Short stories about thrift store crap

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Culture jammers extraordinaire Rob Walker and Joshua Glenn bought a bunch of less-than-worthless objects at thrift stores and garage sales and then assigned people to write a short story about one of the objects. As each story was published on Rob and Josh’s website, the corresponding object was listed on eBay.

Rob and Josh compiled 100 of the stories into an anthology called Significant Objects, published by Fantagrpahics. I was one of the lucky people who was asked to contribute a story and have it appear in the book, which is beautifully designed. My object, a small blue bottle, cost $1 at a garage sale and sold for $23 on eBay. (You can read my story online here).

Buy Significant Objects on eBay


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Iris smart-home-in-a-box with openness potential

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I remember writing about smart homes for Wired nearly 20 years ago and the technology just never seemed ready for primetime. I know that X10 has its evangelists, but from a mainstream perspective it almost felt like smart home tech was moving toward the retro-futurism zone of robot maids and, yes, jetpacks. But perhaps the prevalence of Wifi and the reality/buzz of “connected devices” is shifting that tide. At Institute for the Future where I’m a researcher, one of our clients is the DIY retailer Lowe’s. Last night, they gave me a demo of their new Iris smart home system.

Iris is a plug-and-play product based around a hub that’s outfitted with WiFi, Zigbee, and Z-Wave radios. The idea is that by having those three specs, the system can theoretically talk to almost any wireless connected device, from a thermostat and outlet that monitors energy usage to an alarm system and videocameras. The entire system is controlled by a customizable mobile app that appears to be dead simple to use. (A helluva lot easier than my current alarm system that required me to tape a cheat sheet explaining how to set zones, etc. above the keypad.) Now, there are two really intriguing things about this besides its apparently simplicity: The first is that the starter kits are relatively inexpensive. For $180 you can get the hub and either a basic alarm system package or an energy system. ($299 and you get both packages.) But the real kicker is that the folks I met with told me that Lowe’s’ near-term vision is to really open up the platform for anyone to hack on. Remember our friend Mikey Sklar who implanted an RFID chip into his hand and no longer needs to carry house keys? Get that man an Iris. Lowe’s Iris


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Crowdsourced voice recordings: towards a disruptive technology for Parkinson’s disease

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Many of us know someone who has Parkinson’s — it affects more than 6 million worldwide — and would love to play an active role in research into treatments. That’s my situation: my friend Jan Stripling (left), who used to be a virtuoso ballet dancer, was recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s. For someone whose entire existence revolved around the joy of high precision, coordinated movement that took a sizable fraction of his lifetime to perfect, this incurable disease, that replaces voluntary movement with tremor, rigidity and weakness, is cruel.

As a scientist, I’m fortunate to perhaps be in a position to help. But here I want to argue that anyone can help! Although there are no known biomarkers, research by me (and others) shows that with voice recordings alone, we can quantify symptoms of the disease (e.g. reproduce symptom measurement on the standard clinical scale with around 2% error), and also detect when someone has the disease (with around 99% accuracy). To adapt this technology to the standard phone network will require 10,000 voice recordings from healthy controls and people with Parkinson’s.

Last month, we launched the Parkinson’s Voice Initiative (PVI) to crowdsource these 10,000 calls. The response has been truly amazing — nearly 5,000 people have contributed — we are overwhelmed! It seems: if you provide a simple, quick (around 3 minute), anonymous, and painless way to contribute to scientific research, people will happily participate. And that gives me tremendous hope for the future of medical science.

If the PVI reaches its goals, the technology we can build with those recordings could mean several big advances for Parkinson’s, including reducing the need to visit the clinic for symptom checkups. But perhaps more revolutionary is the impact this could have on the search for new treatments. One of the major stumbling blocks on the road to new drugs is the cost and inconvenience of recruiting large numbers of subjects to get sufficient statistical power in the results. If the only action needed to follow the progress of subjects is a low-cost, 3-minute phone call, then we can run clinical trials on a truly massive scale (think: millions of subjects for overwhelmingly definitive scientific conclusions).

