In case you’ve been living above cave level for the past couple months, you might have missed the amazing Twitter meltdown and subsequent email outbursts of In These Times liberal labor reporter Mike Elk who has been battling the likes of The Daily Beast‘s national security correspondent Eli Lake, Free Beacon‘s Alana Goodman, and in smaller measure, BuzzFeed’s Rosie Gray and Ben Smith.
The Mirror has obtained heated email exchanges between Elk and Lake over the past two months commencing in late October. In them, Elk threatens to make sure Lake never sees the bright lights of MSNBC ever again. He also contacts Lake’s boss, John Avlon, to get him fired. Exasperated by receiving so many noxious emails, Lake snaps and tells Elk he’s a joke in Washington and that he hopes he gets the help he needs.
Lake isn’t the only target of Elk’s angst. Elk has also made serious journalistic ethics charges against BuzzFeed‘s Gray and WSJ‘s Sohrab Ahmari. In all of these cases, Elk plays the part of activist, not journalist. He’s calling for public apologies and firings, which is what politicians and activists do, not journalists.
On Friday, Elk called Lake out for being a “cyberbully” — a fairly serious charge in a day and age in which cyberbullying can lead to suicide. Elk wrote on Twitter, “Over the last day cyberbully @EliLake has sent me emails & tons of tweets but still won’t say yes or no to a debate. #coward.” Elk has since deleted this tweet. That same day, Elk tweeted and subsequently deleted the following: “Later today, I’m coming out with a story explaining hard to follow tweets & behind the scenes emails of @EliLake cyberbulling.” (A comical side note: A follower named “Jewtastic” deadpanned, “We’re all on the edge of our seats for that one, should be riveting reading. Cross between The Shining + Peanuts.”)
By Saturday, Elk began changing his tune. On Twitter he wrote, “I’ve decided to no longer engage w/
@EliLake but instead to continue to do thing that makes him scared of my criticism – my reporting.” In emails to The Mirror Saturday, he said he never said Lake was a cyberbully — hmmm really? He said he only used that word because someone else had – that someone being Ahmed Masud, CEO of Trustifier Inc., a cyber security company, who wrote The Mirror Sunday night, saying,
“Just to be clear, I have not read all of the threads that were going on on Twitter. I would like to simply say this about the matter: Mike Elk described what he was feeling about the Twitter feed, in particular that he felt that there were multiple individuals were [sic] being belligerent to him by way of ableist slurs and that they were repetitively doing so. If that is the case then, in my opinion, their combined action may be considered cyber-bullying.”
After having a one-day reprieve of being called a cyberbully, by Sunday, Lake was once again a “cyberbully.”
But strangely, the email exchanges obtained show Elk, not Lake, to be the clear aggressor.
Elk has long charged that he has been “cyberbullied” about his mental illness, Asperger’s syndrome. He has also admitted to having dyslexia. The Free Beacon has poked fun at Elk’s penchant for typos — we can attest from emails we’ve studied and received that Elk butchers verb tenses, names and sentence structure. He claims Gray is making light of his mental condition and learning disability by giving an Elk parody account — @ElkMinusContext — a #FF (for the blissfully unaware, this is a “Follow Friday” on Twitter). The account does not explicitly make fun of Elk’s conditions.
Elk, whose own Twitter account has a dyslexia disclaimer, has consistently used his Asperger’s and dyslexia to play the victim online and to cry “cyberbully” even when the charge makes no sense. When pressed on this point — where’s the proof of Lake’s cyberbullying? — he had a wild explanation that Lake is a social king of sorts over a group of a reporters that includes Goodman, Gray and others. He told The Mirror over the weekend, “Eli has you know is kinda like the old man of that crew he is always tweeting about partying and rapping and being in his 40s. Like did you see all these #elilakecyberbully hashtag where like all the kids who party with him joked about Eli lake playing grand theft auto with them. It was really a demonstration of their frat culture. Eli the old white guy rapper that his brand that makes him seem cool to all these young kids at the free beacon.”
Is it perhaps a frat culture into which Elk has somehow been barred? This morning at 3:15 a.m. Elk wrote me the following email.
Subject line: “My offer of beers with Eli in Mt. P.”
