Politics & Policy

The Mainstream Media Misrepresents a Google Engineer’s Memo

(Reuters photo: Regis Duvignau)
The controversial memo is not ‘anti-diversity,’ but you wouldn’t know that from reading mainstream outlets’ coverage of it.

It is getting more difficult by the day to have a rational public conversation about anything. The latest panicked hubbub is over a memo about diversity in the tech industry, written by a Google engineer. Last night, that Google engineer — James Damore — was fired for supposedly “perpetuating gender stereotypes.”

As the memo circulated over the weekend, and after news of Damore’s firing emerged late last night, the media yet again displayed their remarkable inability to report accurately on anything that contradicts progressive dogma.

Instead of describing the actual substance of the memo — which was remarkably measured and data-driven — news outlets have routinely chosen to slander Damore as “anti-diversity” and to claim repeatedly that Damore argued women shouldn’t be allowed to work at tech companies.

Neither of these claims is true. In fact, Damore’s memo was premised on the fact that he values diversity and believes it isn’t being properly cultivated. “I strongly believe in gender and racial diversity, and I think we should strive for more,” he stated explicitly in the memo. Regardless of whether one agrees with his solutions to the problems he identifies, it is ridiculous to assert that he is “anti-diversity.”

But you wouldn’t know that from reading the media coverage of the controversy, which has seemed intent on obscuring Damore’s real message. For example, Recode and Gizmodo — both of which republished the memo in full — removed every single one of Damore’s extensive links and graphs, which had provided rigorous data and research to substantiate his argument. There is absolutely no reason for a site to erase that context, other than to vilify the author and make his argument appear less credible.

Gizmodo also gave the memo the fair-and-balanced label “anti-diversity screed,” as did pieces in The Atlantic and HuffPost. Reuters, ABC News, New York magazine, CNBC, USA Today, and The Guardian referred to it as an “anti-diversity memo.” Vox, meanwhile,went a little further, calling it a “sexist screed . . . arguing for less emphasis on gender diversity in the workplace” and describing its publication as an act of “hostility.”

CNN classified the memo as an “anti-diversity manifesto” and tweeted, incorrectly, that it “argues women aren’t suited for tech jobs.” Such an argument didn’t appear once in the memo. Either CNN’s reporters decided to write about the memo without having read it, or they intentionally misrepresented its content.

The New York Times wrote an article entitled “Google Fires Engineer Who Wrote Memo Questioning Women in Tech,” and the AP’s first report on the memo called it “sexist” and took Damore’s remarks out of context to make them appear biased against women.

Whether out of sloppiness or maliciousness, these outlets have misreported Damore’s central argument about women in the workplace and repeatedly labeled him “sexist” as a result.

If you read the memo itself — in its original form, with all the supporting evidence Damore included — a very different story emerges. Damore writes, for example, that, “Differences in distributions of traits between men and women may in part explain why we don’t have 50% representation.” (Emphasis added.) This is not “questioning women” or exhibiting a desire to expel women from the tech industry. Damore, unlike most proponents of diversity, acknowledges the biological and natural fact that men and women are different in substantive ways that necessarily affect their workplace experiences and choices.

In Damore’s view, we must acknowledge these distinctions if we wish to address the dearth of women in tech jobs. Nothing in his memo earns the false label “anti-diversity,” nor does he deserve to be accused of wanting to ban women from his industry or of believing them to be incompetent. But if you read about the memo in nearly any mainstream outlet, you wouldn’t know that. With inaccurate reports like these as our only source of information, it is easy to see why lucid public discussions have become all but extinct.


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