A reporter at the Huffington Post attempted to contact a subject via Tumblr, displaying an absolute disregard for journalistic professionalism.
Yesterday Nick Visser at The Huffington Post reported that indie games developer Zoe Quinn had withdrawn her legal case against Eron Gjoni. The aftermath of the couple’s breakup has long been held as one of the catalysts for the Gamergate controversy, following the publication of ‘the Zoe Post’ by Gjoni. The inflammatory post outlined the collapse of their relationship and suggested that Quinn had been in a sexual relationship with Nathan Grayson, a journalist with Kotaku. Whether or not their relationship constituted a conflict of interest in Grayson’s coverage of Quinn’s games is a point of contention in the community, despite claims by Stephen Totilo, Kotaku’s editor-in-chief.
Visser’s report outlines Quinn’s decision to end her controversial legal proceedings against Gjoni. The suit, Van Valkerburg v. Gjoni [sic] (court filed typo), attracted serious legal attention, with renowned First Amendment attorney Professor Eugene Volokh producing a friend-of-the-court brief in favor of Gjoni. Quinn, going by Chelsea Van Valkenburg during the legal proceedings, had obtained a gag order against Gjoni, limiting his speech concerning her and their past. A Massachusetts trial court issued the order stating that Gjoni is “Ordered not to post any further information about the [plaintiff] or her personal life on line or to encourage “hate mobs.”” Volokh argued that the order was “a clear violation of the First Amendment,” going on to explain that while certain forms of speech, such as threats, are not protected, the order went far beyond what would be required to limit criminal speech. Further coverage of the legal battle between Van Valkenburg and Gjoni can be read at The Washington Post.
Gjoni reacted to the news on Twitter.
On the surface, there does not seem to be much at fault with Visser’s reporting. However, if you look at social media, you see the absolute breakdown of journalistic professionalism that went into his coverage. Before the report was edited, it claimed Gjoni had been reached for comment. Upon hearing of this, Gjoni responded “Correct me if I’m wrong but — statements like “Gjoni couldn’t immediately be reached” should be reserved for after you TRY right?” As it turns out, Visser had reached out to the embattled Gjoni via Tumblr. Not only is this irregular and unprofessional, but it may also have been a considered strategic decision on the Huffpost writer’s part.
Gjoni suggests that Visser’s failure to mention his rebuttal on Tumblr is directly linked to Visser’s decision to use the social media platform as his backchannel. What strikes this author as odd, is that Visser’s editor did not take any issue with the clear slant in the reporting, or the blatant shortfall in professionalism. I would also question the ethical propriety of allowing such a slanted report to be published when the reporter’s bias is implicit in their communications with Gjoni.
What should have been a simple report, ‘Quinn calls off legal action against Gjoni, context’ ended up being a publicity opportunity for Quinn, a smear against Gjoni, and an embarrassment for The Huffington Post. This brief report has deliberately omitted any further examination of Visser’s intent concerning the title “Woman Targeted In ‘GamerGate’ Harassment Drops Charges”, which in of itself is a problematic clause, as there is not a single instance of an ‘alleged’ to be seen. Additionally, for brevity’s sake, the author has decided not to discuss how overly simplistic Visser chose to be when discussing the current political and legislative climate surrounding online harassment. Suffice to say, the topic deserves more nuance than is to be found in the bottom few paragraphs of a rushed report. Lastly, it is this author’s opinion that Quinn was being uncharacteristically earnest with her indication that she ‘fear[ed] of setting the wrong precedent for e-harassment if she lost the case’, becauseGjoni has previously argued that whenever his legal team neared a turning point, she would adjust the complaint against him or withdraw some sort form of legal pressure. Simply put, she was scared that her wrongful prosecution and censorship of Gjoni may have led to case law preventing this kind of sham case appearing in court again.
In conclusion, Visser’s coverage has led to a significant backlash on Twitter, with many users offering the reporter derision for the poor professional conduct he displayed. Whether or not Visser intended to write a slanted piece is only for him to know, but if it was his intent, all he has done is give Gamergate further ammunition and legitimize yet another of their grievances against the press.
Quinn followed her blog post with a tweet, saying that she would not stop fighting, despite the end of her legal case against Gjoni.