The bad posts are coming from inside the house
Matt Yglesias wiped his Twitter account clean on July 7, 2020. Since then, he's tweeted an additional 357 times. That is a heroic number. Yglesias needed to make about 50 tweets per day after the liquidation to hit that threshold, which I reckon is close to his lifetime average. The reasons for this ongoing reincarnation make you feel like you're going to die if you try explaining them out loud, but basically, Matt signed a letter. Harper's gathered a swathe of terminally logged-on rich people to endorse a petition in defense of free speech, and in typical legacy media fashion, the letter intended to ignite a meritocratic symposium on the issues -- like the School of Athens with Bill Simmons and Ezra Klein standing next to Aristotle. Instead, it made everyone on the internet feel like they were trapped in a mine with a precocious 10th grader for a week. Yglesias' signature was laid bare next to some openly anti-trans voices, which lead to an ongoing disruption within Vox's offices as they rallied to discover whether the company's star blogger was acting out of ignorance, befuddlement, or most likely of all, a comprehensive metastation of cursed pundit-brain. I have read and have generally liked Matt for a long time, which is why I suspect the latter. Since the beginning of 2020 he has been in my feed multiple times a week with an absolutely incomprehensible post -- just chock full of hanging prepositions -- that you need to read three times with a magnifying glass to even begin to parse. I hate to say it, but it was sort of in character for him to unwittingly align himself with some TERF-y doofuses.
Emily VanDerWerff spoke up publicly on Twitter, offering her lived perspective as a trans woman about why Yglesias' endorsement rubbed her the wrong way. An assortment of Vox staffers followed suit; indirectly or directly opining about why Matt would throw his lot in with the Jesse Singals of the world, and more broadly, why there appears to be no firewall between his limbic system and his tweet button. Eventually Daddy Klein needed to step in, asking his staff to please not subtweet each other, as further proof that we all live in hell. I am far from the first person to annotate some of the problems with that letter, but I swear to god, we are living through an epidemic of weirdo Gen Xers who seem to believe that getting called a clown ass online is a dissertation-level injustice. Free speech people think they sound like Lenny Bruce when really they sound like The Joker. "It frays the moral fabric of society!" says some 55-year old guy who hasn't written for the website in 10 years. Imagine attempting to turn your own cluelessness into academia to prove that you haven't been owned. Any magazine that peaked in the '90s needs to be abolished.
Anyways, VanDerWerff became the subject of a harassment campaign orchestrated by the very people the letter intended to appease, further revealing the farce of it all. Shortly afterwards, Yglesias did the noble thing and hit the reset button to stymie the trolls in his and Emily's mentions. Since then, he's been tweeting at his usual clip like nothing happened; a glittering constellation of amniotic thoughts about Biden's electability and whatever book he is reading. That is probably the funniest part of this mess; Matt Yglesias burned it all down, rose from the ashes, only to continue to be Matt Yglesias.
Look, Matt is a nice guy. VanDerWerff made it clear that her interactions with him have only ever been pleasant, and anyone familiar with his venerable career as an emphatically online political writer knows that he's generous with his time and would never hurt a fly. His only chronic ailment is a propensity to wander into a minefield that he is not prepared to deal with, and as such, this was not the first time Yglesias was publicly targeted by an exasperated co-worker. My favorite entry in the canon happened a few weeks earlier, by Polygon entertainment reporter Karen Han. It came in response to an especially flaccid Yglesiasism, this time about socialism or something, that has sadly been lost to time due to the great culling. Han, who quite clearly Couldn't Deal Anymore, offered a quote-tweet in response that was both a savage burn and an actionable bit of self-help: "JUST LOG OFF AND EDUCATE YOURSELF." A few tweets later, Han compared the experience of reading Yglesias on his sicko days to Adam Sandler in the throes of his Uncut Gems mania. Simone de Rochefort, who works on the Polygon video team, had this to say: "AAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH."
As a lifelong freelancer, and therefore someone who is ostracized from secret Slack channels, I have long wondered what my peers really thought about the many stubborn tweeters hiding out in the upper alcoves of gilded media companies -- beyond the stuff you glean from deep-scrolling Likes tabs. So it's been gratifying to finally witness the insurrection of a spectacularly fed-up editorial division; never again will they bite their tongues about the bad takes radiating from a few cubicles down.
Honestly, Matt barely registers on the Richter scale of posting sins. Bari Weiss, and the NYT boomers she's cozied up with, earned a gleeful renouncement from a slew of her fellow staffers after interpreting a meeting about the ethical criteria of publishing known psychopaths as a referendum on the weak genetics of millennials. Andrew Sullivan, who ought to be counting his blessings that he is still afforded a role in public life after barbarously camping for the Iraq War, routinely risked it all with his (now-former) New York Magazine writer-at-large title; most recently by whitesplaining Juneteenth to Jamelle Bouie. Vulture staffer Kathryn VanArendonk made it clear how "mortifying" it was to share a masthead with the man in a tweet that she really shouldn't have deleted. Matt Zoller Seitz, the only old guy On Posting recognizes, tends to agree.
