Archive for July, 2015

Full Disclosure

Posted on July 27th, 2015 in Uncategorized | 13 Comments »

A commenter below points out that, when writing about Gawker and Nick Denton, I should have acknowledged that Gawker has written negative things about me.

I have no idea if Gawker has written negative things about me. I wouldn’t be surprised, but if Gawker has, I have forgotten.

Jezebel, one of Gawker’s companion websites, has written negative things about me. But then writer Anna Merlan had to apologize for them, because they literally could not have been more wrong, as was proved in about a day.

But if you want to know the truth, I wasn’t really bothered by what Jezebel wrote, because it was just silly and ad hominem; it’s much more irritating to be criticized when the critic is right.

And then the writer of the Jezebel thing apologized. It was a snarky apology—”This is what a professional journalistic correction looks like…”, an oxymoronic claim—but whatever. I accepted the apology and moved on—and encouraged some of the people who kept criticizing her to do the same.

So, yes, by all means, I’m happy to disclose that, and grateful to the commenter for pointing it out. But it wasn’t in my head when I was writing what I wrote about Nick Denton.

In Fairness to Nick Denton

Posted on July 20th, 2015 in Uncategorized | 24 Comments »

This response to the resignations of two of his editors feels much more honest and thoughtful than the note I criticized in the post below.

This is the company I built. I was ashamed to have my name and Gawker’s associated with a story on the private life of a closeted gay man who some felt had done nothing to warrant the attention. We believe we were within our legal right to publish, but it defied the 2015 editorial mandate to do stories that inspire pride, and made impossible the jobs of those most committed to defending such journalism.


Though I would delete the words “some felt.”

The Cowardice of Nick Denton

Posted on July 18th, 2015 in Uncategorized | 19 Comments »

I don’t need to say much about why Gawker’s recent post outing a married, male publishing executive was disgusting. It’s already been said: The man wasn’t a public figure, Gawker allowed itself to be complicit in a blackmail scheme, and exposing the private conflict of a man just because he works at a publishing company you don’t like, or is the brother of a financier you don’t like—or just for buzz, or clicks—is indefensible.

But you know all that already.

No, what really gets me is the pusillanimous statement by Gawker owner Nick Denton explaining why he and the the majority of the board that runs Gawker decided to take the post down.

Because Denton refuses to take responsibility for a post that has just destroyed a man’s life. Instead, he argues, the fault lies in the shifting standards of the Internet.

Here’s how he makes this disgraceful argument.

He begins by saying, well, look, this story we posted wasn’t really so bad.

First, he calls it “an editorial close call,” which it shouldn’t have been.

Then he adds,

The story involves extortion, illegality and reckless behavior, sufficient justification at least in tabloid news terms. The account was true and well-reported. It concerns a senior business executive at one of the most powerful media companies on the planet.

This is disingenuous. The story did involve extortion, yes. But Denton should have acknowledged that, by publishing the story, Gawker was complicit in that extortion. The story did “involve” illegality, but no illegality actually occurred except perhaps for the extortion that Gawker facilitated; the executive in question did not actually meet the escort. And while it is true that reckless behavior is a story for tabloids, Denton omits a key fact; that reckless behavior has to be conducted by public people to make it “newsworthy” and legally defensible. The man in question was not a public individual, despite him being (gasp) a “senior business executive”—Gawker code words for “easy target”—at “one of the most powerful media companies” on the planet. These are the buzzwords of desperate rationalization.

Denton continues: “In the early days of the Internet, that would have been enough.”

I’m not so sure that’s true—I don’t remember Matt Drudge, for example, ever outing a private person—but in any case it’s an asinine argument. It’s a bit like saying, “Well, we shot a man in the back for no reason because in the Wild West you could get away with that.” The fact that you can get away with something is no excuse for bad behavior.


But the media environment has changed, our readers have changed, and I have changed. Not only is criticism of yesterday’s piece from readers intense, but much of what they’ve said has resonated. Some of our own writers, proud to work at one of the only independent media companies, are equally appalled. I believe this public mood reflects a growing recognition that we all have secrets, and they are not all equally worthy of exposure.

There is a factual inaccuracy here and a fallacy. The factual inaccuracy is to posit that there was a time when publishing a vicious story about the personal life of a private man would have been socially or journalistically sanctioned, but that standards are now changing.

(This is not to say that such stories were never published; it is to say that no serious journalist would ever have tried to justify them.)

The fallacy is that Gawker’s only mistake was not to recognize these allegedly shifting sands of public taste. No. Gawker’s mistake was to publish a hateful piece of journalism because a) it thinks this man is powerful, and it doesn’t like powerful people, and b) to make money.

This is not about some larger cultural change, some macro-trend that Gawker—which prides itself on setting trends, not following them—was, oops, late to detect. This is about human decency and the responsible use of power. And it’s about taking responsibility for a mistake, rather than fobbing it off on changing tastes.

Denton’s refusal to take responsibility continues as he obfuscates about the damage that Gawker’s post has done.

The point of this story was not in my view sufficient to offset the embarrassment to the subject and his family, he says. And a few sentences later: This action will not turn back the clock. XXXXXXX’s embarrassment will not be eased.

[The “XXXX”s are mine. It’s a symbolic gesture, obviously, because everybody knows the man’s name. But I can’t stomach writing it just because Gawker did.)

