The Ugly Reviews the Good and the Bad

 Real life took over this week, so another post from my old class blog. This one written in January 2013. It’s another rambling mess on the Snowden leaks, focusing in particular on the bipartisan consensus on national security and foreign policy. The new post I’m working on is in the same vein. Until I get that up, I hope you find this interesting.

Journalists are often flummoxed when tasked with covering those in the political realm who hold viewpoints outside of the mainstream. On the one hand, one does not want to unjustly vilify such people, as they probably get enough of that already, however, one also does not want to give credence to any particular political belief through their coverage. At the same time, journalists are instructed to “test the accuracy of information from all.” Objectivity is not the end-goal, the reporting of facts is.

Greg Marx’s piece in the Columbia Journalism Review titled “Covering the Fringe Candidates” offers an insightful overview into how journalists in politics attempt to navigate all three of those demands. It gets points off right away for using the label “fringe,” which implies a kooky, perhaps even dangerous minority, and excludes the possibility that, as libertarian-leaning Reason editor Nick Gillespie wrote for Time, there may be policy positions that have been embraced by a majority of Americans for years that have only recently become major issues in national political discourse.

The analysis within, however, makes up for the sigh-inducing labeling. Marx quotes from Conor Friedersdorf’s piece at the Atlantic who notes that:

a protest candidate that challenges the bipartisan consensus on foreign policy, the war on drugs, or civil liberties is ignored, no matter the substantive quality of their arguments on those issues. And if their fans complain, it is pointed out that they don’t have a chance of winning. The salutary effect that protest candidates can have on political discourse even if they don’t win is completely forgotten. (Occasionally, another dodge is used: that Ron Paul, for example, disqualifies himself from serious coverage due to fringe positions he takes on the Federal Reserve or the gold standard. Suffice it to say that all sorts of candidates are covered as serious contenders despite holding positions more lunatic, as Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, and Herman Cain attest. Paul’s foreign policy critique is serious, coherent and mostly unanswered.)

He wants us to end our unsustainable wars, LOL. (GIF surprisingly not included in Marx’s article.)

Marx adds that “mainstream political reporters” are trained in strict objectivity which, “leaves them needing some outside authority to validate a losing issue position as worthy of attention—and the “bipartisan consensus” is one such authority.” Perhaps news outlets, he suggests at the end of his piece, should start using “reporters who hold a well-defined (and known-to-readers) set of political values—especially when those values are in tension with the bipartisan consensus” to cover political campaigns.

I think this idea would benefit both news/political junkies and the media illiterate. Those immersed in news and politics can read reports about what candidates are saying and doing by journalists who are familiar with the candidates’ ideas, so we might see fewer condescending and simplistic articles which sound like an explorer encountering the strange natives for the first time. Meanwhile, the lucky readers who have yet to fall down the rabbit hole might be able to identify spin and bias more easily if the journalist’s political leanings are allowed to be a part of his reportage.

There is, however, a danger if ideologues are allowed to step off the campaign trail and cover more general political stories; we may see more political hit pieces masquerading as fact-based journalism in generally reputable outlets, such as Sean Wilentz’s cover story for the New Republic.

The problems start at the title, “Would You Feel Differently About Snowden, Greenwald, and Assange If You Knew What They Really Thought?” Right away, it implies that 1) their arguments and revelations about government surveillance are undermined by what they really think and 2) the author knows what they really think. The article consists of a variety of disparate claims, message board and chat postings, listing events and articles without context in order to convince the presumably left-leaning readership of the New Republic that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, journalist Glenn Greenwald, and Wikileaks founder and activist Julian Assagne subscribe to the same “paranoid libertarianism” which the aforementioned readership should be frightened of. It is all very reminiscent of ‘50s era if-you-are associated-with-X-your-ideas-about-Y-are-invalid-and-can-be-dismissed-by-default sort of reasoning.