And finally, there’s tantalizing, but so far weak, evidence that voice disturbances may be an early disease symptom, present long before the tell-tale limb tremors of Parkinson’s. If this is true, voice could become an “acoustic biomarker” of the disease. Why is this so important? By the time the tremors of Parkinson’s lead to clinical diagnosis, the neuronal damage is usually beyond repair. So, the phone could become a radically cheap way to screen for the early symptoms, in the general population. We could then work out who might best participate in trials for potential cures, rather than trials for drugs that just suppress the symptoms temporarily. While this “voice as early biomarker” hypothesis is a long shot, we now have the means to test it and think it’s too great an opportunity not to pursue.

Parkinson’s Voice Initiative


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Greenpeace and Yes Lab vs Shell

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Greenpeace and the Yes Lab created a faux Shell site and are crowd sourcing ads criticizing Shells’ Arctic drilling plans. (Above, an example generated by egilaslak.) In a statement released today, Shell refers to the site as a “scam but they apparently haven’t fired off a nastygram to Greenpeace yet. This is on the heels of their June hoax involving a model oil rig and a fake party combined into a multi-layered prank that played some media outlets (ahem) for rubes.

Is Greenpeace’s prank on Shell oil a ‘scam’?


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Important news from the wind energy industry

DONG to buy big Siemens wind turbines for the UK. Just so you know.


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Death by Diablo

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A Taiwanese man, age 18, reportedly died after playing Diablo III for two days without food or sleep. He had rented a private room at an Internet cafe on Friday at lunch. On Sunday, an employee found him asleep. He briefly woke up and then collapsed. From CVG:

Blizzard released a statement following Chuang’s death:

“We’re saddened to hear this news, and our thoughts are with his family and friends during this difficult time. We don’t feel it would be appropriate for us to comment further without knowing all of the circumstances involved.

“While we recognize that it’s ultimately up to each individual or their parent or guardian to determine playing habits, we feel that moderation is clearly important, and that a person’s day-to-day life should take precedence over any form of entertainment.”

Man dies after playing Diablo III for 40 hours


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Emmy nominations: Predictable as usual, plus some stuff you’d hoped would happen that did

Here its comes: awards season! That special time of year when the days get shorter and more famous people celebrate each other for doing all those things that made them rich while we pay for cable and become slightly less rich! It’s the Primetime Emmys, and while the usual suspects have received their usual amount of nods (Mad Men, Modern Family, Breaking Bad, 30 Rock, The Good Wife), there were some surprises (Girls, American Horror Story, Game of Thrones, Sherlock, lots of Betty White), pleasant and otherwise. And after reading through the entire list of nominations, I can comfortably conclude the following things: the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences is just as obsessed as everyone else is over Downton Abbey and NBC’s Community is existing in another dimension than the people who nominate excellent shows for Emmys. (Yup — almost totally snubbed.)

Jimmy Kimmel and Kerry Washington announced the list of nominees this morning, and naturally, the consensus is in partial agreement with mostly everything while wondering about the head-scratchers, like if there is some deep, evil connection between the Academy and Two and a Half Men that manages to garner that show at least one nomination every year despite it being Two and a Half Men. (Congratulations, John Cryer.) Most believe that the shows that are up for awards are plenty deserving, like 30 Rock and Modern Family, Mad Men and Boardwalk Empire. And then there are the shows that people are relieved to see nominated, like Louie, Game of Thrones, and Homeland. Always good to see that happen, right?

And then people get their hate on. I give you the multiple nominations for shows like Harry’s Law, Grey’s Anatomy, and Saturday Night Live, because some people love to hate Saturday Night Live while simultaneously remaining a regular viewer. (Yeah, I’m talking to you, haters — why do you watch a show every week it’s on and then spend your breath talking about it if it hasn’t been good since “whatever year you feel it was good that was over 10 years ago”? Stop watching it if you don’t like it, silly! Problem solved!) And shows that people generally aren’t into, but they have excellent people on them (see: Mike & Molly and last year’s Best Actress in a Comedy winner, Melissa McCarthy, who should win everything). But then there are the spaces filled by shows receiving multiple nominations in certain categories that many feel could have been filled by more deserving shows. Example: Modern Family, which has two nominees up for the Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy (out of six) and four in the Supporting Actor category (also out of six). Really? Not trying to undermine the talents of the Modern Family ensemble, but there really wasn’t anyone else on a different show worth honoring? Like, say, from Community?

