Area Newspaper Fixes Own Mistake With Additional, Weirdly Uncomfortable Mistake


Illustration for article titled Area Newspaper Fixes Own Mistake With Additional, Weirdly Uncomfortable Mistake

Screenshot: Gizmodo/Washington Post, Photo: Win McNamee/Getty, JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP/Getty

One of the hosts of the anti-conspiracy theory podcast QAnon Anonymous is no longer so anonymous.

The pseudonymous counter-extremism researcher publicly known as Travis View until today knows more about the rabidly pro-Donald Trump QAnon community, which believes that Democrats and Hollywood celebrities are the masterminds of a demonic, Illuminati-style cabal of cannibalistic pedophiles, than pretty much anyone else. Hes been tracking its adherents for years as their numbers exploded on platforms like Facebook and the theorys repugnant dogma united disparate factions of the conspiracy web and wormed its way throughout the Republican Party, and well before its violent rhetoric contributed to the deaths of five people during a clumsily executed coup attempt at the Capitol in January.

In a Twitch stream that aired last week, View revealed his legal identity as a former California marketer named Logan Strainapparently under the threat of the Washington Post doing it for him. On Thursday, the Post published a deeply weird and frankly baffling article trumpeting its unveiling of Strains real-life identity as a scoop and arguing that his use of a pseudonym for safety reasons posed major ethical concerns for journalism.

Why was it in the public interest to doxx Strain, who uses his pseudonym to protect himself while covering a demonstrably violent, far-right group the Posts own Editorial Board warned is notorious for vicious harassment of critics and their loved ones? Good questionits not! The Post apparently quoted Strain as an expert on QAnon in a number of articles and even brought him on as a columnist, all under the name Travis View, without ever quite catching on they should have asked if that was his real name. The paper then seems to have scrambled to cover its ass.

Though Strain has never hidden the fact he uses a pseudonym, the Post only belatedly realized its mistake after his appearance in the recent HBO documentary Q: Into the Storm, which debuted on March 21. That put its prior coverage in violation of editorial policies saying the paper does not use pseudonyms, and we do not mislead our readers about the identities of people who appear in our stories, and in the rare situations when we decide to identify someone by other than their full name, we do so in a straightforward manner.

It would be difficult to find a QAA listener, QAnon adherent, or reporter on the anti-extremism beat who isnt aware Travis View isnt the co-hosts real nameStrain frequently mentioned that its a pseudonym on the podcast, hasnt hid that fact from interviewers, and regularly jokes about it on Twitter. Despite that, the Post article revealing his name ran with the sub-headline QAnon Anonymous co-host, riding a wave of newfound fame, acknowledges he was using a pseudonym all along. It also states the Post was unaware the Travis View persona was an invention, created for the anything-goes world of the Internet in 2017, as though this was somehow not common knowledge. Only midway through the article did the Post acknowledge that it was updating all its prior coverage featuring Strain, apparently because it was never familiar enough with him to bother asking what his real name was. Talk about burying the lede.

Strain told Gizmodo in a phone interview that when contacted by the Post, he told them, of course I use a pseudonym. Ive been open about this. Ive never… hid the fact that I use a pseudonym.

Ive mentioned it frequently on Twitter, frequently on my podcast, also it was mentioned at least once when I was [commenting in] the Associated Press that Travis View is a pseudonym, Strain said. So its been mentioned, like, on the public record that this is a pseudonym.

Strain added that the Post appeared to be taken aback when he clarified the Travis View persona to them, but, If this was some sort of a violation of their policies, I dont think its due to any lack of transparency on my part. Strain didnt recall ever being asked about his identity by anyone at the Post and even filled out a contributor contract with the Post using his real name and address.

It seems like they didnt ask or it didnt matter or whatever, Strain said, adding, I dont think View is even a real surname in any culture or any language. I mean, I havent checked on that, but yeah. I always just kind of assumed that Travis View was obviously a fake name, honestly.

The author of the Post piece, Craig Timberg, quoted Strain under the pseudonym Travis View in at least five prior articles, each of which has now been updated with an Editors Note that muddies the waters around who actually violated Post editorial policies and appears to imply it was… Strain:

EDITORS NOTE: This story quotes Travis View, co-host of the QAnon Anonymous podcast, without reporting that this name is a pseudonym, a detail View did not disclose to The Post when the story was written. That violates Post policy, which prohibits the use of pseudonyms except in rare cases and requires disclosure that a pseudonym is being used. Views real name is Logan Strain.

Post editorial policies are extremely clear who is actually responsible for making sure stories dont violate guidelines, however:

Washington Post reporters have primary responsibility for reporting, writing, and fact-checking their stories.

