Last week, the Internet outrage machine ate itself.
Gawker, the website that has played a leading role in the toxic online culture of public shaming, was buried under a shaming avalanche after it ran an unusually vile story about a media company executive allegedly seeking a tryst with a gay male escort and porn actor. The story, since removed, caused (justified) outrage for many reasons. The target, Conde Nast chief financial officer David Geithner (brother of former U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner), has never sought the spotlight; his sex life is not of any conceivable public interest, and he has a wife and three young children. To make it worse, Gawker’s source had tried to blackmail Geithner in retaliation for the latter’s refusal to make improper use of his political connections. Finally, the story had overtones of retaliation by Gawker Media, which has an ongoing war with the Reddit social media network, a Conde Nast property.
Between all this and the whiff of homophobia in the story’s obvious glee at outing a supposedly closeted gay man (Geithner has denied the escort’s claims), Gawker inevitably incurred the wrath of the progressives who had been the core of its respectable following — people like journalist Glenn Greenwald, whose tweetcondemning the story noted that he was “a fan of Gawker,” or one of Gawker’s own more prominent ex-staffers, Adam Weinstein. But the fact that Gawker was seen as acceptable in polite liberal society until now says a lot about the climate on the cultural left.