Yeah, let’s talk about Community. The Rodney Dangerfield of sitcoms. How many nominations does this show get? One. For writing, which it deserves, absolutely. (For the episode “Remedial Chaos Theory.”) But that was it. Nothing for the actors, nothing for the directors, not even for art direction. (Congratulations, 2 Broke Girls.) Honestly, it’s depressing, I tell ya — no respect. The Academy said to Community, “We wanna wish your mother a Happy Mother’s Day Eve — because the day before she became your mother was the happiest day of her life!”

(Sorry.)

Also nearly left out completely was The Walking Dead. One nomination: for makeup. However, that first half of the season (which should have just been called “Waiting for Sophia”) did drag, and despite some truly gut-wrenching and suspenseful moments later on, it’s probably not a huge injustice that it missed out on other major nominations this year. Please, feel free to disagree with me. I am totally cool with it. I just think that the change in showrunners may have thrown it off its game, which means this upcoming third season may very well be amazing.

In other genre news, though, great to see Game of Thrones get the attention it deserves and another nomination for Peter Dinklage.

I think the biggest surprise, for me, was the 17 nods for American Horror Story, the same amount of nominations as Mad Men. (In related news, Ryan Murphy’s other show, Glee, was shut out of all the major categories, but Glee had a weird year. Even die-hard fans will admit that.) This is one of the biggest examples of a “sleeper hit” that I’ve witnessed on TV, and as a horror fan, I’m just kinda tickled that this show got this kind of attention.

And then there’s Downton Abbey, the show about British people that all the people you know on Twitter were talking about earlier this year nonstop. With 16 nominations, The Guardian has a laugh at our expense from across the pond: “Looking at this year’s Emmy nominations, it’s hard not to crack the old joke about Americans being rendered powerless by the sight of a stately home.” Well played, The Guardian. Well played.

But hey, awesome to see Breaking Bad get accolades for heading into the most unsympathetic, dark territory that, in full disclosure, I’ve only seen glimpses of in the fourth season’s premiere. (Season four just arrived on Netflix and I’m playing catch-up. Bear with me!) Meanwhile, its AMC compatriot Mad Men had one of its more uneven seasons in its entire run, though it was sprinkled with some excellent moments throughout; Jared Harris got his going-away present for playing the doomed Lane Pryce in the form of a Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series nod, Christina Hendricks was rightly nominated for her work as Joan.

In summary, this is an unremarkable day in Emmy history. No big shockers, no bigger disappointments than usual. At least a lot of good TV was nominated. Like Robot Chicken and Children’s Hospital. And Benedict Cumberbatch, Kristen Wiig (for SNL and for her voice work as Lola Bunny on The Looney Tunes Show), and Betty White.

You can read the full list of nominees at Emmys.com, in convenient pdf form! A decent abridged list on a regular-looking web page can be found at E! Online.


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Huge hole in Mars

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This “hole in Mars,” imaged by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, is an opening into an underground cave. The hole is approximately 35 meters across. NASA reports, “Holes such as this are of particular interest because their interior caves are relatively protected from the harsh surface of Mars, making them relatively good candidates to contain Martian life.”


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Weird medical history, ripped from the archives of Doonesbury

My introduction to Gary Trudeau’s Doonesbury happened around the age of 8, when I discovered my father’s anthology collections. (I was extraordinarily up on early 1970s pop culture for a late 1980s grade schooler.) Reading the new strip and the daily archives is still part of my morning routine. But, given that I was born in 1981, I don’t always get all the references. Sometimes, that leads me to discover weird bits pop history.

