA email backlog right now and it’s still kicking my ass. As if the FedEx packages of booty weren’t enough, there was this morning’s balancing act from PO box to apartment. Quite literally, I had about five feet of books that I was only able to carry back by taking all of the tomes out of their packages and stacking them in a precarious vertical pile. Incredible, these publicists. They move quick. Now I have a sense of the mail you’re getting.

Anywho, wanted to say really quick that the new Bookslut issue looks nice and wanted to thank you for the interview. The wine had gone to my head too and I tried to make that clear in the edit by including my own rampant stammering.

As for the panel, I’m very sorry to hear about what happened. You mean that you didn’t get to hand pick your panelists or get an email dialogue going on in advance to at least acclimate these folks into thinking about the question you were propounding? What in the hell do YA writers have to do with the 18-34 demographic? The big question: was the 18-34 approach locked in when you proposed the panel? It makes no sense to me whey they would do something like this.

For what it’s worth, the blog marketing panel I attended faced a similar identity crisis. The panel attracted people who wanted to use blogs as marketing tools, but they didn’t understand them and MJ Rose was left there resorting to mighty pronouncements of how blogs are important without actually engaging the crowd, much less the panelists, about the conversational niche. I was about to jump in myself and point this out to these folks in the form of an audience question, but I had only just arrived that morning and I had only had about a half hour of sleep on the red-eye and was still figuring New York and the BEA out.

The sense I’m getting here is that the people who run the panels aren’t completely connected to the audience who pays for these panels. They’re shelling out meager resources to get information. Not all of the panels were like this, but much like the publishing industry itself, it seems that some of the BEA panels completely misunderstand their audience. If you have a panel on the 18-34 audience, you get people who write for that audience (a hot young writer, I suppose one of the “young hybrid editors,” and someone who does publicity for that crowd). If you have a panel on the marketing of blogs, you prepare case examples in advance and get the appropriate people to talk about them.

Unbelievable.

All best,

Ed

From: Edward Champion
To: Jessa Crispin
Date: 10/24/2007 11:05 AM
Subject: Re: Condolences

Jessa:

Sorry to hear about the death in the family. Please take good care and be gentle to yourself.

All best,

Ed

From: Edward Champion
To: Jessa Crispin
Date: 6/9/2008 9:02 AM
Subject: Re: Condolences

This Mary Roach item has been showing up in your feed since April. Thought I’d bring it to your attention.

http://www.bookslut.com/blog/index.rdf

All best,

Ed

jessaattachment

From: Edward Champion
To: Jessa Crispin
Date: 6/28/2014 3:44 PM
Subject: Re: Libel and defamation

Jessa:

I have all of our correspondence going back to 2002. [Editor’s Note: This was a mistake. I communicated with a different “Jessa” in 2002 and it was in the same folder. My first correspondence with Ms. Crispin was in 2003.] Attached is a screenshot of one of our exchanges from 2003, pointing out how you “usually do keep copies of correspondence.” It is clear from my files that I never sent you any threats.

I did not stalk John Freeman. He and I resolved our differences years ago.

I did not write an “inappropriate” takedown of Boris Kachka. I stuck with the facts.

You did not name “your friends” that I purportedly threatened. You have not produced proof.

This is outright defamation — unfounded statements that you cannot back up, a combination of deliberate untruths and actual malice, seen clearly in your tweet to Boris Kachka — and, since you are in Germany, even more defamatory under Criminal Code §186 and §187, which affords greater protections for defamation of character and deliberate untruths. I am sure that either a German or a United States court would be interested in how you set out to deliberately malign me with malice and that you did not stick to the facts, especially after my (now deleted) tweets on Thursday night.

It is one thing to use ad hominem or declare me “monstrous” or proffer any number of opinions. That is perfectly within the legal limits. It is also perfectly reasonable to offer an opinion, even a belligerent one, on established facts. But you are now making claims that run contrary to facts. You are most certainly acting out of malice. New York Times v. Sullivan (1964) established the malice standard for defamation. If you don’t have the emails or the specifics, then it is clear that you, as publisher of the tweets, are acting in reckless disregard of the truth.

I respectfully request that you remove your tweets and issue an immediate apology for your lies and defamation. Thank you in advance for your anticipated cooperation.

Sincerely,

Edward Champion

jessaattachment2

Why Nick Denton’s Carelessness with Hulk Hogan Threatens the Future of Journalism

On Friday, six ordinary people in Florida, none terribly acquainted with the tabloid sausage factory when they were selected to serve as jurors for an invasion of privacy trial, deliberated for six hours on a case involving a former wrestler. They decided that Gawker, in posting a two minute excerpt of a Hulk Hogan sex tape, had crossed the line. The stunning $115 million verdict leveled against Gawker, with punitive damages set to be determined next week, is likely to deracinate what remains of the Gawker Empire. As of Saturday morning, Gawker had not published any new posts.

This verdict’s implications are significant for anyone interested in the First Amendment. It could mean that journalists will begin to pull their punches on stories that are far more important than a famous figure’s pelvic thrusting. And in an age in which unconventional reporting has emerged with squirming innovation from the rocky shadow of traditional media’s crumbling calcite hold, this may very well hinder the often necessary work needed to expose divisive yet pivotal duplicities. In a post-Hogan media landscape, would Mitt Romney’s infamous 2012 video about the “47 percent” constitute “invasion of privacy”? Will Donald Trump’s literal war on the press, barring and attacking and intimidating reporters he “disagrees” with, be reinforced by a wave of perceived invasion buttressed by court decisions in the near future?

More lawsuits are sure to follow in Hulk Hogan’s wake. (Indeed, Gawker is set to battle another $10 million lawsuit from Ashley Terrill, who alleges that Gawker published “a false and highly defamatory hit-piece” that harmed her reputation. This additional suit was filed by Hulk Hogan’s attorney.) But if more juries conclude that journalists who indiscriminately post private information about public figures are committing serious breaches of their public duties, breaches that cannot be justified as “journalism,” then this will seriously impair the Fourth Estate’s vital role in our culture, which is to serve as a legitimate watchdog against corruption, hypocrisy, and wrongdoing through a commitment to fairness and airtight facts.

If press freedom erodes in the next few years, Gawker founder Nick Denton must be blamed for this. He operated with a level of irresponsibility and carelessness, willfully hiring a spate of reckless editors who ran his website as if they were grand tyrants of limitless hubris — whether it be former editor John Cook defiantly refusing to remove the Hulk Hogan post, former Gawker editor A.J. Daulerio stating vulgarly and foolishly in a deposition that a sex tape would not be newsworthy if it included a child under the age of four, or the Jordan Belfort-like shenanigans of former Gawker editors Tommy Craggs and Max Read running up a $546 bill at a fancy restaurant before resigning in protest over a story that went out of its way to ruin a man’s life over sexual allegations that were never substantiated.

Denton, in perpetuating an office culture that was willfully adolescent and that opted for tawdriness in lieu of truth and decency, has not only set back his admirable ambitions to make Internet publishing something fresh and original, as smartly observed by USA Today‘s Michael Wolff, but he has destroyed the integrity of journalism: the impression promulgated not so long ago by the rightly celebrated film Spotlight that engrossing detail and rigorous pursuit of a scandal leads to essential conversations. Six regular people, representing a not insignificant perspective that many New York media mavens ignore at their peril, could not be persuaded that what Denton and Gawker was doing was right. And it is now up to journalists to win back the trust of America, to undo Denton’s considerable damage to an essential American freedom by refusing to skate on thin ice without grace, even as they perform jumps and spirals that we’ve never seen before.

The Case for Releasing Brian Williams Into the Wild

When a public figure goes well out of his way to tell a dubious sounding Horatio Alger story in interview after interview, especially one that is permanently soaked in a saccharine bath of American idealism, it is natural to be skeptical. It is also quite healthy to take authority figures to task for their flubs and gaffes, especially when we entrust them to tell us the truth.

I have spent the better part of a day sifting through profiles and speeches and documents, speaking with very helpful and overworked people at fire departments and restaurants, entering into email volleys with university registrars, and chatting with Catholics. I am forced to conclude that NBC News anchor Brian Williams is probably not a liar.

After corroborating the details of Williams’s life story with numerous sources, I have discovered that Williams’s mind has been mostly precise when recalling the details. The one notable exception — and this has caused justifiable controversy — is Williams’s claim that he was on board a helicopter during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which was recently called into question by three Army officers courtesy of the reporters at Stars and Stripes. But another officer — Rich Krell — has presented a third alternative that lies somewhere between Williams’s story and the other officers, turning the tale into a veritable Rashomon for media junkies.

Aside from stretching his short stint as a volunteer firefighter out to “several years” and fluctuating his upbringing between “grindingly middle class,” “solidly middle class,” and “classic middle class,” I have discovered nothing that would lead me to impugn Williams.

“My break came when Betty Endicott, news director at WTTG in Washington, called me into an office and asked me to close the door one day. She said, uh, ‘They told me you used to do this. You did on camera. You did small market television in news.’ And I said, I said, ‘Yeah, I did. Briefly. It was an experiment. A failed experiment.’ She said, ‘Do you have any tapes?’ And I said, ‘Well, they’ve long since been burned and taken to a licensed landfill facility outside of town.'” — “Brian Williams: My First Big Break,” February 2, 2012

Somewhere beneath the relentless layers of pancake makeup, an anchorman projected onto ten million television sets is as human as the rest of us. While we are privately jostled by our friends for missing a few key details in a juicy anecdote, Williams must tell the same stories over and over: building upon his narrative, embellishing it, and risking more if he slips up once. And because his highly scrutinized vocation is committed to a rigid objectivity, he’s never allowed to gush over a subjective experience like the rest of us. This accounts for why Williams repeats phrases like “licensed landfill facility” when he discusses how he buried his early resume reel as a struggling young man. The specificity sounds suspicious. It’s preposterous enough that someone would go all the way to a refuse site to dispose of an incinerated 3/4″ videotape, but why should it be called a facility? And why qualify it with the “licensed” modifier? Why not just say that you eviscerated the damn tape in grandiose despair? Well, how many of us have to willfully repeat the same stories hundreds of times with a camera watching over us?

popejp2Public figures — especially ones committed to mainstream journalism — don’t have the luxury of expressing passion and exuberance so freely. So when Williams talks of “meeting” Pope John Paul II “by positioning himself at the top of the stairs of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception” in October 1979 at Catholic University (the registrar confirmed with me that Williams was a student in the School of Arts and Sciences at the time), and an article with an accompanying photo reveals that the Pope was actually speaking on the steps (see right), should Williams be called a liar? Or can we let him off the hook by remembering a younger time when we “met” someone we admired simply by standing in close proximity?

The most significant inconsistency I found was in Williams’s flight from George Washington University to Pittsburg, Kansas, where Williams began his first (and unsuccessful) anchoring job at KOAM TV, working for $168 each week. In a 2013 interview with Alec Baldwin, Williams claimed that he packed up his belongings in the backseat of his Dodge Dart, along with his dog Charlie. But in a May 3, 2005 Landon Lecture at Kansas State University, Williams noted that he had bought a Ford Escort at Coffeyhouse Motors and claimed, “I rented a truck and I threw my trusty cocker spaniel in the front seat and I pointed my truck west from Washington and I moved to Kansas to start a new life and a new career.” Howard Kurtz’s The Reality Show: Inside the Last Great Television News War reports yet another version:

The unpaid bills and college debt piled up as Williams labored for meager wages, and when his Dodge Dart died one day in a cornfield, Bengston helped arranged a loan for a Ford Escort. But not even a new set of wheels could get Williams to a bigger market….Clearly, he had failed. Williams packed his dog, Charlie, into a Ryder truck, drove to Washington, moved into a basement, and took a courier’s job at the National Association of Broadcasters, delivering documents in a red station wagon. It was a huge comedown.

It’s worth pointing out that all of this occurred thirty-five years ago, a year before Williams got his big break at WTTG with news director Betty Endicott. Williams had landed a job as a chyron operator. Endicott learned that he had once been a reporter and promoted him on the spot. Willilams was covering the Pentagon not long later and on his way to an illustrious career. There is, of course, no way to confirm the conversation that transpired. Endicott is dead. The talk was behind closed doors. We have only Williams’s word for it. But it’s these details that are clear, not the struggle that led up to it. And why not? A successful person defines himself by the first moment of success, not necessarily by the incremental “fail better” moments that came before.

Which brings us back to Williams’s snafu with the helicopter. His memory, which is riddled with inconsistencies, is pitted against the memories of the Army officers. But Williams’s statements over the course of twelve years get opened up to public scrutiny. This isn’t the case for the officers. While it is undeniably interesting to see how Williams’s story changed, it also gives Williams an unfair disadvantage.

If CNN reported how I remembered an episode on December 31, 2000, it would probably read as follows:

January 1, 2001: In a largely illegible journal entry, Champion tries to recall what happened the night before in a drunken haze. “Clothes discovered on floor the next morning. Who is this woman lying next to me?” He doesn’t say that he made it with the woman in question, much less her name, only that he learned about her the next morning.

September 2001: Champion self-publishes a chapbook, Tortured Youth, that details the New Year’s Eve incident. The account is vague. A friend, who generously hands over the three dollars for this undercooked offering of autobiographical nonsense, credits “one of the Goth girls I see hanging at Elbo Room” for spotting Champion during that celebratory evening. The reader is told “We entered the apartment,” but the passage doesn’t state who made the first move, or Champion’s exact location. Whose apartment was it?

March 2004: During a secretly recorded chat, Champion speaks of that day in 2000 to an acquaintance who insists on documenting every moment for posterity. “I think I made the first move, but I can’t be sure. I was trying to put one foot in front of the other. Some stranger may have thrown a bottle at us.” This description suggests that Champion was under attack.

March 2006: Champion refers to the bottle attack, but cannot remember the woman’s name. Someone suggests that what happened on New Year’s Eve five years ago was probably nothing, but Champion recreates his artful leap from the exploding bottle on the ground, which he seems to recall more vividly than the woman.

February 2015: Champion tries to remember how he remembered that New Year’s Eve evening while writing about Brian Williams, realizing that if he had to deal with such insufferable media scrutiny on a regular basis, he’d be called a goddam liar for the rest of his natural life.

The above silliness is inconsequential to me. But if I were in any truly influential position, I am certain that it would be used against me.

Do news people have the right to tell their own stories even as they maintain objective stances on stories that they merely report on? Given the Choppergate ballyhoo, probably not. Or perhaps it’s just Williams who isn’t allowed to. He has made appearances on The Daily Show to demonstrate that he has a sense of humor, even as his nightly appearances on NBC suggest that he is something of a stiff. Television does not allow Williams to merge the two identities. Williams must carry on with these roles, adhering to the mandate embossed into the desk by top brass. Television news would be far more honest if Williams were to appear one night with a chainsaw, destroying his desk with a savage violence while reciting the news in a calm and objective voice. But if we can’t have that, maybe we should cut the guy some slack.

[2/6/15 UPDATE: Think Progress‘s Jessica Goldstein consulted several noted psychologists about the science of memory and how it applies to Williams. From Professor William Hirst: “You build your memories as you go along. We consolidate memories. There’s also evidence that, every time we retrieve a memory, it makes it vulnerable to reconsolidation. So if we retrieve something and tell that story at a dinner party, and slightly exaggerate your role, it reconsolidate to incorporate that exaggeration. And the next time you’re telling it, you’re building on that. You can see how the story can grow. And the stories we end up telling reflect the social framework in which we live.”]

