Satire Is Satire Even When People Fall For It, Mr. Jarvis

For years I've been trying to figure out who made this point: all satire is a shared joke between the writer and the reader at the expense of a hypothetical third person — the dupe — who takes it literally. The existence of that third person is a specifically contemplated feature, not a bug.

This is so both as a matter of law and as a matter of art.

Yesterday Esquire ran a satirical column in the voice of Jeff Jarvis. It's not up at Esquire any more, but you can see it here. The satire — penned by Rurik Bradbury, long-time Twitter satirist of Jarvis — mocked the pretense and vapidity of modern internet-changes-everything blather. To my taste, the satirical nature is quite clear:

The Innovation Party will be phablet-first, and communicate only via push notifications to smartphones. The only deals it cuts will be with Apple and Google, not with special interests. We will integrate natively with iOS and Android, and spread the message using emojis and GIFs, rather than the earth-killing longform print mailers of yesteryear. This will give us direct access to netizens, so we can be more responsive than any political party in history.

But tastes differ. Jeff Jarvis thought it was not clear and not permissible:

WhereCanIOrderPopcorninBulk

Esquire subsequently altered the piece to make the satire more explain-the-joke-to-you explicit, then axed it completely without explanation. Both Esquire and Jarvis have their supporters and detractors, and Jarvis wrote an angry post expressing outrage that he continues to be the object of satire.

There are many pieces of this. One is legal. That piece is very easy.

Bradbury's Esquire satire is very clearly protected by the First Amendment. I wrote about a case frighteningly on point. Esquire previously did a satirical article with mock quotes from Joseph Farah of WorldNet Daily and author Jerome Corsi. They sued, claiming defamation. The United States Court of Appeal for the D.C. Circuit crushed their arguments. Remember: only things that could reasonably be understood as provably false statements of fact can be defamatory. Satire is not a statement of fact. In deciding whether something could reasonably be taken as an assertion of fact rather than satire, courts look to what an audience familiar with the publication and players would understand. Said the Court:

The article’s primary intended audience — that is, readers of “The Politics Blog” — would have been familiar with Esquire’s history of publishing
satirical stories, with recent topics ranging from Osama Bin Laden’s television-watching habits to “Sex Tips from Donald Rumsfeld.” See Findikyan Decl. Exs. 35–42. At the same time, followers of “The Politics Blog” were politically informed readers.

. . . .

With that baseline of knowledge, reasonable readers of “The Politics Blog” would recognize the prominent indicia of satire in the Warren article.

In other words, the notion that Jarvis is silly and his views mockable may be inside baseball, but the relevant question is whether readers familiar with that inside baseball would recognize it.1

The fact that some people — inattentive people or people unfamiliar with the subject matter — may take the satire literally does not stop it from being satire. It's expected, the Court explained:

But it is the nature of satire that not everyone “gets it” immediately. For example, when Daniel Defoe first published The Shortest Way with the Dissenters, an anonymous satirical pamphlet against religious persecution, it was initially welcomed by the church establishment Defoe sought to ridicule. See JAMES SUTHERLAND,ENGLISH SATIRE 83–84 (1958). Similarly, Benjamin Franklin’s “Speech of Miss Polly Baker,” a fictitious news story mocking New England’s harsh treatment of unwed mothers, was widely republished in both England and the United States as actual news. See MAX HALL, BENJAMIN FRANKLIN & POLLY BAKER:THE HISTORY OF A LITERARY DECEPTION 33–35, 87–88 (1960).

Again, the joke is not only at the expense of Jeff Jarvis. The joke is, in part, at the expense of people who read carelessly. The joke is "Jeff Jarvis is silly, and by God, so is our society." The root of all comedy is human fallibility, and this article is funny in part because even though it's on a site known for satire by a frequent writer of satire in the voice of a frequent target of satire using exaggerated satirical arguments some people will still be inattentive, uninformed, or simply dumb enough to fall for it. That's why Jarvis's defenders are flat-out wrong when they say silly things like "It's the knowledge that something is satire that makes it satire in the first place."

Legally, this is not a close call.

What about morally? Jarvis and his supporters suggest that it's unethical for journalists to run satirical pieces written in somebody's name. It's not a new argument. Meghan McCain freaked out over apt satire of her writing voice. Visitors here occasionally become indignant over satire. People may get upset because satire written in the target's own voice is so effective against both of its targets. It illuminates the silliness of the person it is aping, and the more people fall for it the more powerful the argument that the mockery is on target. It strikes at the heart of the pretense of internet denizens – that they are well-informed and understand what the hell is going on.