For instance, the strip above ran on July 19, 1977. My first response this morning, “What the hell is Laetrile?” I mean, it’s Duke, so I assumed it was a drug. But I wasn’t expecting it to turn out to be a quack cancer treatment, the promotion of which led to a strange bedfellows situation where alt-med proponents joined forces with the John Birch Society to fight the federal government for the right to sell desperate cancer patients a potentially dangerous treatment that had never been tested for effectiveness or safety.

Laetrile is basically the brand name of amygdalin, a compound derived from bitter almonds, or from the pits of apricots and black cherries. It’s sometimes called “Vitamin B17″, although it’s not a vitamin. Beginning in the 1950s, the father-son team of Dr. Ernst T. Krebs and Ernst T. Krebs, Jr. (The latter’s only claim to a medical license was a “doctor of science” degree bestowed on him honorarily by an unaccredited Bible college) began marketing Laetrile as a treatment for cancer.

The downside to Laetrile is that it can break down and turn into cyanide in the presence of stomach chemicals. Also, it doesn’t actually seem to do anything to cure or slow the progress of cancer. The upside to Laetrile is that selling it was extremely lucrative.

John Richardson was a general practitioner who began practice in the San Francisco Bay area in 1954. In 1971, after discussions with Krebs, Jr., he decided to become a cancer specialist. He had not encountered overwhelming success as a general practitioner. His 1972 income tax return revealed that he had grossed $88,000 in his medical practice, leaving a net of only $10,400 taxable income.

Richardson’s practice boomed as a result of his newly found status as a cancer “expert.” He states that “Our office soon was filled with faces we had never seen before—hopeful faces of men and women who had been abandoned by orthodox medicine as hopeless or “terminal” cases.” In 1974, he reported that his medical practice had grossed $783,000, with a net income of $172,981. By charging patients $2,000 for a course of Laetrile, Richardson managed to increase his net income 17-fold in just two years. According to his income tax returns, Richardson grossed $2.8 million dollars from his Laetrile practice between January 1973 and March 1976. The actual amount of money he received may have even been higher. In Laetrile Case Histories, he claimed to have treated 4,000 patients, with an average charge of $2,500 per patient. Culbert states that by 1976 Richardson had treated 6,000 patients. If these figures are correct, Richardson would have grossed between $10 and $15 million dollars during this time.

Richardson’s practice changed significantly after he began treating cancer patients with Laetrile. He also began treating what he termed “pre-clinical syndrome” patients with Laetrile. These were patients with no identifiable tumor or lesion who complained of feelings of “impending doom, malaise, unexplained or vague pains, headaches, bowel changes, loss of appetite, loss of energy, and depression.” According to Richardson, cancer patients reported a reduction in pain, an improved appetite, return of strength, and an improved mental outlook. In addition, high blood pressure returned to normal.

In spite of these “dramatic improvements,” Richardson admitted that most of his cancer patients died.

Cases like this one led to raids and prosecutions, as state and federal government authorities started cracking down on doctors for selling the bogus treatment. Richardson, for instance, was indicted in 1976.

Proponents fought back. Laetrile ended up in the Supreme Court in 1979—where justices rejected the idea that treatments given to terminally ill patients should be exempt from FDA regulation. And in 1977, when this Doonesbury comic came out, Laetrile was the subject of a Congressional hearing.

The full history is pretty amazing. Public interest in Laetrile petered off in the 1980s, after a National Cancer Institute study found no evidence that it worked (and did find evidence of cyanide poisoning in patients using it), and after actor Steve McQueen infamously used Laetrile to treat his cancer … and then died. But there are still people pushing it. Because of that, it’s worth noting that meta-reviews of research into Laetrile treatments for cancer, conducted in 2006 and again in 2011, still say the stuff doesn’t work and that it’s potentially dangerous.

Read the Quackwatch history of Laetrile, which is quoted above.

Read Wikipedia’s entry on Laetrile, which refers to it as “a canonical example of quackery” in the medical literature.

Read the abstract for the 2011 review of research into Laetrile as a treatment for cancer.