Wilentz cites (by “cites,” I mean he drops a publication name and a claim or quote, no links or authors or titles—there are only two links in the 7500-word article), chat room messages apparently made by Snowden in which he comes off as a gun nut, against leakers of classified information, and against welfare recipients.

On the gun nut angle, gun ownership has increased in both Republican and Democratic households in the last decade, so it does not necessarily appear to be a sign of the Snowden’s “developing affinities” for libertarian extremism that Wilentz seems to think it is.

The apparent calls of violence against leakers and the mocking of beneficiaries of the welfare system are harder to defend, but I will caution against using chat logs to derive earnest and not facetious, the thoughtful and not off-the-cuff political positions of individuals. The apparent condemnation of leakers is most damning to Snowden’s credibility for obvious reasons, but here too the inconsistency and hypocrisy Wilentz sees is shoddy. There is a difference between the leaks of intelligence operations that target Iran’s nuclear weapons program that Snowden apparently decried and a policy of surveillance on American citizens that he revealed.

I could go on, but I already passed 800 words for this post. However before I go, I would like quickly to address some of the sillier claims in Wilentz’s article. The wishy-washy insinuation that Snowden could be a spy for Russia (because after all, why is Snowden in Russia, hmmm?), ignores the fact that he could not travel because the U.S. revoked his passport, which left him stranded in Moscow. Iceland, Snowden’s initial destination, turned him down.

Finally, the journalist who Snowden has been working with to leak his information, Glenn Greenwald, is made out to be some sort of libertarian hired gun who will work with those on the left or right if their causes align with his. Wilentz says Greenwald let libertarian-leaning Republican Rand Paul off the hook for his comments on the Civil Rights Act while railing against the Democrats and Republicans. I think I found the Greenwald column in question, though I am not sure since there are no links or proper citations in the Wilentz piece:

There’s no question that Ron Paul holds some views that are wrong, irrational and even odious. But that’s true for just about every single politician in both major political parties (just look at the condition of the U.S. if you doubt that; and note how Ron Paul’s anti-abortion views render him an Untouchable for progressives while Harry Reid’s anti-abortion views permit him to be a Progressive hero and even Senate Majority Leader). My point isn’t that Ron Paul is not crazy; it’s that those who self-righteously apply that label to him and to others invariably embrace positions and support politicians at least as “crazy.” Indeed, those who support countless insane policies and/or who support politicians in their own party who do — from the Iraq War to the Drug War, from warrantless eavesdropping and denial of habeas corpus to presidential assassinations and endless war in the Muslim world — love to spit the “crazy” label at anyone who falls outside of the two-party establishment.

Later in the column:

He [Conor Friedersdorf (hey, here he is again) writing in Newsweek] goes on to note that “these disparaging descriptors are never applied to America’s policy establishment, even when it is proved ruinously wrong, whereas politicians who don’t fit the mainstream Democratic or Republican mode, such as libertarians, are mocked almost reflexively in these terms, if they are covered at all.” Indeed, this is true of anyone who deviates at all — even in tone — from the two-party orthodoxy, as figures as disparate as Dennis Kucinich, Noam Chomsky, Howard Dean or even Alan Grayson will be happy to tell you.

Anti-progressive libertarian who you should ignore, indeed. If a person’s ideology cannot fit neatly into the left-right paradigm, it seems they are reacted to as if they are the most dangerous of all.

Go-Bags and the Gladrags

I wrote this back in February for a blog I maintained as a part of a class assignment. That blog was set to “private,” so only the instructor and a few classmates saw it. Before I delete it/forget the login info, I plan on salvaging whatever is still timely and not terrible and reposting it here. Next week’s post will be a new one expanding on the ideas in this recycled screed, and so on. As always. Thank you for reading.

If you can’t respond to their arguments, cast aspersions. Critics of National Security Agency contractor turned whistleblower Edward Snowden have resorted to retroactive well-poisoning as the increasingly indefensible activities of the U.S. government’s surveillance program are unfolded before the public.

