If it wasn't clear before, it should be now: the entire universe of startup technology and business blogs is overrun by the inept, the inane, the egomaniacal, the mercenary, the distasteful, the corrupt, and the outright evil.
Last week, with the introduction of the "Titstare" app at a TechCrunch conference (where a guy also simulated masturbation on stage, in front of a 9-year-old girl), it seemed like perhaps we had reached the zenith of awfulness with these terrible publications -- TechCrunch, Pando Daily, Business Insider and, to various degrees, others. But a new revelation on Monday, may be the worst one yet: A fellow named Pax Dickinson has been tweeting all kinds of horrible racist and sexist stuff. He was until Tuesday morning the chief technology officer for Business Insider, a bad business-news site launched by disgraced former Wall Street stock analyst Henry Blodget.
Valleywag reported on Dickinson's emotional maldevelopment on Monday. Given that he's been tweeting stuff about "niggers" and whatnot for a long time, and has worked for Business Insider for three years, we must assume that Blodget and the rest of Business Insider's management must have known all about it and have chosen to do nothing (one top Business Insider editorial employee noted that he had blocked Dickinson on Twitter -- so yeah, they knew). Later on Monday, Blodget told Valleywag via email: "Pax was speaking for himself, not Business Insider. We obviously don't condone what he said."
By Tuesday morning, though, Dickinson had been fired. Blodget had reversed himself, stating:
A Business Insider executive has made some comments on Twitter that do not reflect our values and have no place at our company. The executive has left the company, effective immediately.
Business Insider's team is composed of more than 100 talented men and women of many backgrounds, and we highly value this diversity.
I'm not sure who Blodget thinks he's kidding. Usually in cases like this, the initial statement would be something noncommittal, like "We're investigating the situation." But no, Blodget in effect said that the fact that one of his top executives was saying racist, sexist, and otherwise horrible stuff on Twitter wasn't any of his concern. Then, after being pressured, he fired the jerk.
But it's crystal clear that in the absence of pressure, Blodget is just fine with employing a person -- in a management position -- who writes things on Twitter like "In The Passion Of The Christ 2, Jesus gets raped by a pack of niggers. It's his own fault for dressing like a whore though."
And: "Who has more dedication, ambition, and drive? Kobe only raped one girl, Lebron raped an entire city. +1 for Lebron."
Blodget, like many others in this "space," appears to be without a human conscience. He was cast out of Wall Street for life by the S.E.C. in 2003 because as an "analyst" during the dot-com boom, he shamelessly touted stocks of Internet companies he knew to be terrible in order to goose the earnings of the investment banks he worked for. It takes a lot for anyone to get kicked off Wall Street, but Blodget managed to do it.
So he did the natural thing for people who have demonstrated they can't ever be trusted: he became a journalist. He launched Business Insider, because, as we all know, there simply aren't nearly enough publications devoted to covering business, especially publications that are devoted to helping traders navigate the markets (just as there aren't nearly enough publications devoted to gadgets and the fortunes of technology companies).
Blodget is perhaps best known lately for writing columns that read like they were written by an alien who has just stepped off his space cruiser. There's a level of vacuousness behind them that has led many observers to wonder whether the guy is simply a dolt. For instance, his column about flying on an airplane, where he wrote: "Shortly after takeoff, we got a bag of corn chips. Then lunch. I had a choice of 'pasta' or 'beef.' Pasta sounded safer. I went with that."
The whole column was like that. Many of his columns are like that, such as the one where he wondered why people "hate Jews," the one where he described his experience reading a newspaper, and the one where he wondered whose fault it was that Wall Street firms (in particular, Goldman Sachs) don't hire more women in management positions. In that one, he asked: "Are women just not willing to do what it takes?"
But it was just a question, see? Blodget often presents these things as "questions," which he seems to believe absolves him of responsibility for saying terrible or inane things.
Most of Business Insider bears Blodget's mark. It's full of slideshows and other crap meant not to inform, but merely to generate clicks. And it's full of a lot of stupidity. One of my favorite encounters with the site was when I read a post by reporter Nicholas Carlson a few years ago. It was an introduction to this one guy Carlson had recently heard of, Peter Drucker. Carlson decided that his audience of business-news readers just had to hear about this guy, Peter Drucker. So he wrote something up introducing his readers to this guy, Peter Drucker.