The Journalist and the Murderer (Modern Library Nonfiction #97)

(This is the fourth entry in The Modern Library Nonfiction Challenge, an ambitious project to read and write about the Modern Library Nonfiction books from #100 to #1. There is also The Modern Library Reading Challenge, a fiction-based counterpart to this list. Previous entry: The Taming of Chance.)

mlnf97One of the mistakes often made by those who immerse themselves in Janet Malcolm’s The Journalist and the Murderer is believing that MacDonald’s guilt or innocence is what matters most. But Malcolm is really exploring how journalistic opportunity and impetuous judgment can lead any figure to be roundly condemned in the court of public opinion. Malcolm’s book was written before the Internet blew apart much of the edifice separating advertising and editorial with native advertising and sponsored articles, but this ongoing ethical dilemma matters ever more in our age of social media and citizen journalism, especially when Spike Lee impulsively tweets the wrong address of George Zimmerman (and gets sued because of the resultant harassment) and The New York Post publishes a front page cover of two innocent men (also resulting in a lawsuit) because Reddit happened to believe they were responsible for the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

Yet it is important to approach anything concerning the Jeffrey MacDonald murder case with caution. It has caused at least one documentary filmmaker to go slightly mad. It is an evidential involution that can ensnare even the most disciplined mind, a permanently gravid geyser gushing out books and arguments and arguments about books, with more holes within the relentlessly regenerating mass than the finest mound of Jarlsberg. But here are the underlying facts:

On February 17, 1970, Jeffrey MacDonald reported a stabbing to the military police. Four officers found MacDonald’s wife Colette, and their two children, Kimberley and Kristen, all dead in their respective bedrooms. MacDonald went to trial and was found guilty of one count of first-degree murder and two counts of second-degree murder. He was sentenced to three life sentences. Only two months before this conviction, MacDonald hired the journalist Joe McGinniss — the author of The Selling of a President 1968, then looking for a comeback — to write a book about the case, under the theory that any money generated by MacDonald’s percentage could be used to sprout a defense fund. MacDonald placed total trust in McGinniss, opening the locks to all his papers and letting him stay in his condominium. McGinniss’s book, Fatal Vision, was published in the spring of 1983. It was a bestseller and spawned a popular television miniseries, largely because MacDonald was portrayed as a narcissist and a sociopath, fitting the entertainment needs of a bloodthirsty public. MacDonald didn’t know the full extent of this depiction. Indeed, as he was sitting in jail, McGinniss refused to send him a galley or an advance copy. (“At no time was there ever any understanding that you would be given an advance look at the book six months prior to publication,” wrote McGinniss to MacDonald on February 16, 1983. “As Joe Wambuagh told you in 1975, with him you would not even see a copy before it was published. Same with me. Same with any principled and responsible author.” Malcolm copiously chronicles the “principled and responsible” conduct of McGinniss quite well, which includes speaking with MacDonald in misleading and ingratiating tones, often pretending to be a friend — anything to get MacDonald to talk.)

wallacemacdonald

On 60 Minutes, roughly around the book’s publication, Mike Wallace revealed to MacDonald what McGinniss was up to:

Mike Wallace (narrating): Even government prosecutors couldn’t come up with a motive or an explanation of how a man like MacDonald could have committed so brutal a crime. But Joe McGinniss thinks he’s found the key. New evidence he discovered after the trial. Evidence he has never discussed with MacDonald. A hitherto unrevealed account by the doctor himself of his activities in the period just before the murders.

Joe McGinniss: In his own handwriting, in notes prepared for his own attorneys, he goes into great detail about his consumption of a drug called Eskatrol, which is no longer on the market. It was voluntarily withdrawn in 1980 because of dangerous side effects. Among the side effects of this drug are, when taken to excess by susceptible individuals, temporary psychosis, often manifested as a rage reaction. Here we have somebody under enormous pressure and he’s taking enough of this Eskatrol, enough amphetamines, so that by his own account, he’s lost 15 pounds in the three weeks leading up to the murders.

eskatrolnoteWallace: Now wait. According to the note which I’ve seen, three to five Eskatrol he has taken. We don’t know if he’s taken it over a period of several weeks or if he’s taken three to five Eskatrol a day or a week or a month.

McGinniss: We do know that if you take three to five Eskatrol over a month, you’re not going to lose 15 pounds in doing so.

Jeffrey MacDonald: I never stated that to anyone and I did not in fact lose fifteen pounds. I also wasn’t taking Eskatrol.

Wallace (reading MacDonald’s note): “We ate dinner together at 5:45 PM. It is possible I had one diet pill at this time. I do not remember and do not think I had one. But it is possible. I had lost 12 to 15 pounds in the prior three to four weeks in the process, using three to five capsules of Eskatrol Spansule. I was also…”

MacDonald: Three to five capsules for the three weeks.

Wallace: According to this.

MacDonald: Right.

Wallace: According to this.

MacDonald: And that’s a possibility.

Wallace: Then why would you put down here that…that there was even a possibility?

MacDonald: These are notes given to an attorney, who has told me to bare my soul as to any possibility so we could always be prepared. So I…

Wallace: Mhm. But you’ve already told me that you didn’t lose 15 pounds in the three weeks prior…

MacDonald: I don’t think that I did.

Wallace: It’s in your notes. “I had lost 12-15 lbs. in the prior 3-4 weeks, in the process using 3-5 capsules of Eskatrol Spansules.” That’s speed. And compazine. To counteract the excitability of speed. “I was losing weight because I was working out with a boxing team and the coach told me to lose weight.” — 60 Minutes

One of McGinniss’s exclusive contentions was that MacDonald had murdered his family because he was high on Eskatrol. Or, as he wrote in Fatal Vision:

It is also fact that if Jeffrey MacDonald were taking three to five Eskatrol Spansules daily, he would have been consuming 75 mg. of dextroamphetamine — more than enough to precipitate an amphetamine psychosis.

Note the phrasing. Even though McGinniss does not know for a fact whether or not MacDonald took three to five Eskatrol (and MacDonald himself is also uncertain: both MacDonald and McGinniss prevaricate enough to summon the justifiably hot and bothered mesh of Mike Wallace’s grilling), he establishes the possibility as factual — even though it is pure speculation. The prognostication becomes a varnished truth, one that wishes to prop up McGinniss’s melodramatic thesis.

* * *

Malcolm was sued for libel by Jeffrey Masson over her depiction of him in her book, In the Freud Archives. In The Journalist and the Murderer, she has called upon all journalists to feel “some compunction about the exploitative character of the journalist-subject relationship,” yet claims that her own separate lawsuit was not the driving force in the book’s afterword. Yet even Malcolm, a patient and painstaking practitioner, could not get every detail of MacDonald’s appearance on 60 Minutes right:

As Mike Wallace — who had received an advance copy of Fatal Vision without difficulty or a lecture — read out loud to MacDonald passages in which he was portrayed as a psychopathic killer, the camera recorded his look of shock and utter discomposure.

Wallace was reading MacDonald’s own notes to his attorney back to him, not McGinniss’s book. These were not McGinniss’s passages in which MacDonald was “portrayed as a psychopathic killer,” but passages from MacDonald’s own words that attempted to establish his Eskatrol use. Did Malcolm have a transcript of the 60 Minutes segment now readily available online in 1990? Or is it possible that MacDonald’s notes to his attorney had fused so perfectly with McGinnis’s book that the two became indistinguishable?

This raises important questions over whether any journalist can ever get the facts entirely right, no matter how fair-minded the intentions. It is one thing to be the hero of one’s own story, but it is quite another to know that, even if she believes herself to be morally or factually in the clear, the journalist is doomed to twist the truth to serve her purposes.

It obviously helps to be transparent about one’s bias. At one point in The Journalist and the Murderer, Malcolm is forthright enough to confess that she is struck by MacDonald’s physical grace as he breaks off pieces of tiny powdered sugar doughnuts. This is the kind of observational detail often inserted in lengthy celebrity profiles to “humanize” a Hollywood actor uttering the same calcified boilerplate rattled off to every roundtable junketeer. But if such a flourish is fluid enough to apply to MacDonald, we are left to wonder how Malcolm’s personal connection interferes with her purported journalistic objectivity. In the same paragraph, Malcolm neatly notes the casual abuse MacDonald received in his mailbox after McGinniss’s book was published — in particular a married couple who read Fatal Vision while on vacation who took the time to write a hateful letter while sunbathing at the Sheraton Waikiki Hotel. This casual cruelty illustrates how the reader can be just as complicit as the opportunistic journo in perpetuating an incomplete or slanted portrait.

The important conundrum that Malcolm imparts in her short and magnificently complicated volume is why we bother to read or write journalism at all if we know the game is rigged. The thorny morality can extend to biography (Malcolm’s The Silent Woman is another excellent book which sets forth the inherent and surprisingly cyclical bias in writing about Sylvia Plath). And even when the seasoned journalist is aware of ethical discrepancies, the judgmental pangs will still crop up. In “A Girl of the Zeitgeist” (contained in the marvelous collection, Forty-One False Starts), Malcolm confessed her own disappointment in how Ingrid Sischy failed to live up to her preconceptions as a bold and modern woman. Malcolm’s tendentiousness may very well be as incorrigible as McGinnis’s, but is it more forgivable because she’s open about it?

* * *

It can be difficult for Janet Malcolm’s most arduous advocates to detect the fine grains of empathy carefully lining the crisp and meticulous forms of her svelte and careful arguments, which are almost always sanded against venal opportunists. Malcolm’s responsive opponents, which have recently included Esquire‘s Tom Junod, Errol Morris, and other middling men who are inexplicably intimidated by women who are smarter, have attempted to paint Malcolm as a hypocrite, an opportunist, and a self-loathing harpy of the first order. Junod wrote that “it’s clear to anyone who reads her work that very few journalists are animated by malice than Janet Malcolm” and described her work as “a self-hater whose work has managed to speak for the self-hatred” of journalism. Yet Junod cannot cite any examples of this self-hate and malice, save for the purported Henry Youngman-like sting of her one liners (Malcolm is not James Wolcott; she is considerably more thoughtful and interesting) and for pointing out, in Iphigenia in Forest Hills, how trials “offer unique opportunities for journalistic heartlessness,” failing to observe how Malcolm pointed out how words or evidence lifted out of context could be used to condemn or besmirch the innocent until proven guilty (and owning up to her own biases and her desire to interfere).

Malcolm is not as relentless as her generational peer Renata Adler, but she is just as refreshingly formidable. She is as thorough with her positions and almost as misunderstood. She has made many prominent enemies for her controversial positions — even fighting a ten year trial against Jeffrey Masson over the authenticity of his quotations (dismissed initially by a federal judge in California on the grounds that there was an absence of malice). Adler was ousted from The New Yorker, but Malcolm was not. In the last few years, both have rightfully found renewed attention for their years among a new generation.

One origin for the anti-Malcolm assault is John Taylor’s 1989 New York Magazine article, “Holier than Thou,” which is perhaps singularly responsible for making it mandatory for any mention of The Journalist and the Murderer to include its infamous opening line: “Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible.” Taylor excoriated Malcolm for betraying McGinniss as a subject, dredged up the Masson claims, and claimed that Malcolm used Masson much as McGinniss had used MacDonald. It does not occur to Taylor that Malcolm herself may be thoroughly familiar with what went down and that the two lengthy articles which became The Journalist and the Murderer might indeed be an attempt to reckon with the events that caused the fracas:

Madame Bovary, c’est moi,” Flaubert said of his famous character. The characters of nonfiction, no less than those of fiction, derive from the writer’s most idiosyncratic desires and deepest anxieties; they are what the writer wishes he was and worries that he is. Masson, c’est moi.

Similarly, Evan Hughes had difficulty grappling with this idea, caviling over the “bizarre stance” of Malcolm not wanting to be “oppressed by the mountain of documents that formed in my office.” He falsely infers that Malcolm has claimed that “it is pointless to learn the facts to try to get to the bottom of a crime,” not parsing Malcolm’s clear distinction between evidence and the journalist’s ineluctable need to realize characters on the page. No matter how faithfully the journalist sticks with the facts, a journalistic subject becomes a character because the narrative exigencies demand it. Errol Morris can find Malcolm’s stance “disturbing and problematic” as much as he likes, but he is the one who violated the journalistic taboo of paying subjects for his 2008 film, Standard Operating Procedure, without full disclosure. One of Morris’s documentary subjects, Joyce McKinney, claimed that she was tricked into giving an interview for what became Tabloid, alleging that one of Morris’s co-producers broke into her home with a release form. Years before Morris proved triumphant in an appellate court, he tweeted:

The notion of something “unvarnished” attached to a personal account may have originated with Shakespeare:

And therefore little shall I grace my cause
In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,
I will a round unvarnished tale deliver
Of my whole course of love. What drugs, what charms,
What conjuration and what mighty magic—
For such proceeding I am charged withal—
I won his daughter.
Othello, Act 1, Scene 3

Othello hoped that in telling “a round unvarnished tale,” he would be able to come clean with Brabantio over why he had eloped with the senator’s daughter Desdemona. He wishes to be straightforward. It’s an extremely honorable and heartfelt gesture that has us very much believing in Othello’s eloquence. Othello was very lucky not to be speaking with a journalist, who surely would have used his words against him.

Next Up: Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood!

The Bat Segundo Show: Annalena McAfee

Annalena McAfee appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #453. Ms. McAfee is most recently the author of The Spoiler.

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[PROGRAM NOTE: In the first few minutes of the conversation, one of the microphones decided to blow out. And while Our Correspondent was equipped with two microphones, the microphone that blew out wasn’t the one on Our Correspondent’s voice, but the one that was on the author’s voice. Ms. McAffee’s words can be detected during this program, but if her voice sounds like it’s coming out of a small radiator, well, you now know why. Many apologies for the low quality to Ms. McAfee and to our listeners. We have done our best in post-production to preserve this conversation despite this setback.]

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Selling his scandalous tales to the highest bidder.

Author: Annalena McAfee

Subjects Discussed: The journalism novel’s long tradition, Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop, P.G. Wodehouse’s Psmith, Journalist, Guy de Maupassant, the number of women working as journalists, Michael Frayn’s Towards the End of the Morning, the lack of women journalists in Tom Rachman’s The Imperfectionists, Nellie Bly, Hedda Hopper, Louella Parsons, using phrases as “nasal plainchant,” how style and language allows one to escape tropes, plucky newsboys, formality, balancing characters, botching an interview, Tamara Sim’s entitlement, finding redeeming value in characters who don’t comprehend basic journalism, how to counter your own biases when writing fiction, providing what the newspapers want, narcissistic protagonists, 1997 as a cusp moment in journalism, journalistic ethics, the desperate scramble to be first with a story, cash for stories, single-source Fleet Street exposés, prostitutes and TV presenters, Tory MPs and tabloid scandals, the impulse to tear people down as a journalist, including a virtuous side character, the Conservative Monday Club vs. a fictitious Monday Club, Sherman Duffy’s idea of a journalist being “somewhere between a whore and a bartender,” the differences between US and UK journalism, whether or not cultural journalism is a slightly higher form of tabloid journalism, David Simon’s Q&A comments being needlessly dissected by short-sighted journalists, the problems with celebrity journalism, Ian McEwan as in-house editor, Amsterdam, Enduring Love, being grilled on television through personal connection, Marguerite Higgins, women war journalists, the infamous hostile showdown between Gloria Emerson and John Lennon, how Higgins inspired two novels, what journalism has lost because of the Internet, needless length caps applied to present-day journalism, Kindle Singles, the influence of Maxim in the early noughts, aggregate sites, The Browser, Twitter and the move to individual curators, obsession, and internal pressure for journalists.

EXCERPT FROM SHOW:

McAfee: In terms of tearing people down, I did not work in that world really. I worked on The Financial Times. It’s a fantastic paper and the probity is unimpeachable. I worked on The Guardian on the culture. I founded and edited The Guardian Review. Again, that’s a paper that’s on the side of angels. I was very, very lucky. I had a spell on the Evening Standard. But I was arts editor and theater critic. And I suppose in my capacity as theater critic, sometimes I might have been less than kind. But it certainly wasn’t the kind of sustained bullying. Or I didn’t have that opportunity. And I hope that if I did, I would be able to resist it.

Correspondent: So you were really perhaps comparable to the Monitor‘s books editor the morning after the party.

McAfee: Yes.

Correspondent: Where everybody else was completely trashed and their heads were throbbing and they were incapable of any conversation. And meanwhile, those who chose not to imbibe in this debauchery, they were able to seize the reins here, so to speak. (laughs)

McAfee: Well, books editor do debauchery too.

Correspondent: Of course. Most people do. We all know this.

McAfee: There’s no character assassinations or kiss-and-tells on my particular beat, thankfully.

Correspondent: Sure. I wanted to go back to the question of character balance. Because you have this confident young woman named Tania. She’s dutifully reading books. She’s researching her subjects.

McAfee: She’s called Tamara. But the old woman gets her name wrong and calls her Tania sometimes.

Correspondent: I’m sorry. I’m talking about — anyway, she even is very nice to respond to the quip.

McAfee: Oh, Tania.

Correspondent: Tania. That’s who I’m saying. Tania.

McAfee: You know my book better than I do.

Correspondent: I know that Honor, in a joke, actually calls her Tania. And that’s the clue that there is actually something askew because she completely insists on Tania. You have that email joke. Okay. Now that we’re on the same page, so you’ve got Tania.

McAfee: Yeah.

Correspondent: She’s this erudite person who’s incredibly capable and she’s even kind enough to offer this tinselly chime that you describe when Tamara says, “Oh, well, the future is unisex jumpsuits and time travel.” But this does not exactly help us in warming to Tamara. I was reading this book and I’m saying to myself, “You know, Tania, this woman’s got her stuff together.” But I’m wondering how you worked out your method of parceling out Tania’s appearances throughout the book. Because they tend to be somewhat sparse near the beginning. And I almost got the sense that, as you were working on this, you wanted to have not so much of Tania. Because then all of a sudden, we’ll really not like Tamara. I’m wondering how you balanced the Ts here.

McAfee: Well, I did kind of concede Tania as the future. The only capable young woman journalist. Brilliant and completely ahead of the game as far as technology. And, of course, as I say, that was a time — 1997 — it was still possible to believe that the Internet was a passing fad. And indeed some of our great commentators said so. “It will be over soon. It’s like Citizens Band radio. It’s like Esperanto. It’s a craze. It will pass.” I use a quote from one of our great commentators saying exactly that in January 1997. So that’s what Tamara and all her colleagues are thinking. But gradually I hope that as a young woman who runs a website, as the future makes itself plain, as we see what direction it’s going in, that was the aim. That ultimately the future belongs to Tania and she claims it.