Last summer, NBC’s David Gregory revealed what was to many another example of how the Washington press corps has sided with the government on the surveillance leaks with a shamelessly leading question to Glenn Greenwald while hosting Meet the Press and also suggesting Greenwald isn’t a journalist.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SDmqJ6W3FoI

Then, two weeks ago, Mr. Gregory again gave his critics on the NSA story evidence of his deference to Washington’s elite. On a segment of January 19’s Meet the Press, Gregory interviews House Intelligence Chair Mike Rogers and Senate Intelligence Chair Dianne Feinstein on President Obama’s speech on intelligence reform. The transcript of the entire episode is available here. Below is a small clip from the Rogers interview. Archive.org has hosted more of the Meet the Press idiocy here.

The amount of distortions and misrepresentations on top of the unfounded speculation that David Gregory fails to even acknowledge makes a proper critique of this interview rather challenging, but let us try.

  • Rogers begins with a patently ridiculous analogy comparing Snowden to a janitor at a bank who “figured out how to steal money.” Rogers then declares that Snowden “was a thief, who we believe had some help, who stole information the vast majority had nothing to do with privacy.”

It’s impossible to prove a negative, but all of the NSA documents made public so far deal with surveillance which is inherently related to privacy, or more precisely, the elimination of it.

  •  “Our Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines have been incredibly harmed by the data that he has taken with him and we believe now is in the hands of nation states.”

Rogers repeated this assertion elsewhere in the interview, elaborating that terrorists have changed their methods, making them harder to monitor, which puts our military at risk. That claim would have more credence if intelligence agencies hadn’t already issued public reports which explain that terrorists avoid online communication services from companies that have been known to provide access to the U.S. government on request. Terrorists tend to use the “Deep Web,” parts of the Internet not indexed by search engines, and have been using use encrypted messaging software to communicate since at least 2007.

Gregory catches the accusation and asks “Who helped him?”

To which Rogers says, “Well, there were certain questions that we have to get answered. Where some of this aid, first of all, if it was a privacy concern he had, he didn’t look for information on the privacy side for Americans. He was stealing information that had to do with how we operate overseas to collect information to keep Americans safe.”

If I may adapt Rep. Roger’s analogy, this is like the bank’s management, after the janitor revealed they were lying to investors, asserting the leaked information was vital to the bank’s operations.

The Michigan Congressman continues saying, “that begs the question. And some of the things he did were beyond his technical capabilities. Raises more questions.” Some of readers might have identified the rhetorical technique Rogers is employing here.

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See anything familiar? Screenshot by author.

Actually, how Snowden obtained many of the documents was revealed last November: colleagues at the NSA gave him logins and passwords after he asked for them.

Next, Rogers drops some sexy spycraft jargon. Rogers said he was investigating how Snowden “arranged travel before he left. How he was ready to go, he had a go bag, if you will.”

How? He bought a plane ticket to Hong-Kong, ultimately headed for Iceland. WikiLeaks and Russians with ties to the Kremlin only reached out to Snowden after he became stuck at a Moscow airport when the U.S. government revoked his passport (source). I’m still waiting for evidence of foreign orchestration in all this.

Now for this “go-bag” business. What could that be? It couldn’t be an actually fairly innocuous item about which information is widely available, including public information pages on government websites, could it? Indeed, as Snowden says in this interview with the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer, he had one packed for his work. I would be surprised if the members of Rep. Rogers’ security detail didn’t have go-bags packed and ready too.

Gregory then asks Rogers to speculate on his speculation asking, “But how high level, do you think?”

Rogers indulges Gregory, declaring “I believe there’s a reason he ended up in the hands, the loving arms, of an FSB agent in Moscow. I don’t think that’s a coincidence, number one.”

It certainly isn’t a coincidence that Snowden needed Anatoly Kucherena, a lawyer with ties to the Russian security services (assuming anyone can do anything in Russia without ties to the security services). He was stuck in the Sheremetyevo airport because his U.S. passport was revoked.

Gregory states flat-out what the Congressman is insinuating: “You think the Russians helped Ed Snowden?”

