The Washington Post has accused billionaire Elon Musk, who is set to acquire Twitter for $44 billion, of “targeting” the company’s employees for harassment.
In actuality, all Musk did was offer some entirely valid criticisms of a specific, high-level employee: Vijaya Gadde, a top executive at Twitter and someone Politico once described as “the most important Silicon Valley executive you’ve never heard of.” And if criticizing someone on Twitter is equivalent to harassing them, has The Washington Post not committed the exact same crime?
The Post‘s confused and contradictory reporting on this issue notes that Saagar Enjeti, co-host of the podcast Breaking Points, named Gadde as Twitter’s “top censorship advocate” for her integral role in the company’s decisions to suspend former President Donald Trump’s account, and more infamously, to prevent users from sharing The New York Post‘s Hunter Biden story.
Musk replied to Enjeti’s tweet with this comment: “Suspending the Twitter account of a major news organization for publishing a truthful story was obviously incredibly inappropriate.”
Not only is Musk absolutely correct that muzzling the Hunter Biden story was a bad decision: Twitter actually agrees that it was a bad decision. Former CEO Jack Dorsey has described that action as a “total mistake” and repeatedly apologized for it. He clearly regrets working to suppress the story.
There’s really no headline here. If there is a headline, it should probably be: Elon Musk Agrees With Twitter That Censoring the Hunter Biden Story Was Wrong.
Yet here’s how The Washington Post headlined this revelation: “Elon Musk boosts criticism of Twitter executives, prompting online attacks.”
The author of that article, Post tech writer Elizabeth Dwoskin, summarized her reporting thusly:
NEW: Two days into Musk buying Twitter, he’s using his megaphone to help target Twitter employees, prompting a barrage of attacks (including racist ones) from his fans.
Twitter workers have repeatedly asked management for protection from this scenario. https://t.co/zfTXhKSeVn
— Elizabeth Dwoskin (@lizzadwoskin) April 27, 2022
This is a very bizarre line of reasoning. Musk did not pen any racist attacks on Gadde; he echoed an accurate criticism of Twitter policies for which she is directly responsible. Obviously, he is not at fault for nastier comments that come her way.
Yet Dwoskin is very clearly placing blame on both Musk and Enjeti, the latter of whom shared the request for comment he received from her at 2:06 a.m. Dwoskin asked Enjeti’s producer whether Enjeti had any concern “that mentioning a specific Twitter executive could result in attacks on that executive”?
“For example, one of the commenters on the tweets made racist comments against Gadde, and others said she should be fired,” said Dwoskin.
But taken to its logical conclusion, isn’t Dwoskin’s article doing the same thing? After all, she is directing criticism—legitimate in her view, but criticism nonetheless—at Enjeti and Musk. She “mentioned” them, to use her own terminology. No doubt this will produce some angry denunciations; Musk is currently receiving both hearty praise and relentless demonization as a result of his Twitter purchase. If Musk is “targeting” Gadde for harassment, what is the best way to describe a Washington Post article that wrongly maligns him? Isn’t Dwoskin “targeting” Musk?
If Dwoskin and the Post reject that analogy, this is what they are saying: when the media industry holds people to account, it’s noble and justified; but when people outside media hold people to account, it’s an act of targeted harassment. The media then insist these acts of targeted harassment (as they define it) are newsworthy, and the cycle repeats itself.
This was the subtext of last week’s Washington Post expose on Libs of TikTok, which revealed the name of the woman behind the influential rightwing Twitter account. Libs of TikTok collects and republishes videos depicting progressive teachers and activists making comments that attract mockery from conservatives; by exposing the account, The Washington Post sought to shed light on the inner workings of the rightwing outrage machine. But the woman’s identity wasn’t particularly important to the story, and revealing it undoubtedly subjected her to considerable opprobrium.
In response, fans of Libs of TikTok relentlessly assailed the story’s author, Taylor Lorenz. Much of the anti-Lorenz campaign was itself creepy and vile. But it’s getting somewhat difficult to delineate legitimate reporting that serves the public interest from malicious spotlighting of political foes, unless one takes the clearly dubious position that exposes crafted by journalists are de facto legitimate.
At the very least, The Washington Post should ween itself from the idea that mentioning someone means targeting them for harassment, or make piece with the criticism of its self-dealing double standard.