Gawker, 2002–2016

For now it’s dead.

Each morning you wake to a new set of lies. They vary in subject and value and size. Some are omissions and some are direct, but the accretion of deceit contributes to a culture of cynicism and despair. Even knowing that you are being lied to is no help when everything around you is lies. You know that the positive reviews you read are written by writers who will not offer honest criticism for fear that it might hurt their future prospects. You know that no one is making the world a better place with an app that allows you to be chauffeured from a bar on one side of town to a bar on the other. You know that the people who are paid to tell you about your government regurgitate conventional wisdom to make themselves sound more authoritative. You know that you are being fed fear or hope or an idealized sense of yourself so that you will accede to their demands. Knowing you are being lied to is no help when everything around you is lies. All it does is habituate you to living with lies, so why would you bother to take anything too seriously? When words lose their meaning our very idea of what we owe each other is debased and devalued to such an extent that we become closed off and contemptuous and unable to rise above our own self-interest. We are afraid to diagnose deceit because we might be mocked for our innocence by those who tell us everyone already knows that these things are false, and so we stay silent. This situation has become so unremarkable that to make mention of it seems tiresome.

What Gawker did at its best was stand up and say, “No, you’re right, these are lies, you are correct to think that you are being lied to” and for however long that assertion hung there in the air you were able remind yourself that you weren’t wrong to feel discomfort with what whatever narrative they were pushing at you. You weren’t alone. It did not make the world better but at least it pressed pause on the world’s becoming worse. Gawker was not always, or even often, at its best. (See — or actually, please don’t — everything I wrote during my tenure there.) Gawker published a lot of garbage, and the strident defense of that garbage by the people who worked at Gawker was all the proof you need that everyone is captured in their own web of dishonesty eventually; Gawker’s biggest lies were the ones it told about itself. But these errors were small in scale when measured up against the pervasive duplicity offered by the other publications Gawker was established to counter. (It is no accident that many of the most heartfelt cheers for Gawker’s demise came from those in the press who had been stung by its appraisals; there is nothing more wounding to someone who has surrendered his critical faculties in exchange for admission to the system than to be reminded of his complicity in its fraudulence.) Gawker was stupid, loud, bullying and ill-informed, and most days it was the only honest thing you could read.

Now those days are over. We live in a world where we are lied to every day. The only rational response is outrage, but outrage is an emotion whose energy is impossible to sustain. Even the strongest among us eventually submit, and most of us are not strong. We have allowed people who don’t want to hear the truth — people who don’t want the truth to be told even when they know that it is rarely an impediment to their success — to silence those annoying, inconvenient voices that say “No, what you are telling us is not true.” Fewer questions will be asked, more falsehoods will pass unchecked, and we will wake up each morning to a new set of lies with a diminished capacity for remembering that we don’t have to accept them unconditionally or make peace with living in a world where they are the norm. Will the circumstances ever arise again where a site such as Gawker can come forward to challenge the dominant discourse of mendacity? Only a fool would venture to predict it. But we are each a little worse off without someone else to keep track of all the dishonesty and remind us that we are not crazy in those moments where we look around and rub our eyes and stare in shock at all the lies. Whether we know it or not, we are each a little worse off without Gawker in the world.

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