Could there be satire that is unethical because it is genuinely deceptive? I suppose so. (Hopefully not here.) But I think it would have to be a genuine attempt to deceive by a publication not known for satire — something where the publication should expect that even reasonable inquiry and thought would not reveal it. This is not such a case. Esquire is known for satire. Bradbury is know for satirizing Jarvis and Jarvis is known for being satirized. The text of the satire was, well, overtly satirical. And as Bradbury told me, "[T]he bio stated specifically that this person was "not @Jeffjarvis", and the author photo was wearing both a beer helmet and a Santa hat, in late April.""

I don't think ethics prohibit a magazine known for satire from engaging in satire. I don't think ethics prohibit magazines from ridicule, even if that ridicule is part of a pattern. I don't think ethics require satirists to pitch to the lowest possible common denominator, to make their satire ABC-at-8:00-PM obvious. Ethics doesn't require catering to carelessness or foolishness or ignorance. If anything, it's unethical for the media to encourage those bad traits by dumbing down the ancient, deadly, and noble art of satire. One of the Bad Things about the internet is that people foolishly fail to exercise critical thinking about things they find on it. I don't share an ethical viewpoint that indulges and even encourages that trend.

Satire is a matter of taste. If Esquire decided this wasn't to their taste after all, that's their right, although the sequence of events makes them look foolish. But if Esquire caved to explicit or implicit legal threats, or to feckless arguments about journalistic ethics that undermine the very notion of satire, then shame on them.

  1. That's how I could get away of making a meta-point by altering the D.C. Circuit opinion to suggest that Farah and Corsi fuck walruses, even though I do not currently have any admissible evidence that they do.  

Last 5 posts by Ken White

Comments

  1. says

    I will add one thing to the defense of Jarvis – he did not threaten legal action in his post. He did say he wanted a lawyer in a Tweet as shown above, but Ken White is the one who taught me that Tweeting is something people can do casually, an impulsive thought that may differ from what the person would say if confronted in person and provided more time to think.

    Ken is right to call out Jarvis for overreacting, but I don't see anything to indicate that Jarvis is engaging in lawfare. It seems more like he's a sourpuss who doesn't like to be mocked, and after four years decided to ask the publisher to stop posting these pieces.

    I saw non-Jarvis buffoons on Twitter arguing that this satire is not acceptable because it is easier than most to see as real. I think those buffoons are the real inspiration for this post, and not what Jarvis said.

  2. Michael 2 says

    The whole article referenced was mildly amusing but too accurate to really be funny. But the credit line:

    CEO Mogadishu Capital Partners LLC

    …that was hilarious!

  3. Ken in NJ says

    Jarvis seems like an oversensitive WATB

    but that piece by Thomas Baekdal that Ken linked to? Holy shit, the man is thick. He says "But that doesn't change my original point that it is only satire if people know about it, or potentially realize it afterward" without a hint of self awareness, without the slightest realization that many, perhaps most, readers did know it was satire when they read it, or shortly afterwards.

    Just because Mr Baekdal is too goddamned slow on the uptake to realize it does not make it "not satire"; it doesn't make it a lie, nor does it make it unfunny. Frankly, I think the fact that a self important twat of a media consultant is too far up his own ass to recognize satire makes it even better

  4. Ken in NJ says

    @Michael

    I saw non-Jarvis buffoons on Twitter arguing that this satire is not acceptable because it is easier than most to see as real. I think those buffoons are the real inspiration for this post, and not what Jarvis said.

    I agree. Seeing the target get angry is pretty unremarkable. But seeing all the idiots thumping and stomping and shouting "THIS WASN'T SATIRE BECAUSE IT SOUNDED TOO MUCH LIKE HIM" makes me weep for the future of the humanities

  5. eddie says

    Jeff Jarvis thought it was not clear and not permissible

    You are overreading his "I need a lawyer" tweet.

    Here, as on Twitter, you are accusing him – implicitly here, explicitly there – of being the sort of person whom you so dearly love to mock: people who think that some kind of mean thing someone wrote about them is "defamation" and subject to legal action.

    At best, from this one tweet, you can conclude that Jarvis thinks it might be actionable and accordingly wants a lawyer to inform him of his available legal options.

    So at best, you can mock him for not having the kind of specialized knowledge that one normally consults with lawyers to obtain. But is that really what you want? "Hey, everyone, look at this idiot who has the temerity to want to talk to an attorney. What a horrible abuse of the legal system."

  6. says

    @Ken

    He's a journalism professor and frequent and vigorous public commenter on journalism issues. He's not a novice.

    Emphasis added, to also help further emphasize that he chose to advertise publicly that he was thinking of consulting a lawyer. This is an altogether different sort of thing than sitting down at one's desk and thinking "hmmm, I wonder of this is actionable and whether I should do anything about it" (as you well know, Ken). Doing this publicly and seriously makes one a target, because the article is obviously satire.

