In The Digital Age, There’s No Way to Remove the Stain of Media Smears
In the eight months since I finally addressed my side of being falsely accused of criminal level charges on The Shitty Media Men List, I haven’t had my story acknowledged by any of the national news outlets that publicized anonymous, unvetted claims. I have, however, heard from an assortment of people who have been cancelled or smeared by reckless media crusades in recent years. Their experiences vary in several ways yet one aspect unites them: the crushing isolation and psychological damage that happened as a result, and the uncertainty of how to reassemble their lives.
Part of that is the result of the all-encompassing culture war that keeps the nation perpetually divided. Almost all of those I’ve spoken with identity somewhere left of center politically. One of the hallmarks of the liberal left in this era has been a rabid defense of journalism in the face of Donald Trump declaiming fake news at every damning story. To liberals, on every issue, if Trump criticizes it, the thing must uncritically and vociferously supported. Ostensibly this is a good thing, but it overlooks that type of complexity that marks everyday life. Reasonable critique gets brushed off as helping the other side. So if one finds themselves at the mercy of an irresponsible press, it’s unlikely they’ll receive sympathy from those they once considered allies.
There are plenty of ideological contradictions to find on both sides. With the left, if you find yourself branded as irredeemable by one of their social justice movements, you can essentially consider yourself more or less punished indefinitely. Whereas with people charged with crimes through conventional modes of justice, the left preaches for clemency and rehabilitation, but when one is smeared in the media with allegation of impropriety, it’s likely to follow them forever. Redemption doesn’t seem possible for the guilty, nor does clearing someone’s name a realistic goal for the wrongly accused.
In the digital age, when any prospective employer, nosy neighbor, or romantic partner is bound to run a Google search on you, there’s little hope to escape damaging assertions once they’re printed in a publication. That is, if you’re a marginal person unable to generate content that could counterbalance those claims, or push them to the nether regions of search results. Right to be forgotten laws, though they enjoy broad support in the United States, have yet to be implemented here.
Andrew Londre can attest to this. He reached out to me a few weeks ago to recount the miserable experience he’s had the last four years desperately trying to clear his name after a newspaper ran poorly sourced hit pieces on him allegedly misusing community project funds. Though he says employees of the paper acknowledges problems with the stories, the top editor refused to correct critical claims. Because of this, he says, he’s been shunned by his community and unable to secure work once potential employers stumble on these stories on the first page of his search results.
Londre wrote that he’s been diagnosed with a psychological disorder akin to PTSD. While I haven’t had the opportunity to check in with a psychologist the last few years, I wouldn’t be surprised if I dealt with something similar. I remember the first two years after the list appeared, the constant anxiety of trying to navigate social media, where colleagues and friends frequently invoke the list and decried anyone on it as a monster who should be cast out of polite society, despite a wholesale lack of investigation into the truth behind claims.
I remember trying to maintain a presence on Twitter for the first two years after the list appeared, nevertheless terrified of being called out before a crowd of tens of thousands, yet hoping I could keep my professional life afloat. I worried about setting random people off with the wrong statement, an improper joke, that they would respond by calling me out as someone on the list. It happened a few times. In response to a critical post I made about Barstool Sports, several of their fans called me a rapist, despite the fact I hadn’t even been accused of rape on the list. I watched others get dragged similarly.
An easy suggestion would be simply to log off, though as someone who had made his living in online media for over a decade, that was easier said than done. Eventually though I did begin to spend less and less time online, as the betrayal I felt stung too much, and knowing all the work I had done for years had been rendered essentially worthless. Never mind how much I helped others on the come up in their careers; they wanted nothing to do with me now and certainly did not offer to help.
Those who support cancel culture, or simply don’t wish to feel bad for those who run afoul of its excesses, often glibly tell its victims to simply seek other lines of work. Switching careers midstream is no easy task in the best of circumstances, and especially when one is stripped of social resources due to the shame of critical press.
So I’m doing what little I can to amplify Andrew’s quest to clear the record about his ordeal, even as I’ve not been able to fully do that for myself. I know the torturous feeling of facing a future where I might never get out from under a spreadsheet entry that probably took someone fewer than 15 seconds to compose. Just as I’ve seen those responsible for the list be repeatedly professionally rewarded for it without scrutiny, he’s seen the reporters who tarnished his name reap career gains. It’s hard not to grow cold seeing that happen.
The sad thing is, as the media continues to source damaging claims from anonymous online sources more and more in a variety of ways, only those in positions of true power are immune to the potential devastation. Because those who are cancelled are not a substantial part of the population, and because they are so scattered, it’s hard for them to feel anything but alone. I wouldn’t say there’s yet a community for us, but it’s easier than I would have expected to feel a kinship for them.