Even my boring sex life is controversial.
A week ago today, I called for the ouster of the president of the Society of Professional Journalists, after she freaked out (not for the first time) on a conference call. But it was a half-empty threat.
As I emailed my fellow SPJ board members midweek, I didn’t really want to impeach Alex Tarquinio…
I prefer Alex simply apologize for her rude behavior and vow never to do it again. I also want her to respect the board’s wishes. Only if Alex refuses to apologize and change will I make a motion to remove her – because really, what are our options at that point?
On Friday, SPJ released a letter signed by Tarquinio, president-elect Patti Newberry, and treasurer Matt Hall – in which they all apologized and vowed to “dedicate ourselves to civil and productive discourse.”
In the middle of the letter, it adds, “As SPJ national president, Tarquinio recommits to maintaining meetings that run smoothly and courteously through the completion of her term.”
Then the letter refers to my sex life. (I knew you were wondering when I was getting back to that.) It reads…
We also learned in recent days that Koretzky wrote a post on his personal blog in April that inappropriately involved SPJ. While acknowledging Koretzky’s free speech rights, we believe SPJ board members should be held to the highest standards of integrity and agree with those who find the post offensive.
That offensive post, here on this blog, calculated that almost all the sex I’ve had is because of journalism. It led some SPJers to call for my removal, like this from a former board member I served with…
…and several current directors asked me privately – as well as in an earlier draft of that letter – to take it down. I smirked at the irony of a journalism organization requesting a journalist delete a post on his private blog about his private life.
As for the single paragraph that “inappropriately involved SPJ,” I admitted I joined my college chapter because I was interested in a girl…
I’m now the longest-serving SPJ national board member, but the truth is, I wouldn’t have joined if not for that sex long ago. SPJ’s membership has plummeted by a third since I was first elected to the board in 2008, but I don’t think the organization would embrace my idea for reversing the slide. (New slogan: “Free press, free love.”)
But a sudden surge of Twitter outrage last week denounced me for writing the post at all…
So what “kind of behavior” was I condoning? I’m not sure. I described my awkward sex life without endorsing it. Since I was perplexed but not offended – how hypocritical would that be? – I did some journalism. I asked some women I trust, and who take no shit from me.
Warning: From here on, I’ll analyze an admittedly juvenile story about me having (or not having) sex. A fair question is, “For the love of God, why should anyone keep reading?”
I’m hoping the answer is: Some of this might matter to you later on, should you ever find yourself in a similar situation. Not that you’re dumb enough to describe your sex life on the Internet. But if you ever post anything others hate, maybe some of this will resonate.
1. Personal isn’t private
My first line of defense was knocked down pretty quick: This is my personal blog, and I write about personal things. But one reporter told me…
Personal blogs are that – personal. But they are also out there in the public space because you want them to be seen. This isn’t your diary.
That’s true. I’ve made a mistake many casual bloggers do. I started Journoterrorist nearly a decade ago with no clear purpose. I’ve used it to tell personal stories to the few journalists I like, mock the many journalists I don’t like, promote programs I’m running, and (lately) advocate for impeaching an SPJ president.
Nature abhors a vacuum, so I can’t blame others for interpreting my aims when I’ve failed to state any. For instance, when I told this same woman that I only wrote what many young men already think, she replied…
It’s not your job to inform all women about what goes on in the minds of all young men. So this isn’t an act of altruism on your part.
Also true. Except altruism never crossed my mind. In fact, nothing crossed my mind. I just wrote and posted something about my sex life. When I tell people I didn’t really think about it at all, they think I’m lying. That’s because human beings can grasp many complex concepts – but not randomness and nothingness.
I asked another journalist what she thought I had in mind, and she replied, “If this had appeared on a website about, say, relationship or gender issues, I would know what I was reading even if I didn’t like it. But I don’t know what your website is trying to do.”
Neither do I.
Lesson: Where you post something can add to (or subtract from) the context of the post itself.
2. Sexual isn’t necessarily demeaning
So was my post offensive? Or merely terrible?
I can’t tell, and that bugs me. Like almost everyone, I fear growing old, but less for the wrinkles and infirmities than becoming that cranky senior citizen who mutters…
I believe Jews control all the money in this country, so why are you suddenly getting on my case about it? It’s just my opinion! When I was a kid, we blood-libeled Jews all the time, and no one got mad. Those were the days!
I live in mortal fear of becoming an elderly bigot. I’m self-actualized enough to know that solitary misanthropes like me often age into cruelty. So what if I’m a misogynist who just doesn’t realize it?
Fortunately, I’m not there. Yet.
“I would categorize the blog not so much offensive as TMI,” said the first woman. “I think this is where people get confused: Is it simply sophomoric/crude or is it demeaning to women? I’m siding with the former over the latter.”
“I wasn’t offended,” said the second. “But except for some nominal self-deprecation, I don’t believe that I was all that amused, either. You came across as something of a nerd who is actually not sexist at all, but also is not particularly enlightened.”
Both women agreed: Calls for my SPJ ouster were overblown and even ridiculous.
“I think SPJ folks should be more concerned with what’s going on in their own house,” said the first. “Someone could choose not to vote for you next time around if you were running for the board, but that’s a personal choice.”
Added the second, “After watching that video, I can’t believe the SPJ is even spending five minutes on this. I can’t believe I’m spending five minutes on this.”
Now to touch the third rail of today’s gender politics: What young men think. I heard from several. One former college editor I advised summed up their sentiments in a series of texts…
They’re misguided, ridiculous, and thoughtless in their targeting. … It’s like trying to #MeToo a guy who #MeToo’d himself without then seizing the power you claim he’s mishandling. This slow news day snark I see all the time is so boring and toxic.