To which Rogers dodges with “I believe there’s questions to be answered there.” The Congressman should get the answers to those questions before attacking someone’s reputation on national television.

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Click on the above image to see Cartman’s impersonation of Rep. Mike Rogers. Image courtesy of Comedy Central Press.

David Gregory reminds the viewers that this is “a significant development if it’s true.” A good journalist reminds his audience that unverified allegations are just that. Whether they could be “significant” is immaterial if there is no proof.

Gregory then lets Rep. Rogers give a final, unchallenged string of untruths and deception:

The oversight that is conducted, that’s what is the interesting thing about this. With all the disclosures, we find out, holy mackerel, the court’s involved. Both the Senate and the House committees are involved. There was plenty of oversight of the programs. And it was very restrictive, only 288 times that they even used the business records in 2012.

It turns out the “involved courts” were deceived about the data the NSA was collecting, our fully-briefed Congress has to bring in outside experts to get a grasp on the NSA’s capabilities, and government agencies don’t need to request business records when they have broken into private data centers anyway.

And not one peep from Gregory.

People I Owe Money To

I keep thinking back on an episode of the Cracked Podcast in which Editor-in-Chief Jack O’Brien talks with columnists Cody Johnson and Soren Bowie about the “Internet hive mind.”

It’s a fun listen, so I encourage you to check it out while you do your laundry or something. But the tl;dr is that the Internet has changed the way we think. Those changes benefit “the Internet” more than anyone else.

An example they keep returning to throughout the episode is how the notion paying for something on the Internet is ludicrous, if not downright offensive to people.

But the Internet isn’t content with stealing your stuff. It will take credit for creating it too.

Who does this system benefit? Certainly not content creators whose movies, TV shows, music, and software is bootlegged. Not webcomic artists whose work is reposted on content aggregators and image sharing sites without permission or attribution, while the artists’ own sites go unclicked. Here’s a NSFW rant on the phenomenon (video, 10 minutes).

As Cody Johnson puts it, the attitude seems to be, “’You put it on the Internet, it’s everyone’s. Why are you making a stink about it?’”

(The user communities on places like Reddit and Imgur have recently begun regularly acknowledging the sources of the images that win them upvotes. No word though if they’ll also plan on getting permission from content creators first.)

Content consumers don’t benefit. Sure, they enjoy cable programming for which they pay no more than the cost of a broadband Internet connection split between three other housemates. But the third season of their favorite TV show won’t get made because of low ratings.

Developers of open-source software can’t and won’t spend their free time patching bugs and adding features if they’re not compensated in some way more than just the “Awesome program! Works GREAT!” review you gave them on CNET.

The Internet, as an ever-expanding network, requires the instantaneous flow of information. Online transaction mechanisms slow things down and create security vulnerabilities. In the episode, they discuss the human impulses that drive this aspect of the Internet. Interesting stuff, but I thought cataloging all the web-based entities to whom I owe money would make a neat exercise for us today.

I think most people agree with the principle that if you use something, you should pay for it. People should be compensated for their labor. However, I think a lot of people, indeed I find myself indulging in this thinking from time to time, believe that liking something is payment enough. “I’m a big fan of your work! I like it so much, I rip it, re-share it, and remix it without your permission!”

You’ll notice some ad-supported sites on this list, which you’ll surmise means I must be a terrible person (video rant from Hank Green, 4 minutes). Which is true. I am; ads slow things down and create security vulnerabilities. I also have little patience for business models that rely on people voluntarily refraining from using the latest technology.

As the print world implodes, I hope that professionals in the industry start looking at alternatives to intrusive, site functionality-breaking, easily-blockable advertisements, instead of finding ways to make ads even scummier (video, 11 minutes).

So anyway, the list of people I owe money to. Organized by the good/service. I’ll be updating this periodically.