  7. Christopher Best says

    To further expand on Ken's point that he's a journalism professor, he's also known to be a vocal proponent of the importance of free speech. He's usually the sort of person some people would deride as a 'free speech absolutist'.

    This has all been very disheartening to me, as I counted myself a fan of his… I guess everyone can have off days.

  8. gattsuru says

    I agree on the legal side — it's so obvious it shouldn't even be a question, and that Jarvis thinks to go for a lawyer speaks nearly as ill for him as Jarvis' web page content.

    I'm far from sure on the moral side. Yes, Esquire publishes satire, and someone very familiar with Jarvis' work would know that it's not his writing, if only by the proper use of paragraph breaks. In practice, it's very hard to imagine the median or even rare reader of Esquire actually fitting in those categories. This is the only piece where they've mentioned Jarvis — ever. The article showed up, and still shows up even though the underlying satire has been redacted, in Google News' link list. Esquire does publish both satire and 'news' reporting, as common for men's magazines. Esquire has an Alexa US Page Ranking of 662, while Jarvis' page leads around 339,000 (by contrast, Popehat is around 26,000). Jarvis is not running for a significant political position, and as far as I can tell does little but produce very trite commentary.

    That satire should be legal, but it's not terribly healthy for public conversation. This is particularly extreme in this particular case, as the twitter satire account goes back half a decade and posted random dick pics attributed to the man, and the satirical Esquire piece didn't reflect any, for example, real-world move toward politics.

    But even if there were stronger and less stalkerish sorta satire in question, and even were the satire as obvious from the start as the header-marked version, there's still a danger when the first and perhaps only introduction to an ideology revolves around something completely different any part of the actual beliefs. Even if you knew that it was a joke — hunted for the satire tag, or actually paid attention to an author's picture — without an underlying reference for the real person's viewpoints there's a big tendency to ascribe some related beliefs. You'd not get Jarvis' mistaken ideas of internet privacy or corporate optimisation from this piece.

    That might be an acceptable risk if there were something meaningful to the joke, but there really isn't one here.

  9. David says

    I find it funny how the real Jeff Jarvis' wild overreaction shows all the more that satirizing him is justified.

  10. albert says

    @Ken,
    I must disagree with the statement": "… all satire is a shared joke between the writer and the reader at the expense of a hypothetical third person — the dupe — who takes it literally…". The author of that quote should read the !wiki article on satire.

    Even though I was influenced by your post first (and not knowing Jarvis), I read the piece in question. I found it to be a soup of poppycock and balderdash; actually quite humorous in places. To put it another way: It's funny. Kudos to the author, and if I thought it was jarvis, I'd say he's a funny guy.

    It's beyond my comprehension how anyone with at least a few brain cell interconnections could possibly interpret that piece as anything but humor, satire or not.

    Now, I'm almost afraid to read any 'serious' writing by Jarvis, for fear that he may actually -be- a blithering idiot.

    . .. . .. — ….

  11. SJE says

    OMG, is Jarvis still beating the same drum? I used to read him a lot when the internet was a lot newer, but have not even thought of him until now. For someone who preaches the power of the internet, he has evidently not heard of the Streisand effect. Irony.

  12. John Duncan Yoyo says

    There aren't any flags to show it as humor. If it were longer it might work better as satire.

  13. says

    If he hadn't tweeted at all, this would just be a case of someone responding to speech with more speech, the very remedy Popehat prescribes. If instead, he had tweeted "If they don't take it down, I'll blow their office sky-high", then this would have been just standard twitter bloviating, and not a true or credible threat.

    Why is a tweet of "I need an attorney" any different? I mean, you're free to blog about what you like and all, but compared to legal threats and intimidation that most of your posts are about, this doesn't seem to register on the radar.

  14. Jack B. says

    Special Agent Johnson: "Just like fuckin' Malshandir, hey slick?"

    Agent Johnson: "I was in junior high, dickhead!"

  15. Matt L. says

    @eddie

    Jarvis also said things like "Take it down now"; "this is defamation" and other impliedly litigious bluster. He was threatening to sue.

  16. Matt L. says

    Also, @Ken, I don't know if it's what you're looking for, but Jonathan Swift said something very akin to the sentiment you expressed at the beginning of the piece in his preface to the Battle of the Books (1704):

    "Satire is a sort of glass wherein beholders do generally discover everybody's face but their own; which is the chief reason for that kind of reception it meets with in the world, and that so very few are offended with it."

  17. says

    Wait, wait, Mr. Computer Guru Jeff Jarvis says people can't tell one Twitter handle from another?

    He's getting more fucking parodable by the minute.

  18. says

    @Matt L: This is ESQUIRE, not some stereotypical blogger in his mom's basement. This is the Esquire who regularly runs Charles Pierce's political satire.

    And it caved in like a bunch of ballless bastards.

