Firing of transgender journalist over his personal posting about “objectivity” raises questions about personal online reputation in the media

Media columnist Margaret Sullivan reports a disturbing story in the Style Section of the Washington Post today, “How one reporter’s rejection of objectivity got him fired.”

The journalist is 32-year-old female-to-male transgender Lewis Wallace, who was fired ten days into the Trump presidency from Marketplace in Los Angeles.

Wallace was fired after a personal blog post “Objectivity is dead and I’m okay with it.”  He gives a further follow-up on his firing here.   The posts are on a site called “Medium”.  But a similar result would have happened were the platform WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr, or even a Facebook page.

Poytner (which offers courses in media and law and has worked with the media perils insurance issue in the past) weighs in on the larger problem with “Should journalists protest in Trump’s America?”  Poytner comes up with some scenarios, like a Muslim journalist is separated from his family by Trump’s sudden ban.  It’s pretty obvious how this can come up with LGBTQ people, as Wallace points out.

Sullivan, in her article, notes that “mainstream” media organizations generally forbid their employees from marching or carrying signs in demonstrations.  Some media companies, like the gay media (like the Washington Blade) would adjust their policies for their targeted readership and advertisers.

Now my own circumstances bear comment, and it’s best to work this problem inside out.  I am “retired”, and run my own media operations myself.  So, in a way, I can “do what I want.”  But I certain face criticism from many parties, as I have covered here before.  Some people wonder why my book and movie reviews aren’t more partial to their own struggles or previous hardships, and people do say that my tone is usually surprisingly “neutral”, even pedantic, as if I had no personal stake in their issues, when obviously (given my own past narrative) I do have such exposure.   So, people say, I actually should offer to keep my own “skin in the game” for being flayed or burned, as part of solidarity.  Sometimes this can degenerate into expecting people to take each other’s bullets.  One can say, my activity doesn’t carry its own weight.  It could be undermined in the future by Trump’s security concerns about social media in general, or if Section 230 is gutted or appealed.   I get criticized that I don’t help other people get and keep their jobs as much as I would have to if I really had to “sell”.  Then I could not afford the “pretense” of objectivity and would have to please a specific audience, and “help” real people.

For those who don’t know me, I consider myself tending toward the libertarian side of conservatism, supporting equality on social issues. but careful look at why people have the attitudes they do, strong on defense (pretty much a McCain-like Republican), and sensibly conservative on fiscal issues (like, the US must pay its bills and keep its promises). While I understand what is behind much of the anti-immigrant sentiment, were I in charge I would be much more cautious about consequences than the current president about how my policies actually would work out.

I do go to demonstrations and photograph them and film them.  But I generally don’t carry signs (although I did earlier in my life, in the 1970s, after “coming out”; I remember many late June gay pride marches).  Particularly from the radical Left, I am vulnerable to the flak, “What makes you too good to march with us?”  It’s very dangerous to pretend you are better than other people and don’t have to walk in their shoes sometimes (maybe permanently).

So, I can understand why some people (like Trump and Bannon) don’t like journalists.  Remember the little Netflix movie “Rebirth”?  We are the spectators, the kibitzers, who don’t play, who can criticize others but who don’t have to live with the consequences.  We are the Monday morning quarterbacks.  (But then, again, because we can’t pitch no-hitters, we don’t have hundred-million dollar contracts.)   We even may be the slightly Asperger-like or Spock-like “alien anthropologists” who set up social networking sites and do news aggregation to rule the world and claim this third planet from the Sun for ourselves.  (Is Mark Zuckerberg the most powerful man in the world anyway?)

To be fair, there is pure journalism (on-site news reporting) and there is commentary.  Usually they’re not supposed to mix too much, but on stations like CNN they do, where news analysts opine all the time.  The mainstream and liberal networks properly question the current president’s recklessness (which might be deliberate strategy to see what he can get away with), whereas Fox I guess is supportive.  But original reporting does have to pay heed to objectivity.  Remember how journalists like Brian Williams have gotten into trouble.

I actually would be interested in working with organizations ranging from Vox to OAN, but I would have to separate my coverage from my own personal narrative, which works because right now I control my own operation myself.