Software

Many video game mod makers

LibreOffice

Mozilla

KeePass

Evolve

7zip

WordPress

WinSCP

PuTTY

WP-CLI

Creative Commons

YouTube Center

WinHelp2002

VideoLAN

Bulk Rename Utility

Websites/Publications
I barely read the news anymore. Do I still owe back payments?

Cracked

MadOgre (“Buy my book!”)

LoadingReadyRun

Vuuwapenblog

The Firearm Blog

xkcd (I used to read many more webcomics regularly.)

Time

The Daily Beast

Salon

The Intercept

Ars Technica

Slate

Vox

New York Times

Reason

The New Yorker

Vice

Poynter

Purdue OWL

Radio/Podcasts

National Public Radio/KJZZ (Reason did a great piece on why public radio listeners like myself are the biggest hypocritical deadbeats.)

This American Life

Radiolab

Topics in Korean History

The Bugle

Serial

DecodeDC

5by5 Studios

Martyrmade.

Who I have paid to some degree or another, but to whom I owe a hell of a lot more

Dan Carlin

99 Percent Invisible

My History Can Beat Up Your Politics

The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe

Relay FM

Hermespod

Archive.org

Wikipedia

So who will be coming around to bust your kneecaps (with baseball bats of guilt) until you pay up?

‘So…You Want to Hear a Story, Eh?’ – GamerGate and Media Narratives

on_the_media
Viewers of the full image still doesn’t know about his knifeshoes. Image source unknown. Contact me if you recognize the artist.

Sorry, this will be another discussion of GamerGate (let it be the last one)—the latest skirmish that doesn’t matter from the culture wars that I can’t stop clicking. Every crappy blog needs a post whining about an article on a far more noteworthy publication with which they disagree. I guess I’m getting mine out of the way now.

For almost two years I’ve been listening to WNYC New York Public Radio’s On the Media program distributed though National Public Radio. I’m slowly making my way through their immense archive that goes back to 2001. They’ve been “explaining the news” long before it was cool.

NPR recently adopted the admirable editorial policy of avoiding false balance. NYU journalism Professor Jay Rosen notes the two most important bits:

In all our stories, especially matters of controversy, we strive to consider the strongest arguments we can find on all sides, seeking to deliver both nuance and clarity. Our goal is not to please those whom we report on or to produce stories that create the appearance of balance, but to seek the truth.

At all times, we report for our readers and listeners, not our sources. So our primary consideration when presenting the news is that we are fair to the truth. If our sources try to mislead us or put a false spin on the information they give us, we tell our audience. If the balance of evidence in a matter of controversy weighs heavily on one side, we acknowledge it in our reports. We strive to give our audience confidence that all sides have been considered and represented fairly.

SMBC Theater explains what happens when the news media strives to appear objective at all costs:

The NPR model works well for issues in which researchers conducting multiple, large, well-controlled, peer-reviewed studies have reached similar conclusions. It also works for less-scientific issues in which mountains of evidence clearly lie on one side of the argument. Just because a former Navy SEAL writes in his memoir that his buddy totally saw WMD in Iraq doesn’t mean journalists should give weight to his unsupported claim by covering it

However, the model is not very useful for covering a broad-based social movements, particularly social media activism. Let’s look at the nature of this kind of Internet activism to understand why the “balance of evidence model” can lead to crappy coverage.

1. Joining an online campaign is easy.

To participate in the conversation one must only like, share, reblog, retweet, or comment. The discussions within the labor movement, the Civil Rights Movement, and the early environmental movement, among others, was often held in print publications. Back in the day, if you wanted to participate in the conversation, you had to get your comments past newspaper and magazine editors.

2. Nothing is official.

There are no leaders in online social media activism. One person might start a Twitter hashtag. A particular online community might have strict moderators or prolific users. But no one can claim to speak for the movement in any sort of representative way. There’s no official body to publish goals, or condemn certain tactics. Meaningful self-policing is nigh impossible.

