The proper way to respond to a bad-faith troll campaign like the one the right-wing internet is waging on Sarah Jeong, the newest member of The New York Times editorial board, is to not respond at all, to not even listen in the first place. This is a hard thing to fathom if you’re The New York Times and your brand identity is tied to an otherworldly patrician rectitude.
But ignore the trolls you must. This includes the gleeful, snickering chuds who strip old tweets of their context and send them back out into the world. And this also includes the establishment figures like Ari Fleischer and publications like the National Review, the folks wailing about an Asian woman’s “anti-white racism,” as if there were such a thing.
The improper way to respond is like this:
This “controversy” started when the trolls dug up old tweets in which Jeong had openly mocked white people. “It’s kind of sick how much joy I get out of being cruel to old white men,” she wrote in 2014. “White men are bullshit,” she said in another. There were several more in this vein. All of them were utterly harmless unless you’re the exact sort of constantly aggrieved white dude she was pillorying in the first place, or the exact sort of white dude who believes a few throwaway tweets are equivalent to the actual racism and abuse women and people of color face in this country and on that godforsaken social media platform every day.
The Times’ statement may look like a staunch defense of its new employee. But the paper got rolled, and it got rolled because it’s more committed to conveying the impression of a surpassing reasonableness than it is to any actual ideal.
The Times had nothing to disavow, and Jeong nothing to regret. There was no reason for the paper to apologize on her behalf, no reason for her to issue an apologetic statement of her own, no reason to acknowledge people who were transparently acting in bad faith other than to tell them to go to hell. And yet here they were, cornered into a pious renunciation that legitimized the trolly “outrage” ― the Times’ statement, for some reason, admonished Jeong for her role in feeding “the vitriol we too often see on social media” ― and will only exacerbate the larger problem at hand.
There are legions of white dudes who believe they are the primary victims of American oppression. And, for some time now, their mobilized networks of trolls have been orchestrating outrage campaigns to harass, intimidate and discredit journalists and their work in the hopes of getting them fired. The Times, at least this time, didn’t go that far. But this will keep happening, there and beyond. Liberal institutions will be undermined by the tools of liberalism itself, all because nobody is a better friend to a right-wing berserker campaign than a terrified executive at a respectable news outlet who still doesn’t understand the modern internet.