Prediction: By 2017 there will be a photograph with the word BEWARE on it taped to the computers of editors in towns like Washington, New York and Boston. The photograph will be that of D.C. Gadfly Evan Gahr, a freelancer who I affectionately call the “phone enthusiast” because he rings up editors and journalists at work and home — and I mean by telephone, not GChat — and gets under their skin in the worst and funniest of ways. The warning will also say this: He sometimes goes by “Bertram,” so don’t be fooled when he writes and asks for your autograph. Please note: WaPo‘s Erik Wemple fell for this and actually sent Bertram autographed copies of a blog post. Because what blogger who ran the Allbritton failure, TBD, into the ground, isn’t proud enough of this work that he’d imagine someone wants his autograph?
Since Friday, NYT‘s Executive Editor Dean Baquet has been on the receiving end of Gahr’s phone calls and emails. And let’s just be honest. Does Baquet now need a weekend in the Bahamas?
The premise of last week’s exchange: Gahr saw an inconsistency in the NYT publishing Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson‘s street name, which would conceivably make it simple for anyone who wanted to find his home. So he wrote Baquet, asking if he should post the editor’s home phone number.
This isn’t the first time the pair has gotten in each other’s crosshairs.
In October, 2013, Gahr wrote Baquet to complain that the NYT hadn’t covered an age and race discrimination lawsuit against WaPo. Baquet wrote back, saying, “Evan, no news organization in America would report on every discrimination lawsuit filed in every court in every medium-sized city. Even when the author of the story chooses to try to use cheap tricks to goad people into covering his obsessions. Good luck.”
At a moment like this, I can’t help but ask, WWJAD? As in what would former NYT Executive Editor Jill Abramson have done under these circumstances? Baquet, who moved right in as editor after Abramason was fired, may know how to punch a newsroom wall or two. But by this point, Abramson would have literally taken a bite out of Gahr for lunch, told him off or would’ve just ignored him completely.
Not Baquet. Watch.
Gahr: “[Phone Number] Since you felt justified in publishing Darren Wilson’s street address do you think I would be justified in publishing your home number? It seems to have recently been deleted from WhitePages.com and 411.com. Does the public need to know your home number also?”
Baquet: “You need help. And not journalistic help. You’re a troubled young man.”
Gahr: “Good luck, Dean, with every conservative freak in the country–and there are quite a few!–who are going to call you at home now. If you had just asked me not to publish this I would have respected your wishes. But then you would be acknowledging the Times was wrong for publishing the Darren Wilson info. So you are sacrificing yourself for the Times’ sins. Very Christ like! (I am not emailing you again about this.) — Evan Gahr, Washington Gadfly and Phone Enthusiast.”
Baquet: “I’m not going to ask you not to do it. Your call my friend. We didn’t list wilsons address. Certainly not his number. But do what you think is good journalism. I am sorry I insulted you, but as I said you dish it out. And as an editor I figure if I dish it out I better be able to take it. I’m sure I will get threatening calls into the night. Maybe someone will even reach my kid. Hope you know you didn’t make a journalistic call. You were vindictive.”
Gahr: “First of all, before you play McCarthyite jujitsu, at least check your facts. I am not, by any definition, young. If I need such ‘journalistic help’ why is it, when you were Washington bureau chief, you stole my story about Obama’s Columbia essay for the front page of the New York Times? And why, in recent months, have my freelance scoops been quoted by Page Six, Richard Johnson, Talking Points Memo, the Washington Post, Mediaite. You need journalistic help because you refuse to report the Washington Post is being sued for race discrimination. You publish articles on the Washington Post about everything but that. And discrimination lawsuits against organizations or companies far less prominent than the Washington Post.”
Baquet: “Sorry I said you were young.”
Baquet: “Good luck Evan.”
Gahr: “Well, now that I have your attention and you are issuing corrections– If I am a troubled (no longer young) man and atrocious journalist for posting your home number what does that make you for publishing where Darren Wilson lives? I just posted your number (as conveyed to me by an actual person not by trolling online). I have mixed feelings about this. If you want me to take this down before all the freaks jam up your voice mail let me know. Also, now that I have your attention, since you’re lecturing me on what it takes to be a stellar journalist, what is it going to take for you to report that black advertising department employee David DeJesus is suing the Washington Post for race discrimination? Does he need to get shot by a white cop after he robs a convenience store? There is much more evidence that DeJesus is a victim of racism than there is of Michael Brown.”
In the end Gahr took it down. He explained why to Baquet.
Gahr: “First of all, I am not your friend. You don’t even know how old I am. …Anyway, you finally gave me a substantive answer to my question, sufficient to further advance the story. “Dean Baquet does not want his home number published but he’s happy to make it possible for people–with a bigger death wish than Charles Bronson–to track down Darren Wilson. That was my goal, which I think is a legitimate journalism. Secondly, you gave me good reasons not to publish your number. So I am going to remove it from my DCGadfly blog.”
Asked why he ultimately removed it, Gahr told The Mirror that he accomplished what he wanted to.
“My goal was to advance the story,” he said. “I advanced it by using the number as bait to get him to give me substantial answers to my questions. …Publishing it would cross the line from journalism to political activism. I got him on record essentially saying he does not want it published–even though he published the Darren Wilson stuff. So he looks like a rank hypocrite, which he didn’t before this exchange. Plus, a putz for being executive editor of the New York Times and not being able to come up with a better insult than ‘troubled young man.'”
Asked what long-lasting feelings he had about the whole thing, Baquet told The Mirror, “My main lasting feeling is that where I come from people who blind carbon without telling the other party are not particularly trustworthy.” Baquet also had a threat for Gahr, which he shared with him directly.
In a writeup on his D.C. Gadfly blog, Gahr wrote that Baquet was “aghast” that he wanted to publish his home phone number. Baquet had a problem with Gahr’s choice of words. See the email below.