  19. Scott Jacobs says

    Unironic use of "I need an attorney" is the man-child version of "I need an adult."

  20. Sinij says

    In a modern oversensitive social sphere "I need an attorney" could be read as "F**k you".

    It is actions that count, until there is a lawsuit or threat of such, Jeff Jarvis, whoever he is, deserves charitable interpretation of his actions.

    In closing, I need an attorney.

  21. ScoobyDoo says

    I disagree. I think the fact that it's satire is not the issue. What is the issue is that it's a misrepresentation. It wasn't at all obvious that this wasn't written by the real Jeff Jarvis. And putting the label "satire" on it (which isn't even there in the article, only in the tags way after the article) only makes it seem like Jeff Jarvis wrote the satire, not that it was a satire in the voice of Jeff Jarvis.

    No one can take issue with mocking Jeff Jarvis, nor writing something ridiculous in his voice and style, but writing something, even something clearly satiric, under his byline and hiding behind the defense of "can't you take a joke?" is unfair, and pretending otherwise is disingenuous.

  22. Murder Hobo says

    @Sinij,

    It is actions that count, until there is a lawsuit or threat of such, Jeff Jarvis, whoever he is, deserves charitable interpretation of his actions.

    This seems like a threat to me. When you consider it in the context of his other public statements regarding the satire, it seems incredibly thick to try to interpret his statement as "Gosh, does anyone know a lawyer so I can ask if these guys are libel me?"

    As a threat, it's not enough of a threat that I'd file seeking a dec judgment, but that's not what Ken's doing either. When it comes to criticizing someone, I don't think we need to first prove specific intent beyond a reasonable doubt.

    Maybe Professor Jarvis will make a convincing argument that we completely misread his intentions. Maybe his choice to ostentatiously ask for a lawyer in front of the largest audience possible wasn't to deliver an implied threat, but rather because he didn't know any lawyers and didn't know how else to find a lawyer for a consultation… despite being a self-described expert with years of working experience in a field that should have brought him into contact with First Amendment lawyers once or twice. Maybe he was asking for a lawyer because he wasn't sure if any torts apply, and he wanted to ask someone… despite having spoken extensively about defamation on the abstract, and having specifically mentioned defamation while discussing the satire in question. If he does, I'll be glad to retract and apologize for my previous criticism.

    Being a responsible critic means doing your due diligence and confirming your target actually deserves criticism. It means considering alternate explanations. It does not, as you imply, mean that we should refrain from criticizing someone as long as there's a snowball's chance in hell that some unlikely confluence of events might justify or explain away what we're criticizing.

    In closing, I need an attorney.

    Conventions of politeness prevent me from speculating what you need. Now, it's certainly possible to interpret my last statement as a personal attack against you. However, I think you'll agree that absent an explicit insult, my words deserve the most charitable interpretation possible.

  23. melK says

    > For someone who preaches the power of the internet, he has evidently not heard of the Streisand effect. Irony.

    You sure about that? He seems to have gotten a lot of attention out of all of this. … all from just 4 words, too.

  24. Scott Jacobs says

    It is actions that count, until there is a lawsuit or threat of such, Jeff Jarvis, whoever he is, deserves charitable interpretation of his actions.

    Because he is someone who should have an actual, working knowledge of the First Amendment, no. No he does not. It isn't my job to find a way to view his words so that he doesn't appear to be a thundering moron.

  25. John Eddy says

    Keep in mind that most people don’t spend more than 15 seconds on a web page — according to Chartbeat — and so those folks would come and see that someone named Professor Jeff Jarvis — oh, that’s my name — said these incredibly stupid things praising incredibly idiotic op-ed and they’d move on.

    So, one must wonder. If it was an incredibly stupid thing someone who was ACTUALLY named Jeff Jarvis, who went by Professor, whether being an actual Professor or not, would Jeff "I need a lawyer" Jarvis fight to get that taken down as well? Because this statement makes me think he would…

  26. LEJ Brouwer says

    All of this about the importance for having a reputation for producing satire makes me wonder if this could be used to stop new satirical publications for gathering momentum. Presumably a magazine/blog/whatever doesn't come into existence with a reputation for producing satire and as such there seems to be a "reputation gap" before the new publication gets these kind of protections. As such could powerful individuals crush startup satirical publications by suing them in the first few weeks and months of their existence?

  27. Speed says

    Jeff Hall wrote, "I'd read his Twitter post as a piece of satire myself."

    That's the way I read it,

  28. mythago says

    @Christopher Best: self-proclaimed free speech absolutists are, sadly, so often the first to discard their principles as soon as they hear free speech that hurts their feelings. Look at any of Ken's posts about the Preferred First Speaker doctrine or pointing out that those who advocate growing thick skins should lead by example. Heck, look at the comments on those posts, where you will see many people earnestly explaining to Ken that no, in fact, That's Different and such things as taking offense are thoughtcrime.

