Gawker Tries To Explain Itself
The guys at Gawker took the web yesterday in an effort to justify their sleazy article about Christine O'Donnell. They failed.
The universal, or nearly so at least, criticism directed at Gawker for its tawdry Christine O’Donnell “exclusive” prompted a response from the publisher in which they try to justify publishing what nearly everyone considered a pretty cheap shot:
Yesterday, we published the anonymous account of a young man from Philadelphia who had a naked sleepover with Delaware GOP senatorial candidate Christine O’Donnell three years ago. Some people did not like that! Here’s why we’d do it again.
Three general lines of argument have emerged attacking the post: 1) Politicians’ intimate sexual encounters—or at least this intimate sexual encounter—ought to be off-limits; 2) O’Donnell is a woman, and publishing accounts of her sexual behavior amounts to sexist “slut-shaming”; and 3) Nothing in the account we published directly contradicts O’Donnell’s public stances.
What’s missing from most of the criticism is this essential bit of context: Christine O’Donnell is seeking federal office based in part on her self-generated, and carefully tended, image as a sexually chaste woman. She lies about who she is; she tells that lie in service of an attempt to impose her private sexual values on her fellow citizens; and she’s running for Senate. We thought information documenting that lie—that O’Donnell does not live a chaste life as she defines the word, and in fact hops into bed, naked and drunk, with men that she’s just met—was of interest to our readers.
Our problem with O’Donnell—and the reason that the information we published about her is relevant—is that she has repeatedly described herself and her beliefs in terms that suggest that there is something wrong with hopping into bed, naked and drunk, with a man or woman whom one has just met. So that fact that she behaves that way, while publicly condemning similar behavior, in the context of an attempt to win a seat in the United States Senate, is a story we thought people might like to know about. We also thought it would get us lots of clicks and money and attention. But we thought it would get us clicks and money and attention because it was exposing her lies.
I know that I’m being more than a little naive to expect journalistic standards from a website that panders to people’s base desires, but the logic employed here is extraordinarily weak.
For one thing, the idea that O’Donnell has made chastity an issue in her campaign at all is simply untrue. It doesn’t appear on her website, it’s never come up during a debate, and as far as I know it isn’t part of her stump speeches or campaign literature. The only reason we know about it is because of the tapes that Bill Maher released of her appearances on Politically Incorrect in the 90s. Those tapes are fair game in the campaign, of course, and they’ve revealed a woman who, in her thirties, appeared on television talking about witchcraft, evolution, and her opposition to masturbation. Does that make them a campaign issue, though, and does it mean that we’re free to delve into the most personal aspects of someone’s life ?
I don’t think it’s any secret what I think of Christine O’Donnell. She’s not a serious person, she takes positions on issues that are simply unsupported by law or history, and she still refuses to answer serious questions about her past campaigns for public office. If I lived in Delaware, I wouldn’t vote for her (I probably wouldn’t vote for Chris Coons either, just to be clear about it). None of that means, however, that I find it acceptable for a media outlet to publish an anonymous article about an incident that may or may not have occurred three years ago, at least not when it’s an article about something that’s purely personal. What Christine O’Donnell may or may not have done in private on October 31, 2007 isn’t relevant in a campaign for the Senate in 2010.
Like I said, I don’t expect a site like Gawker to have very much integrity, journalistic or otherwise, but to try to justify what was clearly just a sleazy personal attack as a legitimate foray into the political world is, I think, beyond the pale.
And let’s be honest here. Gawker didn’t publish this article because of some desire to inform the voters of Delaware. They published it to get web traffic. I hope they enjoyed the one day jump in traffic the article gave them, because it also managed to find away to get me, Sarah Palin, Chris Coons, the left and right blogosphere, and the National Organization for Women on the same side in recognizing that Gawker is a site run by cheap hacks.