If you haven’t read Buzzfeed’s wonderful feature on Milo Yiannapoulous and Breitbart, please do so now. It conclusively proves, through a trove of leaked emails that could only have come from Yiannopoulos’ own account, how both entities are more deeply connected to (and sympathetic with) white nationalism than they want you to believe. It’s a sickening story about fascist media tactics that have met with alarming success, but it may also be a salutary one—time will tell. For now, I want to focus on a small section of Joseph Bernstein’s masterful narrative, dealing with nominally liberal media personalities who emailed Yiannapoulos with various “tips” on certain subjects over the years. One such journalist was David Auerbach, Slate’s former technology columnist. (An earlier version of this story implied that Auerbach still worked at Slate. This has been corrected.)
And the former Slate technology writer David Auerbach, who once began a column “Gamergate must end as soon as possible,” passed along on background information about the love life of Anita Sarkeesian, the GamerGate target; “the goods” about an allegedly racist friend of Arthur Chu, the Jeopardy champion and frequent advocate of social justice causes; and a “hot tip” about harsh anti-harassment tactics implemented by Wikipedia. Bokhari followed up with an article: “Wikipedia Can Now Ban You For What You Do On Other Websites.”
Reached by BuzzFeed News at the same email address, Auerbach said the suggestion that he had written the emails was “untrue.”
Screenshots of the alleged emails from 2016 follow, with addresses redacted, along with Yiannopoulos’ subsequent instructions to a Breitbart staffer to “write this up immediately.”
Now, if these details are legitimate—and there’s no reason to believe they’re not, as none of the emails in the story have been explicitly denied, and many have been confirmed by their authors—it leaves me with a sour taste in my mouth regarding Auerbach. This is only my opinion, so take it for what it’s worth, but by attacking figures like Sarkeesian and Chu covertly through someone like Yiannopoulos, whose ethical standards are nonexistent, Auerbach betrays a degree of cowardice and cruelty. (Around the same time he was sending these emails, by the way, he was vigorously denying that he was pro-GamerGate, so you can add duplicity and hypocrisy to the adjectives above—read this Twitter thread for further details.)
But again, that’s just me. And that’s also not what this story is about. This story is about the way Auerbach completely botched his response to the article, digging himself even deeper into an already-sufficiently-deep hole by attempting to play semantics. I’m going to outline just how he did that, but fair warning—you’re going to be pissed off. If you were hoping not to get angry at a man you had probably never heard of before yesterday, I urge you to skip everything that follows.
The Auerbach Defense, or David’s Corncobbing
The debacle began at 1:05 pm Thursday, when Auerbach, after having exchanged emails with Buzzfeed editor Ariel Kaminer, decided to pre-emptively call their story a lie:
Three minutes later, for the first time that day—but not the first time ever, and not the last time that day—Auerbach threatened to leave Twitter for good (bonus points for casting himself as a victim of a crime I'll call “future harassment,” after he allegedly used Breitbart as a shield to harass others):
After issuing this empty threat, he quickly hit on a new tactic, which was to assert that Buzzfeed was attacking him because of his brave anti-Buzzfeed reporting in the past. (It would be an impressively elaborate scheme by that website, I have to admit—using a long incendiary feature about Yiannopoulos as a massive smokescreen to disguise their true purpose, which was to exact revenge on Auerbach via two short paragraphs).
Sensing that the digital masses weren't convinced, he then adopted a new stratagem: “nobly turning my attention to what really matters because I am the adult in the room.” It was brief but poignant:
Alas, his journey on the high road was short-lived. And this is where it gets really good, because Auerbach—long before the story actually hit the Internet—seemed to understand that his best bet was to muddy the waters and try to drum up some ethical outrage against Buzzfeed. What better way than to print actual correspondence? He had already sent the first one out a few minutes earlier:
Click to enlarge:
A careful reader will notice something peculiar here. Despite including the first email Kainer sent in an earlier tweet, and despite his outrage over this tweet, Auerbach is omitting something pretty important. That “something” is his initial reply to the first email, which—if Kaminer's later responses as seen above are any indication—seems to be some kind of half-hearted denial. (There may have been more exchanges, too, for all we know—an hour elapsed between Kaminer's first email and her subsequent reply.)