    @Sinij: why does he deserve a 'charitable interpretation' of his actions? It's curious that you're not arguing Ken's interpretation of Jarvis' statement is unreasonable, or wildly paranoid; only that it is 'uncharitable'. You seem to be suggesting that there is a moral obligation to take the kindest possible view. Why?

  29. Anon E. Mouse says

    I'd like to think "I need a lawyer" is short hand for "I need a lawyer to educate me about the 1st amendment". After which I learn that I'm just going to have to suck it up and not make a dick-wad of myself, reference the Streisand Effect. But my hopes for that the species will ever wise up are rapidly fading.

  30. Mark Kleiman says

    I have no objection to mockery of Jeff Jarvis (except on cruelty-to-animals grounds), but if publishing a fake piece under someone else's name isn't actionable, it ought to be. The fact that a hypothetical sophisticated Esquire reader would spot it as satire offers the victim no defense against having it show up in Google searches, or having it reposted, Tweeted, or Facebooked, either by people genuinely taken in by the hoax or gleefully assisting the character assassination.

    Put yourself in the victim's shoes for a moment. Imagine that someone published a column under the by-line "Ken White" arguing that soliciting children for sex was clearly protected free speech under the First Amendment, while orders to commit torture and offers of money to commit murder constituted difficult borderline cases. Imagine further that – to heighten the point of the satire – actual paragraphs of your writing were interspersed with the nonsense.

    Or imagine instead that the "satirist" simply published what appeared to be a news story about an interview with "Ken White" along the same lines, using what is recognizably your voice to express revolting views.

    This is not hypothetical for me. My friends and I have been subjected to both techniques by a lunatic who dislikes our approach to drug policy analysis, and I've had to respond to serious emails asking me about the crazy opinions I was quoted as offering.

    Note that Swift and Franklin satirized viewpoints. Neither stooped to misrepresenting a named holder of those viewpoints. If Esquire wants to make fun of Jeff Jarvis's writing style, why wouldn't it be just as funny to "sign" the piece "Heff Harvis"?

  31. Christopher Best says

    … if publishing a fake piece under someone else's name isn't actionable, it ought to be.

    Thanks for letting me know I don't have to read the rest of your comment right up front like that.

  32. SJE says

    melK says
    >> For someone who preaches the power of the internet, he has evidently not heard of the Streisand effect. Irony.

    >You sure about that? He seems to have gotten a lot of attention out of all of this. … all from just 4 words, too.

    I once thought that Jarvis had something useful to say in the early days of the internet. If he had said nothing in this case I would have gone on blissfully ignorant, with vague positive thoughts. Now I think he is an asshat and want to go read what others have been saying about him and not what he himself is saying.

  33. Matthew Cline says

    @gattsuru:

    I'm far from sure on the moral side. Yes, Esquire publishes satire, and someone very familiar with Jarvis' work would know that it's not his writing, if only by the proper use of paragraph breaks. In practice, it's very hard to imagine the median or even rare reader of Esquire actually fitting in those categories.

    I have no idea who Jarvis is, and it was still obvious to me that it's satire.

  34. Christopher Best says

    I have no idea who Jarvis is, and it was still obvious to me that it's satire.

    Seriously. Did the people who are arguing Jarvis's side of this even glance at the article? I can't even believe the proverbial "idiot in a hurry" that protects trademarks could mistake this as legitimate.

  35. Yarrgh says

    With regards to the tweet, by itself it's just an exclamation of frustration, like "I need a drink." However, his long rant about how he doesn't understand satire and lacks a sense of humor elevate that to a potential threat, potentially.

    He should learn to laugh at himself, so at least when everyone else is laughing at him he doesn't feel left out.

  36. echo says

    This case is pretty clear-cut, morally, but can we consider another?

    There's a typical social media witch-hunt, mostly on twitter and various blogs. A librarian, or an artist working mainly with activists has been accused of "sketchy behaviour", and their entire professional circle is engaged in a holiness spiral of denunciations.

    Damning screencaps of tweets and blog posts start circulating, supposedly written by the accused. In the few cases where these can be proven fake (a twitter handle with a misspelled name, or a badly 'shopped tumblr chain), the people posting them shout "LOL it's just satire bro, I thought you liked freeze peach?"

    Eventually there's a lawsuit, or even a criminal prosecution brought against the accused. Some of the "satire" posts end up being used in the case itself, as the defense simply can't catch and challenge all of them, and many others circulate in media coverage of the trial. These lead to the satire being presented as fact on the accused's wikipedia page.

    Sounds absurd, but it's exactly what happened to Joe Murphy and Gregory Elliott. So, when do the ethical concerns start emerging? When people repost satire without context for malicious purposes? Is there even a way to build a social norm against that?

