Freddie deBoer doesn't like Gawker's publication of an exposé on infamous internet creep Violentacrez: "I'll take honest depravity over depravity masked as righteousness."
It's not sympathy for ViolentAcrez that moves me, but rather contempt for the deep hypocrisy of Gawker, along with its always-hilarious sanctimony of convenience. I would argue that, in fact, Gawker's writers and audience partake in essentially the same thing that many Redditors who frequent the uglier sub-Reddits do: being titillated, in various ways, by content that they simultaneously disclaim and enjoy.
Without casting aspersions on deBoer's motives here, I can't help but notice that this looks a lot like the oldest steering trick in the book: if you don't like something that someone has written (or the journalist who wrote it), try and associate it with the publisher.
If the publisher has a good reputation, the aim is to to force the institution to take collective responsibility for the individual's beliefs—for example, to cast a contributor's opinion as that of the publisher itself.
If the publisher has a questionable reputation, however — let's say, Gawker — the intent is to cast the contributor's work as untrustworthy by association, regardless of its qualities.
In both cases, it encourages the reader to think not of the story's facts, but the moral and intellectual abstractions surrounding its publication: the politics, the motives, the journalistic legitimacy. The publisher, the writer and the story all become props in the play of ideas.
DeBoer's opinions about Gawker are interesting, but in picking Violentacrez as his horse–casting a explicit equivalency between what he did and what Gawker does–I think he's made a terrible mistake.
Consider two simple truths of this story:
1. Michael Brutsch acted in public, made only lazy attempts to pseudonymize himself as Violentacrez, and openly revealed his identity to others who knew him. Even if we accept the crazy proposition that he had a reasonable expectation of privacy in all this, its was used often to conceal his own invasion of other people's.
2. Brutch's public activities — he maintained a hugely popular 'jailbait' forum which sexualized children; boasted of sexually exploiting his own step-daughter; and participated in a 'creepshots' forum that preyed on unsuspecting girls — are definitively matters of public interest. Moreover, it's all taking place at one of the world's best and biggest web forums: Brutch was a key player in exploiting Reddit's strong free-speech policies and its weak management to create a safe place for misogynists, racists and pedophiles to gather and acculturate.
There's nothing criminal here–like deBoer, I'd guess that most of us following the story are free speech maximalists. The world won't be a safer or less misogynistic place for the downfall of Violentacrez. But it's absolutely creditable to write about it, and about him, no matter where you're doing it.
If you want to argue over institutional legitimacy, publishing Chen's exposé surely improves Gawker's reputation … even if you think that it's got a long way to go.
Much of deBoer's post is given to dressing down New York lefties and writer Bhaskar Sunkara over a tweet that deBour misunderstood. But he's shooting straight when he makes this point:
ViolentAcrez is a deplorable guy. But he is honest in his ugly behavior … it is a culture of open depravity. Gawker, and the larger scene of elite New York media it exemplifies, are something more devious, something more dangerous.
I just don't buy it. Who can, hand on heart, prefer the "honest depravity" of a prolific victimizer of the weak over the "hypocritical" journalism that exposes him? It's an entirely too abstract–and too privileged–viewpoint.