Correspondent: But did you worry that she might, in fact, be too virtuous? I mean, you’ve got two characters who have issues with Tamara and Honor. You’ve got Tania, who has not a single bad bone as far as I know. So how do you deal with this balance? Because if you have too much of Tania, then it gets away from the two central characters here. And so I’m wondering if there was more of Tania in an earlier draft perhaps or you had to say to yourself, “Well, I have to wait twenty or thirty pages before she appears again.”

McAfee: Well, no, there wasn’t more of Tania. And actually, again, I’m trying for complexity. And to be perfectly honest, I find Tania’s virtuousness and her capabilities slightly irritating. She’s the person who does one’s own job better than one can ever do and is always the last to leave the office. And she doesn’t laugh much. Her tinselly chimes are part of a game rather than a sense of humor.

Correspondent: No, it’s more of a polite gesture, I thought. I mean, here, she has been just totally insulted and instead of actually allowing herself to be steamrolled, she decides to respond with some grace. The tinselly chimes.

McAfee: Grace? Well, the tear of the victor.

Correspondent: Here’s the other thing about Tania. I mean, I know people like this. They go ahead and they work very hard, but they have a dark side. So I was reading this book thinking, “You know, Tania’s probably doing something we don’t know.” But we never actually get there. So I’m wondering: why? (laughs)

McAfee: Well, that’s true. That is probably true. And, in fact, she does move in on people.

Correspondent: That’s true.

McAfee: She’s incredibly attractive. That’s another of her irritating virtues.

Correspondent: (laughs)

McAfee: But she uses it and is jockeying for position and is not afraid to use her sexuality.

Correspondent: Nevertheless, you find her irritating.

McAfee: Well…

Correspondent: The successful woman is irritating. Wait a minute here. (laughs)

McAfee: She doesn’t have warmth, I suppose. And that’s really it. She’s hard to read and she doesn’t seem generous to her colleagues.

Correspondent: I see.

McAfee: She lacks generosity.

Correspondent: She moves in on the territory and she does so without really seeing what the pecking order is.

McAFee: As I say, she’s got the ambition of a young person.

Correspondent: That’s an annoying quality. I’ll give you that. So it’s interesting that you have the Monday Club in this book. Because it’s far more liberal than the conservative Monday Club. Because you have the Twisk Foundation fighting child exploitation wherever it is to be found. You have the war correspondent. And I’m saying to myself, “You know, this is almost a Bizarro World Monday Club.” And so I’m wondering why you decided to go for a more progressive form of something that is a conservative institution in the UK.

McAFee: Well, they meet on a Monday. But I chose…

Correspondent: It could have been the Tuesday Club. (laughs)

McAfee: But I quite liked it. And I think I do say an ironic reference to the conservative, right-wing thinktank of the same name. Or whatever. So I quite liked playing with that. I mean, these are bien-pensant liberals and they’ve taken the name of the arch factory of Thatcherism.

Correspondent: Do you have any personal experience with the real Monday Club at all?

McAfee: No.

Correspondent: Any efforts to peek in there?

McAfee: No. Not at all. I can’t think of any.

Correspondent: So Sherman Duffy — he was a reporter friend of Ben Hecht’s — and he has this very famous maxim. He said, “Socially a journalist fits somewhere between a whore and a bartender.” Wonderful, wonderful line. Now in the Monday Club chapter, you not only have Tamara serving canapes to these affluent types. But you also have Ruth, Honor’s publisher — she’s actually engaged in this service sector activity as well. She’s unpacking the pastries on the plate and so forth. So I’m wondering if you were thinking of the Duffy maxim when you were considering this. This is a natural extension. Is there any way that fiction can help us and assist us in rehabilitating a journalist’s social status from somewhere between the whore and the bartender?

McAfee: Well, I mean, journalists are happy to see themselves as mavericks. Aren’t they? Certainly British journalists. I know that American journalism is a more honorable tradition.

Correspondent: Really? (laughs)

McAfee: I was talking to a friend about this the other night. And she said that there’s more of a public service attitude. And it can make for more solemn journalism. But in the UK, it’s well, you know, anything can go.

Correspondent: So you would say that journalism in the UK has declined considerably in the last ten years.

McAFee: Oh no.

Correspondent: Or twenty years.

McAfee: I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t. I mean, I think there’s marvelous stuff going on. Absolutely marvelous. In fact, all that’s changed is the medium really. My war correspondent is not — she’s a bit of a dragon. And she resents the fact that the world has turned and she is not the top of the pile anymore. In fact, if she’d looked around, she would have much to celebrate. Particularly women in journalism. Women like Marie Colvin, the late Marie Colvin. In Russia, Anna Politkovskaya, as she died in the cause of her work. There’s marvelous reporting going on. But there’s also a lot of dross. That’s all mainstream. I don’t get celebrity journalism. I just can’t understand the appeal.

Correspondent: But some would argue that cultural journalism is, I suppose, a classier version of celebrity journalism. What do you think?

McAfee: Yeah.

Correspondent: I ask myself this question too. I mean, look, I’ve read the book and I’m trying to tie it into a culture here. And I don’t want it to be about gossip. But at the same time, is this conversation also part of the problem? Even though it’s slightly higher on the brow? (laughs)

McAfee: Somebody said that novels were higher gossip.

Correspondent: (laughs) Yes.

McAfee: That’s the level of celebrity journalism that appeals to me. But yeah, TV stars. Reality TV shows. I mean, I don’t want to go on to that. But that seems to be cheap television and cheap journalism. And I don’t think there’s anything edifying that one gets from it.

Correspondent: Well, the problem we have here too — and this is really frustrating. David Simon, for example, recently said some things in an interview. He didn’t quite express himself very well. But he basically implied that people who didn’t watch The Wire from beginning to middle to end were not watching it according to his vision. And I can totally understand his sentiment. But from my standpoint, I was saying, “Well, this is really nothing to get all that worked up about.” But, of course, television journalists completely flipped out over this and said, “David Simon is being an ass.” And Simon then has to spend an hour of his life talking to this TV critic named Sepinwall, basically clarifying what he was saying, where he was coming from. And this, to my mind, is the epitome. This says nothing about The Wire. It says absolutely nothing about the actual relationship to art. And there were several people — including a New Yorker TV critic on Twitter — who were going off about this. And I was saying to myself, “You know, why are you devoting so much of your energy to try and systematically dismantle and deconstruct a quote that really has no bearing on what David Simon is doing as an artist?” The suggestion I’m making here — and I’m going off on a total tangent and we will get back to your book — is that, well, do you think that cultural journalism might be suffering from the same problems that reality TV, this sensationalistic journalism, is?

McAfee: Oh yes. I do. I find that a lot of interviews — and I know we’re having an interview.

Correspondent: Yeah, I know. It’s very meta here. (laughs)

McAfee: They concentrate on rehashing old stuff. Rehashing cuttings basically. Inquiring, as Tamara does, about affairs, about the personal life and not about the work. And when I was on the Guardian, we started a profile which was an essential interview about a writer or an artist. And the one rule was it was about the work. We don’t care about the personal life. If anyone cares about the personal life, they can read it. They can look it up. They can read it elsewhere. But what’s really interesting is the work. And I find that so much more enriching.

Correspondent: There is one question I have about your husband [Ian McEwan] and you, and it has nothing to do really with the personal. Although it may have something to do with the personal. But we’re talking about purely artistic terms. Okay. One, you’ve got an in-house editor. I’m really curious about how you two work as in-house editors. And, two, I noticed that this book had quite a bit in common with Amsterdam. You have a photo that is released. You have editors who are sacked. And so I wondered first of all if Amsterdam was hovering over you as you were writing this and, second, how do you guys edit each other’s work? That’s all I care about.

McAfee: Well…

Correspondent: Or do you? Or do you leave each other alone?

McAfee: Yes. We do read. I read his work. I’m his first reader with a pencil. And he returned the compliment. In terms of Amsterdam, which I love — it’s a great newspaper novel actually, though it’s guys again. I hadn’t reread it for a while. But I guess any newspaper novel about modern journalism is going to have this scandal element to it. And, in fact, what you ask me is a fairer question, less compromising. When I was on the FT, I was editing the arts and books page. I was invited to the BBC. And it was around the time of the Booker Prize, when the Booker Prize was just going to be announced. The shortlist was going to be announced. And I was asked to come on as a literary editor of the Financial Times. So I turned up. And I’m very nervous on television. And I’m in absolute agony. And I turn up in this bright lit studio. And the guy turns to me and says, “So did you help hubby write the book?” Oh, what do you say? I said, “He’s perfectly capable of writing it himself. Thanks very much. But, nope, he wrote Amsterdam by himself. Unassisted.” As I wrote The Spoiler.

Correspondent: I would have said, “Did your wife help you with that question?”

McAfee: You know, that’s good.

Correspondent: So you guys edit each other’s work. Is there a point where you say, “Hey, hands off, Ian, I’ve got this”? I mean, does he become too vigorous with the pen? Or do you become in turn too vigorous with the pen? How do you keep each other’s hands off? What’s the deal with you guys?

McAfee: Well, it’s very companionable and decent. We both make suggestions and we both know that we’re at liberty to ignore them. Which is what happens. But when I read his first — the first book when we were together was Enduring Love. And I read that. And he asked me. “Be as free as you like and put pencil marks wherever there’s any kind of doubt.” And I was very tentative about it. I mean, I was used to editing for a living. But I was very tentative about hurting things. And I’ve written children’s books.

Correspondent: Yes, I know.

McAfee: I had a children’s book that was just coming out. And so he said, “Oh, I’d like to see that.” And he went through it. And there were pencil marks and suggestions.

Correspondent: (laughs)

McAfee: I thought, “Right. That’s how it’s done. No holds barred.” I went back to Enduring Love and pulled no punches.

Correspondent: (laughs) Wow. Did you pull no punches on the opening scene? I’m curious. No one can…

McAfee: There was no work required. Absolutely. It’s superb.

(Photo: Richard Saker)

The Bat Segundo Show #453: Annalena McAfee (Download MP3)

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Jason Allardyce: How a Sunday Times Journalist Ripped Off Ian Rankin, Bat Segundo, the Observer, and an Australian Producer

On April 24, 2011, the Scottish edition of The Sunday Times published “Rankin admits Twitter addiction” on page 21. It was written by Jason Allardyce, a 40-year-old who was named “Scottish Journalist of the Year” in 2003. His MySpace page states that he likes to go by the name “wolfspider” and that he is based out of Callander. But “wolfspider” is a lonely man. He only has two friends on MySpace: the ever-popular Tom and MySpace UK.

On Easter morning, I knew nothing about Allardyce. A friend had forwarded me this Deadline News report by Peter Laing, in which I recognized quotes identical to my conversation with Ian Rankin on The Bat Segundo Show. The conversation was not accredited. As someone who had investigated the Cooks Source scandal and who remembered the online tarring and feathering, I was appalled that anybody would still consider that ripping off other people’s journalism — even from behind a paywall — would still be okay. But this time, I was on the receiving end for a project that I make little to no money on. For the Rankin show, I had devoted perhaps 25 to 30 hours of my life to reading Rankin’s books, conducting research, interviewing the man for an hour, and mastering the audio. My labor was being exploited. I immediately contacted Laing by email. And on an Easter Sunday, a little less than an hour after I contacted him, he replied back on Twitter:

The Sunday Times? Murdoch’s newspaper? I told people on Twitter about what had happened and asked if anybody could send along the article. And a very friendly pescatarian vegetarian in Scotland going by the name of @SeymourSunshine located the article and photographed it for me.

I transcribed the article. I was stunned to learn that 215 of the 758 words in Jason Allardyce’s article were taken directly and without attribution from my Bat Segundo interview with Ian Rankin. I emailed Alladyce and his editors. And then I discovered that I wasn’t the only one getting played by the wolfspider. An additional 126 words in Allardyce’s article were lifted wholesale and without attribution from two whole paragraphs that Rankin contributed to this Gaby Hinsliff compilation in The Observer from February 13, 2011. To add insult to injury, Allardyce plagiarized a third source, pilfering a good 74 words from this Lisa Zilberpriver piece from World News Australia (January 18, 2010). For all three original pieces that Allardyce has used, a copyright notice was clearly listed on each of the pages.

In other words, Allardyce did not obtain a single original word from his subject for his article.

Ian Rankin was kind enough to confirm with me that nobody from The Times had contacted him. So if we add up the tally, 415 of Allardyce’s 758 words, or 54% of his article, were taken from three separate sources. That’s considerably more words than a famous fair use case here in the States, where The Nation published 300 to 400 words of verbatim quotes from a 500 page Gerald Ford memoir without obtaining permission, was sued, and lost. So that it can all be made clear, here is a breakdown of Allardyce’s liberties (with the unattributed quotes indicated in bold and, for Bat Segundo, the specific times in the program where the words are mentioned):

The writer admitted that Twitter was “taking up more of my life than it should.” [Bat Segundo interview, 27:08-27:09]

He added: “I’ve a kind of addictive personality so I’m always very careful to try to avoid things that can become addictive. [Bat Segundo interview, 27:01-27:06] It’s like a diary. I used to keep a page-a-day diary when I was a kid from the age of 12 till I was 29 and I had to fill up every single page. I couldn’t leave any blank space.” [Bat Segundo interview, 27:49-28:00]

He conquered the diary addiction after moving to America with his wife for six months. [This part is paraphrased from Bat Segundo interview, 28:00-28:30]

But I use Twitter like it, as a kind of memento mori of everything I have done. [Bat Segundo interview, 28:33-28:37] When I started writing a new book, I made a vow to myself that I wouldn’t go near Twitter until the end of the working day and I kept that up for about three weeks. Then, if I stopped for a cup of coffee, I would check Twitter; stop for lunch, check Twitter. I have to be careful about how many people I follow because, having an addictive personality, I feel the need to read every single tweet on the timeline so if I’m following 300 people that’s potentially 300 people’s tweets I’m reading in any one day…. [Bat Segundo interview, 30:24-30:49]

I’ve got to go back and read them all. When I wake up in the morning, I’ll go back to the night before and scroll through the night to find out what people were up to.” [Bat Segundo interview, 30:51-31:00]

Rankin said he went through a stage of having a similar addiction to viewing bids on eBay, and that he cannot play computer games because he believes he would be unable to stop, having gone without sleep as a student in order to play them. “It’s insane,” he said. [Bat Segundo interview, plagiarized paraphrase, “I went through a stage of buying vinyl on eBay, buying records…,” 31:02-31:09; “…if I finished browsing eBay…,” 31:10-31:12; direct “It’s insane,” 31:21-31:22]

He recently wrote: “I work from home and work on my own. Twitter connects me to the outside world, and makes it feel as though I’m in a huge, airy office full of funny, well-informed people.

“It gives me instant news, clever jokes, views, and reactions. Fans of my books can contact me, and I can let them know what I’m up to.

“Twitter is also my diary. I can scroll back through my tweets and recall what I was up to on any particular day. I keep in touch with friends make new ones, renew old acquaintances, and sometimes am even gifted ideas for stories. All from my office chair, in 140 characters – which also makes it a fantastic daily exercise in editing and concision.” (The last three paragraphs taken entirely from this Guardian article.)

Internet addiction is well recognised, and has even led to the residential treatment programmes in America to help people wean themselves from obsessive use of Twitter, eBay, Facebook, texting and video games. Research published last year suggested that the speed and unpredictability offered by social media stimulates dopamine, which can create an addiction to seeking, rather than finding, contact through them. It added that as more people join in, the scope for overuse grows. (Taken from World News Australia article.)

While it is true that Section 30 of the UK Copyright, Designs, and Patents Act of 1988 specifies a fair dealing exception “for the purpose of criticism or review,” the attribution must contain “a sufficient acknowledgment.” Furthermore, according to English law, there’s very little I can do to stop Allardyce or any other person “reporting current events” from infringing upon copyright provided that “it is accompanied by a sufficient acknowledgment.”

What is a sufficient acknowledgement? Well, unlike much of the American tax codes, you can always count on English law to be concise and thorough. Here’s Section 178 of the CDPA:

“sufficient acknowledgment” mean an acknowledgment identifying the work in question by its title or other description, and identifying the author unless—

(a) in the case of a published work, it is published anonymously;

(b) in the case of an unpublished work, it is not possible for a person to ascertain the identity of the author by reasonable inquiry;

It may very well be a common practice for some UK journalists not to provide attribution. But when they don’t, they are clearly breaking the law. And they are exposing the newspapers and outlets that they write for to considerable legal liability. But more important than such legal propriety, it’s just plain rude and antithetical to the spirit of human togetherness.

But Allardyce’s failure to credit any of his original sources extends far beyond the prospect of fair dealing and fair use. His disingenuous usage could be interpreted as an intent to deceive.