Read The American Cancer Society’s summary of the history and evidence (or, rather, lack thereof) behind Laetrile


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Gweek 061: Trust Me, I’m Lying

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Click here to play the podcast. In this episode of the Gweek podcast I interviewed Ryan Holiday. Ryan’s the author of Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator. He’s a media strategist who started his career as an assistant to Robert Greene, author of The 48 Laws of Power and is currently the director of marketing at American Apparel.

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Bonus! Here’s an excerpt from Trust Me, I’m Lying.

NewImageIrin Carmon, the Daily Show and Me: The Perfect Storm of How Toxic Blogging Can Be, by Ryan Holiday

“Most crucially, that machine, whether it churns through social media or television appearances, doesn’t reward bipartisanship or deal making; it rewards the easily retweetable or sound bite–ready statement, the more outrageous the better.”

— Irin Carmon, Jezebel

In the first half of my book, I give reader the inside on how to manipulate blogs. There are fatal flaws in the blogging medium that create opportunities for influence over the media—and, ultimately, culture itself. And if I were writing this book two or three years ago, it would have ended there.

I did not fully understand the dangers of that world. The costs of the cheap power I had as a media manipulator were hidden, but once revealed, I could not shake them. I had used my tactics to sell T-shirts and books, but others, I found, used them more expertly and to more ominous ends. They sold everything from presidential candidates to distractions they hoped would placate the public—and made (or destroyed) millions in the process.

Realizing all this changed me. It made it impossible for me to continue down the path that I was on. The second half of this book explains why. It is an investigation not in how the dark arts of media manipulation work but of their consequences.

HOW BLOGS CREATE THEIR OWN NARRATIVES FOR FUN AND PROFIT

In 2010, I oversaw the launch of a new line of a Made in USA, environmentally friendly nail polish for American Apparel. Although American Apparel typically manufactures all of its products at its vertically integrated factory in L.A., for this product we’d collaborated with an old-fashioned family-owned factory in Long Island, where even their ninety-year-old grandmother still worked on the factory floor. Shortly after shipping the polish to rave reviews, we noticed that several bottles had cracked or burst underneath the bright halogen lights in our stores.

It didn’t pose a risk to our customers, but to be safe rather than sorry, we informed the factory that we’d be pulling the polish from store shelves and expected immediate replacements. We’d discussed the plan in-depth on a weekly conference call with our relevant employees. A confidential e-mail was sent to store managers informing them of the changes and asking them to place the bottles in a cool, dry place in the store until instructions for proper disposal were given. The last thing we wanted, even with environmentally friendly nail polish, was to throw fifty thousand bottles of it in trashcans in twenty countries.

A Jezebel blogger named Irin Carmon somehow received this innocent internal communication and e-mailed me at 6:25 a.m. West Coast time (Gawker is in Manhattan) to ask about it. Well, she pretended to ask me about it, since she signed her e-mail with the following:

Our post with the initial information is going up shortly, but I would be more than happy to update or post a follow-up. Thanks so much. Irin

By the time I rubbed the sleep from my eyes, the post was already live. When I saw it, all I could feel was a pit in my stomach—and, frankly, that surprised me. I knew how blogs worked, was plenty cynical, but even then I sensed that this would be awful.

The headline of Jezebel’s piece: “Does American Apparel’s New Nail Polish Contain Hazardous Material?

To settle Jezebel’s reckless conjecture: The answer is no, it doesn’t. Unequivocally no. For starters, the leaked e-mail specifically says the problem was with the glassware and mentions nothing about the polish. But Carmon wasn’t actually interested in any of that and she definitely wasn’t interested in writing an article that addressed the issue fairly. Why would she want an actual answer to her incredibly disingenuous question? The post was already written. Hell, it was already published.

As I had not intended to discuss the nail polish bottles publicly yet, it took about an hour for me to get a statement approved by the company lawyers. During that time dozens of other blogs were already parroting her claims. Major blogs, many of which had posted positive reviews of the nail polish on their sites, followed her bogus lead. The story was so compelling (American Apparel! Toxic polish! Exploding glass!) they had to run with it, true or not.

