Saturday, May 26, 2012

Drudge Bait BBQ: How BuzzFeed Perfectly Followed A Right-Wing Blogger's Script

After Weinergate ended, a New York Times piece reported that two characters who had been interacting with Anthony Weiner on Twitter were actually "fake teens" who were being used to try to get information. Since then, most normal people stopped paying attention, and the story for those who were paying attention devolved into complete craziness.  Basically, there were at least two "sides," one composed of prominent conservative bloggers and the other consisting of mostly anonymous Twitter accounts and blogs that really hate Breitbart.  From what I've seen, the interaction between the two "sides" has basically consisted of nonstop allegations of law-breaking, death threats, sock-puppetry, impending lawsuits, impeding arrests, outing of anonymous accounts and vague references to "just wait until you hear about all this secret information I have." To be clear, this has been coming from both sides, though arguably the characters on the right are more interesting since they include prominent conservative bloggers and Breitbart employees.

Anyway, it's really too much of a mess to try to describe in detail, though Cannonfire does a pretty good job here of expressing sentiments that are close to mine (including, for the record, crazy interactions with former Raw Story editor Ron Brynert).  The main thing to be aware of for this post is that the post-Weinergate insanity is not a subject that can be adequately covered by lazy drive-by reporting.  There's nasty behavior on both sides, sock-puppets abound, and anonymous individuals who are clearly trying to spread misinformation.

Unfortunately, however, Buzzfeed not only fell into the trap of lazy reporting, they revealed themselves to be directly following a script provided to them by one of the right-wing bloggers involved in the mess pushing for his way of framing the issues.  That news organizations get tips from the Right is not exactly surprising, but what I find amazing is just how shamelessly Buzzfeed followed a script publicly provided to them by the blogger alongside the magic words "Drudge bait."

First, if you read the Cannonfire post, you'll see that the emphasis on the "weird subculture of bloggers...that arose out of Weinergate" is at the very least focused on craziness from "both sides," but arguably is primarily focused on the craziness of the conservatives.  Here's how he sets up the post: 
In a couple of previous posts, I made fairly oblique reference to a weird subculture of bloggers -- on both the right and the left, though most of them are hyper-conservatives -- which arose out of Weinergate. (emphasis mine)
In the post, he's very critical of the right-wing conspiracies associated with Weinergate and specifically questions some of the claims of the right-wing blogger Patterico.  However, Buzzfeed reporter Rosie Gray amazingly manages to turn the post (which is the primary source for her "reporting") into a story about "Weiner Trutherism" by "a handful on the Left." In support of her claim of "Weiner Trutherism," Gray shows an example of one Twitter account that suggested Weiner was "set up." Compare this to the other "side," left completely unmentioned by Gray, which consists of bloggers like Patterico, Ace of Spades, and Breitbart employees like Lee Stranahan and Mandy Nagy, who have their own crazy theories thus far unsupported by evidence.

However, what I want to focus on is not so much which side is wackier, but rather how BuzzFeed came to report this story.  As can be seen quite clearly, it directly followed a script provided to them by right-wing blogger Ace of Spades, who has a vested interest in the story, since he spent weeks bullying Gennette Cordova online and later claimed to have been threatened via anonymous email.  In other words, he's not just someone reporting on the story; he's someone in the story. 

Ace started tweeting BuzzFeed about his great story idea several days ago: 

Note the flawed assumption that Weiner Trutherism is somehow a comparable story to Birtherism.  Prominent conservatives, including many politicians (one of whom is about to become the Speaker of the Missouri House of Representatives) are birthers, and Mitt Romney is campaigning with newly crowned King of the Birthers Donald Trump. On the other hand, "Weiner Truthers," according to Gray, are a "handful" of people, and she only provides evidence of one person (an anonymous Twitter account) expressing the view Wiener was set up.  Note also that Rosie Gray adopts Ace of Spades "Weiner Trutherism" terminology verbatim. 