3. Again—anyone can join.

This includes trolls who couldn’t care less about either side, seeking simply to provoke people and create drama. It includes sockpuppetry from both those who agree and disagree with the movement, who seek to carry out vote brigading, post anonymous attacks, or surreptitiously post content in the name of their opponents.

To illustrate this point, a friend (who we’ll call Alice) and I argued whether the “notes” (likes and reblogs) on a Tumblr post can be used to extrapolate the number of Tumblr users who agree with the sentiment of the post. Below is a screenshot of the post in question. If I remember correctly she found this on r/TumblrInAction or some such place.

poc_guy_3liza_tumblr
Screenshot by author.

Alice’s argument was thus, opinions in a population follow a bell curve. Depending on radicalization, the bell curve may be shifted, or have larger or smaller standard deviation. In any case, approximately 5 percent of a population lies beyond two standard deviations from the mean. It’s reasonable to assume these are the “radicals” of a population. If we assume that one “note” equals one person, and there are over 360,000 notes, then 2.5 percent of those notes is 9,000 people. So 9,000 people on Tumblr think brandishing a weapon and threatening property destruction is a reasonable response to catcalling.

I haven’t an earthly idea if those statistical assumptions are correct or applicable in this case, but the bigger problem that I see is that Alice is assuming those 360,000 people constitute a representative sample of Tumblr users. I think it’s quite likely that many if not most of those notes are the result of someone who trawls Tumblr for outlandish opinions and posts them to r/TumblrInAction.

We might find more precise numbers via a content analysis. However, we’d have to distinguish between honest opinions and “ironic” notes, for lack of a better word. We’d have to take sock puppet users into account. We’d have to account for vote brigading.

However, all of this excludes the very real possibility that this anonymous submission to fuckyoustreetharassment.tumblr.com is in fact a stealth parody, written with the intention to satirize Tumblr users, feminists or both. And if it is, how many people who liked or reblogged the post recognize that it is one?

This isn’t to say that the news media shouldn’t cover social media activism or that it’s impossible to derive anything meaningful by studying it. For example, Andy Baio recently conducted an excellent analysis of GamerGate tweets over a 72 hour period. However, like any such analysis, it’s unable to tell journalists what they must know before any meaningful editorializing; how many people support what?

So keeping these three points in mind, note that journalists like simple narratives. They want afflicted to comfort and comfortable to afflict. It’s an easy story for them to write and for readers to understand.

Some journalists like Casey Johnson at Ars Technica might conclude that a handful of screenshots of anonymous chat logs and discussion board posts from a single online community is sufficient to deduce the motivations, attitudes, and identify of the tens of thousands of people who tweet and retweet a particular hashtag. (Ars editor Kyle Orland understandably thought it was unfair when similarly flimsy evidence was used to draw conclusions about the motivations, attitudes, and actions of him and his colleges.) However good journalists recognize that reality often fails to follow a tidy narrative. So what can good journalists following the “balance of evidence” model accurately say about Internet activism?

This hashtag has spawned a lot of discussion online with an x number of shares.”

This person says he’s received anonymous threats which he attributes to group A. Police say they are investigating.”

Some comments ostensibly in support of the movement are inflammatory. Many members of a popular online community for group A have written comments condemning threats and personal attacks.”

This stuff sounds a lot more banal and uninformative without all the editorializing, doesn’t it?

Unfortunately this is how OTM opened its recent coverage of GamerGate (audio, 8 minutes, read the transcript here) in host Bob Garfield’s interview with Polygon editor Christopher Grant:

Garfield: Though women now represent half the video gaming community, a Pew study this week revealed that gaming is the least welcoming online space for women. The conclusion seems to be borne out by the ongoing troll crusade known as #Gamergate, wherein a small rabble is using a trumped-up scandal as cover for a full-on attack on female game-makers and game critics. Until the story materialized in the New York Times last week, one influential gaming publication, called Polygon, did its best not to feed those trolls, but finally weighed in with a letter from the editor, Christopher Grant. Chris, welcome to OTM.