Within about an hour I e-mailed the following statement to Carmon, thinking I was taking her up on the offer for a follow-up to her first post:

After receiving a few reports of bottles breaking, we made the internal decision to do a voluntary recall of the bottles on both a retail and public level.

We chose this small US manufacturer to produce our nail polish because we support their business model and have a fondness for [the] family who runs it. However, one of the realities of all manufacturing is first-run glitches. We worked all last week with the manufacturer to make the improvements necessary for the second run. Another reason we sought out a US-based company is so we would be able make changes, and now we can investigate what went wrong as quickly as possible. We still believe in the factory we’re working with and the new polish will be in stores within the next two weeks.

We will offer an exchange of two new bottles or a $10 gift card for anyone who brings in a unit from the original run or a receipt.

On another note, one thing we’re taking very seriously is the disposal of the bottles we had in the stores. Even though our polish was DBP-, toluene-, and formaldehyde-free, we don’t want our stores just tossing it in the trash. We’re using our internal shipping and distribution line to arrange a pickup and removal of the polish to make sure it gets done right.

I felt this was a great—and ethical—response. But it was too late. Carmon copied and pasted my statement to the bottom of the article and left the headline exactly as it was, adding only “Updated” to the end of it. Even though the statement disproved the premise of her article, Carmon’s implication was that she was mostly right and was just adding a few new details. She wasn’t—she’d been totally wrong, but it didn’t matter, because the opportunity to change the readers’ minds had passed. The facts had been established.

To make matters worse, Carmon replied to my last e-mail with a question about another trumped-up story she planned to write about the company. She ended again with:

By the way, just FYI—I’d love to be able to include your responses in my initial post, but unfortunately I won’t be able to wait for them, so if this is something you can immediately react to, that would be great.

The controversy eventually meant the undoing of the nail polish company we’d worked so hard to support. Had these blogs not rushed to print a bogus story, the problem could have been handled privately. The massive outcry that followed Carmon’s post necessitated an immediate and large-scale response that the cosmetic company could not handle. No question, they’d made mistakes, but nothing remotely close to what was reported. Overwhelmed by the controversy and the pressure from the misplaced anger of the blogger horde, the small manufacturer fell behind on their orders. Their operations fell into disarray, and the company was later sued by American Apparel for $5 million in damages to recover various losses. As the lawyers would say, while the nail polish company is responsible for their manufacturing errors, if not for Carmon’s needless attack and rush to judgment—the proximate cause—it all could have been worked out.

Carmon is a media manipulator—she just doesn’t know it. She may think she is a writer, but everything about her job makes her a media manipulator. She and I are in the same racket. From the twisting of the facts, the creation of a nonexistent story, the merciless use of attention for profit—she does what I do. The system I abused was now abusing me and the people I cared about. And nobody had any idea.

A PATTERN OF MANIPULATION

Did you know that The Daily Show with Jon Stewart hates women? And that they have a long history of discriminating against and firing women?

Sure, one of its cocreators is female, and one of its best-known and longest- running correspondents is a woman, and there really isn’t any evidence to prove what I just claimed, but I assure you, I’d never lie.

This was the manufactured scandal that Jezebel slammed into The Daily Show in June 2010. Irin Carmon’s piece blindsided them just as her Jezebel nail polish story had blindsided us. It began when Carmon posted an article titled, “The Daily Show’s Woman Problem.”

Relying on some juicy quotes from people no longer with the show, Carmon claimed that the show had a poor record of finding and developing female comedic talent. She was also determined to make a name for herself. In order to accomplish this, she didn’t actually speak to anyone who still worked for The Daily Show. It was much easier to use a collection of anonymous and off-the-record sources—like an ex-employee who hadn’t worked there for eight years. As you should expect by now, the article was a sensation.

The cluster of stories that followed were read more than 500,000 times.

