Over the past four days, a story I wrote about female scribes and what I deemed their “provocative” and “sexpot” Twitter avatars has made the rounds in different publications on the web. I published the story Thursday and, much to my surprise, it went viral in a way I had not experienced before. It took on a hateful life of its own and not one entirely based in reality.
The headline that made the feminists and others go wild: “Female Campaign Reporters Go for Sexpot Look.” After it published, I was called a number of colorful terms: Slut, Skank, “loose in the bedroom.” Contrary to those strangers who labeled me slutty, I was also told I needed to “get laid.” And then I was told to “watch my ass.” NYT‘s media guru David Carr remarked on Twitter, “Apparently, @fishbowlDC has lost every marble she ever had and started a dreamy wonk throwdown.” I only wish I could seek psychotherapy from Carr — and borrow some of his marbles. But this is par for the course these days in the world of online journalism. I do not think my story was earth shattering, nor did it break any actual news. But it introduced a subject matter that hit an unexpected nerve.
As the name-calling hit a fever pitch Thursday afternoon, the only journalist who sought an actual quote from me was Matt Wells of The Guardian. The outlet published a story the following day. Later, others sought me out — an old boss in California who I’d worked with in Florida wrote, “Shades of Boca. Go get ‘em!” And friends who worried about all the nastiness they were reading on Twitter reached out to say hello. One, a female reporter friend in New York, texted to say, “Sheesh, people get way way too worked up about these things. They all need to relax. By tomorrow people will have a whole other thing to fixate on. Sending good thoughts your way – can’t be easy dealing with how toxic people are.” Meanwhile, a reporter friend in Kiev, wrote in to say, “Now in Kiev, where they desperately need a Fishbowl. Lots of sex, lies, videotape, etc.” A longtime source Jason Roe, a GOP campaign consultant now based in San Diego, wrote an email with the subject line: “I don’t hate you.” I laughed. I’m no victim here, but it’s hard not to feel touched by those who check in during the storm. He also wrote, “It does go to show how thin-skinned DC people are. There is never a single day that I miss being there. And now, I’m going to have an afternoon beer at a beachside dive bar.”
On Friday, 78,989 page views later, the hate continued. Feminists called me a “horrible writer” and a “horrible person.” They said I had “viciously attacked” women for simply having photos. They LOLed their way through the day by personally insulting me. BuzzFeed Editor Ben Smith threw himself to the wolves (we’re not close but have always had a respectful rapport) by writing on Twitter, “In sincere defense of @FishbowlDC: It’s nice to have a DC journo or two who doesn’t care what her peers think of her.” The public stoning participants went wild. “Oh fuck you dude,” one wrote to Smith. A feminist wrote simply, “Huh?” and proceeded to shriek at Smith for being wrong.
One reporter who continues to be enthralled by the story is Hunter Walker, a political reporter for The New York Observer, who published a 2000-word piece on the matter on Friday night and another update yesterday. I’ve never met him, but Hunter previously worked at Gawker as well as mediabistro’s FishbowlNY. From the start, he took a leading role in the procession of predominately New York-based reporters and feminists who somehow felt violated by my piece. On Friday he wrote that the Internet felt naked without an apology from me. But it was Hunter who actually depicted himself as naked. He began a series of tweets criticizing my story and even corralled a group of male reporters who began calling themselves “PressDudesGoneWild.” Hunter changed his Twitter avatar, he told me, by searching for “sexy 80s men” and photoshopped his face onto Tom Selleck‘s body. Catchy, I thought. And funny.
Until Hunter’s journalistic tactics became not quite so funny.