Here’s the Pew study Garfield cites. Below is a chart from the report to which it seems he’s referring.

pew_online_harassment_communities
From Pew Research Center’s “Online Harassment Study,” Part 2: The Online Environment, Oct. 22, 2014.

To say “gaming is the least welcoming online space for women” I suppose is correct, but Garfield would get full points if he reported Pew’s full explanation:

Fully 44% of internet users believe online gaming is more welcoming to men, while just 3% believe it is more welcoming toward women. Half believe it is equally welcoming to men and women, a proportion much lower than any of the other environments. While most online women believed online gaming was equally welcoming to both genders (55%), a substantial minority believed it was more welcoming to men (40%). Men were more likely than women to think online gaming was more welcoming to men, 49% vs. 40% [emphasis mine].

These aren’t numbers male gamers should be proud of, to be sure. My fellow male gamers should be embarrassed and ashamed that so many women think they are unwelcome or less welcome to participate in our pastime. But, as I said before and will likely be saying a lot more in the future, the numbers don’t jibe with the narrative. I’ve heard the gaming community was a hotbed of misogyny. Where women are resoundingly unwelcome and constantly harassed, resulting in many would-be women game developers leaving the industry in droves.

At the very least I was expecting a majority of female respondents to report that they felt online gaming was an unwelcoming environment.

sheri_no_girls_allowed_cover
What I thought gaming was like.

But if the supposed oppressors in this narrative think a community is more unwelcoming than the supposed oppressed do, then perhaps the narrative is balderdash.

sheri_no_girls_allowed_2
When gaming is actually more like this. Both photos by Sheri McShane. CC BY-ND 3.0.

Moving on, Garfield informs listeners that GamerGate is “the ongoing troll crusade…wherein a small rabble is using a trumped-up scandal as cover for a full-on attack on female game-makers and game critics.”

Wonderful! Such unequivocal language means we’re finally going to hear how GamerGate’s leaders (I guess we’re also about to learn who its leaders are!) orchestrated the anonymous threats against Quinn, Sarkeesian, Wu, and others. We’re going to hear about extensive opinion polling or social media analytics whereby we learn that most GamerGate supporters also support rape threats and death threats.

Of course, what we actually hear more of that armchair psychoanalysis about how GamerGaters are Tea Party-esque reactionaries, terrified at the prospect of sharing their pastime with new faces.

GRANT: In reality it’s a, it’s a re-balancing. Video gaming on the heels of its 2011 Supreme Court victory, increasing sales, increasing software and tools that make making games open to more people than ever. As it grows into that, I think a lot of people have a lot of concerns about new voices. Voices that are often times critical of what’s come before, entering the fray. It’s an old war. Right? It’s the battle against progressive voices. What they see as political correctness being inserted into a formally “safe” space. It is a culture war.

Okay, well that’s a nice opinion. Too bad it’s given sans facts or any evidence at all really. I’ve said in previous posts that I find the “scared about new voices” line unconvincing in light of broader polling data about Millennial attitudes on diversity. It’s entirely possible gamers are generally progressive but hold reactionary attitudes about gaming. But I’ve yet to see any data that backs up the “Tea Party” theory of GamerGate.

BOB: The kinds of complaints that we heard about gaming and its occasional misogyny, its sexist characterization of female characters and so forth. We’ve heard them about the larger popular culture for decades. But there is not a concerned effort to attack and threaten the critics. Why do you suppose that this subculture of gamers has been so, uh, well…vicious?

GRANT: It’s accepted to criticize these tropes. And fail the Bechtel test, the Bechtel test being two women having a conversation that isn’t about a man. Every year, plenty of movies fail that test. Gaming was under-analyzed, right? It was shunned from academia. Under-critiqued. But a lot of the criticism that’s also been leveled against games has been hyperbolic. A bad faith effort. There’s not shortage of examples of the main stream media vilifying games. And getting basic facts wrong. So, a lot of the gaming audience looked at that criticism and learned a certain way of responding to it. Which is that it’s wrong. It’s ignorant. And then when criticism from inside happens. Criticism about the way women are presented. One example that’s very notable here – they deal with it in a sort of hysterical way. In a reactionary way.