The story was picked up by ABC News, the Huffington Post, the Wall Street Journal, E!, Salon, and others. In a memo to his staff, Carmon’s boss and the publisher of Gawker, Nick Denton, commended the story for getting the kind of publicity that can’t be bought. Denton wrote, “It was widely circulated within the media, spawned several more discussions, and affirmed our status as both an influencer and a muckraker.” Jon Stewart was even forced to respond to the story on air. The New York Times rewarded Carmon and the website with a glowing profile: “A Web Site That’s Not Afraid to Pick a Fight.”

For a writer like Carmon, whose pay is determined by the number of pageviews her posts receive, this was a home run. And for a publisher like Denton, the buzz the story generated made his company more attractive to advertisers and increased the valuation of his brand.

That her story was a lie didn’t matter. That it was part of a pattern of manipulation didn’t matter.

The women of The Daily Show published an open letter on the show’s website a few days after the story hit.3 Women accounted for some 40 percent of the staff, the letter read, from writers and producers to correspondents and interns, and had over a hundred years’ experience on the show among them. The letter was remarkable in its clarity and under- standing of what the blogger was doing. They addressed it, “Dear People Who Don’t Work Here” and called Carmon’s piece an “inadequately re- searched blog post” that clung “to a predetermined narrative about sexism at The Daily Show.”

If I hadn’t experienced the exact situation myself, the letter would have made me hopeful that the truth would win out. But that’s not how it works online. The next day the New York Times ran an article about their response. “ ‘The Daily Show’ Women Say the Staff Isn’t Sexist” the headline blared.

Think about how bullshit that is: Because the Jezebel piece came first, the letter from The Daily Show women is shown merely as a response instead of the refutation that it actually was. No matter how convincing, it only reasserts, in America’s biggest newspaper, Carmon’s flimsy claim of sexism on the show. They could never undo what they’d be accused of— no matter how spurious the accusation—they could only deny it. And denials don’t mean anything online.

Kahane Cooperman, a female co–executive producer at the show, told the New York Times: “No one called us, no one talked to us. We felt like, we work here, we should take control of the narrative.” She didn’t know how it works. Jezebel controls the narrative. Carmon made it up; no one else had a right to it.

The day after the story ran, but before the women of The Daily Show could respond, Carmon got another post out of the subject: “5 Unconvincing Excuses for Daily Show Sexism,” as she titled it—dismissing in advance the criticism leveled by some concerned and skeptical commenters. It was a preemptive strike to marginalize anyone who doubted her shaky accusations and to solidify her pageview-hungry version of reality.

In the titles of her first and second articles, you can see what she is doing. The Daily Show’s “Woman Problem” from her first post became their “Sexism” in her second. One headline bootstraps the next; the what-ifs of the first piece became the basis for the second. Her story proves itself.

When the New York Times asked Carmon to respond to the women of The Daily Show’s claim that they were not interviewed or contacted for the story (which restated the allegations), she “refused to comment further.” Yet when The Daily Show supposedly invoked this right by not speaking to Carmon it was evidence that they were hiding something. A double standard? I wouldn’t expect anything different.

Did Carmon update her piece to reflect the dozens of comments released by Daily Show women? Or at least give their response a fair shake? No, of course not. In a forty-word post (forty words!) she linked their statement with the tag “open letter” and whined that she just wished they spoken up when she was writing the story. She didn’t acknowledge the letter’s claim that they actually had tried to speak with her and neglected to mention that it’s her job to get their side of the story before publishing, even if that’s difficult or time-consuming.

How many Jezebel readers do you think threw out their original impression for a new one? Or even saw the update? The post making the accusation did 333,000 views. Her post showing the Daily Show women’s response did 10,000 views—3 percent of the impressions of the first shot.

Did Carmon really send repeated requests for comment to The Daily Show? A major television show like that would get hundreds of requests a week. Who did she contact? Did she provide time for them to respond? Or is it much more likely that she gave the show a cursory heads-up minutes before publication? In my direct personal experience, the answers to these questions are appalling. No wonder she wouldn’t explain her methods to the Times. All I have to go on is my personal history with Carmon, and it tells me that at every juncture she does whatever will benefit her most. I’ve seen the value she places on the truth—particularly if it gets in the way of a big story.