Let’s approach the question form a practical position. Why is attribution important? Well, take this UPI report from September 5, 2010. The UPI quotes Cardinal Keith O’Brien: “Our detailed research into BBC news coverage of Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular, together with a systematic analysis of output from the Catholic church, has revealed a consistent anti-Christian institutional bias.” That’s an extraordinary statement. If you’re at all interested in the many opinions, you’ll want to know where it comes from. And the UPI, because it is a responsible service, notes in its article that The Sunday Telegraph first reported the Cardinal O’Brien quote.

Jason Allardyce, on the other hand, doesn’t make such a distinction when he produces the same quote in his article, and he doesn’t attribute The Telegraph. This causes the Richard Dawkins Foundation (where I found Allardyce’s article, now conveniently hiding behind a paywall) to believe that Allardyce is conducting original reporting. This also causes confusion for the BBC, which erroneously reports that Cardinal O’Brien said these words “in an interview with the Sunday Times.” So Allardyce and The Sunday Times gets credit for a quote that they cut and pasted from another newspaper.

Now let’s say that, several years from now, a historian is looking into biases against religion (or the mythical claims of biases) during the early 21st century. The historian will want to go straight to the original source so that she can ensure that the quote and the context is accurate. But if she has to wade through Allardyce’s misleading attribution, this is going to cause needless work for the historian. Allardyce’s misleading attribution also creates the false impression that the Sunday Times was the central place for that news story.

And because Allardyce has published his “article” in a prominent newspaper, with anyone who reads the article believing that the interview comes from him, there’s very little that I can do to get proper credit or compensation.

I have emailed Allardyce the following terms for resolution:

(a) a public apology, both prominently in print and online, for taking my quotes without asking or attributing;

(b) the issuance of a correction, both prominently in print and online, indicating that the Sunday Times and Jason Allardyce lifted quotes from my radio program, along with a URL directed to my site,

(c) a donation of £500 (as compensation for using my quotes and others without permission or attribution) to Reporters Without Borders.

It’s impossible for me to be entirely objective in this report. I am doing the best that I can to keep a level head. Still, in an age where Arianna Huffington insists that it’s “wrong and offensive to insist that HuffPost is exploiting journalists,” the time has come to stand up against anyone who believes that they can get away from stealing anybody’s labor. If ostensible professionals feel that they are above the law and above the decency of community, then what’s the purpose of their collective existence?

[4/26/11 UPDATE: As of Tuesday afternoon (UK time), Jason Allardyce has not returned my telephone calls and emails.]

Why Devin Faraci is Unfit to Practice Journalism

I am generally quite supportive of fledgling cultural sites, both high and low. And it was with this spirit in mind that I took a quick peek at Badass Digest, a new venture run by the Alamo Drafthouse (a venue I wholeheartedly appreciate) and edited by a man named Devin Faraci, whom I now understand to be in the habit of berating people when he can’t get his way. I was unaware of Faraci’s history when I stumbled upon this erroneous report, claiming that director John Carpenter had “suffered a seizure at Florida’s Spooky Empire convention on Saturday October the 8th.” As someone who hopes that John Carpenter lives long enough to turn out a few more films, I was greatly concerned by this apparent “news.”

The problem was that Dread Central, the site that had initially reported this false rumor, got its news wrong. After someone named “Uncle Creepy” has posted the item, Carpenter’s wife had contacted Dread Central, informing the site that Carpenter did not have a seizure in Orlando and that he had collapsed from exhaustion. Dread Central had the decency to include this update (even if it did not change its misleading headline).

Badass Digest’s Devin Faraci didn’t change his headline either. Indeed, even at the onset, Faraci preferred reveling in the news with his tasteless headline, “Okay, Who Showed John Carpenter Rob Zombie’s HALLOWEEN?” (Never mind that, as interviews with both Rob Zombie and John Carpenter demonstrate, Carpenter urged Rob Zombie to make the film his own. One commenter in the thread would later point this out.)

I left this perfectly reasonable comment:

John Carpenter did not suffer a seizure. According to his wife, Carpenter had a flu and was exhausted. Dread Central updated its post. Please try doing some actual reporting (what real badasses do) rather than spreading misinformation like a common amateur.

Faraci responded in the comments:

Hi Ed. Rather than commenting like a common moron, maybe you could have noticed that this article was published on October 11th, before Dread Central updated its post. Yes, Ed, I was publishing content here before it was public. How embarrassing for you to be calling someone else out on an error when you’re in fact completely wrong. Or do you pick up copies of the New York Times from 2007 and become enraged that they refer to President Bush?

Ed, I hope you deal with the personal problems that would lead you to comb through a newly launched blog in an effort to deliver a correction. Or you can get fucked, whichever suits you best.

Never mind that I had observed in my comment that Dread Central had updated its post. I was aware that this was an October 11, 2010 item. But, on October 22, 2010, the item had not corrected the misinformation.

Indeed, as of today, the post still falsely states that Carpenter was “suffering a seizure.”

Why is this important? Well, let’s frame this as a crass thought experiment. Let us suppose that I am the “common moron” that Faraci suggests me to be. As a common moron, I am too busy to look up from my laptop to see that Faraci’s father is being raped with a night stick. Dread Central has reported that Faraci’s father is merely being kissed by another man. There is tangible experience before me that will help me to get a better handle on the story, if not aid the victim — namely, that Faraci’s father is screaming for help. But under the Faraci School, I must not believe anything else but a single source on my computer.

Just as there is a difference between “seizure” and “flu,” there is also a pivotal distinction between “raped” and “kissed.” Faraci’s father, in addition to recovering from a vicious rape that the insensitive “common moron” has failed to report properly (let alone assist in stopping), now has to spend a good deal of time attempting to clear up the misinformation that the alleged journalist has helped to promulgate.

Yet this is precisely the line of reasoning that Faraci promulgated in relation to John Carpenter. Had Faraci been an actual journalist, he would have picked up the phone. He would have called Carpenter’s people. He would have called the Spooky Empire convention. He would have contacted the hotel. He would have enlisted social networks to fish for eyewitness confirmation. He would have called the hospital. He would have talked to a doctor. In short, Faraci would have conducted actual reporting. Confirmation of rumors before reporting them.

All this would have made Faraci a journalist instead of some amateurish hack junketeer who screams at publicists like a petulant infant when isn’t given his rattle and who tells anybody calling out his slipshod standards to get fucked.

Rather than tell Faraci to get fucked, I have attempted to frame his incompetence through a crude patois he might understand. Let me attempt a more dignified approach.

Getting the details right are important. If you don’t believe this to be the case, then your blog — whether newly launched or well established — simply has no right to exist. You have no right to call yourself a news site. You have no right to be taken seriously by anyone.

For what it’s worth, I didn’t comb through Faraci’s site to find the Carpenter error. I stumbled upon it after devoting perhaps 30 seconds of my time to the site. But I think I will take up Faraci’s suggestion in an effort to demonstrate why he is unfit to practice journalism and why Badass Digest is deserving of either death or serious improvement (perhaps through a more capable employee than the incompetent Faraci).

Beyond the ignoble Carpenter gaffe, the real question here is just how much misinformation Devin Faraci can spread in one day. The unsurprising answer — based on going through a random day at Badass Digest (October 22) — is a quite considerable tally.

Adam Green post: Faraci erroneously refers to Hatchet II (Roman numeral) as Hatchet 2.

Green Lantern report: Faraci describes the forthcoming Green Lantern as “the most cosmic superhero movie ever,” proceeding to note that its “scope is so big it spans from the West Coast of the US to a planet at the center of the galaxy.” Aside from the needless hyperbole (which comes, apparently bought and purchased by studios, after Faraci had “visit[ed] the New Orleans set of the film”), if Faraci actually knew what the word “cosmic” meant, he’d understand that its extraterrestrial definition stands in sharp contrast to the earth itself, and that his vapid praise extends to misunderstanding the very modifier in question. But then Faraci is a guy so naive and unquestioning that he sees “life-sized cardboard cut outs of Tomar-Re and Kilowogg, the alien GLs who help train Hal Jordan,” and it never occurs to this incompetent that these cutouts might be red herrings to throw junketeers off. Has Faraci read the script? Has he talked with the director about this issue to get confirmation of Tomar-Re and Kilowogg’s appearances? He has not. But he has talked with the director, although not about any of the information he purports to be true (whether any of his hunches will prove to be the basis for the later report Faraci tends to file is a mystery, but his unwillingness to impart even one quote in support of his assertion should demonstrate his unquestionable indolence). Yet he is more happy to impart that “there was a Sinestro-themed cake for [Mark Strong] at lunch.” Journalism’s just desserts!

It also doesn’t occur to this profoundly naive man that he might have been invited to attend the set precisely because he had expressed his disappointment with footage at Comic Con 2010.

Faraci states that he got “the impression that Johns – the guy who has been writing Green Lantern’s comic book adventures for the past couple of years – was incredibly influential on the tone and direction of the movie.” But he never actually interviews Johns, who is standing right there, or anybody else to confirm that Johns’s Secret Origins storyline was part of the Green Lantern movie. In other words, Faraci is your typical rube taken in by flash and filigree. The writing equivalent of a baby elephant who jumps on his forelegs whenever he sees a bag of peanuts. The dog trained to salivate by Pavlov. One goes to Comic-Con to encounter dweebs like this. That they would believe themselves to be journalists merely by standing within five feet of a notable figure reveals the lax standards of present cultural journalism.

Of course, since “this isn’t the full report,” Faraci “can’t tell you too much.” Which begs the question of why he’s even bothered to file this piece in the first place. Journalism shouldn’t contain secrets. It should contain answers to questions. Quotes. Information that nobody else has. Confirmation of information. We get nothing even close to rudimentary journalism in Faraci’s blog post. But he’s happy to impart some “incredible concept art” that was given to him by the studio, urging his readership to “put this stuff on the side of a van” rather than parse it. Faraci, the used car salesman in action.

Over the Top toy story: Faraci’s lede: “Remember when Sylvester Stallone’s arm wrestling opus Over the Top changed the world for professional arm wrestlers everywhere? Probably not. In fact, if you think about cinematic arm wrestling at all you probably think about The Fly, which came out the year before, and had Jeff Goldblum snapping a fellow’s armbone [sic] through his skin during a heated bar match.” An “armbone,” eh? Is it the humerus? The forearm? Aside from the wretched prose, one is stunned that Faraci would be incapable of being more specific bout what is snapped — particularly since Brundlefly snaps his opponent’s wrist.

This lede offers some clues as to Faraci’s motivations. Here we have an aging man motivated by cinematic nostalgia, circa 1986 and 1987, that most adults have forgotten. (This pathetic nostalgia is also in place when Faraci appraises Black Francis as “one cool guy.”) Indeed, the nostalgia is so contagious that Faraci has only an approximate idea of what he’s seen rather than a working knowledge of it. Then again, this is the same misogynist who writes, “So what did you think of Paranormal Activity 2? Were Katie’s boobs as good as the first?” It is unclear whether Faraci is referring to the actress Katie Featherston or her character. One gets the discomfiting sense that this boob-hunting boob is probably referring to the former. As Joanne McNeil suggested back in September, “If you do something sexist, I think you are as dumb as the creationists. In some cases maybe even dumber.” (And Faraci says that I’m the one with personal problems.)

Faraci is indeed dumb as come. And that stupidity extends to more hypocrisy one post earlier when Faraci points to a double standard (indeed, the one that so many other journalists had brought up earlier in the day) between Mel Gibson being sacked from The Hangover 2 and Mike Tyson, a convicted rapist, appearing in The Hangover without a problem. How can a man, whose primary reason for seeing a horror film is to see if “Katie’s boobs [were] as good as the first,” even attempt to comment on such a moral issue? Faraci even closes his “editorial” by writing, “We love art and entertainment, not gossip and bullshit.”

“Were Katie’s boobs as good as the first?” The Green Lantern report laden with gossip and bullshit? Faraci’s feeble statement couldn’t be anything further from the truth.

Rabbit Hole trailer: “What else is it about? I don’t really want to know; all I need to know is that my buddy Scott Weinberg is quoted on the trailer giving effusive praise. And he’s a horror guy!”

More worthless speculation. Not only does Faraci announce how incurious and lazy he is in finding out more about the movie (“I don’t really want to know”), but the man is relying on a blurb from a suspicious review, in which Weinberg claims Rabbit Hole to be “flawless” and “quite simply, one of the best films I’ve ever seen at a festival.” Such over-the-top praise, coming from either a friend or a stranger, should make any real journalist suspicious. But Faraci, as has been clear all along, isn’t even a real writer. His puny excuse for a mind can’t even perform the most basic investigative inquiry, even if you pushed a pistol into his temple. His writing appears to have been purchased, whether by blind loyalty to a friend or blind loyalty to a studio. He doesn’t have the courtesy to link to Weinberg’s review to provide his audience with context. He doesn’t link to other reviews that might cast the film in a different light. Devin Faraci is no different from a hypnotized conformist staring into the camera, saying, “I loved it. It was much better than Cats. I’m going to see it again and again.”

Faraci also incorrectly italicizes Pulitzer. He refers to the Toronto International Film Festival as the “Toronto Film Festival.”

Spielberg a badass? If Faraci is seriously claiming Steven Spielberg, one of the most mainstream directors, to be capable of delivering “badass sci-fi,” then he clearly has no taste — particularly if he’s holding up War of the Worlds — a movie as safe as a turkey dinner — as a “badass” film.” (He makes no mention of Minority Report, which would arguably be more closer film to “badass” territory. This may be because, while Faraci apparently longs for 1980s nostalgia, his memory is worthless for any film in between what is instantaneously released and the movies he barely remembers from his wasted youth.) With typical illiteracy, Faraci doesn’t even mention Daniel H. Wilson’s name. Wilson is merely “the dude who wrote How to Survive a Robot Uprising, one of those 150 page, double spaced impulse buy novelty books that make people rich while you still work in a cubicle.” On the contrary, Wilson was a doctoral candidate at Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute when he wrote the book. I’m also curious how someone can be an “ex-Buffy alum.” To my knowledge, Drew Goodard hasn’t renounced the widely regarded program which helped to kickstart his writing career. An alumni is a former member of an association. So Drew Goodard is merely a Buffy alum. Devin Faraci again demonstrates how little he comprehends the words he uses. He throws words around like a sad drunk walking into the kitchen and claims to be a culinary expert simply by recklessly swinging a hatchet.

The Spider-Man WTC poster: Once again, Faraci lets sensationalism preside over the facts. This time, he gets several facts wrong about a Spider-Man poster recall. The poster, issued before 9/11, featuring the World Trade Center reflected in Spidey’s eyes. On September 12, 2001 (not September 13, as Faraci claims), Sony issued a letter to theaters, asking:

Due to the devastating events that took place yesterday and out of respect for those involved, Sony Pictures Entertainment is requesting that all Spider-Man teaser posters and trailers be taken down and returned to the studio.

There is nothing in this statement to indicate that Sony wanted these posters to be destroyed, as Faraci suggests. But then what else can you expect from a man who uses the phrase “expense trailer?”

* * *

All of the above occurred during a 24 hour period. I shudder to think how many additional embarrassments I could find, should I decide to waste my life poring through this sad excuse for a website any longer. In one day, Faraci managed to misinform his readers, mangle the English language, fudge the facts, express casual misogyny, wiggle his sycophantic tongue in response to information he didn’t bother to investigate, get movie titles wrong, encourage his readers to blindly consume concept art that a studio fed him, wallow in nostalgia, and epitomize conformist opportunism at nearly every moment.

On August 19, 1896, when Adolph S. Ochs began to manage the New York Times, he published this announcement:

It will be my earnest aim that The New York Times give the news, all the news, in concise and attractive form, in language that is permissible in good society, and give it as early if not earlier, than it can be learned through any other reliable medium; to give the news impartially, without fear or favor, regardless of party, sect, or interest involved; to make of the columns of The New York Times a forum for the consideration of all questions of public importance, and to that end to invite intelligent discussion from all shades of opinion.

It is clear by the evidence that Devin Faraci is not only unwilling, but incapable of living by anything close to this credo. Here is a man who does not have exclusives. He cannot deliver the news impartially. He laps up any half-truth from the studios, living in fear that he will be ejected from screenings and garnering favor so that he won’t (which gives him license to shriek at publicists). He is utterly incapable of considering questions of public importance and, most importantly, incapable of inviting intelligent discussion from all shades of opinion.

Should Mr. Faraci decide to respond to the claims contained in this 3,000 word essay, and I certainly invite him to do so, it is doubtful that he will have much to offer beyond “you can get fucked.” And how does that make him any different from a common thug? How does such erratic behavior, such steadfast sloppiness, and such laughable entitlement make him any more qualified than some random guy plucked from a bar?

The answer is simple: By any standard, Devin Faraci is unfit to practice journalism in any form.