  37. echo says

    Also, if Defoe had signed The Shortest Way as "Thomas Tenison", do you think the archbishop would have a case under current US libel law? If not, would there be a moral argument?

    To extend Defoe's barnyard metaphor, nobody wants to be brutalized by the state's horse-sized cock, but the current lack of protection individuals have against social media campaigns feels a lot like getting savaged by a hundred cock-sized horses.

    (I mean… almost nobody. Maybe some conservatives with BD accounts…)

  38. jdgalt says

    Bradbury's Esquire satire is very clearly protected by the First Amendment. I wrote about a case frighteningly on point. Esquire previously did a satirical article with mock quotes from Joseph Farah of WorldNet Daily and author Jerome Corsi. They sued, claiming defamation. The United States Court of Appeal for the D.C. Circuit crushed their arguments. Remember: only things that could reasonably be understood as provably false statements of fact can be defamatory. Satire is not a statement of fact.

    I beg to differ. Anyone who publishes a writing falsely attributed to someone who didn't write it is printing the false statement of fact that that person wrote it. And if enough people believe that alleged fact to cause quantifiable damages to that alleged author, then I believe the impersonation is actionable libel, at least morally and should be legally.

    This is not an attempt to criminalize humor, simply because it would be easy for the real author to expressly label the piece as humor and thus avoid the problem.

  39. albert says

    @echo,

    "…When people repost satire without context for malicious purposes? Is there even a way to build a social norm against that?…"

    No. People will be asshats. It's what we do. Education might help, but litigation apparently doesn't. I suppose there are academics who study these things, but since I don't give a RSA about this issue, I won't search for them.

    The problem is everywhere in cyberspace. Some people just don't get it; some troll. Folks tend to civil in public (not online) forums (you don't want a sock in the eye), but seem to lose any sense of reality when they're online. They not only say stupid things, but also believe -everything- they read.

    It never ceases to amaze me.

    All Jarvis had to do was state that the account wasn't his, and he never said those things. He could have written a letter to the editor, acknowledging the satire in some clever way. It's the same with fake Twitter accounts. Say your piece, then walk away.

    A leopard doesn't change his spots, and an asshat doesn't change his asshatiness.

    . .. . .. — ….

  40. Sinij says

    @mythago You are correct, I don't think Ken's interpretation is unreasonable, but it is weakly supported by the facts and that is what I find problematic. I think the only appropriate response in this situation is more satire, not a serious consideration based on merits. If we are to consider this case seriously, we have to be charitable or it is too easy to dismiss such criticism and slide into 'middle ground' fallacy.

  41. says

    Can someone explain to me why these:

    AgammamonI5.31.15 @ lO:47AMltt
    Its judges like these that should be taken out back and shot.

    AlanI5.31.15 @ 12:09PMltt
    It's judges like these that will be taken out back and shot.
    FTFY.

    croakerI6.1.15 @ 11:06AMltt
    Why waste ammunition? Wood chippers get the message across clearly. Especially if you
    feed them in feet first.

    Cloudbusterl6.l.15 @ 2:40PMIIt
    Why do it out back? Shoot them out front, on the steps of the courthouse.

    Rhywunl5.3l.15 @ 11:35AMIIt
    I hope there is a special place in hell reserved for that horrible woman.

    AlanI5.31.15 @ 12:11PMIIt
    There is.

    Product PlacementI5.31.15 @ 1:22PMIIt
    I'd prefer a hellish place on Earth be reserved for her as well.

    croakerl6.l.15 @ 11:09AMIIt
    Fuck that. I don't want to oay for that cunt's food, housing, and medical. Send her through
    the wood chipper.

    are "mere angry bluster of the sort no reasonable person would take to be a serious threat.", while this:

    I need an attorney.

    is a serious threat?

  42. says

    @Daran That's actually very easy to do.

    The first batch of tweets is from a bunch off randos. Looked at objectively, they are bluster. The person being tweeted about can still feel threatened (and this is not "wrong", per se), even as we declare them bluster.

    Jarvis' tweet is also bluster. The question of whether it was soberly tweeted is altogether different (and intriguing though I'm not sure the evidence is supported). It's not the bluster of some random internet person, though. It's the bluster of a journalism teacher who should know better. That he may have tweeted in the heat of the moment is understandable. It doesn't excuse the fact that he should be able to spot satire from high earth orbit.

  43. says

    @Daran:

    That's an extremely silly question.

    The Reason Incident involved the government asserting that a group of tweets might be a true threat — a legally actionable threat under governing law. "Threat" has a very specific meaning in that context, which I analyzed.

    Here, the term is used colloquially, to suggest that Mr. Jarvis has suggested he's seeking an attorney, the fairly clear implication being he's contemplating a lawsuit. The use here is not governed by a specific legal standard. It's rhetorical.