Let’s think about that word, “embarrassment,” what it means and what it doesn’t mean, because it’s important; it’s what Denton suggests, twice, is the consequence of this post. If you fart in an elevator, you’re “embarrassed.” If you mispronounce a common word, you’re “embarrassed.” If you realize at the end of a day that you’ve been walking around with your fly open, you’re “embarrassed.”

So, no—this media executive isn’t “embarrassed.” I don’t know him, so the following are simply possibilities, but he could be “shamed.” He could be “humiliated.” He could be “ruined” or “destroyed.”

He is married; his marriage may now be over.

He has children. What will their lives be like when they show up at school on Monday? What would Denton or Gawker editor Max Read, who published the story and still defends it, say to them?

To say that he is “embarrassed” is an insult to decency, and an act of cowardice. Nick Denton published something that may have destroyed a man’s life; this is the kind of violation that people commit suicide over. To say that it caused him “embarrassment” is an act of cowardice.

Why is it so hard to take responsibility? To say, “We were wrong—really wrong—and we apologize.”

In the end, Denton can not resist a bit of self-congratulation.

As we go forward, we will hew to our mission of reporting and publishing important stories that our competitors are too timid, or self-consciously upright, to pursue.

Too timid? Too self-consciously upright?

Fuck you, Nick Denton. The reason other journalists don’t publish such stories is not because we’re timid or “self-consciously upright.” We don’t publish them because they hurt people for no valid reason.

Denton’s last words:

this decision will establish a clear standard for future stories. It is not enough for them simply to be true. They have to reveal something meaningful. They have to be true and interesting. These texts were interesting, but not enough, in my view.

This is incoherent and intellectually un-serious thought. Many people would have said that the story in question was “interesting,” and it appears to be true. So Denton has just created a standard that justifies the post he’s just removed from his site.

There is a bit of good news here. The backlash against this post, and against Gawker, has been really encouraging. The vast majority of commenters on its site are as appalled as I am about the post.

Rolling Stone has suffered tangible harm from its publication of a deliberately false story about a deliberately false accusation of rape. There may be a price to pay for Gawker too.

What Is Expected of a Blogger?

Posted on July 9th, 2015 in Uncategorized | 15 Comments »

I see that my infrequent writing has created some debate about whether or not this blog remains viable, or worth visiting, or even the state of my health. While I am happy to stir debate—always have been—the truth is, this blog has always gone through phases; it went through a long period in its beginning, for example, when three-quarters of the posts were about things that were happening at Harvard, the subject of my second book—until eventually I decided that I was no longer informed enough about goings-on there to be a meaningful and regular contributor to discussions about the world’s most powerful university. Shots in the Dark’s most recent phase, writing about the irrationality of the discussion about campus sexual assault, has been a somewhat accidental period. Though I’ve covered the subject regularly, it only became a frequent topic for me after the whole Rolling Stone thing blew up. But I never wanted to be the go-to guy for sexual assault skepticism. As you get older, I think, you want to write about things you support, not just things that outrage or depress or befuddle you.(Though, to be fair, the Rolling Stone piece was as much a measure of my passion for beautifully reported and edited journalism as it was a reflection of my doubts about the prevalence of campus sexual assault.)

I’ll grant that the infrequency of my posting is at a peak. But I think I can say that I’ve never been quite so busy in my life. Things at the day job have kicked up several notches, which is, on the whole,terrific. Worth is entering a new and really exciting phase, and I hope to be a big contributor to that. And my family is, along with all things literary, the other great joy of my life; I can never give my wife and my two boys as much time as they deserve, or as I would like to. My father wasn’t around much in my life. I don’t want to be that kind of dad.

I’m trying to exercise more, too. I’m in probably the worst physical shape I’ve been in since, well, ever, due to the difficulty of finding time to work out. (I used to be an obsessive gym rat. I still am, except now I obsess about how little I go to the gym.) At 50, I don’t love feeling out of shape; it starts to seem like a bad idea. So I’m trying to address that as well.

I’m also kicking around the idea of writing a book again; my last book, The Greatest Game, came out almost ten years ago—a fact which I have a tough time wrapping my head around. I loved that book, and I’m proud of it, but at the same time there are things about The Greatest Game that I would have done differently had I had more time and money. (I got a relatively small advance for that one, so I was working two jobs to write it, getting up at 4 AM to write the book and going to a day job at 8 AM.) Anyway, it’s not the book I want to be my last; that itch is in me, and I am going to have to scratch it soon.

So, yes, the blog has suffered as I’ve had to try to be more disciplined with my time. But it won’t go away forever; the ability to express myself in short, succinct posts matters too much to me. I’ve started tweeting now—rpbradley1 is my Twitter name—and I like that all right, but really, you can’t say much in 140 characters. It’s a thought, but not thought, if you know what I mean.

As for whether you keep reading the blog—well, I suppose that I hope you do. Every writer wants an audience. But I’ll tell you something: In the 11 years I’ve been blogging, I have never once measured the number of hits the blog receives. I don’t even know how. This is the one space where I never wanted to worry about making money from writing or how many people were reading what I wrote. Not knowing whether it was read by a thousand people or by ten was enormously liberating; truly, I was writing for myself. And the thing that’s great about that is, it’s the way I write best. It’s when I’m most honest and take the most chances, because commerce and critics don’t count, and I don’t feel like everyone is watching me, as I did with, say, American Son. I’d rather be read than not, but here, on Shots on the Dark, I really try not to worry about that.

So bear with me if you like. Don’t if you don’t. I’ll be here, though maybe not as much as I used to be. Sounds like the same will apply to some of you. Well—I hope we meet again. I think we will.