[UPDATE: An earlier version of this post, apparently loaded up from WordPress through a previous draft and not the correct one, misspelled Scott Weinberg’s name at one point as “Feinberg.” That error, noted by a reader, has been corrected. Additionally, Devin Faraci, despite the fact that he told me to “get fucked” on Badass Digest, has decided to ban me from commenting further on Badass Digest. He seems to think that I have started a fight with him or that I’m trying to drum up traffic. He is wrong on both counts. I don’t hate Mr. Faraci. I merely wish for him to examine what he is doing. But any kind of examination along those lines is outside his purview. Mr. Faraci has refused to respond to this article, claiming that I have mental problems and that this post is merely “an epic accounting of my typos.” He is wrong on both counts (again), but, to paraphrase Voltaire, I will defend his right to spout forth what he wishes. Unlike Mr. Faraci, I will let the readers make up their own minds about this article. And unlike Mr. Faraci, I will certainly not tell any commenter responding to this article to get fucked.]

[UPDATE 2: So I step away from the Internet for six hours to live my life, and I return home to find that Devin Faraci is accusing me of spamming his site. When, in fact, I haven’t visited it since he banned me. Again, Mr. Faraci demonstrates that he’s more interested in false accusations than pursuing facts, which continues to support my thesis that he is unfit to practice journalism.]

Steve Weinberg, Russell Carollo, and Christopher Szecheny — Scientology’s Sleazy Bitches

In today’s Washington Post, Howard Kurtz reports the alarming news that three “journalists” — Steve Weinberg, Russell Carollo, and Christopher Szecheny — were paid money by the Church of Scientology to examine the St. Petersburg Times‘s “conduct.” This ad hoc “investigation” was commissioned because the newspaper has devoted considerable resources to examining the ostensible religious organization. But the new study is highly suspect. Weinberg reveals in the article that the final results may be withheld from public dissemination, should the Church not find the report to its liking. And in Weinberg’s case, this condition is especially duplicitous — given that his last book was a volume on the brave journalist Ida Tarbell.

Let’s clarify why this is a dark day for American journalism. A journalist is someone who typically goes out of his way to remain as impartial as he can. If he investigates a story, he is very careful not to accept remuneration from any of the parties involved. He remains ideally a third party. He must, if he is to remain ethical, investigate all sides of the story and remain as transparent as possible.

Numerous newspapers have established codes of ethics, which can be readily perused online.

The New York Times maintains a very solid ethics policy on neutrality, stating:

Staff members and those on assignment for us may not accept anything that could be construed as a payment for favorable coverage or for avoiding unfavorable coverage. They may not accept gifts, tickets, discounts, reimbursements or other benefits from individuals or organizations covered (or likely to be covered) by their newsroom. Gifts should be returned with a polite explanation; perishable gifts may instead be given to charity, also with a note to the donor. In either case the objective of the note is, in all politeness, to discourage future gifts.

Similarly, the Los Angeles Times also maintains rigid standards about conflicts of interest:

Staff members may not enter into business or financial relationships with their sources. Similarly, staff members may not cover individuals or institutions with which they have a financial relationship.

The Associated Press Managing Editors also maintain a Statement of Ethical Principles, noting:

Financial investments by staff members or other outside business interests that could create the impression of a conflict of interest should be avoided.

Thus, by nearly every professional standard, Weinberg, Carollo, and Szecheny have failed. Even if they consider what they do to be “objective,” they have accepted payment from one of the key parties. They have entered into a business relationship with one of their sources. They have willfully thrown away their integrity for these numerous conflicts of interest, taking the Church of Scientology’s money to give it the report that it wants. And the lack of transparency on the Church’s part leads any reasonable outsider to conclude that the motives here are far from noble.

Carollo and Szechenyi explained to Kurtz, “Every entity has the right to receive fair treatment in the press.” And while fairness is certainly a laudable standard, this statement rings hollow when one considers the conditional nature of this pursuit. When Weinberg confesses, “I can certainly use the money these days,” he demonstrates unequivocally what his real motives are. And the whole exercise becomes a willful distortion of journalism, where news stories are sold to the highest bidder. The truly sad thing here is that Weinberg sold out his principles for a pittance — a mere $5,000.

Because of these disgraceful indiscretions, these three men have capitulated their right to be identified as journalists. They no longer have the right to be taken seriously by any major news organization. And if their bylines are to be found within newspapers again, then readers must reject these names as bona-fide upholders of the Fourth Estate.

Paul Fischer: The Unpardonable Hack Who Charmed His Fellow Junketeers

There was once a time — before the Internet, or perhaps not at all — in which film critics conducted themselves with something approximating journalistic standards. It was never very much. These were, after all, film critics — often underpaid, most having lost the capacity to marvel at the frequent cinematic magic playing before their eyes and most lacking the dignity to recuse themselves from professional duties before they soured. But the nagging need to catch up with some perceived discrepancy between the fruitless remuneration from their cold analysis and the wanton luxury enjoyed by film stars, to matter in some arrogant and misguided manner, soon caught up with these desperate crayfish. If you have ever had the misfortune to attend a press screening populated with these types, you will encounter, for the most part, wan and humorless individuals with an insufferable sense of entitlement who announce, in all seriousness and with all the subtlety of a Wlliam Shatner line delivery, the big star that they’ll be talking to for ten minutes tomorrow (is that what they truly live for?) and who check their email in the dark instead of paying attention to the flick, the thing before them that they are, after all, paid to take in.

But no so long ago, fly-by-night pettifoggers who scarfed up every scandalous junket that arrived in their barren laps weren’t taken so seriously. Anyone who violated the vital covenant between journalist and reader was rightly left to rot. And while there remain some individuals devoted to upholding this trust, such as Erik Childress, a man who thankfully shows no reticence in exposing today’s frauds, these golden years, as the Vancouver Sun‘s Chris Parry has sufficiently demonstrated, are now over. The so-called “critics” — most of them now online — who pretend to stand before some shadow of journalistic truth are now defending the diabolical hacks. And they too wish to fatten their gastropathic bellies from the complimentary buffet.

The latest charlatan is Paul Fischer, a man who proved so amoral and so egotistical that he actually plagiarized whole sentences from the Sundance film guide blurb in his “reviews,” believing that he wouldn’t get caught. Parry offered countless examples. And Parry’s invaluable efforts have caused Dark Horizon’s Garth Franklin to take note. Fischer has rightly disappeared into a bottomless pit of his own making. His reviews have been removed.

But the story isn’t over. Because several of Fischer’s pals have lambasted Parry for daring to point out the obvious truth that this Little Lord Fauntleroy wore no clothes. As Parry points out, Edward Douglas, an amental “journalist” I have already taken to task, has declared, “…so what if he uses the OFFICIAL PLOT SYNOPSES from the notes or festival guide. That is what they’re there for, to inform… his actual opinion about the movie is completely his own.” In other words, Douglas is supporting the junket whore’s right to pilfer whole sentences, claiming the work as his own. Cutting and pasting a press release may win you many allies in the publicity department, but it cannot possibly constitute plausible journalism in any form.

But that wasn’t all. Douglas also wrote, again demonstrating his primitive panache for all caps, “but it’s INCREDIBLY UNPROFESSIONAL on the part of the Vancouver Sun to waste its readers’ time with what is essentially an attack on a colleague in the entertainment business.” Really? Is it “incredibly unprofessional” to reprimand Jayson Blair for fabricating a story? Is it “wasting the reader’s time” to steal the hard labor of others and claim it as your own, as Nada Behziz did?

But let us be clear and let us even be liberal. We are not talking about stealing the work of other journalists or even making up a story. It might be sufficiently argued — and it certainly it is within David Shields’s forthcoming book, Reality Hunger — that what writers pilfer isn’t nearly as original as what it seems. Even if you do manage to pull a James Frey and invent details, as odious as Frey’s antics may be, there remains some faulty independent effort to create a narrative. But Paul Fischer couldn’t even do that. He lacked the writer’s basic skill to change even more than a few words from the original source. He was essentially paid by Dark Horizons to do what anyone with a basic understanding of word processing could accomplish in seconds.

And that is why Fischer must be nailed to the wall by anyone who values the written word. He didn’t just betray the reader’s trust. He didn’t just whore himself out to the studios. He didn’t just shit in his own pants because he couldn’t even slap together a decent sentence. Fischer failed at the basic act of writing. He couldn’t even create something. And, as a reporter who couldn’t shoot straight, he failed at the basic act of journalism.

Yet improbably, among some gutless hacks lacking a shred of ethical compunction, Fischer has emerged as some strange dethroned hero. The Independent Eye‘s Vadim Rizov has seriously suggested that the only reason people care about Parry’s article is because of “complaints from filmmakers that negative reviews (since pulled from their host websites) were being propped up with blatant laziness.” Hardly. A film review may not live up to the journalistic value of Woodward and Bernstein, but it is still a piece of journalism, whether it appears in print or online. A reader trusts that the journalist has gone to see a film and has developed an independent opinion about it. If “normal people” didn’t care about such basic trust, then why then would they leave so many comments on Rotten Tomatoes about Armond White’s suspicious contrarianism? Why would Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic Roger Ebert canvass his readers to understand? Why have so many regular Joes flocked to Red Letter Media’s brilliant takedowns of Avatar and The Phantom Menace? Because on some basic level, normal people, contrary to Rizov’s elitism, imbue commentary with a level of trust.

You can blame the system, as Rizov does, all that you want. But you can’t ignore the fact that, in less than a week, 417,215 people have viewed a video review of Avatar performed in a satirical style. That people are flocking in droves to some guy with a creepy voice who has creatively edited together some footage from The Garbage Pail Kids Movie, suggests that the crisis in American film criticism and that the need for trust has reached an unprecedented level. People want to understand why a film does or does not work. They want to have their assumptions challenged. Therefore, it’s incumbent upon film critics to not only explain these nuts and bolts, but to do so in a manner that is ethical and entertaining.

The minute that a film critic or a journalist steps on board a junket plane financed by a big studio, he abdicates his right to call himself a journalist. He surrenders his ability to take in the situation with anything approaching objectivity. And the minute that a figure like Paul Fischer is justified, well, the defender may as well spread his legs, lie back for the Big Five, and call himself a junket whore.

[UPDATE: In fairness to Fischer, it’s worth pointing out that Chris Parry wrote an article in 2004 lambasting Fischer and reporting on a shared history that was not sufficiently disclosed in Parry’s Vancouver Sun article.]

Interview with the FTC’s Richard Cleland

This morning, the Federal Trade Commission announced that its Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials would be revised in relation to bloggers. The new guidelines (PDF) specified that bloggers making any representation of a product must disclose the material connections they (the presumed endorsers) share with the advertisers. What this means is that, under the new guidelines, a blogger’s positive review of a product may qualify as an “endorsement” and that keeping a product after a review may qualify as “compensation.”

These guidelines, which will be effective as of December 1, 2009, require all bloggers to disclose any tangible connections. But as someone who reviews books for both print and online, I was struck by the inherent double standard. And I wasn’t the only one. As Michael Cader remarked in this morning’s Publishers Marketplace:

The main point of essence for book publishers (and book bloggers) is the determination that “bloggers may be subject to different disclosure requirements than reviewers in traditional media.” They state that “if a blogger’s statement on his personal blog or elsewhere (e.g., the site of an online retailer of electronic products) qualifies as an ‘endorsement,'” due to either a relationship with the “advertiser” or the receipt of free merchandise in the seeking of a review, that connection must be disclosed.

ftcIn an attempt to better understand the what and the why of the FTC’s position, I contacted Richard Cleland of the Bureau of Consumer Protection by telephone, who was kind enough to devote thirty minutes of his time in a civil but heated conversation. (At one point, when I tried to get him to explicate further on the double standard, he declared, “You’re obviously astute enough to understand what I mean.”)

Cleland informed me that the FTC’s main criteria is the degree of relationship between the advertiser and the blogger.

“The primary situation is where there’s a link to the sponsoring seller and the blogger,” said Cleland. And if a blogger repeatedly reviewed similar products (say, books or smartphones), then the FTC would raise an eyebrow if the blogger either held onto the product or there was any link to an advertisement.

What was the best way to dispense with products (including books)?

“You can return it,” said Cleland. “You review it and return it. I’m not sure that type of situation would be compensation.”

If, however, you held onto the unit, then Cleland insisted that it could serve as “compensation.” You could after all sell the product on the streets.

But what about a situation like a film blogger going to a press screening? Or a theater blogger seeing a preview? After all, the blogger doesn’t actually hold onto a material good.

“The movie is not retainable,” answered Cleland. “Obviously it’s of some value. But I guess that my only answer is the extent that it is viewed as compensation as an individual who got to see a movie.”

But what’s the difference between an individual employed at a newspaper assigned to cover a beat and an individual blogger covering a beat of her own volition?

“We are distinguishing between who receives the compensation and who does the review,” said Cleland. “In the case where the newspaper receives the book and it allows the reviewer to review it, it’s still the property of the newspaper. Most of the newspapers have very strict rules about that and on what happens to those products.”

In the case of books, Cleland saw no problem with a blogger receiving a book, provided there wasn’t a linked advertisement to buy the book and that the blogger did not keep the book after he had finished reviewing it. Keeping the book would, from Cleland’s standpoint, count as “compensation” and require a disclosure.

But couldn’t the same thing be said of a newspaper critic?

Cleland insisted that when a publisher sends a book to a blogger, there is the expectation of a good review. I informed him that this was not always the case and observed that some bloggers often receive 20 to 50 books a week. In such cases, the publisher hopes for a review, good or bad. Cleland didn’t see it that way.

“If a blogger received enough books,” said Cleland, “he could open up a used bookstore.”

Cleland said that a disclosure was necessary when it came to an individual blogger, particularly one who is laboring for free. A paid reviewer was in the clear because money was transferred from an institution to the reviewer, and the reviewer was obligated to dispense with the product. I wondered if Cleland was aware of how many paid reviewers held onto their swag.

“I expect that when I read my local newspaper, I may expect that the reviewer got paid,” said Cleland. “His job is to be paid to do reviews. Your economic model is the advertising on the side.”

From Cleland’s standpoint, because the reviewer is an individual, the product becomes “compensation.”

“If there’s an expectation that you’re going to write a positive review,” said Cleland, “then there should be a disclosure.”

But why shouldn’t a newspaper have to disclose about the many free books that it receives? According to Cleland, it was because a newspaper, as an institution, retains the ownership of a book. The newspaper then decides to assign the book to somebody on staff and therefore maintains the “ownership” of the book until the reviewer dispenses with it.

I presented many hypothetical scenarios in an effort to determine where Cleland stood. He didn’t see any particular problem with a book review appearing on a blog, but only if there wasn’t a corresponding Amazon Affiliates link or an advertisement for the book.

In cases where a publisher is advertising one book and the blogger is reviewing another book by the same publisher, Cleland replied, “I don’t know. I would reserve judgment on that. My initial reaction to it is that it doesn’t seem like a relationship.”

Wasn’t there a significant difference between a publisher sending a book for review and a publisher sending a book with a $50 check attached to it? Not according to Cleland. A book falls under “compensation” if it comes associated with an Amazon link or there is an advertisement for the book, or if the reviewer holds onto the book.

“You simply don’t agree, which is your right,” responded Cleland.

Disagreement was one thing. But if I failed to disclose, would I be fined by the FTC? Not exactly.

Cleland did concede that the FTC was still in the process of working out the kinks as it began to implement the guidelines.

“These are very complex situations that are going to have to looked at on a case-by-case basis to determine whether or not there is a sufficient nexus, a sufficient compensation between the seller and the blogger, and so what we have done is to provide some guidance in this area. And some examples in this area where there’s an endorsement.”

Cleland elaborated: “I think that as we get more specific examples, ultimately we hope to put out some business guidance on specific examples. From an enforcement standpoint, there are hundreds of thousands of bloggers. Our goal is to the extent that we can educate on these issues. Looking at individual bloggers is not going to be an effective enforcement model.”

Cleland indicated that he would be looking primarily at the advertisers to determine how the relationships exist.

[UPDATE: One unanswered concern that has emerged in the reactions to this interview is the degree of disclosure that the FTC would require with these guidelines. Would the FTC be happy with a blanket policy or would it require a separate disclosure for each individual post? I must stress again that Cleland informed me that enforcement wouldn’t make sense if individual bloggers were targeted. The FTC intends to direct its energies to advertisers. Nevertheless, I’ve emailed Cleland to determine precisely where he stands on disclosure. And when I hear back from him, I will update this post accordingly.]

[UPDATE 2: Cleland hasn’t returned my email. But his response in this article in relation to Twitter (“There are ways to abbreviate a disclosure that fit within 140 characters”) suggest that bloggers will be required to disclose per post/tweet.]

[UPDATE 3: A commenter has suggested: Why not return or forward all the review copies that you receive directly to Mr. Cleland?]

[UPDATE 4: In an October 8, 2009 interview with Fast Company, Cleland has backpedaled somewhat, claiming that the $11,000 fine is not true and indicating that the FTC will be “focusing on the advertisers.” The problem is that page 61 of the proposed guidelines clearly states, “Endorsers also may be liable for statements made in the course of their endorsements.” And endorsers, as we have established in this interview, include bloggers. However, Cleland is right to point out that the guidelines do not point to a specific liability figure and that it would take a blogger openly defying a Cease & Desist Order to enact penalties. The Associated Press was the first to report the $11,000 fine per violation. Did somebody at the AP misreport the penalty information? Or was it misinterpreted?

