I’m no stranger to receiving hate and abuse on the Internet, and beyond. I’m not going to link to any of it in this post. But if you’ve been following my career or PandoDaily for a while, you’ve probably seen it. Depending on the day, we’re too soft on the companies we cover, or we’re too hard on them. We’re in our investors’ pockets, or we’re deliberately trying to poke them in the eye.
Still, at least these days — as I approach 40, and with two young kids — most of the hate I get is about my work. A few years ago, it was my gender and appearance that focused the attention of trolls. I have to say, I don’t miss those days.
Generally speaking, I ignore hate — at myself or at other people. It’s just become a fact of life, especially in the age of anonymous comments. But when you wake up on Sunday and find that the New York Times has lowered itself to the level of a comment troll, something has to be said.
New York Times Op-Ed columnist Frank Bruni has written a salacious post today about the Anthony Weiner campaign, in which he attacks journalist Olivia Nuzzi in his opening line saying: “One young staffer on Anthony Weiner’s mayoral campaign saw a chance at bright lights and went after it, spilling secrets in return for a glamour shot on the front page of a major newspaper, determining that attention was worth whatever crassness it called for.”
None of that is true.
Before writing the piece, Bruni seems not to have done so much as a cursory Google search on Nuzzi. If he did, he might have found that she hasn’t actually done a single interview or TV appearance since Anthony Weiner’s communications director called her a “slut bag” and “bitch” and far worse; that her only statement on the matter was accepting Barbara Morgan’s apology; that she’s kept her head down and continued to work on other pieces while this drama has swirled around her.
But no, those facts would screw up Bruni’s trolling. If he’d reached out to Nuzzi — or even just read what Paul Carr wrote about it here — he might know that she had no say or control in the New York Daily News plastering her Twitter picture across the front page. That she was as stunned by that as anyone else. Or he might have learned that when Piers Morgan’s producer made lewd comments about her “body,” she hung up on her and decided right then and there not to do any TV, lest she become the story. Lest she be a fame whore.
I had an editor who used to always joke “nothing ruins a nice, clean story line like actual reporting.” In today’s sick gossip blog world nothing ruins a page-view grabbing screed like a cursory Google search.
The premise for Bruni’s column is as fact-checked as anything a gossip blog has written about me in the past few months. Only, sadly, this is written in the New York Times about a 20-year old girl who is just starting her career. She doesn’t have the luxury of steadying herself with the lessons learned from more than a decade of surviving hate. She doesn’t yet have years of knowing it all blows over if you just continue to keep your head down and work hard.
This is the problem in a world where we’re no longer outraged when gossip blogs outright make things up to suit a pre-ordained narrative. Bit by bit, it lowers the expectations we have of all media. Soon enough an unwarranted, made-up attack makes it into what’s supposed to be the gold standard — the paper of record. And the columnist just gets away with it with nothing more than a little Twitter outrage.
The worst part about this whole story — as I wrote in a PandoDigest last week — is that Morgan has won. The fact that she kept her job after calling 20-year-old Nuzzi a fame whore, and a twat and a slut bag is amazing. But far worse is that she succeeded in cementing the world’s view of Nuzzi.
And she succeeded, precisely because Nuzzi isn’t all the things that Morgan alleged. She didn’t want to be the focus of the story, so she turned down multiple offers to go on TV and tell her side of things. She didn’t want to be the fame whore that Morgan alleged. But in doing so, she gave up her opportunity to reframe the narrative. It was almost extortion by the press: Don’t want to be called a fame whore? Then come on TV and make your case!
Morgan apologized, but is she truly sorry? Her technique of silencing and discrediting Nuzzi through profane bullying sure seems to have worked effectively. And she didn’t even have to take one for the team; she got to keep her job too. Even the paper of record is concurring and citing her very words as fact. Her very words that bear no resemblance to the truth and wouldn’t hold up under a cursory old media fact check.
Is this what it’s come to?
We all have to be fame whores to combat an allegation of being fame whores? We’re held hostage to people who make things up and can continue to make things up with no reprisal until we answer them? There’s no more room in our media world for taking the high road? No assumption that even the New York Times might call before slandering you?
As someone who has spent a career getting called worse things than Nuzzi, getting threats of gang rape via Twitter and blog comments, and having literally hundreds of smear pieces written about her on gossip blogs, I’d like to offer Nuzzi and anyone in her situation some advice.
Embrace and extend.
By that I mean: Own the hatred. Take the extra thousands of Twitter followers. Use the notoriety and name recognition to your advantage. Let it make a bigger name for yourself. And all the while, recast your own narrative day by day through your actions. This is a long game. Work that much harder to be a great journalist. Write stories that matter and have nothing to do with Anthony Weiner. When you get TV interviews offered — from producers who aren’t bizarrely hitting on you — use them to promote the real work you are doing.
Keep at it. Don’t show fear. Don’t run away. Most important: Don’t let them recast the narrative of you in your own head. You and the people close to you know the truth.
Enjoy the moment when each new person who meets you says something like, “Oh, I thought you’d be much different.” Be gracious years from now when people apologize for jumping to conclusions about you back when you were in the middle of a shit storm of negative publicity. Barbara Morgan isn’t in control — you are.
This will all blow over, precisely because the lies that Barbara Morgan made up about you that Frank Bruni and the New York Times are helping spread aren’t true. That’s the thing about the truth. It always comes out eventually. They can hijack this moment of your career, but they can’t hijack your entire career, if you don’t let them.