Roseanne Barr vs. Joy Reid: When the Media Dumpster Dives

I hadn’t planned on writing another piece on the Joy Reid old weblog posts. I made the point that the Wayback Machine doesn’t guarantee authenticity, which too many people mistook to mean that I was undermining the Wayback Machine’s integrity. Then I made others unhappy when I agreed with the Daily Beast’s take that it was *unlikely Joy Reid’s posts were hacked.

Discussing the topic is just a lose/lose, and frankly, I felt it was much ado about nothing. Yes, nothing. Twelve year old weblog posts, published back in a time when we were all much more casual about our weblog writing  pales as a subject compared to, say, discovering that Hurricane Maria killed over 4,600 people in Puerto Rico.

But in the wake of the Roseanne Barr Twitter implosion, publications feel they have to find some form of ‘balanced’ news coverage, so they dumpster dived, yet again, into Reid’s weblog, which is back online at the Wayback Machine.

This time it’s a post discovered by BuzzFeed. Reid posted a link to the conspiracy film, 9/11 Loose Change. BuzzFeed then devoted about 500 more words writing about the old Reid post than Reid actually wrote 12 years ago. And you knew it was a “balanced and fair” piece when they referenced the Barr tweets at the end of the writing.

Let’s see this latest heinous piece. What Reid wrote is:

I might have posted this before, but there’s an updated version of a documentary now called “Loose Change 9/11.” The fundamental question is: do you believe the official story of 9/11? If you do, great. If you don’t, then everything that happened after that is called into serious question. Even if you’re agnostic, or you tend to believe that al-Qaida attacked the World Trade Center and Pentagon and that the government had no warning such a thing could happen, it’s worth taking a second look. Here’s the link.

What she said is either you believe the premise of the movie or you don’t. Regardless, here’s a link to the video. Unsaid in the post was, “Here’s a link to the video that everyone is talking about now.”

Now, Reid gave the video more credibility than others did, but she didn’t become a birther and start spouting InfoWars at this point. She never referenced the video again as far as I’ve been able to discover.

In fact, if you look at all her posts from March 2006, you’ll find that she covered an enormous range of topics: from Brokeback Mountain, to Naji Sabri being a CIA source, to George Clooney getting into a huff with Huffington Post,  to Walmart paying bloggers (ah, those were the days), to some kind of conservative baby boom.  As you can see from the number of articles just for March, Reid posted frequently, and mostly about topics that were in the day’s news. Like so many other webloggers of the time.

Weblogs were less like the Washington Post and more like Facebook or Twitter of the time: a stream of conciousness, separated into timestamped chunks. Every once in a while we’d carefully research and write longer pieces (still called “long reads”, even today), but for the most part, we tossed up whatever sounded interesting and assumed that the reader had access to the context of the post, and who we were at the time, to fully understand what we were saying.

It irritates the hell out of me to see these casually published blurbs brought out over a decade later, separately and without context, by writers who, frankly, should know better. In probable fact, they most likely do know better  but they don’t care: it generates attention. And it sure hits that ‘fair and balanced’ sweet spot.

I’ve had several weblogs and, thankfully, the Wayback Machine has captured bits and pieces from all … except the very first. My first weblog was using a Userland weblogging system, and the old posts were overwritten in the Wayback Machine.

If they had still existed, you would have seen my thoughts just after 9/11. And my thoughts at the time were not something I’m proud of today.

Right after 9/11, I hated Muslims. I blamed all Muslims for what happened on 9/11. I would get into battles with commenters who tried to open my eyes to the ugliness of my grief-stricken bigoted rants and I would push back on everything they said, because all I could see was that last plane hitting that last building and the buildings collapsing.

I could have fit right into a Trump crowd at that time. I was so angry, I probably would have even embraced a Trump Presidency if he had promised to exact revenge on anyone and everyone even remotely connected to the attack.

I’m not sure what stopped me, brought me to my senses. Time, maybe. It takes a special kind of dedication to hold hatred in your heart over time. And I like to think I just don’t have that kind of dedication in me.

What I wrote then, is not who I am now. My writing reflected not only the time, but the context of the immediate actions leading up to the writing. And it reflected the profound grief and shock I experienced from the events that long ago day.

I’d hate for some word jockey to come along now and dumpster dive through my past writing, dig these up, and then expose them as somehow being representative of what I am today.

Yes, they were my words, and because they were, they are a part of me. But they’re stepping stones from the past that I’ve trod in the journey to become what I am today: someone who tries really hard to be open, to be fair, to be decent.

Nothing I’ve read that Reid published long ago comes even close to the ugliness of my writing in my earlier weblog. So people will have to excuse me if I don’t jump on the ‘fair and balanced’ journalism bandwagon to rush to condemn her.

BuzzFeed, and the publications that followed its lead, have done a huge disservice to those who have published online for years. They have done a disservice to journalism. Somehow in a rush to show that publications are ‘fair and balanced’, they seek to ‘balance’ the coverage of the recent Roseanne Barr tweets  by digging up 12 year old posts from a popular progressive journalist.

If they truly want to be balanced, than what they need to do is wait 12 years and see what Roseanne Barr is tweeting about in the future and compare it with what Joy Reid says today. Or maybe they should just stop dumpster diving into our past and let our actions today speak for who we are.

Epilog

Joy Reid has issued a graceful apology for her past writings. This won’t be enough for Fox, who wants blood for Roseanne Barr, but it should enough, even for the kids at BuzzFeed.

Epilog, part 2

Appreciations to Charles Johnson, of Little Green Footballs fame, for sharing this post on Twitter.  We share the same evolution.

 

  • I particularly want to note the excellent work by Professor Michael Nelson, from Old Dominion University.
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