Quillette has been under fire since it was founded by Claire Lehmann in 2015. The old guard doesn’t like a fresh face, so when Lehmann launched and was then lauded by Jordan Peterson, the media lined up to take shots. Quillette may not have been the birthplace of the so-called Intellectual Dark Web, but it’s been an essential publication for the documenting of free speech concerns and heterodox ideas. It also made space for voices that had been cancelled and writers and intellectuals who had been unpersoned in their communities. Publishing both controversial ideas and controversial people made it a desirable target for take-down artists and hoaxsters alike.
At issue was an article about a construction worker from Queens, a regular Joe who, along with his union buddies, attended a Democratic Socialists of America meeting. The narrative goes that he was horrified to find just how far into academic, privilege theoretical nonsense the socialist movement had drifted. Quillette editors took the man at his word. The story is an interesting one, after all.
Modern media rolls fast, and outlets that run with a lean tight staff are at a disadvantage to the mainstream media outlets until they’re not. Mainstream media is also susceptible to hoaxes. We don’t have to go too far back to find the case of Jayson Blair who duped The New York Times, running plausible, reported pieces from places he didn’t go. This was in 2003, before the proper digital age, and the Times couldn’t take these pieces down, all they could do was retract the print with print.
In 2014, Rolling Stone published a groundbreaking piece that changed the face of rape reporting ever since, despite the fact that it was a complete fabrication. Writer Sabrina Erdley wrote “A Rape on Campus,” detailing some disastrous charges that Rolling Stone eventually had to pay damages in the amount $1.65 million. The outlet didn’t question Erdley, instead, they wanted to believe that frat rape at the University of Virginia was a widespread nightmare. They paid dearly for this libel.
Just last month, The Washington Post ran an article that had 15 separate corrections, making the correction note almost as long as the original article (clocking in at 579 words). After the Steven Galloway debacle, The Globe and Mail ran a feelings-over-facts op-ed that was so bad that the list of corrections was cringey enough to make Jemma Beale blush.
The Quillette hoaxster, who went by the name of Archie Carter, was under the impression that his little trick was somehow the equivalent of the Sokol Squared hoax that exposed the low standards of modern academia by publishing fake social science papers such as rewrites of Mein Kampf as a feminist screed or pontificating about canine rape in dog parks. The equivalence is false. Sokol Squared effectively proved that academia is an ideological monolith that will publish anything as long as it conforms to the woke social justice narrative. In this singular case where Quillette got duped, everything in the piece was entirely plausible. Just take a look at some “best of” clips from the DSA meeting last week.
Everything Carter claimed in his piece was not as bad or equal to as cringey and pathetic as the documentary evidence of the actual event, where entitled, spoiled, woke hipsters whinged about the violence of clapping, gendered pronouns, and the violent use of the word “guys.” Carter wrote:
Do these people really believe that the average person cares what pronoun someone uses? Identifying yourself as a person should be enough to deserve respect, plain and simple—why needlessly divide the working-class into competing identity groups? How is that supposed to produce solidarity?
Performative wokeness is its own satire, and the culture wars of 2019, in general, are full of incoherencies. This is exactly the kind of thing Quillette legitimately exposes, and the hoaxster found their editorial Achilles Heel. Good for him, we guess? But it really doesn’t prove what he thinks it proves.
All of Quillette’s biggest detractors have been alternating between taking victory laps and dunking on the magazine. The fact of the matter is, they just don’t like this upstart publication that can be more relevant with a small staff and compact publication load than many outlets can do with their fully staffed newsrooms.
Quillette exists because there is a need for it in the media landscape. When Lehmann took up the reins of this new publication, with nothing but a URL and a lot of guts, she saw an opening for a free speech oriented publication that would address the kinds of ideas and publish those individuals that needed a place to speak and that people wanted to read. If it weren’t so successful, no one would try to screw them over. That hit pieces on the publication abound is a mark of how essential this publication is. The team of senior editors are diligent and determined. Someone intentionally pranking the outlet is not an indication of a chink in Quillette’s editorial armour, it’s simply a guy pulling a dick move.
Quillette made a mistake and then corrected it within a matter of hours. That’s the extent of it. Should Quillette have held this piece up to more scrutiny? Of course. Mistakes happen. But why should Quillette be held to a higher standard than Rolling Stone or The New York Times? The fact of the matter is that all major publications have retractions, and Quillette is a major publication now. The detractors and trolls are just going to have to suck it up and learn to live with it.