Some investigation into FTC precedents would suggest that the AP reported these concerns correctly. Here are some precedents for the up to $11,000 fine per violation: non-compliance of wedding gown label disclosure, non-compliance of contact lens sellers, and an update to the federal register. On Monday, the FTC precedents establish heavy penalties for non-compliance, the the guidelines themselves specify penalties as endorsers, and Cleland insists that bloggers who review products are “endorsers.” On Wednesday, Cleland now claims that bloggers won’t be hit by penalties. The FTC needs to be extremely specific about this on paper, if it expects to allay these concerns. (Thanks to Sarah Weinman for reporting assistance on this update.)]

2009 is Boring By Comparison

At the bash at Jimmy’s that Warner Brothers records gave for Alan Price (he wrote the score for “O Lucky Man!” and performs in the film), Malcolm McDowell’s cock was the center of attraction. The wife of a rock writer couldn’t take her eyes off of his pants and she said she’d give a year of her life to be with Malcolm — in them. Malcolm posed for photos with Alice Cooper. Alice wore teeny hot pants which showed his inverted belly-button and little else. He said the last film he saw was “Sleuth” and he had to take it easy because a fan got him in the head with a tequila bottle in Texas.

Ed McCormack of Rolling Stone sat on the floor and showed off his Russ Tamblyn haircut. Fran Lebowitz of Inter/view sat on a barstool and showed off her new figure. Alan Price sloshed up to Jude Jade O’Brien and tried to convince her that ignorant people will understand “O Lucky Man!” and Jude said that everyone in the world is ignorant and Alan called her a snob and Jude yawned in his face. Jude, earlier, asked Malcolm McDowell if his bedroom had a mirror on the ceiling. Lindsay Anderson looked uncomfortable. An r&r man vomited while talking to Alice Cooper and Alice said it was cool and they continued as if nothing had happened. A stench filled the corner of the room. Lisa Robinson left the party. Everybody left the party, except six people, who talked about the sweetness of Malcolm. The joints came out.

From “Hype! Hype! Hooray!” by Arthur Bell, The Village Voice, June 21, 1973, p. 12.

Yes, you can now find the Village Voice inside Google News Archive Search results. 3,000 word columns devoted to science fiction, Andrew Sarris reporting from Cannes, Jill Johnston’s feminist columns. It’s certainly a lot more exciting than anything published in newspapers today. Or even anything published in Salon or the Huffington Post. We’re all pussies by comparison. Yes, people were actually paid to write this stuff. And here’s the thing. They were encouraged to take chances. Do you want to save newspapers? Do you want to save culture? Do you want to save the publishing industry? Well, take a trip down Memory Lane and see what used to be done. It would certainly be a start. Also, grow some balls.

RIP Walter Cronkite

Walter Cronkite died on Friday. He was great and irreplaceable. The last living newsman that America could trust, save perhaps Jimmy Breslin. One views the above clip in our present age of “journalists” relying on unconfirmed Twitter feeds and green-tinted avatars, and TMZ staffers shredding every form of privacy and decency to take cred for some haphazard scrap of dirty underwear, and it is almost inconceivable for any network television anchor to now state, as Cronkite once did, “This is a rumor. This we do not know for a fact.” As Salon’s Glenn Greenwald observed yesterday, one wonders why today’s “journalists” lack the basic ability to question the present government actions (the job now falls on guys like Matt Taibbi, venturing into onyx territory that those on the Goldman Sachs payroll will work very hard to keep unlighted). One ponders the paucity of courage among present newspaper editors — that failure to pursue a vital story that an executive might shoot down because an advertiser or another interest declares it “unprofitable.” Gutless men like David Bradley are now in the business of defending sick and sleazy occasions for egregious payola, which are canceled not because of inherent standards or basic decency, but because the publicists are tracking popular opinion.

Walter Cronkite’s death should not be a time for treacly tributes. It is a wake-up call. We must do better.

For Cronkite defied these Bernaysian impulses not because of pride, but because it was his duty. In Cronkite’s time, it was the journalist’s job to question everything, provide dependable veracity, and present vital information for the public to consider. But today’s anchormen and editors are more concerned about money. When there’s a mortgage and a college tuition to pay off, the “journalist” knows damn well where his bread is buttered. He knows precisely who to keep from the spotlight, and he knows precisely how to maintain those banalities that Jimmy Breslin once called felonious and that are now commonplace. Small wonder that the papers are dying. They can neither be read nor trusted.

So let’s forget all the speculative vapidity about who the Walter Cronkite of the blogosphere will be. Let’s forget all this trite talk of broadcast network news’s ostensible “golden age” during the 1960s and the 1970s. Cronkite’s gone. Why should we have to settle for halcyon pipe dreams when our many problems demand golden journalism today?

Three Producers Fired from American News Project?

I received a tip that three producers at the American News Project had been fired. The American News Project is directed by Nick Penniman, who also serves as the Executive Director of the Huffington Post Investigative Fund. The Investigative Fund was only just announced by Arianna Huffington back in April.

I managed to get associate producer Lagan Sebert on the phone, who sounded a bit nervous. He told me that he could neither confirm nor deny that there were firings, but indicated that there may possibly be an announcement. I then asked if there was anybody in authority there who I could speak of to clear up the news. He returned to the phone and told me, “I can’t say anything.” He suggested that I get in touch with Penniman directly. And I have sent an email to Mr. Penniman. I will update this post if I learn anything.

The Bat Segundo Show: Arthur Phillips

Arthur Phillips appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #288.

Arthur Phillips is most recently the author of The Song is You.

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Condition of Mr. Segundo: Reconsidering the playlists and those who play him.

Author: Arthur Phillips

Subjects Discussed: Characters who are enslaved to culture, partisan positions in relation to hoarding facts, being in denial about larger arguments within novels, Nabokov’s Lectures on Literature, aesthetic concerns, muses and playing against reader expectations, the myth of an author’s personal connection, listening to headphones, ghosts and Jeopardy experiences gone awry, personal experience and lies within fiction, speculating on the specific conditions in which a man can be a muse, being a male model and a musician, the myth of writing what you know, getting excited about emotion, the distance required to contend with a fictive location, the wall between the personal and the artistic, the magic souffle, predicting 2009 weather in New York, reading time, the danger of boredom, William Gaddis’s The Recognitions, outlines and improvisation, reinventing the wheel, the little changes within a manuscript vs. changing as a writer, the value of urgency, being a metaphorical roofer and upholsterer, Re-Flex’s “The Politics of Dancing,” and the crazy amounts of money one must pay to republish lyrics.

EXCERPT FROM SHOW:

arthurphillipsCorrespondent: If we’re talking about time, there’s also the notion of reader’s time. And as a stylist, you have some control over how frequently or how long or how short the reader’s going to turn the page. When I read your book, I found numerous passages when I would slow down. And then when dialogue would bump up, particularly with the scenes with the cop, it then sped up.

Phillips: Right.

Correspondent: And so I’m curious. If time on a structural level was important, I’m curious if there was any importance you placed in terms of thinking of the reader and thinking of this notion of how fast the reader’s going to turn the page?

Phillips: That’s such a great question. And on one hand, I want to say, “Jeez, I wish I had more conscious — and I will vow in the future to have more conscious — understanding of those technical matters.” On the other hand, it seems a little impossible to control. Well, not just a little. It’s entirely impossible. I think any time you start getting into what does the reader or what does a reader expect, react to, experience, you’re doomed. I mean, you’re just — it can’t be. If you have one or ten or a hundred or ten thousand or a hundred million readers, they’re just different. And this is just so obvious that it’s just not saying anything. But it says everything. Because if everybody’s going to have a slightly different reaction, even taking a smaller subset of the people who “like” it, they’re going to all have a different reaction. You can’t plan for them. So the only reader that you can really have much planning for is yourself. At which point, I don’t really have to think very consciously about “I need to speed it up here, I need to slow it down here.” All I have is the feeling of “I’m bored.” And so when I’m writing and I go back and I read the draft, I say, “Oh this is just — I’m just bored.” Something has to happen here that is different from what’s happening. Because I don’t like it. And then at the end of it, when I’ve gone and I’ve done that twenty-five times, and I say, “I like the whole thing,” then it’s done.

Correspondent: Well, to deflate my own interlocutory souffle…

Phillips: (laughs)

Correspondent: I should point out that this may very well be the difference between having lots of dialogue and having lots of imagery. I guess the question here is how intuitive is it really. I mean, when you’re getting lost in a long sentence, whether as a writer or even as a reader, you’re going to be aware of the slowness. Or maybe you’re lost in such a fugue state that there really is no sense of time.

Phillips: Right. I’m reading The Recognitions right now and…

Correspondent: First time?

Phillips: First time.

Correspondent: Oh wow.

Phillips: And I’m having all kinds of temporal feelings about that book as I work with it. There are times when I am lost in a fugue state, although not often enough for my taste. And often I’m feeling, “I think Gaddis was lost in a fugue state. And I just can’t join him for some reason.” I don’t know that it’s just images and dialogue. I think that you can have some very impenetrable, hard-to-wrestle-with dialogue. And actually that’s what brings The Recognitions to mind. Because there are passages. Long passages.

Correspondent: The party scenes, I know.

Phillips: You know, there’s a forty page party scene with almost nothing but dialogue. And you have to go, “Oh wait a minute. Is this the same person who four pages earlier was talking? And where is that in relation to the little girl asking for sleeping pills?” And all the rest of it. So it goes on and on. So you can have some very slow-moving dialogue. And actually I was thinking about Gaddis writing that in ’55, and Nabokov in some period around the same time doing one of his customary unappealing little digs at novels that are all dialogue, and thinking, “I wonder if he read this, looked at it, had any feeling about this, would have included or excluded it from that grouping.” Generally speaking, light dialogue goes faster than description or internal thought. But not necessarily, I guess is the short answer. I could have said “Not necessarily” about fifteen minutes ago.

Correspondent: (laughs) That’s all right.

Phillips: There you go. Just cut it down to the dialogue.

BSS #288: Arthur Phillips (Download MP3)

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The Covenant

Some years ago, not long after Herb Caen’s death, I decided to make a series of pilgrimages to the San Francisco Public Library to dust my hands and wrangle microfilm. I had known Caen’s three dot columns for some time. Or, at least, I thought I had known. When Caen passed away, as others dwelt on his coinage of “beatnik” and “Baghdad by the bay,” I felt that it was my civic duty as a San Franciscan to begin at the beginning, which very few at the time had thought to do.

As it turned out, in the late 1930s, Caen had started off as a nightlife columnist, attending swank parties and banging out his observations. What’s rather amazing about this old school epoch is that the newspapers once hired about five or six guys to go around town like this. They’d drink a good deal at upscale hot spots and write columns about their social engagements late into the night as their heads crashed with the competing crassitude of too much gin. When scanning through the microfilm rolls for Caen’s words, I was stunned to see photographs of other dapper gentlemen next to other columns. And I suspect that, beyond the prohibitive cost of scanning and providing all this online, the newspapers may not want you to know that they once actually paid whole armies of columnists of this ilk. This was, in short, a newspaper in which plentiful voices were represented, even on a seemingly pedantic subject. Here was a cadre of niche-specific columnists gathered together under one umbrella. And with multiple newspapers in town, there was a healthy competitive spirit that encouraged the columnists to do better.

You might say that these columnists were the bloggers of their time. And Caen, with his little snippets, certainly reflected the compact summation that Izzy Stone would later offer by mail and bloggers would later present through the roundup format (which has subsequently gravitated to Twitter, where the act of reader engagement becomes more explicit). But these columnists were different because there was an odd journalistic quality attached to these activities. You’d think that columns about running into dilettantes and drinking martinis would be somewhat superficial. But despite this emphasis on swank social tableaux, Caen always had a good eye for observation. He noted odd conversations and paid attention to the details around him. And he did this without belittling what could easily be belittled. (To compare this with the present epoch, we’re now expected to see a report of a party or an event from some snarky Gawker type. Easy targets are eyed and assessed. But what do we really learn about how this world works? Does Gawker really have the longer view in mind? Would it not be better if it dared to detail or if it dared to establish an off-the-record trust with which to convey the scene?) Because Caen was able to establish a trust with the social scene he was documenting, he was able to acquire details and, decades later, his columns remain immensely helpful. For instance, I learned from these old columns that there had been a chain of stores called the Martha Washington Candy Shop. (This was essentially the See’s Candies of its day.) The chain had inexplicably folded and there simply wasn’t any information about it on the Internet. So I began jotting down all of these details, compressing them into months and putting them all into a short-lived blog that I called Raising Caen.

Herb Caen, as we all know, became indelibly associated with the San Francisco Chronicle. He was a revered figure (and many attempted to cajole or influence him) because of his details, and because of his voice. There hasn’t really been a Chronicle columnist on that level since. Unless you count Mark Morford (Steve Outing draws the line), who provides an often frenetic metrosexual voice to the Chron. Hiring Violet Blue was a step in the right direction. The vanilla newspaper simply had to come to terms with the fact that they were circulating in a sex-friendly metropolis. But here’s the thing about Morford and Blue. Neither of them are particularly good at using their voices to get at those important details about a location or an event. Blue does interview people from time to time, but opts for a predictable Q&A format. What if her editors pushed her to give us multiple sources or a description of a scene? What if an editor demanded that Blue provided those vital details that made Caen a draw? As for Morford, his problem is that he is so caught up with wild conceptual approaches and stunts that we often don’t get a sense of Morford either (a) in the thick of things or (b) engaging directly with the community. (The alternatives to this, of course, are the dutiful Matier and Ross, the bland and voiceless Debra J. Saunders, and dependable cultural columnists like Tim Goodman. But what has caused this schism between voice and journalist? Why must it be an either-or proposition?) The newspaper columnist, who once served as a vital chronicler and detailer, is now viewed as an apparent draw only in so much as she can present a perspective. The columnist, in turn, deals with the public through letters and emails.

But perspective, as important as it is, simply isn’t enough. What made Caen such a local household name was his ability to include his readership within his columns. If he found a particular morsel, he would always attribute the reader who included it. His readers therefore felt a level of engagement.

One must therefore ask why Roger Ebert, aside from his television work and his Pulitzer Prize, remains such a household name with the Chicago Sun-Times. It is because he also engages directly with his readers. Consider his blog. Read through the comments and you will find Ebert personally responding to comments in bold. Ebert, like Caen, knows that a columnist’s responsibility involves engaging with his readers. What has changed, however, is the manner in which that engagement is presented to the public. What was once a series of private exchanges now becomes open to public scrutiny and dissection. But by including the readers in the manner that he does, Ebert offers his readership a place for their own ideas. His site remains a draw. Trolls are discouraged and a spirit of civil disagreement is maintained because the readers know that Ebert may respond to their comments.

In the past several days, many have fawned over Clay Shirky’s “Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable,” as if Shirky’s obvious and belabored points about newspapers failing to seize the possibilities of the Internet were new. What Shirky fails to observe in his section on micropayments is that Paul Krugman was, in fact, a big draw for the New York Times. When Krugman was behind a paywall, there were ways of obtaining his column. An informed perspective seemed to matter. And this wasn’t all that dissimilar to the rampant Dave Barry piracy with which Shirky initiates his essay. For that matter, we must ask whether those who clipped out columns (and there were many who did this in the pre-Internet days) were any less piratical than those who pass along a link to an article by email or Twitter. The information, I suspect, has always wanted to be free, even before this notion became a hip catchphrase. It’s wanted to be free whether a second-hand newspaper swiped from a cafe or a printout of a microfilm decades later. The real question is whether the columnist is fulfilling a public need. And by “public need,” I am not necessarily referring to a mass market. (A recent Minnesota Post article pointed to small local papers still doing well. The number of adults reading small community newspapers actually increased from 81% in 2005 to 86% in 2008.) The real question is why newspapers have failed to provide an atmosphere in which tomorrow’s Dave Barry or Herb Caen might be allowed a voice.

Small wonder then that readers have turned to blogs as a substitute for this. Indeed, since expanding the word count of these posts, I have seen readers refer to my posts as “columns,” as if I am fulfilling some journalistic duty that I did not anticipate. I leave the comments open to everyone and permit anyone to take me to task, if they must. But some of the more heavily trafficked blogs have not, contrary to Caen or Ebert, respected the readership like this. Love or hate Boing Boing, one of its key appeals involves massive strings of comments attached to each post. But Teresa Nielsen Hayden’s egregious disemvoweling strikes me as anti-communal and disrespectful of the readership. This autocratic arrogance is not advancing the case for trust between columnist and reader. And it’s just as bad on other sites. There was a time when, if you want to leave a comment at one of the Gawker sites, you were expected to “audition” for it. (Thankfully, this control has been relaxed.) There is, in these sites, a fundamentally antidemocratic act of disengagement. The commenter must humble herself to the blogger, and not vice versa. All of this fails to acknowledge the fundamental democratic ripple floating from from the undulations spawned by any newspaper columnist.

