Over the years, I get regular calls from newspaper reporters for comments on issues of the moment. Sometimes I’ll talk to them, if it’s a subject that interests me or a reporter I know and respect. Much of the time, I won’t. They don’t really care about informing people anymore, but about getting a blurb to fill in the space between their editorializing. I’m not a fan of being the lunchmeat in their “truth” sandwich. I’m decades past caring about seeing my name in the funny pages.
But then, no mainstream media personality has ever called me to do a profile on SJ. Fair enough. It’s pretty niche, and hasn’t been particularly kind to newspapers or reporters in that tribal sort of way they adore.
I’ve had many private disagreements with reporters, and more likely, members of a certain rag’s editorial board whose reply to facts and logic tends to be, “BUT IT’S WRONG AND MAKES ME FEEL SO BAD!!!” They don’t tend to be my biggest fans, though they’re more than happy to use me when it suits their purposes.
Another guy, however, got a call from the paper of record to do a profile. And, likely being nicer than me, engaged. Here’s what he got for his efforts.
Last week I talked to a New York Times technology reporter who was planning to write a story on Slate Star Codex. He told me it would be a mostly positive piece about how we were an interesting gathering place for people in tech, and how we were ahead of the curve on some aspects of the coronavirus situation. It probably would have been a very nice article.
Unfortunately, he told me he had discovered my real name and would reveal it in the article, ie doxx me. “Scott Alexander” is my real first and middle name, but I’ve tried to keep my last name secret. I haven’t always done great at this, but I’ve done better than “have it get printed in the New York Times“.
Slate Star Codex has been a smart, interesting blog. In some ways, there are similarities in approach, as it defies fashion and focuses instead on facts and reason. The subject matter is often very different, and it tends to be a bit prolix for my taste, but since it’s Scott Alexander’s blog, and he’s enormously well-respected and appreciated, my taste means nothing.
And now it’s gone because the New York Times couldn’t just be satisfied with his nom de guerre, but felt compelled to doxx him.
The second reason is more prosaic: some people want to kill me or ruin my life, and I would prefer not to make it too easy. I’ve received various death threats. I had someone on an anti-psychiatry subreddit put out a bounty for any information that could take me down (the mods deleted the post quickly, which I am grateful for). I’ve had dissatisfied blog readers call my work pretending to be dissatisfied patients in order to get me fired. And I recently learned that someone on SSC got SWATted in a way that they link to using their real name on the blog. I live with ten housemates including a three-year-old and an infant, and I would prefer this not happen to me or to them. Although I realize I accept some risk of this just by writing a blog with imperfect anonymity, getting doxxed on national news would take it to another level.
What people on the outside looking in don’t always realize is that there are a lot of crazies out there. A lot. Not just you. It’s not that they’re all violent, or would do anything more than yell mean names and the occasional threat to rape your wimminfolk, but you only need one seriously violent crazy to take you out. Writing is fun, but not so much fun that it’s worth your life. Scott had a few reasons to keep his name off the front page, and whether you agree with him or not, it’s his name and his reasons, and that’s good enough. As someone who, to some extent, understands what it’s like to be a target to the unduly passionate, intellectually challenged, and violent psychopaths, I understand.
But not the New York Times.
When I expressed these fears to the reporter, he said that it was New York Times policy to include real names, and he couldn’t change that. After considering my options, I decided on the one you see now. If there’s no blog, there’s no story. Or at least the story will have to include some discussion of NYT’s strategy of doxxing random bloggers for clicks.
Well, it’s their policy. Unnamed sources abound at the Times, and yet doxxing Scott Alexander is their policy. Seems legit. But it doesn’t have to stay that way.
I’m not sure what happens next. In my ideal world, the New York Times realizes they screwed up, promises not to use my real name in the article, and promises to rethink their strategy of doxxing random bloggers for clicks. Then I put the blog back up (of course I backed it up! I’m not a monster!) and we forget this ever happened.
This is one of those rare times when I kinda wish I knew the name of the reporter who blithely informed Scott Alexander of the policy, because I have a policy too, and it’s to rip reporters like this a new asshole.
Not that I would expect him to take me up on the offer, although others have and do on occasion, but if he ends up shuttering SSC and, for whatever reason, feels the desire to write, he’s welcome at SJ. It’s not as big a deal as SSC, but it’s all I’ve got.
Oh, and New York Times? Fuck you.