Taibbi: The Washington Post’s “Libs of TikTok” Nothingburger

Taibbi: The Washington Post’s “Libs of TikTok” Nothingburger

By Matt Taibbi of the TK News Substack

The Washington Post, in the person of sobbing wokestress Taylor Lorenz, ran a story the other day about the “Libs of TikTok” account. I said some half-hearted things in defense of it initially. After a second look, I take them all back. If the Columbia Journalism School offered a class called “Dogshit Exposés,” this would be on the prospectus. It may not be first-week material, but it’s in the course.

As a general rule, anyone volunteering to enter the public discourse who has influence is fair game for journalists. We have strictures against outing assault victims, jurors, some varieties of whistleblower, and a few other groups. A vitriolic social media account, particularly one that gives interviews to the New York Post, doesn’t rate. LibsOfTikTok, basically an ongoing sizzle reel of loony classroom justice warriors acting out, really has had influence on controversial legislation, and the public has the right to know, for instance, if it’s being funded by the Koch Brothers or a group like ALEC.

It isn’t, however, and that’s where we start with “Meet the woman behind Libs of TikTok, secretly fueling the right’s outrage machine.” Reading the article, I imagined Lorenz sedating Post editors with blowdarts and uploading the piece while they were asleep. There’s just nothing in it. “LibsOfTikTok” is not run by a deep-pocketed political concern but by a random Internet person not long removed from running a parody account featuring Joe Biden tweeting as a houseplant.

If you’re going to do a story like this, where the big reveal is someone’s identity, at least put some work into it. Who is Chaya, the woman behind LibsOfTikTok? Where did she grow up? What influenced her? How did she come by the views she espouses? Even the person completely opposed to what this account does learns nothing about it, except one thing: the name. The Post also originally included a link to the woman’s employer, her employer’s address, and other details, but removed it after a backlash. It’s theoretically possible that was inadvertent, but if you don’t need more clarity on how that happened, please contact me, I have marshland I’m forced to sell at an advantageous price.

I asked Liz Spayd, a former managing editor at the Washington Post and former public editor of the New York Times, about the ethics of this story. Her take was similar to mine: it’s within limits, but suffers from not really telling the story.

“The story seems inbounds and justified to me because of LibsofTiktok’s prominent influence, which the Post fully demonstrates, and because it’s reasonable to wonder whether Libs is even a real person or an account created by social conservatives,” she says. “That said… in the end, the story didn’t really achieve its real purpose. If the aim was to reveal who is behind this wildly influential account they didn’t really achieve that. We know her name but not much else. That’s where it fell short.”

Lorenz was also criticized for knocking on the door of the home of a relative of the LibsOfTikTok account holder. Again, my initial reaction was to defend the practice. I’ve known reporters who’ve used this technique. One who employed it in an embezzlement story from ages ago dusted off a Clockwork Orange accent to explain his nickname for it: “The old surprise visit.” Maybe not a noble practice exactly, but a corrupt official who’s lawyered up and won’t comment could be a fair target. As Spayd says, if you identify yourself clearly, don’t threaten, and don’t show up after sundown, it’s something most reporters would probably consider kosher.

My problem is there’s no allegation of corruption or impropriety in the story. (I’m actually working on another story about a would-be corporate scandal in which a different major newspaper used the door-knock technique on a peripheral character. Maybe it’s an editors’ fad?). The Lorenz piece essentially accuses LibsOfTikTok of being popular and driving legislation like the Florida law barring discussion of sexual orientation in schools through the third grade. Also, Joe Rogan, Glenn Greenwald, and Tucker Carlson like it. It doesn’t really go beyond that.

This is the latest effort in a genre that’s becoming vogue in center-left media, which is ironic because writers from outlets like the New York Times and Washington Post used to look all the way down their noses at Fox schticks like the “O’Reilly Ambush.” Meanwhile, other forms of, “Say cheese, motherf—!” -type journalism like Project Veritas have usually been considered beneath contempt by j-school types.

There have always been gotcha artists in right media, but the surprise visit is increasingly being deployed to “out” random people whose main offense is supporting conservative causes. The first bizarre case I noticed was in 2018, when CNN knocked on the door of an old lady in Florida who was part of Team Trump Broward County. The group unwittingly co-hyped an event with a Russian-backed Facebook account calling itself “Being Patriotic.”

The CNN reporter braced grandma in her doorway, and when she denied being involved with Russians, he said, “But you guys were involved with Being Patriotic, right?” (A pun-question! Cleverness!) To which she said, “Very patriotic.” What kind of gotcha is that? Even if the story’s right, there’s no allegation this person did anything but promote what she thought was a Trump rally.

Rather than confront real power centers, the largest and richest media corporations – eg, the Bezos-owned WPost – allied with those factions and attack citizens.

This 2018 CNN obscenity is most illustrative: they confronted an old lady with a tiny pro-Trump FB page on her yard: pic.twitter.com/EZnBNjR0Za

— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) April 20, 2022

There have been many more of these of late. The Post did another story outing people who donated to the Canadian trucker protests, including random individuals giving as little as $100. The Intercept did a story that went through hacked Gab accounts and identified accounts in what they called an “online safe space for white supremacists.” I asked the reporter in that case if he’d be naming individuals under that sunny rubric, and would they be public figures only? The sarcastic reply: “Of course I won’t be naming anyone. Racist white people must be defended at all costs.”

