I finally had it tonight. Again.
The parody account that uses my name showed up as the byline on a piece at Esquire that praised a ridiculous and much-ridiculed op-ed in which Jim VandeHei called for a third-party candidacy led by Mark Zuckerberg. VendeHei’s op-ed was self-parody enough but that didn’t stop Esquire and this guy from parodying it anyway. That usually works so well.
At the very bottom of the Esquire piece, at the end of an ital ID that not even a mother would read, it did finally say that this was “not @jeffjarvis,” in case anyone knows one Twitter ID from another and is willing to do the forensic research to figure out which one is which. Oh, and if you searched for the word “satire” you’d be taken to the very, very bottom of the very, very long page — below the clickbait ads, below all the egg salad that is digital media, all the way to the darkest depths of the ocean of HTML — and find one of a whole mess of tags with that word in light gray. Try to find it:
Keep in mind that most people don’t spend more than 15 seconds on a web page — according to Chartbeat — and so those folks would come and see that someone named Professor Jeff Jarvis — oh, that’s my name — said these incredibly stupid things praising incredibly idiotic op-ed and they’d move on.
Thank you, Esquire.
I was appalled and upset and quickly said so on Twitter, ending up in an unsatisfactory exchange with the editor at Esquire who apparently paid for this thing. I retweeted many, many supportive tweets from friends and strangers who were also appalled. For example:
It was personally upsetting. My anxiety was pushing my heart back into afib for the first time in a few years. Oh, joy, this bozo is going to send me to the hospital. Enough.
After emailing the Esquire editor — at his request — and getting no response, I emailed other Hearst executives I happen know. I’m lucky enough to have the connections to make that possible; pity the poor shmuck who doesn’t have such media emails. I quickly heard from one who brought in other editors. They said they would add a label and they did. It said:
I asked them to please read that. It says that someone named Prof. Jeff Jarvis — oh, hello, that’s my name; that’s me — is a satirist and elsewhere it said this piece is a joke. I said I was not satisfied. In the end, I asked them to take my name off the piece entirely. If they wanted to publish it under the name of the author, that was their business and his.
Then another executive entered the exchange and said: “I have asked them to take it down and I apologize for it. No excuses, it was handled poorly on our end.” And down it went.
I knew what would happen. I would get shit from people who said I was a humorless shit. Well, fine. I now see these moments as opportunities to block people I think are mean and nasty shits. For example:
I have put up with this for four years now, knowing that if and when I complain — cue Streisand — I’ll only bring more shit upon my head. OK, enough. That guy I won’t name who uses my name has had his fun, four years’ worth. He agreed more than a year ago to change the name and never did. He never had the guts to talk with me. I ask the one thing I asked of Esquire: Just leave me out of it. Please. Move on. Get your own life. Use your own name. Just don’t use mine. Please.
Addendum: I got an email from a Gawker reporter — after Gawker, ever the impish delight — decided to republish the piece from Esquire. His questions mirrors the ridiculous assertion that this is a matter of free speech.
Keenan Trotter wrote:
I wanted to reach out to you about the recent Esquire incident because I’m writing about it for Gawker.
Specifically, I am curious how you square your free speech principles with your demand — which turned out to be successful — that Esquire delete the article in question. As others have already noted, the piece is legally defensible because it’s a parody. I’ll admit upfront that I find all of this concerning because you teach journalism and because the idea of free speech — which is distinct, obviously, from the legal principles of the First Amendment — is much more easily and frequently defended in theory than in practice.
And I responded (fixing a double negative here):
I was very upset and angry. I did at first ask that it be taken down. In the end, as I said in my post, after they proposed one change, I said I wanted my name taken off it. They and he are free to publish whatever they want across the entire internet. They are not free — and it most certainly is not responsible journalism — to try to fool the audience about the source of content and to impugn the reputation of a professional along the way.
This is not about free speech. The First Amendment protects against *government* intrusion on speech.
This is about editorial judgment. It is indeed about journalism. Take the case of Gawker outing an innocent and private man at Conde Nast for no reason other than to get your jollies. Nick Denton — whom I worked with years ago — was right to finally learn the lesson of journalism and do the right thing and take that piece down. That was editorial judgment. It was responsible behavior. When your editors quit in protest they were obnoxious, hubristic horses’ asses and most certainly not journalists. Just because something can be published does not mean it must be. Not publishing something irresponsible is not a matter of not free speech. It’s a matter of responsibility. It’s news judgment. It’s journalism. And in the case of Hulk Hogan, this lesson is fucking expensive.
Has Gawker not learned this lesson yet? Apparently not.
I just spoke with a colleague of mine — a boss at my *journalism* school who emphasizes that this is not about the article, it is about the misidentification — about trying to fool the readers. It’s not an issue of free speech. It’s an issue of ethics.