    Also, I don't believe that I called it a "serious threat." So who are you referring to?

  44. Scott Jacobs says

    I'm wondering if Jarvis thinks Sarah Palin might have a case against SNL. I mean, they used her name and everything!

  45. mythago says

    Gawker has now linked to you, Ken, and has some amusing responses from Professor Jarvis in response to pointed questions from Gawker about the inconsistencies with his past approaches to free speech. For example:

    When asked to explain his announcement seeking a lawyer and his subsequent use of legal terms such as “actionable” and “defamation,” Jarvis told Gawker, “I can use many words to describe what was done, some of them also used by lawyers—words including unethical, unjournalistic, defamatory, damaging. Describing is different from suing.”

  46. says

    @Grandy

    First let me acknowledge that I may have misinterpreted the post. To me, and apparently to other commenters, (see for example, the first comment in this thread) it looked like a standard Ken post. Somebody utters some constitutionally protected speech. Someone else is offended and sues or threatens to sue. Ken posts to explain why the speech is constitutionally protected and to ridicule one or both of the parties.

    But on closer reading, I see that Ken does not say that he interpreted the tweet (the only words of Jarvis that he actually quotes) as a legal threat. Instead he draws the conclusion that "Jeff Jarvis thought it was not clear and not permissible".

    Yet in the longer piece that Ken links to, but does not quote, nowhere does Jarvis suggest that the piece is legally actionable. Instead he makes it clear that the issue was that he thought it unethical and poor journalism:

    This is about editorial judgment. It is indeed about journalism. Take the case of Gawker outing an innocent and private man at Conde Nast for no reason other than to get your jollies. Nick Denton — whom I worked with years ago — was right to finally learn the lesson of journalism and do the right thing and take that piece down. That was editorial judgment. It was responsible behavior. When [Gawker's] editors quit in protest they were obnoxious, hubristic horses’ asses and most certainly not journalists. Just because something can be published does not mean it must be. Not publishing something irresponsible is not a matter of not free speech. It’s a matter of responsibility. It’s news judgment. It’s journalism.

    So again. Why does Ken think a tweet, possibly tossed of in a moment of anger and frustration, means that Jarvis thought it was not permissible?

    Ken further says:

    Jarvis and his supporters suggest that it's unethical for journalists to run satirical pieces written in somebody's name.

    It's certainly true that the main, indeed only issue that Jarvis had with the article was that it was penned in his name. But I don't see Jarvis making any argument that it is generally unethical to do so, only that it was unethical in this case. Niether do I see the linked supporter making this argument.

    Ken cites his own post satirising Mayor Jim Ardis as a counter-example I agree that post is ethically OK. It's OK, because Ardis' abuse of power made him ripe for this kind of lampooning. It's OK, because holding the Ardises of this world accountable for their actions is a public good, and satire is an effective tool for doing so. It's OK because it was a single post, not a years-long campaign of harassment.

    Where's the public good in this case? The joke, according to Ken, is "Jarvis is silly". Well maybe he is, but I don't see any public interest in continuing a four-year campaign against him which is causing him so much stress that it's affecting his physical health. "It was a joke" is the creed of the bully.

    Edited to add: I didn't see Ken's reply to me, or any subsequent comment, before I posted this.

  47. mythago says

    Daran, what is the "campaign against him"? If you're talking about people doxxing Jarvis, or hacking his email and posting it for all to see, or stalking him, I'd like to think we all agree such things are beyond the pale regardless of any 'satirical' intent by the perpetrators. But Jarvis is a public figure who posts public things. Somebody has made a satirical account and posts things to satirize him. How is this harassment, bullying and improper, exactly? Because it hurts Jarvis' feelings? Because he's allowed to have a megaphone, but nobody else is if he dislikes what they say about him?

    Regarding the Gawker piece, as is quoted in your own comment, it was not about a public figure; it was not about someone who puts his opinions out in the public sphere getting mocked for them. It was an attack on a private figure, posting about his private life and outing him for no reason other than salacious gossip. How, please, do you believe that compares to the situation here? How do you square his taking offense with his passionate declarations – aimed at others, that is – that speech should not be controlled to limit offense, and that jokingly impersonating others, when the joke is obvious, is A-OK?

  48. Foog says

    @Daran

    Yet in the longer piece that Ken links to, but does not quote, nowhere does Jarvis suggest that the piece is legally actionable.

    Maybe not. But here in the comment it's already been mentioned (and in the Gawker article I think), that Jarvis-the-realler also tweeted this:

    @JohnGHendy How dare you? This is impersonation. It is actionable. It sure as shit isn't journalism, sir.
    — Jeff Jarvis (@jeffjarvis) April 26, 2016

    So, ummm…. yeah. He did indeed suggest precisely that.

