As recently as Monday, Leo York, a 30-year-old freelance photographer, got a snide comment while walking around his hometown of Albuquerque from someone accusing him of being an opportunist in Ferguson, Mo. He’s been getting a lot of that lately.
Welcome to the aftermath of a Gawker post by J.K. Trotter that at least temporarily has managed to turn the photographer’s life upside down because of a lie perpetuated by the site.
Some may recall a story that made waves last week because it trashed the media covering Ferguson, listing about 10 vile bullet points of bad behavior by journalists, including one who appallingly asked the author to take a picture of him with CNN”s Anderson Cooper. The exact bullet point: “One reporter who, last night, said he came to Ferguson as a ‘networking opportunity.’ He later asked me to take a picture of him with Anderson Cooper.” The story went everywhere — Gawker, Mediaite, The Daily Caller and more.
Through the writer, Ryan Schuessler, an Al Jazeera contributor, didn’t name the journos in his story, Trotter solicited readers to name names, an enticing tactic the site uses often for blind items. “Schuessler won’t name the networks or the reporter,” wrote Trotter. “But we will. If you know who Schuessler’s talking about, hop in below or send us an email.
As usual, readers came through.
Which suddenly meant that Leo York, who runs a Facebook page called “Inhabitants of Burque,” was the “networker” from Schuessler’s bullet points. Trotter soon added, “Update: The reporter treating Ferguson as a “networking opportunity” might be this guy.”
A click later and there’s York posing with Cooper and in another random selfie in the scrum. In addition, Trotter showed him tweeting, “Too much media. I think we are becoming part of the problem in maintaining order. #Ferguson #LeoYork” as well as this from his Facebook page: “If you aren’t marketing yourself to reach your dreams, you are probably unsuccessful.” No mention of Ferguson.
All of that is fine and well. Except for the fact that the “networker” written about in Schuessler’s story wasn’t York at all, which Schuessler later confirmed in a tweet directly to Gawker. Trotter then ran Schuessler’s tweet at the bottom of a bunch of comments from readers along with this statement:
“Sorry this is late: The journalist quoted in the article above, Ryan L. Schuessler, said on Twitter on Friday that Leo York (the proprietor of Inhabitants of Burque) did not ask Schuessler to take his picture with Anderson Cooper. (He did not issue the same denial about York treating Ferguson as a networking opportunity.)”
— Ryan Schuessler (@RyanSchuessler1) August 23, 2014
So now Trotter, even though he knows full well that York is not the guy from the original story who was deemed the “networker,” has now decided fuck it. He’s taken it upon himself to decide that York is nonetheless a Ferguson networker. SERIOUSLY?
York says when he wrote and asked for his picture and the “news” to be taken down, Trotter replied, “LOL.”
That’s right. LOL — your rep is now that of a douche bag who networks amid a tragic shooting.
Except York isn’t laughing. Sure, he knows an element of negativity comes with the territory of going on TV after being teargassed (he was on with CNN’s Don Lemon and Jake Tapper).
“It wasn’t me obviously,” York told The Mirror in a phone interview this week. “I hate being in the spotlight. It’s awful, man. People turn into monsters when you get successful. They want to slit your throat. You get used to it. You don’t care. …I don’t understand how people can be such losers that they can go and make something up.”
Referring specifically to Gawker, he said, “They totally fucked me.”
The Mirror requested comment from Trotter. He replied with this response:
“After my initial story went up, we were contacted by several individual sources who claimed, in most cases with corroborating evidence, that the person treating the Ferguson protests as a networking opportunity was Leo York. (A total of ten people, many of whom were journalists themselves, contacted us over the next day or so. All of them identified York as the networker.) As you can see in the updates in the comments, this claim is properly attributed to those sources.
“As far as I can tell, the one part of this claim that York (and Schuessler) took issue with was the part about York asking Schuessler to take his picture with Anderson Cooper. As with the other updates, I added this to the comments below. But to be clear, neither York nor Schuessler denied that the latter was referring to the former—or that York treated the Ferguson protests as a “networking opportunity” in general—when asked about it.
Asked if he’d been in Ferguson and why he didn’t feature other so-called opportunists, Trotter replied, “I was not in Ferguson. As for other networkers, I was not made aware of any other individuals who traveled to the site of the protests in order to expand their professional network. All of that said, this isn’t a case of me declaring Leo York a networker based on my personal interpretation; it’s a case of ten sources saying that, with evidence and background details supporting their claims.”
York spoke of the success of his Facebook page, the 60 countries he’s traveled to for “Inhabitants of Burque” and his five years in the Army. “It’s not to brag,” he says. “I’ve just been working my ass off. I’m just being myself and I’m not very filtered.”
The photographer attributes some of the enemies he knows he has to his success.
No doubt Trotter, who graduated from St. John’s College in Annapolis and is known to friends as “Keenan,” knows something about journalistic ethics and working his ass off. He did write extensively about BuzzFeed‘s recent plagiarism explosion with Benny Johnson.
Gawker‘s slogan is supposedly “Honesty is our only virtue.”
So if plagiarism isn’t acceptable in Gawker‘s world, then why is a lie?