I really wish I didn't have to do this.
The lies about my #MeToo reporting began nearly three years ago. Soon I will be preparing a report about the origins of those lies, in detail, although the names will be left out. It will be in the context of a broader piece about #MeToo reporting which I hope will be of use to journalism students and even experienced journalists.
The lies flare up from time to time, almost always when I publish a new investigation. They have been in full force since I reported on misconduct by Peruvian archaeologist Luis Jaime Castillo Butters, and they flared up again this week when I began posting about Mark Siddall, a curator at the American Museum of Natural History who was just fired for sexual harassment and other more serious behavior.
As they did this week, the lies almost always take the same form. A group of individuals begin claiming, which no evidence, that I harass survivors and badger and threaten them into talking to me, or I try to do that; that I "center" myself and privilege myself over the needs of the survivors, even though survivors come to me constantly and ask for help telling their stories; and that I am doing this all for self-aggrandizement, maybe for money (even though my blog has no ads), or to advance my "career."
That last one always makes me laugh, since I am an older man with a journalism career spreading 42 years, writing for major publications, and I am on Social Security and Medicare. Nowhere to go but up, career-wise, I guess.
The "centering" trope is the evidence that these accusations against me are really a collection of memes that were launched three years ago, as I said, and connected with a particular episode in my #MeToo reporting. The phrase was used by one individual, but has since spread to hundreds, who pass it down faithfully in the best fashions of cumulative culture and the old fashioned telephone game. But that does not make the memes true, any more than many others are.
A key contention is that even by complaining about the lies, I am proving that I am centering myself over survivors. But really, no one wants to be lied about, even the liars, especially if the lies have consequences. In the case of my #MeToo reporting, the lies do much more than damage my personal reputation. They also damage the reputations of those survivors who have chosen, of their own accord, to entrust me with their stories, as a journalist who has the skills to investigate them and get them published. Even more, they damage the #MeToo movement itself, because they drive a wedge between survivors and a reporter who has a proven track record of helping to remove sexual predators and bullies from positions of power.
Not everyone likes my "methods," which I admit are aggressive towards the villains; and some don't like the fact that I don't pick and choose which abusers to investigate, depending on how much power they have and how much some people like them, or whether they are famous or the victims are well known. The whisper network endures because, to put it bluntly, some colleagues do not want to upset the power structure too much, especially since everyone, from undergrad student to scientific titan, has to negotiate it--or find the courage to change it.
Now please look at the redacted Tweet at the top of this page. This particular survivor has posted similar things at least twice that I know about, once last July and once just a few days ago. And some others have merrily RTd these Tweets, so ready to believe the worst about someone, without questioning the veracity of such very serious accusations. If someone actually did what she claims in that Tweet, they are horrible and deserve all the condemnation anyone can muster.
But the problem is that not one word in that Tweet is true, except maybe that I followed her abuser, and the survivor knew exactly why I did--in fact she guessed it herself. In redacted form, at the following link, I am posting the entire conversation between us. (Since I find Blogger hard to work with when manipulating files, I have linked to a downloadable WordPress URL, but I hope to be able to display the entire thing on this page later on.)
The one thing I have left out is an email from her husband, dated April 28, in which he sent me some emails and other material related to what was happening to her.
Any honest person can see that the statements made in the Tweet at the top are untrue. She approached me; I tried to help her; she understood why I followed her abuser even if she was briefly confused about it; she offered the documents referred to, and I certainly did not say I needed them to prove she was telling the truth (I generally believe survivors); and I did not break my promise to try and help. The way we left the conversation, she was going to check with her lawyer about the documents, and I did not pester her about it further.
Should I have checked with her when I didn't heard from her after a while? Perhaps so. I was busy on several other investigations, we were in the middle of a pandemic, and I figured she had perhaps worked it out on her own. But none of what she says now is true. Nevertheless, this survivor, and those who believe these lies, are frantic on Twitter as I write now, condemning me for posting this before they even read it.
If this does not separate the honest from the dishonest, I don't know what will.
The question remains, why is this survivor lying now? I don't know. I can make some guesses, but I am not going to do so here. Perhaps others would like to comment on that, even those who know her. Their comments here would be welcome.
I will save further discussion for the broader piece I plan to write about the origins of the falsehoods about me, and how they relate to the broader issues of reporting on #MeToo investigations.
But I would ask those piling on, if they have any sense of decency, to ask themselves those questions, and look into their own motivations--including why some are so quick to believe the worst about a reporter who has worked hard for five years, taking lots of very serious risks, to help survivors tell their stories.
Addendum: In the comments section, I have waived my normal rule (and that of most moderated blogs) against comments that engage in personal attacks on me and others. That's because the comments illustrate my point, which is that situations like this clearly separate the honest from the dishonest. For one thing, I redacted the name of this survivor, and I will continue to do so, even though the survivor has outed herself on social media--thus making her the main person who is sharing her story with the world, all in the interests of perpetuating the lies she told about my interactions with her (see again the Tweets at the top of this page and below.) What is remarkable is that none of the virulent critics here can even acknowledge the clear evidence that she did lie. So there is no, "Yes, it is clear she lied, but Balter you should not have done this anyway." That might at least be a defensible position. But admitting that she lies disrupts the dishonest narrative that so many here are wedded to. Thanks to those, here and privately, who understand what is really going on here, and the sickness that has infected academia.
Update: Okay, with the help of a more tech savvy friend, I can now post the screenshots of this Twitter DM exchange:
"It is now just after 5 am East Coast time, the morning after I first posted this report. There are 54 comments at the moment. I have not censored any comment, but allowed them all through, even gratuitous personal attacks (fortunately those died down after a while and somewhat more serious comments dominated.)