“Yo so Besty [sic] I think this is important for you to note in your story – I Invite Eli Lake & his pal Louis ‘Sonny’ Bunch out for a beer in mt p at Marx to discuss this matter and they didn’t even respond. These people have people no sense of honor. I mean I invited these folks for a beer at Haydees and they didn’t respond to an offer of a beer at Haydees. These folks don’t even have respect for Haydees – that place has more soul than any place in DC. These are just Dupont Circle kind of people if you know what I mean? You get what I am saying Besty [sic].”
Let’s get into the weeds.
The fighters: Elk, a scrappy labor reporter, and Lake, a longtime Washington reporter who formerly worked for the conservative daily, The Washington Times. Elk, rough around the edges, likes to mix it up. Lake, meanwhile, occasionally ruffles feathers but hosts salons in which he sometimes mixes company with those who don’t share his views.
Point of explosion: Elk, all the way. Elk says the debacle began when WSJ’s Ahmari remarked on Twitter on Dec. 5: “Early Friday #FF @MikeElk to see a journalist at something called ‘In These Times’ going through a real-time mental breakdown.” In that string of tweets, Lake said, “Early #FF for @SohrabAhmari a great writer and a real mensch with a kind and sensitive soul.” Elk perceived this as Lake “validating” Ahmari’s call to watch Elk’s so-called “mental breakdown.”
(As a very annoying aside considering the complexities of this fight, over the weekend Elk fired off a letter to WSJ Ethics Editor Neal Lipshutz complaining about Ahmari’s “mental breakdown” comment. He wrote, “What Arhami did was extremely regressive and contributes to a culture where many people would rather kill themselves than admit the hard truths that they are struggling with mental health issues. … I would hope that the Wall Street Journal would publicly address this offensive statement against people with disabilities in the same manner as they would offensive statements given by Wall Street Journal reporters on racial, gender, or sexual orientation sensitivities since all of these are all human characteristics merely determined by birth.”)
Origin of the fight: Elk claims Lake made a derogatory statement against Rania Khalek and demanded that he apologize. The facts: A tweet on Oct. 28 shows that it was Rania who actually prompted the friction.
As an Arab, I am consistently offended by ppl like @Eric_Alterman & @EliLake. Their open support for Israel’s racist ideology makes me sick.
— Rania Khalek (@RaniaKhalek) October 28, 2013
Lake replied, “
@RaniaKhalek do you feel marginalized and othered?” She replied,” @EliLake Can’t tell if you’re being sarcastic, but yeah I do.”
This is when Elk went, for lack of a better word, loopy. Lake wrote on Twitter, “Last night
@MikeElk threatened to give my phone number to others if I did not apologize to @RaniaKhalek.”
Still another aspect of this rich battleground is Max Blumenthal‘s book, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel. The online fighting began, says Elk, when he defended Blumenthal “quite vigorously when his family was smeared.” He said he “forced Rosie Gray to issue several corrections and even forced Ben Smith to public [sic] apologize to me.” Actually, the piece contains two corrections that do not change the substance of the piece and BuzzFeed stands by its reporting. Smith apologized for calling Elk a “sad lunatic” in an internal email he didn’t realize would go public.
On November 15, Gawker laid out Elk’s outrage, detailing a Twitter fight he had with BuzzFeed‘s Gray, who’d written a story on ex-Clinton advisor Sidney Blumenthal launching an email campaign to defend Max Bluemnthal’s book. Elk called Gray’s piece a “gossipy hit job.”
Elk’s uproar about Lake and Max Blumenthal’s book remains. Over the weekend he sent me this:
“The bottom line is that Eli Lake does not want people to read his book on Israel because it would hurt Eli’s elite sources that are flacks for AIPAC type organizations. Eli Lake, Rosie Gray and their crew of drinking buddies who rely so heavily on these AIPAC allied sources would rather have the discussion be about Max’s Dad or my mental sanity than to discuss the actual merits of arguments about the growing trend of fascism within Israel against non-Jewish Israeli citizens. This is the bottom line Eli’s group of drinking buddies would rather play mean girls almost cyberbully games than play reporter.”
Elk said he has repeatedly challenged him to a public debate: He wrote The Mirror: “He can spend all hours of the day and morning mocking my mental health with that that Wall Street Journal reporter Shorab Ahrami [sic, his named is spelled Sohrab Ahmari] but he still can’t respond to a simple question of whether he will debate me.”