Peter Drucker is the most famous management theorist in history. It's a little hard to conceive of an English lit major not having heard of the guy. A writer for a site devoted to business? Jesus.
But let's give Carlson the benefit of the doubt and say it's possible for a person to work full time as a business journalist without ever having heard of Peter Drucker. Even then, Carlson went on to assume that his readers had never heard of him, either, and just had to be informed. His readers, of course, let him know that they had, in fact, heard of Peter Drucker, and made big fun of Carlson in the comments.
Another Business Insider writer, Joe Weisenthal, was profiled in the New York Times Magazine last year. The mag basically characterized him as an obsessive-compulsive who spends every minute of every day publishing. Not writing, so much: publishing. Whether tweets or blog posts, his goal was only to get stuff up, almost no matter what it might be. Every utterance by some regional Fed official, every meaningless analyst report, every unsurprising earnings announcement -- all was given the same weight. Usually, that weight was heavy -- he treated (and still treats) every bit of news as being a big deal.
And of course, like most of what Business Insider does, all of it was meant not to increase anyone's understanding of anything, but just (ostensibly) to help people pick the best stocks. Even then, he was wrong a lot of the time. As the profile writer, Binyamin Applebaum, put it: "It helps that in Weisenthal's line of work, being wrong doesn't hurt much."
So, why would anyone pay attention to him when there are outfits like Bloomberg News and the Wall Street Journal out there that are staffed by highly experienced professionals and dedicated to publishing breaking news fast, but are also concerned about accuracy? You'd have to ask them.
The profile was actually quite sad, but Weisenthal's admirers failed to recognize the pathos. They all thought it was just the best thing ever, this description of a person's apparent personality disorder. They read it like it was a profile of Joe Montana at the height of his football career. They applauded him for his ability to "crank" -- a common word among the Business Insiders, and apparently a favorite word of Blodget's. And a telling one: Business Insider doesn't care at all about serving its readers' actual interests (or, lord knows, the public interest) -- it cares only about slapping up whatever crap it can, as fast as it can, to induce the rubes to click.
Carlson is now the site's chief correspondent. Weisenthal is now the executive editor.
This "cranking" business is what makes so many of these sites so awful. Pando Daily and TechCrunch do the same thing. Both are rife with meaningless, barely rewritten press releases about the product releases of little-known companies, or about the piddling amounts of venture financing those companies receive. Each one of those might be of interest to a few people, but the point is to publish them in bulk -- the more crap for people to click on, the more clicks in total, and the more ad revenue. The long-term play, of course, would be to take your time and pay attention to quality. But these sites are not long-term plays.
These sites all share another thing: a sheen of "libertarianism" (they don't think it through enough for me to leave off the scare quotes. It's not like it's a philosophy -- more of just a gut feeling.) Which is how we get to this Pax Dickinson cretin. He seems -- like so many thousands of other Internet assholes -- to have developed this image of himself as a mannish, manful, manly man. He don't like liberal pussies, and he don't put up with any of this candy-ass "PC" stuff about how it's bad to be racist and sexist. Look at that picture of him there -- that's not irony. He totally thinks of himself like that.
After Valleywag published Dickinson's tweets, entrepreneur and tech pundit Anil Dash, on Twitter, called Dickinson an asshole, which is a little like accusing him of having two legs. Dickinson, of course, responded like a manly, mannish, manful man and challenged Dash: "Would you like to come call me an asshole to my face tomorrow?" Dash, to his discredit, appears to have agreed to this challenge. We'll see if anything comes of this pathetic nerdfight.
Dickinson and his defenders, of course, have all decided that this is somehow a "free speech" issue. This is a common ploy among the manly-man "libertarian" set (somehow, being a rank bigot has become a political position). They say something awful, people complain, and they characterize the complainers as being "PC" and anti-freedom. They'll heroically stand up for the right to be a troglodytic fingerdragger, but when it comes to the right -- just for example -- not to be shot dead for simply walking down the street while black, that's "PC."
The thing is, though, that such things normally happen in comments sections, and among nobodies on Twitter. Now they're happening on popular news sites, involving the people who run those sites.
I think I might just resubscribe to the print editions of the newspapers and magazines I read, and stay off the goddamned Internet as much as possible. It's just too full of emotionally stunted manchildren.