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Media Keeps Infantilizing Adult Women To Protect Their Power From Scrappy Competitors


The blue-check brigade is piling on journalist Glenn Greenwald for the heinous crime of criticizing a USA Today writer. Because this writer happens to both female and an intern, the attacks on Greenwald are predictably infantilizing and borderline sexist.

Greenwald had a substantive complaint with a story written by Brenna Smith, along with co-authors Jessica Guyunn and Will Carless. When Smith, a college graduate who’s already been accepted to work at the New York Times, tweeted out her article on Sunday, Greenwald replied.

In a quote tweet of Smith’s tweet, he wrote, “Congratulations on using your new journalistic platform to try to pressure tech companies to terminate the ability of impoverished criminal defendants to raise money for their legal defense from online donations. You’re well on your way upward in this industry for sure[.]”

The replies from blue-check brigade were nauseating, infantilizing Smith, defining Greenwald’s substantive complaint as “harassment,” and invoking the USA Today writer’s sex as though it should prevent men from criticizing her work in public.

Now, if Greenwald had sent his tweet to a college student working for her campus paper and invited his followers to engage in sexist attacks, that would be one thing. In reality, he criticized the work of an adult who’s published in one of most powerful news publications in the world after she publicized that work.

Some have argued it was Greenwald’s use of the quote tweet function that made his reply problematic, given that it brings bullies and trolls into Smith’s mentions. Let’s not pretend that if Greenwald had used the “reply” function, his critics would have been totally chill. When high-profile journalists on the left or right criticize people, trolls enter the chat. It’s inevitable. It’s doesn’t matter if you’re Glenn Greenwald or Soledad O’Brien or Donald Trump or Joe Biden.

To suggest that should prevent Greenwald from engaging in criticisms is silly. If you don’t want to be criticized for your work because those criticisms attract trolls beyond the control of their authors, then don’t use Twitter to promote your work. Greenwald didn’t ask or imply anyone should bully Smith. He should be able to engage with her.

It’s all reminiscent of recent complaints that Greenwald and conservative journalists like Tucker Carlson attacked New York Times reporter Taylor Lorenz. By calling them out, our media’s petulant leftists claim, Greenwald and Carlson knowingly direct harassment at young, female journalists.

That’s almost true. They knowingly direct criticism at young, female journalists. Given that both Smith and Lorenz are grown adults performing journalism for powerful international news organizations, they are necessarily fair game for the harshest of media critiques. So what?

It’s their job to hold the powerful to account, just as it’s the job of media watchdogs to hold our powerful journalist class to account. If you choose to enter that space as a journalist, you are freely exposing yourself to media watchdogs, which are an essential part of that ecosystem. The stakes for the public are high, so getting criticized won’t always be a warm bath—nor should it be.

Further, broadening the definition of harassment to include rhetoric like Greenwald’s tweet hurts women and all legitimate victims of harassment (probably even like some of the trollish comments sent Smith’s way) because it dilutes the word’s meaning, making it more difficult to convey serious offenses and hold the offenders accountable.

Insular media spats are rarely worth spilling ink over, whether on Twitter or in these pages. But this particular internecine conflict is important because it’s a new tactic the media is employing to disempower its critics, smearing them as harassers and sexists to preserve their power from scrappy outside competitors.

Greenwald himself said it best, reflecting on the Lorenz backlash earlier this month. “This transparent tactic is part-and-parcel of the increasingly ideological exploitation of identity politics to shield the neoliberal order and its guardians from popular critique,” he wrote on Substack.

If you’re an adult journalist who publicly tweets out their work for a powerful news outlet, that work is fair game for substantive rebuttals. Greenwald’s critics are so caught up in criticizing Greenwald and scoring points by performatively defending a a young woman from a mean man, they lose sight of what they’re actually doing — infantilizing an adult, belittling women, and protecting the powerful.