It’s certainly bracing to hear someone tell me what GamerGate supporters are upset about with such certainty, because it means I won’t be able to remember any examples of people criticizing the gaming press or gaming critics for hyperbolic or inaccurate blather. None.

BOB: Do we even know who the ‘they’ is?

GRANT: We know who some of those people are, right? A lot of them are anonymous. Gamergate would be quick to say — well that’s not who we are. It’s this logical fallacy where they can define a movement whose inclusion is exactly ten characters long. All you need to do to be a member of this movement is type #Gamergate in Twitter. And so they’ll reject any behavior that they don’t want. While basically condoning it and allowing it and boosting it. It’s this very strange intentionally chaotic mission. Where they reject basic order and structure. So as a journalist its really hard to tackle it. And the only benefit I can see of being leaderless, of being amorphous is that they can continue their campaign of harassment with little to no culpability.

Wait, if GamerGate supporters aren’t allowed to define their movement, then why does the media get that privilege? How exactly does the ability of any jackass to sign up for a Twitter account mean GamerGaters are “basically condoning it and allowing it and boosting” threats and harassment? Why is it so easy to find examples of GamerGate supporters condemning (and reporting) threats and harassment? With no leaders to decide anything, how did this leaderless social movement decide it would remain leaderless and unorganized?

I presume Grant has been on the Internet long enough to know that Twitter hashtag campaigns don’t have leaders. People see something going on and decide to join in. A few months ago, women took the opportunity with the YesAllWomen hashtag to describe the “obstacle course of sexual menace,” to quote Jordan Klepper, though which they navigate daily. No one made the idiotic suggestion that the movement was intentionally remaining “leaderless” and “amorphous” so asinine nonsense could be freely posted in news publications and the Twitterverse.

Finally on this point, the notion that the gaming press has struggled to “tackle” GamerGate is beyond farcical.

BOB: IS there any public face. Is there anyone who is willing to attach his — I assume his — to this whole supposed scandal.

GRANT: Their actually is a notable her, Christina Hoff Sommers. She’s a scholar in residence at the American Enterprise Institute which is a right-leaning think tank. She has no interest in video games. But she was interested in maybe getting some new converts to her particular ideology. A lot of cases the people who are signal boosting this topic, doin’t have anything to do with games. People like Adam Bolland who uses his platform on Twitter to sort of amplify a lot of this stuff. He’s not a gamer. He doesn’t have an interest in this culture. It’s a political platform. A lot of the Gamergate adherents are really happy to embrace these opportunists. They call Christina Hoff Sommers ‘mom’ — it’s a very strange, I don’t know, almost like hunger for validation. They do not have a lot of public faces. The ones that they do have they are very attached to.

You know what they say about assumptions, Bob….

In Dan Auerbach’s Oct. 28 Slate stratagem for tricking the Grangerfords and the Sheperdsons of GamerGate into stopping, he lists the failed tactics GamerGate critics, among which is the “[c]onvenient erasure of Gamergate’s many female, LGBTQ, and minority members, however wrong they may be.” Here are some of those folks who’ve added their names and faces in support of GamerGate, including game developers and journalists who Grant has ignored. My favorite example is game dev David Jaffe who was for GamerGate, before announcing that he feels he has to condemn it (but is still supports it).

To end, I’d like to ask you to compare Bob Garfield’s interview with Chris Grant with this On the Media piece on news coverage of Israel-Palestine (audio, 24 minutes, transcript here). Moderating a debate between two seemingly intractable sides of a controversial issue is harder than agreeing with someone over how much you agree with them, but the listener comes away with a far deeper understanding of the issues. (I found Friedman’s conspiratorial view that reporters covering the Gaza war went out of their way to avoid shooting footage and photos of Hamas fighters unconvincing, but his point about erroneously simplistic narratives is well-taken.)