Politics & Policy

The Daily Beast’s Shabby Scoop

All of this was completely gratuitous.

Breaking news: Some guy posted a doctored video of Nancy Pelosi.

But fear not. The website the Daily Beast sprang into action. It tracked down the random, Trump-supporting man who allegedly posted the offending clip, hounded him until he talked, then published his name and other details about his life in a shocking instance of harassment masquerading as journalism.

Journalists usually imagine themselves holding the powerful to account, but now they are happy to punch down — and congratulate themselves on punching down — if their targets are politically uncongenial.

The man whose identity was revealed by the Daily Beast is, by the publication’s account, an unemployed African-American forklift operator who lives in New York City and runs a couple of very minor Facebook pages. He had done it anonymously, one assumes, to avoid any professional and personal fallout, to which the Daily Beast has now exposed him. 

The video in question, doctored to make it sound as if Pelosi was drunk when talking about Donald Trump at a progressive conference, dominated a news cycle a couple of weeks ago. In other words, it was a big deal for about six hours and then disappeared like most everything else in our disposable news culture.

It got several million views and was, stupidly, shared by Rudy Giuliani on Twitter. The video was certainly a testament to the debased quality of online discourse, but it was also quickly identified as a fake, because it was pretty obviously a fake.

None of this justifies outing the man supposedly responsible for it. In a better world, anonymous political commentators could be identified without fear of social media mobs attempting to ruin their lives. As has been demonstrated time and again, this is not the world we live in.

Widely criticized for its decision to name the man — or in online parlance, “dox” him — the Daily Beast defended its story as a way to show “that disinformation isn’t the purview of Russia alone.” But who ever believed this? 

The Left is so obsessed with the idea that Russia, after its desultory social-media campaign in 2016, pulls the strings of our democracy that it assumes every noxious piece of content on the Internet might have been cooked up in a Russian troll farm. 

Even if it’s relevant that someone in the Bronx rather than St. Petersburg produced the video, that didn’t require naming the man — let alone citing an Instagram post of his using an abusive term to refer to a woman who allegedly kicked him on the subway, detailing his employment history, talking to his ex-girlfriend, or delving into his guilty plea to a domestic violence charge and an outstanding warrant for his arrest on a probation violation. (The man denies many of the details of the story.)

All of this was completely gratuitous. The balance, which any responsible publication should have considered, between the public benefit of naming the man (none) and the personal harm that might be done by naming him (considerable) isn’t even close.

Of course, it matters that he is a Trump supporter. Outlets like the Daily Beast don’t make a routine practice of hunting down trolls who are producing the vast sea of anti-Trump material online, because they don’t consider spoofing or maligning Trump to be a threat to democracy or at all undesirable. 

Incredibly enough, according to the Daily Beast, someone at Facebook provided details about the man’s posting history that were used to confirm the story. Users of Facebook should take note: Menlo Park is monitoring you and can and will participate with reporters in your doxing, as deemed necessary.

Although reporters with the historical memory of gnats might believe that rank abuse of America’s high elected officials is something new, it’s as old as the republic. And it’s often been anonymous. By all means, call out online distortions and lies, but deliberately exposing low-level political advocates to personal destruction is shabby and irresponsible, and more an act of political retaliation than journalism.

© 2019 by King Features Syndicate

Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via email: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com. 

Most Popular

White House

Trump and the ‘Racist Tweets’

What does “racist” even mean anymore? Racism is the headline on President Trump’s Sunday tweets -- the media-Democrat complex assiduously describes them as “racist tweets” as if that were a fact rather than a trope. I don’t think they were racist; I think they were abjectly stupid. Like many ... Read More
White House

The Trump Steamroller

As we settle into high summer and the period of maximum difficulty in finding anything to fill in hours of television news, especially 24/7 news television, two well-established political trends are emerging in this pre-electoral period: The president’s opponents continue to dig themselves into foxholes that ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Ilhan Omar Is Completely Assimilated

Beto O’Rourke, the losing Texas Senate candidate who bootstrapped his way into becoming a losing presidential candidate, had a message for refugees who had come to America: Your new country is a hellhole. The former congressman told a roundtable of refugees and immigrants in Nashville, Tenn., last week: ... Read More

We All Wanted to Love the Women’s Soccer Team

For the first time in my life, I did not root for an American team. Whatever the sport, I have always rooted American. And if those who called in to my radio show were representative of my audience, many millions of Americans made the same sad choice. It takes a lot for people like me not to root for an ... Read More

The ‘Squad’ Gives a Gift to Donald Trump

On Sunday, Donald Trump gave the Democrats a gift -- comments that indicate he thinks native-born congresswomen he detests should “go back” to the countries of their ancestors. On Monday, the four congresswomen handed Trump a gift in return, managing to respond to the president’s insults in some of the most ... Read More