 The lobbying of BuzzFeed's Ben Smith and Andrew Kaczynski continued the next day:

And also the next day, with Ace finally using the magic words "drudge bait:" 

See that? A lay-up! Only two hours!  No need to actually check around and make sure that you're talking about a group that consists of more than three people!  No need to see if the people arguing with the "Weiner Truthers" are just as crazy, if not more crazy!  Just a lazy, "holiday weekend" post that could generate a Drudge link while the reporters are out grilling!  Grilling?  Maybe Ace should have made that point. Oh wait, he did:

Lo and behold, BuzzFeed followed the script perfectly (though suggesting they spent two hours on the story might be overly-generous).  They lazily provided the right-wing spin, tweaking the content from Cannonfire's post about the crazies on both sides to sound like it was focused on "liberal Weiner Truthers."  They waited until the weekend to release the story, as Ace suggested. And, as far as I can tell, the reporter Rosie Gray immediately took off for a long weekend after posting the story.

What's worse, they don't even get the story correct, which is what usually happens when you're spoon fed talking points from the Right (Gray cites "one blogger familiar with the Weiner Truthers" at the end of the post").  Most of the conspiracy theories about Weiner have to do, not with the initial tweet that was sent out, but with whether there were people trying to set him up (as you might think from the New York Times story that there were people posing as teenagers). I do think it's a conspiracy theory to say that he was set up, since there's no evidence of that.  Nevertheless, the fact that there were sockpuppets posing a teenage girls is pretty strange.

The right-wing loves to push conspiracies about liberal groups secretly telling the media how to report.  Well here's a clear example of a right-wing blogger dictating how and when BuzzFeed should tell their story.  You'd think a media outlet would have a little more self-respect than to be so obvious about trolling for links from right-wing blogs. But just as Pavlov predicted, once they hear the magic words "Drudge Bait BBQ", they can't help but start drooling.


  1. Now that I've read your post, Adam, I think I should have avoided writing about this topic today.

    What you don't know is this: Rosie wrote to me earlier, asking if it was true that there were people out there who still think that Weiner's phone was hacked. I told her: Yeah. Me. I'm one.

    (Hell, she must have known that.)

    I also said that if she considers that view indefensible -- well, we live in a culture which allows Glenn Beck to get on national TV and spew hooey about Woodrow Wilson and god-knows-what-all. Compared to Beck's malarky, my own eccentricities are really quite modest.

    When I wrote back to Rosie, I had not yet read what Patterico had written. But the Memeorandum headlines indicated that something big was in the offing. It struck me as a little odd that she would write to me about Weiner ON THE SAME DAY that the all of the right-wing blogs had decided to focus on "all that stuff."

    Later, I read the Patterico piece. Some of it didn't make sense. I still see no real evidence that Kimberlin had anything to do with that disturbing police recording. Maybe he did. But as far as I know, the voice on that tape could be James O'Keefe or one of his buddies.

    Patterico claimed that Kimberlin and Ron Brynaert were conspiring together. I knew that this part, at least, had to be nonsense. Ron -- in his schizy screeds to me -- went on and on about how much he hated Kimberlin.

    (Frankly, I couldn't even understand why Brynaert insisted on bringing Kimberlin up. Much of what Brynaert had to say was just bizarre and impossible to follow.)

    So I published what I published, mostly because I thought that the right was attempting to create a huge conspiracy theory centering on Kimberlin and Brynaert. Any such theory is inane. Those two guys are thoroughly marginal characters, and they don't even like each other.

    And then Rosie wrote what she wrote, linking to my piece. It seems that she didn't understand my intent.

    I wrote a brief, polite correction. But -- and this is telling, perhaps -- Buzzfeed would not allow my comment to appear.

    I wrote to Rosie and asked her why my comment was barred from Buzzfeed. She said it was not her department, but she would try to do something.

    Right now, my paranoid side is starting to come to the fore. Maybe Rosie's outreach to me, coming as it did on the right's official "Let's Make Kimberlin Famous Day" -- was simply a way to draw me out.

    A lot of right-wingers treated me as a hate magnet during Weinergate. So maybe they were hoping that I would say something that would allow them to include me in their stupid, imaginary Kimberlin/Brynaert/Soros conspiracy theory.

  2. Here's the rest of the story...