A Rising Tide Lifts All Clickbait…maybe

Greetings. I’ve been zipping around the country lately, but that’s not what this post is about. No humblebrags, except for this sentence, and the one preceding it. Anyway.

Two teeth-gnashing stories of note have hit the interwebs since I’ve been back, and they are closely related. The first is the “outing” of a Conde Nast executive by “journalists” at noted online clickbait-pushers Gawker.com, and the second is the hacking of the infidelity dating site, AshleyMadison.com.

Let’s start at the top. First, Gawker published an article essentially accusing the CFO of Conde Nast (which is one of Gawker’s chief competitors, it should be noted) of trying to hire a gay prostitute with basically no evidence at all, other than the word of said gay prostitute. The executive, whose name I won’t repeat here, is not a public figure; nobody knows his name, he has no high profile public statements or opinions of any kind on record. Essentially, the bastion of journalistic integrity that is Gawker decided to more or less ruin this guy’s marriage and professional reputation because…

Well, that depends on what you believe. In a series of jaw-droppingly out-of-touch-with-reality tweets, the editorial staff at Gawker defended trashing the life of a person who actually works for a living more or less on the grounds that the “story” is factual (debatable) and interesting (debatable). A few even took a harder tack and claimed that they wrote the story because the executive was a cheater and deserved everything he got.

This should be eerily familiar to anybody who has a passing knowledge of the state of American journalism at the turn of the 20th century and beyond. Ever seen L.A. Confidential? The folks at Gawker would feel right at home sharing stories of exploitation and ruined careers with Danny Devito’s character, and would probably possess a few of the same ham-fisted justifications for their vile and despicable muckraking hackery, the only difference being that editor of Hush-Hush magazine actually retains some sort of self awareness and winking acknowledgment of how ridiculous his “journalistic ethics” argument is.

The coverage of this fallout up until now has focused on the alleged cultural shifts occurring within the Gawker network, with even the more right-headed articles swallowing the narrative that the gossip rag’s now more about money and less about speaking truth to power. Let’s not get it twisted: THE ENTIRE GAWKER NETWORK HAS ALWAYS BEEN ABOUT MONEY, as is evidenced by their wholesale “outrage-on-demand” editorial direction that you can see in every one of its blogs and others like it (looking at you Salon). More importantly, though, the “journalists” in question and their steadfast refusal to accept responsibility for their utterly boneheaded, disgustingly cynical, and bafflingly cruel garbage-writing is only the latest in a long line of stories that underscore the public’s newfound obsession with appointing itself judge jury and executioner over any person they can get their grubby little, cubicle-atrophied paws on.

We’re no longer content to demand blood sacrifice from people who have the audacity to be famous (hint: we made them that way), now it appears to be open season on private citizens and their private lives, as massive hacks at AshleyMadison.com have apparently been justified with the same “they deserve it” refrain. From leaked nudes to stolen songs and films to possibly fabricated stories about infidelity, we’ve all apparently convinced ourselves that anybody who does anything even remotely questionable–even in private life–deserves the full uninformed and screechy fury of the Internet. This notion even spills over into the oft-derided “social justice warriors” that love to splatter the faces and words of comedians and artists they deem unacceptable all over blogs for daring to have opinions that run counter to whatever the mainstream happens to be at that exact moment. All of it is connected; from grim-faced articles with headlines like “why Amy Schumer isn’t funny” to twitter campaigns to get somebody fired because they used the word “dongle” in a funny way (note: this actually happened), we’re all frothing at the mouth to see people go down, and it doesn’t even matter what their net worth is anymore.

It’s hard to say which came first, the outrage or the industry, but sites like Gawker and its network blogs like Jezebel make their bones by claiming to be some kind of moral crusader when they’re just trying to sell clicks to people whose lives are so empty they actually get angry about what a person they will never see with their own two eyes and who has no measurable impact on public policy or opinion whatsoever said about rape one time. It’s possible that the two high-level Gawker employees who quit with all the fury and drama of a high school theater star earlier this week have come to truly believe that they are the Millenial Woodward and Bernstein, which is even more alarming than greedy idiots continuing to be greedy idiots–a cynical person may be damaging, but they aren’t unpredictable. The chosen ones always are.

But maybe this is a good thing, overall. The coverage of these two things seems to reflect an attitude shift in the way (writers, at least) feel about this kind of nonsense, and it seems like people have begun to have enough of the “HOW DARE YOU NOW PAY ME” crowd. If dumpster fires like garbage continue to implode, maybe, just maybe, the alternatives (legacy media with actually educated and trained journalists) will be able to do their jobs again.

A man can dream.

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