To put it another way, it would be definitionally impossible for Strain to violate the Posts editorial policies in those articles where he was simply quoted, as they apply to the journalists, not any random person they choose to speak to. And while the Posts standards require that corrections and updates be visible and made accessible to readers, nowhere does it specify that theyre required to write a 1,300-word article trying to score pats on the back for correcting themselves.

Our story on Logan Strains use of the pseudonym Travis Viewand the simultaneous publication of nine editors notes on pieces that he authored or in which he was quotedwas an act of transparency with our readers, Molly Gannon Conway, a communications manager at the Post, said in an email. We were unaware that View was a pseudonym until the HBO documentary was released in March. When we contacted him for verification, he agreed to participate in the story.

The Post article about Strains name states that experts in journalistic ethics said Strains use of a pseudonym created complex ethical issues for the news organizations that quoted him. For one, its the Post that created those supposedly meddlesome ethical dilemmas by missing its own standards. Two, its not clear why Timbergwho, according to a Google search, appears to have quoted Strain under his pseudonym more times than any other Post reporterwas allowed to write an article spinning his own journalistic ethics into breaking news.

But what is clear is that Timberg or whoever edited the article seems to have some kind of axe to grind over it because the piece strongly implied Strains use of a pseudonym means the income QAA raises on Patreon is somehow ethically compromised or otherwise illegitimate:

Driving this change was an increasingly popular podcast reaching more than 100,000 listeners and earning more than $60,000 a month. A related live stream on Twitch, which is where he publicly revealed his real name for the first time on Thursday, only added to that audience and profit for Strain and the shows other two co-hosts.

But Strains use of a professional pseudonym has complicated this success story.

It strains credulity to imagine that any QAA subscribers who managed to miss the memo would want their money back.

I stopped working at my previous job at the end of last November, Strain said. But prior to that, I always said, like, you know, Im a digital marketer from San Diego. Everything about my person. I never lied about my credentials I have or who I am or anything. I just operated under a pseudonym… [it] doesnt mislead people into giving, people contributing to the Patreon or anything like that.

Another weird thingthe experts who supposedly told the Post that Strain created complex ethical issues seemed pretty skeptical that his use of a pseudonym was either surprising or deceptive:

They didnt give these news outlets a chance to engage this ethical reasoning, and I think thats a problem, said Kathleen Bartzen Culver, director of the Center for Journalism Ethics at the University of Wisconsin. But I can see how this person thought it was not a problem because such journalistic standards are not widely understood by the public.

The rise of Internet culture, with its widespread use of anonymity and a variety of alternative naming conventions, has forced news organizations to rethink their policies without misleading readers, said Susan McGregor, a former Wall Street Journal data journalist and now a researcher for Columbia Universitys Data Science Institute specializing in journalist security.

This is totally normal for the Internet. Its not surprising at all that he didnt want to do this under his real name, McGregor said.

Michael E. Hayden, an expert on the neo-Nazi movement and senior investigative reporter for the Southern Poverty Law Center, told Gizmodo theres legitimate reasons for the Post to disallow pseudonyms in general.

Sometimes big publications like WaPo have a standards and practices division that does not allow pseudonyms for reasons related to ethics, Hayden wrote. For one example, if ABC News is going to discover who a far-right account is for transparency, its hard to argue balance if they should not make a similar effort with antifa accounts. They have a different objective than [an organization like] the SPLC.

But Hayden added that QAnons well-documented history of violence is more than enough reason for the QAA crew to obfuscate details that could lead to dangerous confrontations.

I think Travis View is well within his rights to acknowledge that he has safety concerns and ask that he uses a pseudonym for that reason, Hayden added. SPLC has numerous employees who choose to remain anonymous to the public for that reason… QAnon is violent, and there are reasonable reasons why people who cover it might choose to do so under a pseudonym.

I assumed I would be doxxed eventually … that, I just want want to get it over with, so its a matter of public record and I can sort of move on to, I think, more relevant things than what my real name is, Strain said. I guess well see in the coming weeks if this has led to increased personal harassment or any other sort of safety issues, concerns. But since it just came out just today, I mean, I havent seen anything quite yet.

I think this indicates that Washington Post standards around pseudonyms are archaic in the time when pseudonyms A) are extremely common and normal when operating online, and B), when theyre very useful for anti-extremism researchers to protect themselves, Strain told Gizmodo. And youre going to miss out on a lot of extremely valuable information from those resources if you … demand that they operate under their own name in order to distribute the information that they provide.

Julian Feeld (the pseudonym of one of Strains co-hosts) told Gizmodo via Twitter DM the Post article was mostly fair, but added it seemed to conveniently leave out that Logan was paid four times by their paper for columns under his real name.

The Washington Post seemed intent on minimizing their failure to adhere to their own protocols, Feeld added. Nonetheless it forced them to at least acknowledge our successwe welcome a good faith profile of the podcast and its importance.



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