Yesterday, both of these people made themselves the pioneering martyrs of intramural subtweets. Weiss abdicated her role as staff editor -- laying the blame on the tyranny of the many "Nahs" in her Slack mentions -- so she could finally achieve full Rogan on her personal website. Sullivan did the same, foreshadowing some "exciting news" to come tomorrow, which I can only imagine will amount to them joining forces as part of some sort of infernal VC-backed editorial startup -- the nega-Grantland -- that features nothing but endless mewling about the quixotic potential of liberal society through 90-minute YouTube videos as the oceans boil and the skies choke with ash. This is a remarkable precedent: Weiss and Sullivan effectively cancelled themselves. The "Twitter mob" or whatever didn't push them out. They simply misinterpreted their co-workers' displeasure as imperiousness, when really, all they were asked was to stop being annoying. I suppose that means it's open season. The end of friendly generational media relations is here. The bad posts are coming from inside the house. Somebody grab a crowbar.
I've heard that it's been easier lately to pull the trigger on an intra-publication driveby because everyone is stuck at home. There will be no anxious subway rides the following morning to face the potential ramifications -- be that long, uncomfortable meetings with bosses you've never met before, or the negative emotional aura of a chapped Ross Douthat. That makes sense to me: We're all hanging by a thread right now, and that is the perfect time to tell the Free Speech Guy who's making $50,000 more than you to please shut the fuck up. Consider it one of the strange blessings of this pandemic; for all the chaos and disorientation of the past four months, I think we've each found a few blazing moments of sublime clarity. The clouds open up, the world looks ripe, the villains are unmasked, and the profound negligibility of, like, the scorn of David Brooks becomes brutally apparent. No longer must we validate the above-the-fold sedentary multimillionaires as our colleagues. They don't even go here. And also -- I cannot stress this enough -- they're the ones who started it.
There are still some unfortunate ramifications here. The Yglesias controversy, and the Vox employee revolt, was picked up by a number of reactionary predators like Fox News and the Daily Mail. It must be weird to watch your tweets about a once-internal matter be commandeered to stoke the zeal of ruddy Trump bloggers, (or in this case, some random Substack.) The National Review penned a casually cruel op-ed on the matter with one of the most unintentionally hilarious header images of all-time; a man desperately trying to tweet through the chains wrapped around his wrists. Like brother, sign me up. We satiate our disdain and then we have to pick up the pieces after the bloodlust fades. That is a story as old as time. I get that it's a little bit unhinged to draw battle lines with an entire genus of media people over bad posts. Everyone says Bari is nice in person, even though she'll likely report this newsletter to my editor. Despite everything I've written here, there are times where the constant browbeating wears me down, and Ezra is probably right that insulated water-cooler snideness looks pretty stupid and childish to the many Americans who haven't yet lost their minds.
But these are all symptoms of a traumatized caste of reporters. So many conversations with industry friends circle around our various exit plans; sometimes I fantasize about moving to, I don't know, Columbus, Ohio and working as a bartender. At this point the folklore about How Much Better It Was In The '90s has reached astronomical exaggerations. You could tell me that a Vanity Fair cover story paid $100 a word and I'd probably believe you. There was exactly one happy period in digital media history -- Buzzfeed between 2013 and 2015 -- and even that eventually revealed itself to be a hilarious lie. We're in the midst of a swelling tide of layoffs that will inevitably result in an industry-wide permanent contraction. I'm currently owed about $9,000 from invoices as far back as February that I still haven't gotten a straight answer on. Taxes are due today. It all feels bad right now. Rude tweets will not take us to the promised land, but for a moment, they allow us to reconstitute a few stray threads of agency in a decaying industry. When Bret Stephens assumes his endemic role as a victim, whinging about decency, and moral turpitude, and writing big tearful columns about leaving Twitter like the New York Times is fucking Thought Catalog, Karen Han's clapback is at its most urgent and eternal: Just log off and educate yourself.
Yglesias, as he's made materially clear this past week, does not intend to take that advice. That, I think, is the sobering moral here. The man's posting has become inveterate. Asking him to log off is like asking him to stop breathing. I have watched Matt respond to a churlish, grey-egg nobody -- someone who should be lost deep within the creases of his massive Twitter footprint -- with a meek, defeated, "Just unfollow me." Imagine building a personal prison, brick by brick, until it is half-a-million followers high. He is simultaneously the author and victim of this hellish culture -- irritated at everyone including himself -- and he's been in the shit long enough to have no effective balm for a hard day online other than to keep on tweeting forever. Like comfort food, in the sense that comfort food eventually makes you hate yourself. Every aggrieved tweet from a junior staffer should be read as an act of mercy. Please, for the love of god, help us help you.