In another instance, the Daily Beast went looking for the person behind the notorious “Drunk Pelosi” video. Beast writer Kevin Poulsen went on this quest because, being insane, he assumed Russians had to be behind it. It turned to be not Russians but a “Donald Trump superfan and occasional sports blogger” from the Bronx. Absurdly, the Beast then tried to say the newsworthy angle was that “Russia doesn’t have a monopoly on disinformation.” In other words, we went looking for Russians, and, not finding them, declared the absence of Russians to be the story.

A little-noticed aspect of that story (this has happened more than once) was that Facebook appeared to aid in confirming the man’s identity, a point that made even the Columbia Journalism Review queasy. They quoted a former Snopes managing editor about this “potentially disturbing” aspect of the tale, who noted “how readily Facebook apparently gave up his identity, and yet they won’t reveal so many other things.”

These stories aren’t done to expose corruption, unless you think being pro-Trump or supporting Canadian truckers or being on Gab qualifies, which apparently is what’s going on in a lot of cases. There’s clearly a new mentality in which media outlets believe we’re in a kind of civil war, which needs to be fought to the last, even if it means taking one insignificant head at a time. In order to justify these stories, people like Lorenz are forced to stretch the definition of newsworthiness to absurd degrees.

Lorenz tries to indict the LibsOfTikTok account via a technique I like to call the “transitive property of whatever.” The actual transitive property says that if x=y and y=z, then x=z. The transitive property of whatever holds that if x=y and y=z, then f. Also d, k, and q. This is how it looks in print:

The popularity of Libs of TikTok comes at a time when far-right communities across the Internet have begun doxing school officials and calling for their execution. Parents of LGBTQ+ youth have been driven out of their towns. Local school board members have reported death threats

None of those stories involved LibsOfTikTok. For Lorenz, it was enough that “the popularity of Libs of TikTok” came “at a time” when those events also took place. A passage that did seem to show a direct cause and effect, meanwhile, was written with impressive disingenuousness:

Tyler Wrynn, a former English teacher in Oklahoma, posted a video telling LGBTQ kids shunned by their parents that Wrynn was “proud of them” and loved them; it was featured on Libs of TikTok last week. Since being featured on the page Wrynn has been barraged with harassment and death threats.

It’s absolutely legitimate to complain about death threats to this teacher, if that’s in fact what’s going on (Lorenz doesn’t document it, but let’s stipulate). However, Lorenz is doing Post readers a disservice by implying that Oklahoma parents are going after a poor teacher for telling shunned LGBTQ parents he’s “proud of them.” The line that actually triggered the controversy was, “If your parents don’t accept you for who you are, fuck them. I’m your parents now.” Ask any parent from either party how they’d react to hearing their child’s middle school teacher say that.

Probably the most legitimate complaint against the account would be its promotion of the “grooming” theme, which I think sucks and is libelous when it’s done on the left and sucks the same way in this context. This is the only possible reed upon which Lorenz can hang the preposterous accusation she leveled at someone she (mistakenly, as it turned out) believed to be the account holder. In a direct message asking for comment, she wrote, “You’re being implicated as starting a hate campaign against LGBTQ people”:

LibsOfTikTok is basically a series of videos, often of educators, saying and doing controversial things. In one, a teacher tells students, “When a baby is born, a doctor makes a guess as to whether it’s a boy or a girl.” You may find the account’s decision to post that video a provocation designed to arouse sentiment against people with certain beliefs about trans issues, but that alone doesn’t make it a “hate campaign.” It’s a snapshot of something that happened. One could argue the videos present a disproportionate picture of the reality in public schools, through selective editing and choosing only the most far-out material, but this would need to be demonstrated. I’d have liked to see an effort to sort out how often, really, teachers talk about their gender identities or have kids wear “pronoun pins.”

Lorenz doesn’t even delve into this, instead just complaining that the Libs account holder “has encouraged her audience to overtake school boards and run in local elections,” as if this were a crime and not ordinary political agitation. If people like Aaron Rupar can run the same sort of account and be fawned over as chroniclers and Trump-exposers, what exactly is the story here? That the account “plays on fears” by showing them true things?

For all this, I’d still defend Lorenz’s right to publish stories like this, had she not been on MSNBC about ten seconds ago bawling about being the subject of this exact type of reporting. Lorenz has repeatedly claimed that adverse media attention has made her the subject of “harassment,” going so far as to say she suffers from “severe PTSD” as a result. A whole study was done by the “NYU Center for Social Media” claiming that after being mocked by people like my friend Greenwald, for instance for being a “deeply unwell Swiss-boarding-school-educated neurotic,” Lorenz suffered “increases in harmful speech.”

“You feel like any little piece of information that gets out on you will be used by the worst people on the Internet to destroy your life,” she howled, in the recent MSNBC appearance — literally howled:

Taylor Lorenz grew up right down the street from me, and we went to the same high school. She is a spoiled trust fund baby who is entirely out of touch with reality. Taylor spent years doxing people and now cries about unfair the world is to her. pic.twitter.com/6iodmqQLmu

— Tim Xeriland (@Xeriland) April 20, 2022

Sheesh. Is there anyone left in this business who isn’t a hypocrite?

Tyler Durden
Thu, 04/21/2022 – 12:21

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