Here’s a trail of the spectacularly illiterate email exchanges between Elk and Lake.
Oct. 28, 9:09 p.m.
Subject line: apologize to my ex Rania Khalek
I just now saw the racist slur you put against my ex, Rania Khalek. Given the way that Rania was treated following 9-11, her parents her own history of being bombed and imprisoned in Lebanon, and you are a white man its clear you need to apologize. For you to treat my ex this way is absolutely horrendous. You need to apologize now or I am going to call your editor.
The next morning Lake forward that email to John Avlon calling for Lake’s firing.
Oct. 29 at 8:22 a.m.
Elk: “Thanks, I’m a staff writer not a correspondent. Yeah, you’re correspondent has no class. Instead of arguing on merits, Eli chose to mock an Arab-Ameican writer asking her ‘do you feel marginalized and othered.’ Then followed up by saying ‘I did not mean to offend you. I was mocking your progressive lexicon not your ethnicity or gender.’ This is the type of behavior that would get someone fired at most publications. It’s not acceptable for a reporter to talk to anyone in such a demeaning behavior especially for a white man to talk to an Arab woman that way. Eli should be fired.”
Avlon did not respond to Elk’s email request.
Getting no response from Avlon, Elk resumed writing Lake directly.
Nov. 6, 4:32 p.m.
Subject line: Coward
My investigative work has been cited on A1 of the New York Times and it didnt come from doing the cowardly struff you do in sucking up to sources. It came from beating the bushes and talking to real folks. Why don’t you start sucking up and I dunno go walk around like a real reporter.
Eli’s Response: “Laughing at you.”
Nov. 13, 6:14 p.m.
Subject line: coward
Elk: still a coward eli.
Lake: The whole town’s laughing at you.
Elk: yeah but with the exception of Mt. Pleasant, I have always laughed at this whole town.
Lake: Why do you send me these emails? I don’t respect you, so I don’t care what you say about me. I am not interested in learning from you, talking to you, debating you or interacting with you. So please delete my email and stop contacting me.
Nov. 16, 7:41 p.m. from Elk to Lake
Subject line: my grandparents
My grandparents were both the children of Russian Jewish immigrants. They were communists who both volunteered to fight in World War Two because they wanted to fight fascists. When they came home they suffered under McCarthyism with my grandfather being forced to resign from the VA and having the FBI come to their house when my great Uncle Herb Nichols was called before HUAC. As Jews, they refused to go to Israel because of what they saw as racist policies towards the Palestinians.
You don’t have half the courage of them. You are a coward, but maybe somehow you can redeem yourself.
Nov. 24, 5:48 p.m.
Subject line: So cowardly
Elk: Come on Eli stop being such a coward.
A Nov. 27 string of emails
Subject of email (initiated by Elk): You’re like the Jewish police level cowardly
Lake: Do you ever wonder why no one respects you?
Elk: On the labor beat – no one respects me? No one cares about aipac sources on the labor beat Eli.
Lake: No one in journalism respects you. That’s why all the real journalists you attack only prosper after you attack them. It’s cause no one cares what you say.
Elk: The front page of the New York Times seems to respect me enough to cite my investigative work in A1 stories – have you been cited in A1 NYT stories?
Lake: I hope you get the help you need.
Elk: [sic] , what type of help would you suggest what exactly are you saying my problem is here?
The best came on Dec. 5 at 1:23 p.m. when Elk made the funniest threat of all.
Elk: Im gonna make sure you never got on MSNBC again.
Also on Dec. 5, 2:09 p.m. the correspondence continue…
Subject line: come on coward
Elk: We gonna debate in public or what you scared of a yinzer jew like me. [sic]
Dec. 6, 12:01 p.m.
Subject line: Google Ue [sic]
Elk: You messed with the wrong yinzer.
Lake: Please make you threat explicit [sic].
Elk: I’m just gonna tell the truth. You wish that I would slug you in the face but I’m just gonna tell the full truth this attention. [sic]
Current status of their relationship:
Elk: “I have never meet Eli Lake in my life – guys like that don’t exactly hang around union halls.”
Lake: “I don’t really think about him. I think we were once on a listerv together.”