  49. says

    So, ummm…. yeah. He did indeed suggest precisely that.

    Yes, for the time it took to compose a quarter of a tweet, he thought it was actionable. Then, another quarter of a tweet later, he pressed send without retracting it.

    There's nothing to indicate that this lapse of judgement lasted more than a brief period, perhaps no more than half a tweet's worth. So why all the outrage? Are people to be faulted for getting upset when they feel they're being unfairly treated? For having momentary lapses of judgement when upset which cause no harm whatsoever? Does this apply to everyone, or just professors of journalism?

  50. says

    Daran, what is the "campaign against him"?

    By "campaign" I refer to maintaining a spoof twitter account for four years, as well as writing at least two articles in Jarvis' name that I know of. This would appear to satisfy this definition of the word: "a systematic course of aggressive activities for some specific purpose".

    If you're talking about people doxxing Jarvis, or hacking his email and posting it for all to see, or stalking him, I'd like to think we all agree such things are beyond the pale regardless of any 'satirical' intent by the perpetrators.

    There's far more of a consensus that these things are beyond the pale than there is about what these things actually are.

    But Jarvis is a public figure who posts public things. Somebody has made a satirical account and posts things to satirize him. How is this harassment, bullying and improper, exactly? Because it hurts Jarvis' feelings?

    "Bullying" and "harrassment" also don't have agreed meanings. My definition of both would be "conduct (including speech) unreasonably directed toward a person against their will". Impersonating an individual by tweeting under their name, job title and photograph, is "conduct directed toward a person", by my lights. It's clearly against Jarvis' will. I don't know whether there is a good reason for it. I haven't seen any reason at all offered other than "he's a public figure who posts public things"

    Because he's allowed to have a megaphone, but nobody else is if he dislikes what they say about him?

    Allowed in what sense? Outside of a few ill-considered tweets, not even Jarvis disputes that the speech at issue was constitutionally protected, hence legally permissible.

    Jessica Valenti is a public figure who posts public things. Threats to rape her would appear to be "mere angry bluster of the sort no reasonable person would take to be a serious threat.", while comments about her "giant gaping vagina", aren't even threats. If I understand Ken's explanations of First Amendment law, these are all constitutionally protected utterances.

    Ethically, such comments are beyond the pale, in my opinion. Do you agree? If so, then how do you distinguish between these and the speech at issue here? Is it just things which upset you that you object to? Which upset people you like? Which upset women?

    Regarding the Gawker piece, as is quoted in your own comment, it was not about a public figure; it was not about someone who puts his opinions out in the public sphere getting mocked for them. It was an attack on a private figure, posting about his private life and outing him for no reason other than salacious gossip. How, please, do you believe that compares to the situation here?

    I never said it did. I've never read the the Gawker piece, had never heard of it until I read Javis' post, and know nothing about it beyond what he and you have told me. I didn't quote that part of his post to make a comparison between that case and the situation here, or to endorse the comparison Jarvis was making. I quoted it to support my claim that, a few ill-judged tweets notwithstanding Jarvis' objection to the speech at issue was that it was unethical, not that it was unlawful.

    How do you square his taking offense with his passionate declarations – aimed at others, that is – that speech should not be controlled to limit offense, and that jokingly impersonating others, when the joke is obvious, is A-OK?

    Controlled in what sense? If he has ever advocated that nobody should ever under any circumstances personally or editorially control their own speech to avoid causing offence, then that would indeed be inconsistent with his current actions.

  51. mythago says

    Daran, it's really not possible to have a good-faith discussion when you dismiss all contrary evidence as 'a few ill-considered tweets' or speculate that it's merely the product of a burst of emotion on Jarvis' part. That is, when you claim that anything contrary to your arguments magically doesn't count.

    It's very plain not only from what you characterize as "a few ill-considered tweets" and Jarvis' follow-up, but from his past advocacy of speech that may offend others, that he indeed was suggesting legal action would be appropriate, and that he applies a different standard of free-speech absolutism to others than to himself.

  52. Mike Alias (with a real email) says

    Your article sucks – just kidding. Now that is satire. Or, is my labeling of satire here just actually my (mis?)understanding of satire? Actually, I am satirizing the attempt to be satirical. If you don't get this, then you probably shouldn't. Sorry, that was satire.

    Am I being too satirical here?

    Or, not enough?

    Cheers my friend!

Trackbacks

  1. […] The fake Jeff Jarvis published a piece about the real Jeff Jarvis in Esquire, and the real Jeff Jarvis, a journalism professor, used his clout to get Esquire to remove it. Which, naturally, caused all hell to break loose, especially when the real Jeff Jarvis made law-noise, because what about his rights?!? For a 'splainer, see Ken White's dissection at Popehat. […]