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Double Agents in Journalism



Lately, many media outlets have written riveting, graphic, detailed accounts of Hollywood heavyweight Harvey Weinstein’s alleged sexual misconduct and predatory behavior. Over the past month, Weinstein’s fall from grace has been stunning. He is now little more than an ethically and morally deficient, social pariah who has been all but exiled by his Hollywood peers.

Earlier this year, however, Mitchell Sunderland, David Auerbach, Adam Grandmaison, Dan Lyons, and others were highlighted in a first-rate expose written by Joseph Bernstein at Buzzfeed. The article exposed numerous male journalists who had developed a cozy relationship and served as consultants for the ultraconservative media outlet. Several of these men had ties with White supremacist organizations.

Given Breitbart’s political stance, this is not all that surprising. What caused more considerable eyebrow raising and jaw dropping is that a number of purportedly “liberal/progressive” journalists were actively involved in assisting the Breitbart machine, in particular, serving as a conduit of sorts to right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopolous.

Indeed, Bernstein’s piece exposed the fact that Sunderland, Auerbach, Lyons and others were actively engaged in suggesting, advising and encouraging Yiannopolous, giving him tips on what sort of columns to write, what public figures to target for ridicule and what social causes to publicly denigrate. Sunderland wrote for the feminist blog, Broadly. Auerbach was a columnist for Grandmaison writes for Rolling Stone Magazine and the blog BXM. Lyons was a writer for the popular HBO program Silicon Valley.

Amusingly, though certainly not surprisingly, after this major bombshell of a story broke, many of these so called liberal/progressive journalists scrambled to protect and in some cases, deflect attention from their suddenly open secrets. Sunderland immediately shut down his twitter page and went underground as his bosses launched an investigation and eventually fired him for violating journalism ethics. Auerbach became engaged in a ludicrous twitter exchange with accusers which, rather than exonerated him, further implicated him in the scandal.

Grandmaison tipped off Yiannopolous that he should consider investigating allegations made by a journalist who claimed that she was that she was the victim of abuse by a former boyfriend. Lyons urged Yiannopolous to write pieces speculating on the sexuality of two women who were prominent in the tech industry who were being targeted by sexist trolls online. When exposed for his devious behavior, he issued several belated, insincere apologies.

What is more sad is the fact that each of these men presented and positioned themselves as “socially liberal/progressive,” particularly as it related to social issues. Sunderland wrote a number of pro -feminist articles. Auerbach championed himself as a voice of liberalism while at Slate. Grandmaison touted pro-progressive sentiments at BMX and Lyons wrote several pieces decrying what he saw as the “toxic bro culture,” filled with its sexism, racism and tribalism that was ruining the tech industry and so on.

You see the pattern here?

Each of these men publicly espoused and promoted liberal ideas in their columns and public speeches, yet, behind closed doors, were all too eager to sharpen their knives and engage in a cowardly and sinister game of attacking and demonizing the same progressive individuals and groups (in particular, feminists) as they arrogantly and shamelessly colluded with and other anti-liberal organizations. In essence, they were serving as politically unethical double agents.

The fact is that the aforementioned men are probably not alone. There are likely more than a few supposedly left of center male columnists, pundits, radio hosts, etc.,  who take mercenary stances in their public speeches, op-ed columns and various other venues where they perceive their audience to harbor such viewpoints. Yet, they passionately, behind the scenes, work feverishly to denounce, discredit, ridicule, undermine causes and movements such as feminism, multiculturalism, affirmative action, abortion, environmental protections and other progressive causes. They are political Rasputins.

To be sure, there are certainly some conservative media personalities who behave/have behaved in a similar manner. This is not a partisan issue. Regardless, men (and women) who harbor such politically devious, opportunistic and schizophrenic behavior are very untoward human beings and would serve all of us better by refraining from engaging in public matters and policy. Period. Leave such important issues to those who have some sense of ethics and decency.

Dr. Elwood Watson is a professor of history, African-American studies and gender studies at East Tennessee State University.

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