In a posting, here May 20, 2016, I had already linked to a long narrative of my own issue with “conflict of interest”, as is covered in Chapter 3 of my own DADT-III book, sections 2 and 3 here (PDF).   In the early 1990s, I was working for a life insurance company that specialized in sales to military officers.  Given my personal history and the political climate at the time (over Bill Clinton’s settling into “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”) I felt that my plans to write a book on the military ban and bring in a personal narrative could present its own kind of “conflict of interest”.  That became a major theme in my life in the 1990s, which continued in the 2000s when I worked as a substitute teacher, leading to another incident in 2005 documented in section 06 of the book excerpt.

I do believe that there are facts.  There can be alternative interpretation of fact, but “alternative fact” is an oxymoron.  Journalists do need to report all the facts (as the Cato Institute showed up with the statistics on crime committed by refugees in the U.S)

I think the problem comes in the slant or interpretation of facts.  Do we report on others as if they were free-standing individuals, or as if they were members of groups and inherit all kinds of advantages and disadvantages (including marginalization) based on their belonging to these groups?  And how do we deal with people in our own lives?  It does get personal.

(Posted: Thursday, February 2, 2017 at 5:15 PM EST)

Terror recruitment misuse might also lead to insurance issues for bloggers

First, it’s well to re-iterate an article a year ago by Geoffrey Stone, “ISIS, Fear, and the Freedom of Speech”, link here.  It seems relevant right now given the media attention what has just happened in Germany.  Remember, in December 2015, both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton had proposed closing some sections of the Internet to counter threats to civilians from terrorist recruiting. Did they mean user-generated content, or the Dark Web (which is largely offshore and pretty hard to touch anyway).

A “moral” question concerns the way we have to share responsibility for the destructive or retaliatory actions of others.  That contradicts the rather narrow libertarian construct for “personal responsibility” (even on “Southpark”).  Generally, the Constitution seems to protect speech (and presumably facilitation of speech by service providers) that (as long as not otherwise unlawful, like child pornography or treason) doesn’t create immediate incitement to lawless action.

Without reiterating the entire logical flow of the thinking behind this, I want to remind everyone I’ve been very concerned about the view that ungated Internet speech from those who want a “soapbox” but who haven’t taken on as much responsibility as others could sound like a gratuitous luxury in a world of inequality, resentment, the making of enemies who target civilians, and the loss of a sense of meaning to many people who grow up in a more “tribal” or collective (and often religious) culture.  Trump seems to appeal to some of that base.  So I’ve been concerned, as I noted on Nov. 7, with the idea that user speech should “carry it’s own freight”.  One way would be to require all people who self-publish, on the web or even with POD books, to carry full liability insurance on their own.

Back around 2008 there was more attention to the fact that some bloggers were getting sued, but this was more about copyright issues, especially with “Righthaven” and “copyright trolls” (stories ) .  In fact, back in 2000 and 2001, the National Writers Union had tried to get media perils liability insurance for amateur writers, an effort that fell apart with “controversial” content like LGBT issues (earlier account ).   In the fall of 2008, about the time of the financial crisis, there was a group called the Media Bloggers Association  (legacy post  which offered optional insurance through AXIS-Pro .  I did not follow up on this.  (I cannot get the Media Blogger’s site to deliver content this morning.)  I would think that media risks would be very difficult to underwrite predictably for self-publishers who do not have third-party gatekeepers or whose work does not pay its own way (again, a Trump-sounding idea, for someone whose heard enough Apprentice boardroom sessions).

Nevertheless, property companies have offered umbrella insurance including social media liability, as riders on auto, homeowner’s or renter’s.  In auto, for some strange reason, higher limits even for normal auto crash liability (for medical expenses for others) requires umbrella coverage in many companies (like Geico).  I don’t understand the sense of that.  Sometimes umbrella riders exclude liability for business activity (presumably a blog with ads that can pay revenue or a self-published POD book that can collect royalties is considered “business”, so it’s hard to sort out the coverage.  I’ve covered this in a couple of legacy postings in 2015, when Trump was just starting to make noise, here  and here.

(Posted: Thursday, December 22, 2016 at 12 noon EST)