There is something deeply twisted about an arrangement like this one. Carmon’s accusation received five times as many views as the post about The Daily Show women’s response, even though the latter undermines much of the former. There is something wrong with the way the writer is compensated for both pieces—as well as the third, fourth, or fifth she managed to squeeze out of the topic (again, more than five hundred thou- sand pageviews combined). Finally, there is something wrong with the fact that Denton’s sites benefit merely by going toe-to-toe with a cultural icon like Jon Stewart—even if their reports are later discredited. They know this; it’s why they do it.

This is how it works online. A writer finds a narrative to advance that is profitable to them, or perhaps that they are personally or ideologically motivated to advance, and are able to thrust it into the national consciousness before anyone has a chance to bother checking if it’s true or not.

Emily Gould, one of the original editors of Gawker, later wrote a piece for Slate.com entitled “How Feminist Blogs Like Jezebel Gin Up Page Views by Exploiting Women’s Worst Tendencies” in which she explained the motivations behind such a story:

It’s a prime example of the feminist blogosphere’s tendency to tap into the market force of what I’ve come to think of as “outrage world”—the regularly occurring firestorms stirred up on mainstream, for-profit, woman-targeted blogs like Jezebel and also, to a lesser degree, Slate’s own XX Factor and Salon’s Broadsheet. They’re ignited by writers who are pushing readers to feel what the writers claim is righteously indignant rage but which is actually just petty jealousy, cleverly mar- keted as feminism. These firestorms are great for page-view-pimping bloggy business.

Let me take this to its natural conclusion. Writers like Irin Carmon are driven more by shrewd self-interest and disdain for the consequences than they are by jealousy. It’s a pattern for Carmon, as we’ve seen. She’s not stopping, either.

Just a few months later, needing to reproduce her previous success, she saw an opportunity for a similar story, about producer and director Judd Apatow. After spotting him at a party, she tried to recapture the same outrage that had propelled her Daily Show piece into the public consciousness by again accusing a well-liked public figure of something impossible to deny.

The actual events of the evening: Director Judd Apatow attended a party hosted by a friend. Carmon attempted to corner and embarrass him for story she wanted to write but failed. Yet in the world of blogging, this becomes the headline: “Judd Apatow Defends His Record on Female Characters.” It did about thirty-five thousand views and a hundred comments.

Carmon tried to “get” him, and did. I guess I have to give her credit, because this time she actually talked to the person she hoped to make her scapegoat. But still, you can actually see, as it happens, her effort to trap

Apatow with the same insinuations and controversy that she did with Stewart. In the interview, Carmon repeatedly presented criticism of Apatow’s movies as generally accepted fact that she was merely the conduit for, referring to his “critics” as though she wasn’t speaking for herself.

From the interview:

Q: So you think that’s unfair that you’ve gotten that criticism?

A: Oh, I definitely think that it’s unfair. . . . But that’s okay.

Q: I wonder if you could elaborate on your defense a little bit. A: I’m not defensive about it.

Q: Do the conversation and the criticism change the way you work?

A: I don’t hear any of the criticism when I test the movies and talk to thousands of people. I think the people who talk about these things on the Internet are looking to stir things up to make for interesting reading, but when you make movies, thousands of people fill out cards telling you their intimate feelings about the movies, and those criticisms never came up, ever, on any of the movies.

In other words, there is nothing to any of her claims. But the post went up anyway. And she got paid just the same. Notoriety from events of 2010 and 2011 worked very nicely for Carmon—in the form of a staff position at Salon.com and a spot on the Forbes “30 Under 30” list.

Honestly, her tactics may have once impressed me. I have no problem when people get their piece of the profits—particularly when the whole scene is such a farce. The problem is when they get too greedy. The problem is when they stop being able to see anything but the need for their own gain.

Today, I’m not impressed anymore. I am depressed. Because the corrupt system I helped build is no longer in anyone’s control. The manipulators are indistinguishable from the publishers and bloggers—the people we were supposed to be manipulating. Everyone is now a victim, including me and the companies I work for. And the costs are incredibly high.

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See also: Man punks journalist


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