If all you do is get your news from the establishment media, you’d be under the impression that former Google engineer James Damore is a dangerous bigot who hates women and minorities. As reports of the so-called “anti-diversity” leaked memo from Google surfaced on the Internet, journalists exposed their preconceptions and bias with misleading headlines and equally biased stories.
Gizmodo, which first published the article with all the sources redacted, set the narrative tone by calling it an “anti-diversity screed.” Other publications soon followed.
The Guardian called it a “sexist memo” that “provided the alt-right with a new martyr.” CNN Money falsely presented it to say that the engineer who wrote it “argues women aren’t suited for tech jobs.” Fast Company attempted to “debunk” the “gender myths” in “that Google anti-diversity rant.” With hot takes from Slate, Salon, Engadget, Time and many others, the list of websites that made false representations of the memo is long.
Anger against the memo was further cemented by articles by former Google employees Yonatan Zunger and Kelly Ellis, whose articles and Twitter threads condemning Damore went viral. There were unironic calls to create industry blacklists.
The sentiment was heavily driven through social media, where social progressives responding to the initial Gizmodo article added their two cents. “Anti-diversity” became “sexist,” which became “misogynist,” “racist,” (because the memo brought up science relating to biological differences in humans), all the way to the “alt-right” and “Donald Trump.” Words like “violence” were used to describe the memo, from people who refused to read it.
Like a game of Chinese whispers, an innocuous memo with proposals on improving Google as a diverse-friendly workplace without sacrificing merit became as radioactive as Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf.”
Poorly written stories, drawing from biased takes on social media, produced a false narrative surrounding the Google memo. Poor readers, digesting only the headlines that reinforced their progressive bias, regurgitated the lies onto social media. The result is a feedback loop of misinformation, grounded in alternative facts.
In a post-truth world where narrative matters more than reality, James Damore is a dangerous bigot because he argued for the diversity of thought. The media’s pretense at authority and its subsequent reaction to his article confirms his thesis on the dangers of political correctness.
Comparing journalists to chefs trying to cook up a meal, The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf argues that “social-media activists ought to stop heckling chefs who are trying to measure precisely” if the public wants journalistic rigor.
I disagree, and argue that attempts to dissuade social justice activists from pushing their ideology is a fool’s errand. Ideologues are deaf to such requests, and would absolutely prefer for journalists to serve as loudspeakers for their views.
I also disagree with Friedersdorf’s claim that the “Google memo is an outlier.” Examples of the media’s embrace of social justice ideology can be found in biased coverage of Israeli-Palestinian relations, the rise of the so-called “alt-right,” the men’s rights movement, GamerGate, and numerous, smaller controversies every day.
Journalists are not immune to confirmation bias and the propagation of popular narratives, but they have a duty to fight against it. They cannot allow themselves to be held hostage to narratives. Their failure to do so — whether by pressure to conform, or even a desire to be ideologues — erodes the public’s ability to trust what they say. They are no longer journalists.