In fact, Auerbach never released what he actually said in that response. Rather than keeping it simple and denying that he sent emails on those three topics—which would be very, very straightforward—he boarded a magical ferry for the land of semantics, admonishing Kaminer for attempting to “put words in my mouth” on whether he recognized the emails or not. He apparently had not seen them at that point, but if he hadn't written them in the first place, surely he wouldn't have “recognized” them, right?
Still, Kaminer came away from this confusing exchange with a concrete answer. In response to her initial email, Auerbach eventually wrote, “my response is that this is untrue.” Odd phrasing, sure, but it sounds like an actual denial. Hence my surprise at reading his next email fragment:
What the hell was he talking about?
I'll tell you—he's trying to say that Kaminer committed some kind of ethical violation by saying that he didn't recognize the emails, since he's never seen the emails. EVEN THOUGH:
A. Kaminer was never going to write those words in the first place. And…
B. When she said that he didn't “recognize” the emails, she was clearly referring to her description of the emails, which, again, Kaminer obviously said were unfamiliar to him in a previous reply he's not showing us. In other words, she's saying “here's a description of the emails,” he said, “hmmm, beats me!” she said, “we'll say you didn't recognize them,” and he said, “HOW DARE YOU, LYING LIAR, I NEVER SAW THE EMAILS, HA HA, HOISTED BY YOUR OWN PETARD, FOR ONE CAN NOT RECOGNIZE WHAT ONE DOES NOT SEE!”
That's Auerbach in a nutshell—he loves to play those semantics, baby, so he contorts logic and circumstance to accuse Kaminer of inventing his reaction to the actual emails, which she clearly did not do.
God, this is awful. Let's move on.
Very sneaky stuff, here. Auerbach tried to cast more doubt by saying, “well, golly, if you wanted my email to Milo, here it is, what's the big rumpus?” But notice what he didn't say—that this was the only email he sent to Milo, or that he didn't send the others. Either one, if true, would be exculpatory. Without them, the only point he makes is that he sent at least four emails to Yiannopoulos, not three.
By this point, people were getting tired of his act and asking him the critical question point-blank:
In fact, Auerbach briefly stepped out from his veil of fog to engage someone who asked this very question. If you argue that weird evasion was his dominant tactic, this was, perhaps, his only deviation from the one true path:
That’s either the funniest exchange of the entire saga, or the most frustrating, depending on where you sit. They are also the only two tweets—as far as I can tell, anyway—that Auerbach deleted. Which makes sense…someone held his feet to the fire, he temporarily drew a complete blank, and then he had to erase it from the record. It seems that it was far too close to the ugly truth for his liking.
It was also his first mention of “spoofing,” which introduces the idea that some nefarious agent sent counterfeit emails to Milo using Auerbach’s address, waited a year and a half—very patient, even by sleeper cell standards—and then watched it all blow up when those emails leaked. A classic, totally believable long con.
When someone called Auerbach out, it was back to the land of whiny obfuscation:
You get the picture—Auerbach’s improvised damage control campaign was just a series of increasingly bizarre self-owns, masquerading as the world’s worst “gotcha!” defense. It’s the exact opposite of how he should have behaved, and a tour de force in taking a shit sandwich and turn it into a shit mountain. He even managed to take Buzzfeed to task for printing the thing he’d said, denying the quote even though he posted the email where he said it!
GAHHH YOU WROTE THAT EXACT WORD! THEY WROTE THE EXACT THING YOU ASKED THEM TO WRITE!
Soon, Twitter descended on him, and the ending was predictable, but before we leave Auerbach for good, let’s finish the job and visit his final two Twitter gambits over the course of an afternoon.
I reached out to Auerbach asking him to clarify his role, and also asking whether or not he sent the emails. This is all he would say on the record:
Inasmuch as the story concerns me, it is obvious bullshit.
Does that mean you didn’t send those emails? I asked. Do you have proof?
This is going to shock you, but as of press time, David Auerbach had not replied.