Last week, I blogged on HuffPost Politics about my voting strategy for the 2016 presidential election. While I'm definitely going to support the Democratic nominee in November -- whether it's Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders -- I'm actually voting for Donald Trump in March. Voting in the opposing party's primary, a tactic known as "party raiding," may seem counter-intuitive at first, but there is logic behind it. Trump, who consistently trails both Clinton and Sanders in potential head-to-head matchups, is much more likely to lose in a general election contest than better-polling rivals like Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. A vote for Trump, therefore -- the weakest of the major Republican contenders -- actually gives the Democrats their best hope of winning the White House. It's the age-old political tactic of picking one's opponent.
My piece about party raiding, entitled "I'm Voting for Donald Trump, Here's Why", was picked up by several news outlets and aggregators, including Yahoo!, PinkNews, and the conservative Breitbart News Network. Breitbart's article, rebranded with the headline "Gay Porn Star Says He's Voting for Trump, 'Operation Chaos' Style", begins as follows:
Inspired by "Operation Chaos," in which radio host Rush Limbaugh encouraged his listeners to participate in the Democratic Party's 2008 presidential primary, gay adult film star Jesse Jackman says he is voting for Donald Trump in the upcoming Massachusetts Republican primary.
Let me be clear: Operation Chaos did not inspire my strategy for the 2016 campaign.
Operation Chaos used the party raiding technique as well, although Limbaugh's goal was somewhat different: he had hoped to slow down Barack Obama's surging "hope and change" candidacy, rather than to elevate the weaker-polling Hillary Clinton. Limbaugh succeeded in convincing many of his conservative followers to vote for Clinton in several key Democratic primaries. As a result, Operation Chaos took delegates away from Obama and prolonged the Democrats' nominating process.
The Breitbart article's claim that I was "inspired" by Limbaugh's gambit is misleading. Perhaps intentionally so. The reality is that I'd already finished writing most of my original piece before ever learning of Operation Chaos. But by suggesting that Rush Limbaugh's idea inspired mine, the article makes Limbaugh look like a visionary and me a simple copycat.
The author takes other liberties as well. The article selectively omits sections of my writing, rearranges others, and neglects to include specific references I made to Republican leaders' concerns about the damage that a Trump nomination could do to their party. These alterations serve to purposely dilute, distort, and deflect the thrust of my original message. My supporting argument is reduced to mere weasel words.
Perhaps more troublingly, the author repeatedly refers to me as some variant of "gay porn star Jesse Jackman". While my HuffPost bio reveals that I'm a full-time software engineer who moonlights as an adult entertainer, my sexuality and my occasional freelance work are neither mentioned in my post nor relevant to my argument. Had the references only occurred in the headline, it could possibly be forgiven as a run-of-the-mill example of clickbait. My sexuality and sideline employment are brought up three additional times in the course of the Breitbart article, however. This doesn't just serve to draw attention away from the substance of my argument: it pushes the piece toward the realm of sensationalist journalism, stokes homophobia, and encourages Breitbart's readers to impugn my character. And impugn and stoke it did. Comments on Breitbart's version of the article, which were universally critical, feature such examples as "hes not too fucking bright, well look what he does for a living", "gay porn performer = political AND sexual deviant", and "Just another liberal faggot."
My writing was also the victim of contextomy, or the cherry-picking of content to undermine the original message. Absent from the Breitbart article was my definition of party raiding, as well as the distinction between my "survival of the weakest" methodology and Limbaugh's "slow down the frontrunner" approach. Because it neglected to highlight those differences, the article led its readers to a direct comparison between my approach and Limbaugh's, prompting intense castigation of my strategy ("That's nothing like Operation Chaos!") and its dismissal as irrelevant. And those who took the time to criticize my argument based on its actual content -- instead of attacking me ad hominem -- were only condemning a straw man version of it, since the author omitted many of the salient points I had made to support it.
Matthew S. McGlone, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, studied the effect of contextomy on popular opinion. McGlone presented his subjects with a positive-sounding or negative-sounding quote from an overall neutral article about affirmative action. He then showed them the entire article and asked them to rate it as positive, negative, or neutral. McGlone observed "residual distortion" in his subjects' opinions: those who had first seen the positive quote tended to see the neutral article as positive, and those who had first seen the negative quote tended to judge the article to be negative. "A contextomized quotation," McGlone concluded, "not only prompts audiences to form a false impression of the source's intentions, but can contaminate subsequent interpretation of the quote when it is restored to its original context." The study's findings suggest that a person who reads the Breitbart article before reading mine may be prematurely biased against my post... which is why, perhaps, the author linked to my post at the end of his article.
The popular LGBT website PinkNews also ran a version of my piece with the headline "Meet the Gay Porn Star who Wants You to Vote for Donald Trump". Perhaps a little sensationalism in the service of creating a marketable headline cannot fully be avoided; after all, an article titled "Software Engineer Voting for Trump" would hardly garner any clicks. But PinkNews included all of the pertinent points of my story and presented them in a way that's consistent with my original argument. Unlike Breitbart, PinkNews did not undermine my reasoning or harp on my sexuality in any way. "The goal of sites like Breitbart is to drum up hatred among their conservative base," explains Susan Wright, founder of the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom. "They will never be fair or tolerant in their coverage."
In the words of author E. B. White, "All writing slants the way a writer leans, and no man is born perpendicular." But Breitbart tilted my writing to the point of near-unrecognizability, and crippled my work to the point of outright disbelief.