…which fascinates me, because some of those men I consulted know some of the women I consulted. They agree on so many other things, but definitely not this.
Lesson: In a controversy, don’t trust yourself. Trust others.
Controversy is often personal
I learned this from past social media shitstorms: When someone already hates you for something you did years ago, you’ll get hit harder for whatever’s happening now.
The tweet above, like so many calling for my ouster, are from journalists who’ve publicly accused me of evil before.
One group consists of data journalists from the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting. Two years ago, I quit the NICAR listserv after a gnashing-of-teeth-and-rending-of-garments controversy over my …. design of a T-shirt. But in a funny twist, these savvy data journalists didn’t know how to delete my account. So I kept getting their emails that kvetched about me – and to their great annoyance, I quoted those.
Not gonna get the benefit of the doubt from those folks. Or these…
The year before, I’d written about an online movement called GamerGate and even hosted a debate called AirPlay. I got ripped by Buzzfeed, praised by Forbes, and objectively covered by the Columbia Journalism Review. Every step of the way, I was attacked on Twitter, Reddit, 4chan, and 8chan.
Then, like now, SPJ leaders were mad at me – mostly because they worried the negative attention would somehow damage SPJ’s pristine reputation. They even voted to ban me from using the SPJ logo to promote AirPlay. There were calls for my voluntary resignation or forcible removal.
Just to show you how Twitter giveth and taketh, AirPlay trended No. 1 in the country, I didn’t single-handedly destroy journalism, and a couple months later, SPJ gave me an award.
Lesson: I’m not implying SPJ should give me an award for writing about my sex life. I am saying social media shitstorms pass as quickly as any other storm.
Controversy begets conspiracy
I’m amused by conspiracy theories, because they always presume I have more power than I actually possess. The tweet above somehow accuses me of pitting one group of my haters against another group of my haters. I only wish I had the juice to order my enemies to attack my enemies.
Lesson: You can’t defend yourself against conspiracy theories, because there’s no way to prove you didn’t do something. All you can do is enjoy the creative writing – and feel flattered that people who hate you think you’re so clever.
Controversy is collateral damage
One question I’ve been asked over the past week: Why did a blog post from April suddenly become controversial in June?
I’ve answered with a question: Do you think anyone would care if I didn’t humiliate SPJ’s president with a supercut of crazy? And if I didn’t do all the other crap I just mentioned?
An offensive blog post from a meek SPJ board member who never otherwise transgressed wouldn’t generate this level of outrage – or calls for his removal and a new “code of conduct.” Nor should it.
Journalists often complain when irate readers or sources scour their online history is a brazen attempt to undermine their latest story. But that’s also journalism. Sadly, it’s a valid tool that’s often wielded as a partisan weapon.
I have no problem with anyone looking up anything I’ve done in the past. I’m old enough to have made some cringe-worthy mistakes, and I regularly apologize for those when they bubble up again. But if anyone believes my personal flaws undercut my current arguments on wholly unrelated topics, nothing I can do about that.
Lesson: The messenger matters as much as the message. If you’ve dished it out before, be prepare to take it now.
Cyber bullying often isn’t
I volunteer as the adviser of a college newspaper – which horrifies some of my critics, who presume I’m creeping out the young women on staff. Actually, the newsroom conversation last week was about those critics.
One of the female editors said she felt sorry for me because, “You’re getting cyber-bullied.” I corrected her: “I’m not getting bullied at all.”
So far, not a single tweet has threatened my life, my job, or my personal property. No one has sent a dozen pizzas to my home address, or even posted my home address.
Sure, some have called for my SPJ impeachment. But that’s fair, especially if they’re members and I represent them.
To many folks, cyber-bullying is about numbers, not content. In other words, if one person calls you an asshole to their few hundred Twitter followers, that’s not bullying. But when hundreds of people call you the same thing to tens of thousands of their followers, somehow the sheer weight of the insult tips the scales into cyber-bullying.
I can honestly say I’ve never been cyber-bullied, even when GamerGaters heaped abuse on me. During that weird time, I checked Twitter after work one day and saw this…
…but 3,555 notifications of angry tweets doesn’t add up to cyber-bullying.
Lesson: Ignore the volume (loudness) and volume (amount) and focus on the content of your hate mail. And remember: Those who hate you are more motivated to rush to social media than those who like you.
Concessions are capitulation
On Twitter and elsewhere, I asked for specific suggestions to improve the post or make it suck less, depending on your perspective.
I’ve edited it often since, but not to appease my critics, who are never going to let me buy them a beer. It was just good advice. (I did indeed clarify what the tweet above suggested.)
Lessons: If your goal is to mute social media, making any changes just dials up the outrage. Why? Three reasons…
- You’ve now improved a post they want destroyed.
- It looks like you’ve admitted to being wrong, but you’re trying to do the least amount of work to get people off your ass.
- You’ve refused to take down the post and apologize as all their Twitter friends have demanded, so you’re disrespecting the will of the people.
I’m honestly confused why my blog post – as awful as it may be – is worth more social media outrage and SPJ debate than a president verbally abusing her fellow directors and actually shutting down debate.
SPJ treasurer Matt Hall believes it is. Yesterday, a former chapter president emailed several SPJ leaders, “This is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to disparage someone’s character – because you’re upset he called for impeachment.”
Hall replied, “I think the Koretzky post is as big an issue as the poor way the meeting in question was handled. I still think the post should be removed and an apology issued by Michael.”
Hall is campaigning for SPJ president, and I’ll probably vote for him. But I really disagree with him. As offensive as he believes I am, I haven’t said anything bigoted, I haven’t attacked anyone, and my board conduct hasn’t been affected by what I wrote two months ago about what happened 35 years ago.
I wrote it, I own it. But I’m not removing it or apologizing for it, either.