Shirky is right to point out how the exclusive informational terrain of newspapers has transformed. A specific journalistic item can be disseminated in a 140 character tweet, and it’s no longer new news. CNN’s scrolling news ticker has likewise suggested that audiences want their news in capsule form. But the successful journalism at Talking Points Memo works because the investigative process is now a part of the relationship between journalist and reader. This approach now permits a journalist to carry out his work and to obtain helpful tips with which to pursue a story. The reader, again, is engaged with the process. And instead of print people and bloggers seeing this dramatic shift in the presentation of information as an opportunity to do better and to attract a greater readership, they have instead declared war on each other. The Washington Post‘s Kathleen Parker writes a vitriolic column bemoaning the “drive-by pundits” who are pointing to the deficiencies of present journalism. A South by Southwest panel labeled “New Think for Old Publishers” sees publishers who aren’t providing new information to a paying crowd, but demanding this information from the audience. Instead of the print people listening to the criticisms and learning from these developments, they ignore them and refuse to listen. And the bloggers, in turn, don’t always consider that there are virtues in long-form journalism. In many cases, they wish to tap-dance on the hospital bed of the dead tree patient succumbing to a terminal cancer. (Jeff Jarvis is by far the worst offender in this regard.)

And when Shirky declares

Round and round this goes, with the people committed to saving newspapers demanding to know “If the old model is broken, what will work in its place?” To which the answer is: Nothing. Nothing will work. There is no general model for newspapers to replace the one the internet just broke.

the idea-slinging optimist in me wants to muzzle the man. Nothing will work? Really? Is it possible that the medium itself doesn’t matter? Will the Seattle Post-Intelligencer‘s investigative work be any lesser because the newspaper is now only available online? (Indeed, the big question is whether or not the Post-Intelligencer becomes self-sustaining if the costs of print production are reduced. As Nicholas Carlson recently suggested, it would cost the New York Times twice as much to print and deliver the newspaper in one year than it would to send every subscriber a Kindle.) If the local papers in Minnesota are attracting more readers, might it not have something to do with this broken covenant between the reader and the journalist? Might it not have to do with the information itself? Have newspapers seen their subscription base dropped because they have failed to respect the readers? And have bloggers been hindered from teaming up along the lines of the 1930s nightlife columnists because this has become a zero sum game predicated on one’s authority and rank on Technorati? Are bloggers and newspapers guilty in not respecting the old covenant?

The New York Times‘s dreadful practice of referring to a “well-known consumerist blog” without citing the URL that first established the connection runs counter to this spirit of connectivity, and the demands of the covenant. Technology chipped away at the verdigrised armor that we all begrudgingly accepted before the Internet spawned what Parker refers to as “drive-by pundits.” And I suppose this is the fruit of Shirky’s “unthinkable” proposition: the idea that print and online journalists might join forces and a more effective economic model will emerge. Because a fusion of voice, the journalist-reader covenant, and investigative journalism will become a must-read central point for all concerned parties.

When Maureen Dowd fixates on Michelle Obama’s biceps, she is breaking the covenant. When Lee Siegel impersonates a reader and leaves a comment in a desperate effort to feed his own hubris, he is breaking the covenant (indeed, so much so that he should not be invited to be part of the process). When Jeff Jarvis or a clueless publisher lets ego get in the way of listening to what somebody else has to say, they are breaking the covenant. The readers are intelligent and they want to be engaged. They want others to synthesize the information so that they, in turn, can synthesize it. They look to any columnist or journalist or blogger and they want to be engaged and challenged. They want voice and they want to be a part of the process.

The nice thing about the covenant is that it doesn’t necessarily mean that the journalist has to capitulate to the readership. The journalist can be as subjective or as wild as she needs to be. The only part of the deal is this: The journalist must listen. Particularly to the points of view that seem unseemly.

NBCC Rumormongers About Washington Post

Late Friday, the National Book Critics Circle demonstrated its commitment to accuracy by reporting a rumor that The Washington Post Book World was closing up shop. Instead of picking up the phone or talking directly with the appropriate people at the Washington Post or committing any elementary act of journalism, Eric Banks saw fit to create a wave of panic through the online world by suggesting that “a reliable source” was reporting that Marcus Brauchli was recommending to the board that Book World be eliminated. The unconfirmed rumor was likewise disseminated by Scott McLemee, who claimed that “a prominent young American historian” had told him the same thing.

By the way, a dancing leprechaun has been tapping me on my shoulder all afternoon about this. I know he doesn’t work at the Post, but trust me, he’s right about all this, even if he still can’t find his Lucky Charms.

All this, of course, was erroneous. Because nothing has been announced and nothing has been confirmed directly with the appropriate people. And Brauchli was then forced to email Jane Ciabattari to set the record straight. He informed Ciabattari, “We are absolutely committed to book reviews and coverage of literature, publishing and ideas in The Post. Our readership has a huge interest in these areas.”

And instead of Ciabattari, McLemee, and Banks offering an apology for reporting a false rumor, or even putting up a retraction so that readers would know that the news was phony, Ciabattari merely annotated her post with a doubting “Fingers crossed.” When, in fact, it has not been established by anyone that The Washington Post Book World will be closing up shop.

For what it’s worth, I have contacted individuals at the Washington Post in an effort to obtain correct information about what is going on. Rather than dealing with third-hand information or playing a game of telephone, I think it’s important for all “journalists” to stick with established facts. Should I learn anything hard and specific, I will certainly report it here. It’s worth pointing out that what Brauchli may have in mind is similar to what happened with the Los Angeles Times: folding the current material into the daily sections. But since I haven’t heard anything from anyone, all we have right now is speculation. I invite Mr. Brauchli to contact me directly, in an effort to confirm any short-term or long-term plans for what he has in store for his newspaper.

[UPDATE: Politico’s Michael Calderone is claiming that “[h]igh-level discussions about ending Book World have indeed taken place, according to a Post source with knowledge of the talks.”]

[UPDATE 2: Sources within The Washington Post indicate that some reorganization is now in effect and that all inquiries on this subject need to be directed to Marcus Brauchli.]

The Bat Segundo Show: Norah Vincent

Norah Vincent appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #258.

Norah Vincent is most recently the author of Voluntary Madness.

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Condition of Mr. Segundo: Challenging pseudonymous authorities about his voluntary commitment.

Author: Norah Vincent

Subjects Discussed: The Lanterman-Petris-Short Act, homelessness and mental health care, the revolving door of mental institutions, Marvin Olasky and community responsibility, the bureaucratic process of mental health care, why Vincent didn’t break down the costs of staying in pseudonymous institutions, the unwillingness of Vincent’s health care provider to have Vincent pay for her stay in these institutions, experiential journalism vs. objective journalism, the trouble with corroborating stories within Vincent’s books, setting limits and journalistic ethics, quibbling with the term “diagnosis,” the distinction between psychotics and psychopathics, care for dangerous people, antipsychotic drugs, counseling vs. drugs, empirical solutions vs. medical expertise without arrogance, the moral question of whether or not doctors should inform psychopathics about the effects of drugs, the issue of consent in medicine and journalism, whether regular “reality checks” can help a psychotic improves her mental condition, and happiness vs. getting better.

EXCERPT FROM SHOW:

nvincentCorrespondent: You quibble with the term “diagnosis.” You write, “There are no diagnoses in psychiatry. Only umbrella terms for observed patterns of complaint, groupings of symptoms given names, and oversimplified, and assigned what are probably erroneous causes because these erroneous causes can be medicated. And then both the drug and the supposed disease are made legitimate, and thus the profession as well as the patient legitimized, too, by those magical words going hand in hand to the insurance company ‘Diagnosis’ and ‘It’s not your fault.’” But if there are no diagnoses in psychiatry, well, where is the starting point? I mean, obviously, you have to start somewhere and identify a particular problem — even on a simplistic level — in order to help another person. So what of this?

Vincent: Well, yeah, that’s the difficulty, I guess. Right now, we don’t have a test that can tell you, “You’ve got bipolar disorder” or you’ve got any number of all these so-called illnesses. Which I don’t doubt are real entities. Clearly, when you see enough of these patients, you see the patterns that they’re describing. And people who are schizophrenic tend to be paranoid. All these various things that — it’s not that the groupings are illegitimate in that way or the observations are wrong. It’s just that it does leave an enormous gray area. And it means that you can diagnose somebody as having this thing without any really concrete way of knowing that they do, in fact, have it. And I do think that can lead to a lot of problems. Such as, for example, people again have written a lot about the way that diagnoses of depression have, I don’t know, tripled in the last ten or fifteen years. And I think you have to ask yourself how many of those people have something that’s a pathological depression. Or is it a situational depression? Not being able to distinguish between those two things is, I think, problematic.

Correspondent: We’re talking then largely about the specific difference between someone who is psychotic, who is merely someone who cannot properly distinguish between their reality and their imagination and their dreams, and is not necessarily violent, versus someone who is psychopathic. Who is going to be prone to violent behavior and the like. Certainly there has to be some degree in which we have to prevent people from harming themselves or harming other particular people. I agree with you that “psychotic” does, in fact, get a bad rap. But nevertheless, there is this larger term of people who are, in fact, going to be committing violent behavior. So I’m wondering. Why quibble with the notion, as you do in one of the interim moments in the book, about this impression between so-called psychotics in movies and everything? When, in fact, there are dangerous people out there.

Vincent: Oh yeah. And there’s no question that, right now, medication and, in some cases, putting these people into an environment where they can’t hurt people is all that we have. It’s the best that we have right now. I would hope that someday we would have medications, for example, that can specifically address what’s going wrong in the brain of a schizophrenic person. And that’s just something we don’t have right now. We don’t know. We don’t understand the mechanisms of schizophrenia. Or what appears to be. There again is the question. Well, you may appear to be schizophrenic. But without a test that can tell us, we don’t actually know whether you are or not. Or whether you’re manifesting symptoms that may be entirely something else. An allergy. I mean, think about if you were to go to the hospital and say, “I’m having terrible chest pains.” And you were assuming you were having a heart attack. And there was no way to know whether it was that or indigestion. There are a lot of symptoms that can be caused by various different things. And I think that’s the part that’s missing for us right now.

BSS #258: Norah Vincent (Download MP3)

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What Everybody Can Learn from Anita Bruzzese

As a guy who writes unapologetically for both print and online outlets, I have a lot of fun reading smug and woefully out-of-touch posts from alleged “journalists” dictating precisely how to go about conducting this business. Thankfully, much of Anita Burzzese’s work is online, offering invaluable lessons for writers of all stripes on what not to do.

1. Don’t treat the reader like an idiot. In Ms. Bruzzese’s December 14th column, spends five needless paragraphs providing dumb buildup about why Kathy Caprino thought that losing her job was the best thing that happened to her. Instead of offering an uninterrupted paragraph of quotes, Ms. Bruzzese feels the need to interject this question to the reader, “So why does Caprino feel so great about what happened?” Actually, that’s what the journalist is there to tell us. Except that Ms. Bruzzese, who has both a focus and a worldview about as wide as a vise in a high school shop class that can’t be untightened, hasn’t considered that the average newspaper reader may not have Capirino’s expendable income, much less the remains of a “well-paying, high-powered position” to start a new life. Frankly, it’s insulting to the average newspaper reader to offer such a sheltered tale of redemption in a time of economic crisis. The more journalistic angle would involve Ms. Bruzzese asking Caprino why her life-relaunching strategy simply isn’t possible for a working mother who works two full-time jobs at minimum wage. Ms. Bruzzese doesn’t seem to understand that because you are published in a newspaper, this does not necessarily mean that you are a journalist. Journalism involves asking critical questions, not propping up gratuitous and self-serving figures for human interest stories. The reader wants to understand issues. And that means questioning everything and everybody, while likewise presenting many sides of the story.

2. Don’t rely on one source for a trend piece. In the same article noted above, it’s worth observing that Ms. Bruzzese has talked with only one person — Caprino — for a story that is ostensibly about how women can thrive in a tough economy. Now a real journalist would talk to some of the women who Caprino talked with, corroborating Caprino’s claims against those of others. Even if Ms. Bruzzese had juxtaposed even one additional subject against the others, it would be far more substantive than this puff piece. Furthermore, a real journalist would take the Caprino claim that “seven out of 10 working women report that they are facing a major turning point in their careers” and compare it against other sources. But Ms. Bruzzese is such a lazy journalist that she can’t be bothered to sift through the material in front of her. I’ve looked through Caprino’s book courtesy of Amazon’s Inside the Book feature and can find no trace in the text or the footnotes of “seven,” “7,” “ten,” or “10” that matches up to Ms. Bruzzese’s claim that Caprino notes in her book that “seven out of 10 working women report that they are facing a major turning point in their careers, especially middle-age women.” We are informed by Joyce Lain Kennedy that Caprino herself conducted this study with the Esteemed Women Foundation, an organization founded not by a scientist, but by a filmmaker. This is an organization that likewise features on its homepage an over-the-top, scantily clad image of Paris Hilton and an image of astronaut Eileen Collins standing in her flight suit, with the caption, “Which One Will Your Daughter Want to Become??” [sic]

What this tells us is that Ms. Bruzzese not only did not bother to read the book in question, but listened only to what Caprino told her. Never mind that the study is hardly objective, suggesting an inherently sexist and outdated dichotomy in which women are either pop stars or thoughtful astronauts. Since Caprino’s book is more of a motivational tome rather than a legitimate study, would it not have been journalistically responsible for Ms. Bruzzese to disclose the Esteemed Woman Foundation connection? (Oh, dear me. Such basic corroboration would require too much work!)

3. If your quote establishes a concept, there is no need to browbeat the reader with an additional paragraph. In Ms. Bruzzese’s November 30th column, we again see her troubling habit of offering a paragraph that explains what the source is going to say, only to have the source repeat what is essentially the same information.

Facella says the history of “elitism” by some workers — especially young employees — who believed they should be paid top dollar when they had little experience, may have been driven from the workplace scene by the current financial crisis.

“I think a lot of folks are going to be humbled by this experience,” he says. “I think they’re going to see that it’s OK to learn from the bottom and work your way up. They’re going to find that learning the ropes before taking over a business makes sense.”

If I were working the copy desk, I would demand this rewrite:

Some workers once believed that they could be paid top dollar for little experience, but Facella suggests that “a lot of folks are going to be humbled.” The current economic crisis may even cause a few workers to develop a new work ethic. “I think they’re going to see that it’s OK to learn from the bottom and work your way up. They’re going to find that learning the ropes before taking over a business makes sense.”

Not only have I cut thirteen words from Ms. Bruzzese’s two paragraphs, but I have improved the flow, captured the essence of what Facella told Ms. Bruzzese, and framed the quotes with topical thrust in mind.

Considering these severe missteps (only a handful of Ms. Bruzzese’s inefficiencies), I think it’s pretty safe to say that Ms. Bruzzese is ill-equipped to tell anyone how to practice journalism. Particularly when she remains mostly incapable of doing it herself. And that’s truly the appalling thing to consider here.

(Tip via Books, Inq.)

Why Can’t More Press Conferences End Up Like This?

From a press conference with Newcastle United interim manager Joe Kinnear:

JK Which one is Simon Bird [Daily Mirror’s north-east football writer]?

SB Me.

JK You’re a cunt.

SB Thank you.

JK Which one is Hickman [Niall, football writer for the Express]? You are out of order. Absolutely fucking out of order. If you do it again, I am telling you you can fuck off and go to another ground. I will not come and stand for that fucking crap. No fucking way, lies. Fuck, you’re saying I turned up and they [Newcastle’s players] fucked off.

A Brief Interlude

Some brief housekeeping between these longass NYFF reports: I had intended to write a report on Saturday afternoon’s panel, which I believe was called “Holy Shit! The End of Film Criticism is Nigh! It’s the End of the World!” But it appears my work has already been done for me. Details of what went down, not as hysterical as the title implied, can be found over at Mr. Hudson’s place. There are links to reports and even an MP3. Last I checked the thread at Mr. Hudson’s, there was some modest shit-talking of Cahiers du cinema editor Emmanuel Burdeau. But Burdeau, despite being French, is okay in my book. Burdeau and Jonathan Rosenbaum, sitting on the left wing of the panel, offered thoughtful and progressive answers that made up for the out-of-touch blathering from Kent “I don’t watch TV but The Wire is okay” Jones on the right wing of the panel. (I am assured by a third party that Kent Jones is an okay bloke. But from what I observed of him on Saturday, Jones has the finest worldview that 1989 had to offer.)

Due to deadlines, I had to miss this morning’s screening of Changeling. But why bother with it? It’s coming out later down the pipeline. Well, Clint Eastwood was holding a press conference. Well, with all due respect to Mr. Eastwood’s talent, big whoop. Yesterday, I left midway through the press conference for The Wrestler because I was hopelessly bored. The questions dealt predominantly with the cliched “how difficult it must have been” line of inquiry that one sees too often in these silly affairs.

I bring this up not to impugn those who were questioned, but only to remark upon the media’s relentless concern with superficiality. Many media outlets, including Reuters, have only now begun offering some coverage of the New York Film Festival. But most of these bloated entities have concerned themselves only with Steven Soderbergh and Mickey Rourke. And isn’t the whole point about the NYFF to celebrate filmmaking talent from around the world?

I made a personal promise to myself that I wanted to give as many of the films that didn’t have distributors a chance, and, rest assured, more reports are coming. (Still to be reviewed here are Waltz with Bashir, Hunger, and The Wrestler. But these big-ticket items can wait a bit. Because they all have distributors.) Unfortunately, it appears that not even The New York Times is willing to devote its considerable resources to in-depth reviews of such unusual films as Tokyo Sonata. Don’t they have a whole team of reporters over there for this? I’ve conducted a New York Times search for “New York Film Festival” and all we’ve had since A.O. Scott’s jejune list of film summaries is Manohla Dargis on Che, which, again, has distribution.

Well, this cannot continue if film journalism is expected to survive in any decent form. As I have discovered in the past two weeks, it doesn’t take that much effort to turn out a few thoughtful paragraphs for every film. You can stay on top of the situation if you constantly keep on top of the films you watch, meaning sitting down at the end of the day and writing reviews for all the films you’ve seen that day. You can even set up radio interviews. And you can also work on other professional obligations at the same time.

That the New York Times is incapable of doing this, even through the Web, makes me conclude that the newspaper isn’t really that serious about film. Not even the major film festival that operates within its own metropolitan area. If this is the kind of cultural journalism the print mavens are championing, then I believe the time has come to replace it with something else.

Responding to Orwell: September 15

George: Seventy years from your epoch, the average person getting a gustatory rush from news and information enjoys considerably more than two newspapers. We now have RSS feeds propagating endless items of interest that stop us in our tracks, that we must learn to wrestle with and filter, and that make some of the distinctions between liberal, conservative, and centrist somewhat unnecessary. I say this is all fine, provided one steps away from the computer for long stretches and talks to souls in the waking world. This is not to suggest that pinpointing partisan journalism is impossible. (Christ, you should see FOX News, George. Winston Smith’s varicose ulcer would have expanded across his entire right leg, rather than keep its confinement to the ankle.) But I suspect this explains, on the writing front, why op-ed remains more in demand than good old-fashioned journalism, and why those who practice “journalism” often do so with a regrettable preference for decor over taut details. Since the tendentious timbre cannot be so easily cracked sometimes, and since the manner of viewing an article has transformed dramatically, it has come down to identifying these sorts of slipshod impulses within the writer himself. Accountability has dropped down to the byline level. A newspaper isn’t only as good as its last article. We expect even the best of newspapers to screw up. But the working journalist? Always judged from what she has just written. The free ride has ended. One would hope that today’s equivalent transfers of troops to Morocco would be more transparent because of these circumstances, but they won’t show coffins or carnage on television.

“Hard” Questions

The above interview, which involved Campbell Brown questioning McCain campaign manager Tucker Bounds, caused McCain to cancel a planned interview with Larry King. The reason cited by McCain’s camp? “A relentless refusal by certain on-air reporters to come to terms with John McCain’s selection of Alaska’s sitting governor as our party’s nominee for vice president.” But the interview sees Brown simply trying to find out about Sarah Palin, while Bounds repeatedly declares that she has as much experience as the competition. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. And here, questioned by Brown, Bounds cannot produce a single example to support his claim. And he’s their manager! The “relentless refusal” here doesn’t come from Bounds, but from McCain’s people. If they cannot be bothered to prove their argument, then they have no business presenting their impudent claims before the American people.

Barack Obama, by contrast, will be appearing this Thursday on FOX News’s The O’Reilly Factor.

So here we have one presidential candidate incapable of answering the most basic of questions and the other quite willing to appear on a talk show that is biased against him. While McCain certainly showed courage as a POW, it is quite evident that he is unwilling to evince one scintilla of this same valor in the present day. And if McCain truly believes that talking to Larry King, one of the most softball interviewers on television, represents a difficulty, then how can he be seriously expected to deal with the considerably greater challenges that may await him in the White House?

Amy Goodman, Democracy Now! Producers, AP Photographer Arrested

The Washington Post is reporting that Democracy Now! radio host Amy Goodman was arrested in St. Paul after inquiring with the police over the arrest of two Democracy Now! producers Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar. Goodman and her producers were in St. Paul to report on the Republican National Convention. Goodman was held in custody for three hours, and Goodman has claimed the Secret Service ripped off her press credentials to get on the floor of the Republican National Convention. Meanwhile, the two producers are still being held in custody. (An audio file of the arrest can be found here. In addition, The Uptake has a camera view from another angle.)

Also arrested (in a separate incident) was Associated Press photographer Matt Rourke. While the charges against Goodman, Kouddous, and Salazar are uncertain, Rourke was charged with a gross misdemeanor riot charge.

Glenn Greenwald has more, writing:

Beginning last night, St. Paul was the most militarized I have ever seen an American city be, even more so than Manhattan in the week of 9/11 — with troops of federal, state and local law enforcement agents marching around with riot gear, machine guns, and tear gas cannisters, shouting military chants and marching in military formations. Humvees and law enforcement officers with rifles were posted on various buildings and balconies. Numerous protesters and observers were tear gassed and injured.

Let us be clear on this. This goes well beyond Josh Wolf refusing to turn over evidence. Journalists who had the decency and the effrontery to ask hardball questions were prevented from conducting their work. None of these people were causing a riot. They were in St. Paul doing their jobs. They were there talking to people and reporting the news. Their collective right to be there, which was confirmed by their press credentials, is protected by the First Amendment. If the St. Paul Police Department does not come clean with details and specific allegations, then it is up to the American public to ensure that the police who arrested these journalists are levied with the appropriate penalties.

[UPDATE: Democracy Now has issued a press release indicating that Kouddous and Salazar have been released. Goodman was charged with obstruction. According to the press release, Kouddous and Salazar were charged with felony riot charges.]

Play

Bob Costas, The Only NBC Interviewer with Balls

COSTAS: But given China’s growing strength and America’s own problems, realistically how much leverage and influence does the U.S. have here?

THE PRESIDENT: First of all, I don’t see America having problems. I see America as a nation that is a world leader, that has got great values. And leverage is — I don’t think you should look at the relationship as one of leverage. I think you ought to look at the relationship of one of constructive engagement where you can find common areas, like North Korea and Iran, but also be in a position where they respect you enough to listen to your views on religious freedom and political liberty.

COSTAS: If these Olympics are as successful as they are shaping up to be, most people believe this only further legitimizes the ruling party in the minds on most Chinese citizens. And even absent true liberty as we understand it, the lives of hundreds of millions of Chinese people are much better than they once were. Therefore, what’s the party’s incentive to reform?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, if you’re a religious person, you understand that once religion takes hold in a society it can’t be stopped. And secondly, I think the Olympics are going to serve as a chance for people to come and see China the way it is, and let the Chinese see the world and interface and have the opportunity to converse with people from around the world. This is a very positive development, in my view, for peace.

You can watch the first part of the interview here, and here’s the full transcript.

The Future of Newspapers and Litblogs: A Thought Experiment

In yesterday’s Huffington Post, publicist Lissa Warren expressed her dismay in “the seemingly widely-held notion that these book sections are being adequately replaced by blogs.” She complained that blogs “don’t actually review books” (emphasis in original) and that bloggers are nothing more than helpful cherry pickers ferreting out the best content.

This, of course, is poppycock. Scott Esposito continues to turn out issues of The Quarterly Conversation and is now making efforts to pay his contributors. Aside from the almost two hundred hours of podcasts available at The Bat Segundo Show, this website has featured many lengthy roundtable discussions of books, running during the week of pub date, including T.C. Boyle’s Talk Talk, Richard Powers’s The Echo Maker, and Nicholson Baker’s Human Smoke. (Powers and Baker both joined in during the final installments of their respective roundtables.) The Human Smoke discussion alone generated some 20,000 words of commentary among fifteen people, with asides on second generation Holocaust historians, World War I history, and sundry topics. This week, Talking Points Memo is featuring a lengthy discussion on Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland. Meanwhile, Mark Sarvas has been allowing his readers to see what goes into the writing of a review. This summer, Colleen Mondor helped to organize the Summer Blog Blast Tour (far from the first of this type), which featured a comprehensive series of helpful discussions about contemporary YA titles that even the purportedly best book review sections have not broached because of innate genre prejudices.

Do these efforts represent a replacement for book review sections? Well, if one hopes to find a facsimile of book review sections online, probably not. But it would take an exceptionally rigid and incurious mind to settle merely on a clone. If one wishes to discover forms of literary commentary that serve the same function as a book review section, it is extremely difficult not to find online exemplars in alternative forms.

Warren’s complaints about litblogs fall into the same tired explanations that have been bandied about by the likes of Sven Birkerts, Michael Dirda, and numerous other myopists who are incapable of accepting an alternative that has been carrying on for a good five years. The objections are less about function, or even the content (conveniently, examples of the litblogs’s inadequacies are never cited by the naysayers), and more about form and especially control. Impulsive thought cannot be accepted because it remains impulsive. Never mind that many newspaper book sections, because of the deadline-oriented nature of the business, remain somewhat impulsive and often fail to include numerous examples from the text when considering a book. (Consider, for example, Charles Taylor’s review of Uwem Akpan’s Say You’re One of Them, which appeared in Sunday’s New York Times Book Review. We are afforded a summary of Akpan’s offerings. But despite having 1,200 words of space, Taylor only cites a few sentences from the novella, “Luxurious Hearses.” Taylor prefers generalized speculation about the book, rather than the kind of rigorous dissections of text that one expects of a critic.)

The print boosters remain hostile to the idea that an online medium can not only modify the manner in which critics and readers approach a book, but generate innovative methods of expanding one’s relationship to a text. So litblogs are deemed inferior not necessarily because the content is inferior, but because there are doubts about the methods and manner in which litblogs transmit information.

I will agree that if one is looking for the online equivalent of the New York Times Book Review, it’s simply not going to be found on litblogs. And that is because most litblogs, on the whole, aren’t interested in perpetuating a form of literary journalism that, while often quite valuable, has grown tiresome and often predictable. And it is the unpredictablity and spontaneity of litblogs that offer both a literary renaissance and a threat to those who wish to uphold print’s humorless and oft passionless status quo.

On Monday, I posted a lengthy lexicon of very specific Yorkshire dialect terms used in Ross Raisin’s novel, God’s Own Country (known in the States as Out Backward). It was an effort not only to aid my own understanding of Raisin’s book, but also to assist other readers in negotiating the fascinating linguistic terrain of a novel that, according to a recent Google News search, has only been reviewed in one American news outlet: a 200 word “verdict” and “background” in the Library Journal. The book was a finalist for the Dylan Thomas Prize. This failure on the part of American print outlets to include Raisin’s novel in a timely manner suggests considerable print deficiencies.

The Raisin example also suggests that litblogs are not only covering books that are ignored by the seemingly impeccable vanguard, but that litblogs are presenting new forms of coverage that are inconceivable to Sam Tanenhaus and, yes, even a dutiful reformer like David Ulin. Unprohibited by length and unhindered by house style or crazy billionaires who don’t know how to run a newspaper empire, litblogs are in a position to change the journalistic terrain, possibly usurping freelance reviewers if a comparable revenue model can be established.

While I disagree with Kassia Krozser’s assertions about gender imbalance at the Los Angeles Times Book Review for reasons similar to Carolyn Kellogg’s (disclosure: I am an occasional contributor to the Los Angeles Times), Ms. Krozser is correct to point out that the hand-wringing about book review cuts has indeed represented a sense of entitlement. Not a single books editor, litblogger, or freelance reviewer is entitled to the lives they lead. At the end of the day, it’s a matter of generating content that will ensure that the writer can carry on writing. But if one operates on a smaller scale, then the financial obligation is seriously reduced (assuming that one wishes to make this sort of life one’s center) and the writer’s freedom to write in any fashion is greatly augmented.

So perhaps what we’re really seeing here is a situation in which the leading online voices will carry on doing what they are doing, with the unusual and passionate voices prohibited by the constant scrutiny of newspaper executives, precisely because the financial demands of supporting one individual are lesser than the costs and overhead of running a large newspaper or magazine. As Howard Junker observed yesterday, ad sales for the Atlantic have declined 11% in the last month. For Vanity Fair, the sales were considerably more severe, dropping a whopping 49%. With print advertising starting to dip, the onus now falls upon newspapers and magazines to either (a) increase advertising to support current operating costs or (b) reduce operating costs to bring the outlet in line with the reduced advertising. But if newspapers and print boosters will remain obdurate about these apparent online yahoos, the onus also falls upon litbloggers to find sustainable revenue models that will permit them to operate independently.

I should observe that the cost of a full-page advertisement in People Magazine is $250,000. I cannot speak for other bloggers, but it is safe to say that I could live off of this sum for a good five years and be relatively happy. I think it’s also safe to say that the money could also be allocated to other writers to turn in high quality freelance reviews for this site. Now imagine if a People advertiser wised up to this idea and decided to sponsor me (or another blogger) for five years. The People full-page advertisement fades away from public consciousness in a week, but the advertisement would run here for five years to a more limited, but very specific niche audience. Because there is only one sponsor, my editorial integrity would be fairly well preserved and I wouldn’t have to fear upsetting many sponsors who keep a big newspaper operation afloat. I would not need to always pander to a mass audience by reviewing the latest by a big name author. Small press and genre authors tossed out with the galleys deemed extraneous could be included with the same rigor that a newspaper grants the celebrated big names. Gender imbalances, whether genuine or perceived, could be greatly remedied.

If enough bloggers were to initiate an advertising scenario along these lines, it is safe to say that blogs could adequately replace newspaper book review sections, adopting both the form of the well-considered essay featured in book review sections as well as many alternative forms now practiced and conjured up by current litbloggers. I don’t know if the newspapers have discussed this possibility, and I don’t know how many litbloggers have truly considered this ambition. But the time has come to set a precedent. If this does occur — and it just might — then it may very well be the print contributors who begin coming around to the online venues. Let us not respond with the same snobbery and entitlement.

Tony Snow Expires

One week after the death of Jesse Helms (and, alas, Thomas M. Disch), the universe illustrated once again that, despite its many abominations, it still maintains a self-correcting impulse. Tony Snow, the smug apologist for President Bush’s disgraces, finally expired after a bout with colon cancer. He was 53.

It was a particularly fitting way to go. For Tony Snow was far from a sweet man, and certainly neither a nice nor a reasonable one. On February 13, 2007, when CNN’s Ed Henry calmly asked the perfectly legitimate question about Iran’s purported influence in Iraq — a claim unfurled by Snow and company without a single shred of evidence — Henry was told by Snow to “calm down.” Snow, of course, could not provide a reasonable answer. It was a typical instance of Snow’s regular insults to reporters, something that also came to light when reporters asked Snow about Scooter Libby’s commuted sentence. (During this conference, one reporter declared, “You are insulting our intelligence.”)

Granted, one does not look to any White House Press Secretary as any particular upholder of the truth. But then Tony Snow was an innate liar even before he had taken the position. He claimed that evolutionary theory was comparable to intelligent design, that it “isn’t verifiable or testable. It’s pure hypothesis.” He defended the Swift Boat Veterans charges, despite tenuous evidence. And, of course, there were numerous other falsehoods. Snow’s inability to grasp the truth also made him perfectly qualified to serve as Bill O’Reilly’s permanent fill-in host. Swindling the public came natural to this confidence man, who took on the job of spinning implausible yarns to the public despite previous sullies against the Bush administration.

Snow demonstrated that if you served up enough hypocrisy and possessed nothing in the way of ethics, you too could live the spin doctor’s dream. You could even nestle your way into the baby arms of government itself. But even this utopia wasn’t good enough for Snow. He needed more than $168,000 a year to get by and was prepared to tell any lie to get more money.

But Snow’s lies weren’t those of the amicable “dog ate my homework” variety. They were deeply unsettling efforts to occlude a truth that has killed 4,000 American soldiers and untold thousands of Iraqi civilians.

Snow was the last somewhat savvy guy who could take on the job of White House Press Secretary and live with his daily hypocrisies. And it’s a telling indicator that Snow’s porous replacement, Dana Perino, didn’t even know about the Cuban Missile Crisis when she signed on.

Los Angeles Times To Lay Off 150 Editorial Staffers

Radar is reporting that 150 staffers in the newsroom are to be laid off and that the number of pages published each week will be reduced by 15%. I have emails into the good people over at the Book Review to see what, if any, impact this has had upon them. If I learn anything that I can report on the record, I will. This is terrible. More at the LA Times. Nothing yet from LA Observed.

[UPDATE: My sources inside the L.A. Times indicate that there hasn’t yet been a list of names released. Only the number. Layoffs to come later. If I am able to determine any additional information that I can share, then I will keep folks posted.]