I said at the outset that this blog post would separate the honest from the dishonest. I still maintain that.
I'd like everyone to look again at the Tweets from July and September by this survivor that led me to respond to her with this blog post (see above.) They are not redacted. The survivor used her real identity to tell very clear and blatant lies about my conversations with her. She referred to her having been raped and stalked.
Those Tweets from July and September were liked and RTd widely, including by at least one well known person in the #MeTooSTEM movement who has also lied repeatedly about me.
Yesterday, when I DM'd the survivor to tell her what I planned to do, and asked her to retract her lies, she went public again with what she said were my "threats."
Despite the fact that this person has gone public and identified herself for the express purpose of telling lies about our interactions [emphasis added], which waives any right to anonymity she might have originally had, I have protected her identity on my end. I redacted her name throughout, and other identifying information (if the name of her rapist can be detected, as one commenter said above, then that is just too bad for her rapist, who is not owed anonymity, as is standard journalistic practice.)
This means that all of the accusations above, and on Twitter, are off base, because they refuse to discuss or engage with this basic fact of the matter. I won't be deleting this blog post and I stand by my actions, which were intended to protect not just my reputation but that of the many survivors who have put their trust in me and whose stories were told either on this blog, in Science, or in The Verge."
I would just add one thing, which I have repeatedly said to people who have been attacking me on Twitter. Why did the survivor lie? Few have expressed much interest in this question, even though it seems obviously a very important one. I have asked critics to ask the survivor this question, because I think we cannot have an honest conversation about these issues unless they do either do that themselves or at least express some interest in the question.
Update September 20: Why did a prominent #MeToo/#STEMToo advocate publicly identify the survivor?
It has been interesting to follow the debate in the comments section of this blog the past 24 hours. The trend has begun to turn, from those very critical of what I did to those supportive and understanding of my actions. Early this morning (East Coast time) I approved a comment pointing out that a prominent #MeTooSTEM advocate, someone with about 18K followers on Twitter and who has tried unsuccessfully to stop my #MeToo reporting for nearly three years now, outed the identity of the survivor to the world, something I have not done and would not do despite her blatant lies about me. Here is that comment, and my response to it:
The sad irony is that one of the prominent advocates of #MeTooSTEM outed the survivor to the world on the same day that Balter published this piece. I had no clue who the survivor was till I came across the advocate’s tweet, where she feigns being incredibly sorry for what happened to her. It’s still there, so for the sake of the survivor’s privacy I hope she’ll delete it soon.
Re the last comment:
Yes, I am aware of the advocate’s Tweet, in which she identifies the survivor to her very large Twitter following. This advocate, who has done important work in the #MeToo area as I have always acknowledged despite her three years of attacks on me, expressed in another Tweet how “frustrating” it was that she and others have not been able to stop my #MeToo reporting.
To recap what has happened here, and which the outraged Twitter mob still refuses to see:
The survivor outed herself publicly in a Tweet last July, saying that she had been raped and stalked, using her real name, and then telling blatant lies about my conversation with her. This month, just the other day, the survivor outed herself again, using very similar phrasing, and telling exactly the same lies (those redacted Tweets are reproduced above.)
Not only the advocate referred to above but many other “advocates” repeatedly amplified the survivor’s Tweets, thus ensuring the Twitterverse knew who she was. Of course, the survivor not only did not try to hide her identity and what happened to her, but actively participated in her publicization.
If my DM conversation with the survivor had included intimate details of the rape or other things that happened to her, I would never have published it. I would have found some other, albeit much less effective, way to expose the lies. But since the conversation did not include such details, waiving confidentiality in this case (justified because of the survivor’s blatant lies) did not reveal anything essential beyond what she had revealed herself of her own volition.
This is why so much of the response to what has happened is so hypocritical. And readers should think about whether the long campaign of lies about my reporting might sit on similarly bogus claims. The advocate obviously was much more concerned about hitting at me than protecting the identity of the survivor. As for the survivor, I don’t know her motives, but my guess is that she saw a chance to insert herself into conversations that were going on and to draw attention to herself. She certainly did that.
And yet I have still not named her, nor would I, even though I would be justified in doing so, while the Twitter mob has outed her repeatedly.
Update Sept 24, 2020: Yesterday a colleague on Twitter who appropriately calls herself "Cassandra of Academia" (no, not my sockpuppet, but a woman of color and a survivor herself) posted a long Twitter thread which exposed the lies that have been told about my interactions with this individual, with full receipts in the form of screenshots. She is now identified, which is not an ethical problem since she and her friends outed her publicly many times over (I seem to be one of the few people involved in this controversy who has not yet named her in some way.) You can access it in an easy Twitter thread reader here. Thanks also to everyone who has commented below.
Another thought or two for today: Why all the lies? I often wonder that myself, but I have some ideas. I will have more to say about it soon. Suffice to say for now: In late 2017, a leading #MeToo advocate, together with a survivor who was ambivalent about telling her story, more or less teamed up to create a false narrative about my reporting and how I went about it. They are telling the same story today. That false narrative is the "origins story" for the very skewed and biased interpretations of what I have done, which at times break into outright lies like the ones discussed here. I will tell that origins story soon, in the context of the "(Mis)Adventures of a #MeToo Reporter" piece I have long planned. I also plan to put it into the overall context of the marked ambivalence with which many colleagues in anthropology, and academia more broadly, view exposing abusers. That ambivalence, I believe, is linked to the disruptions that upsetting established power relations and networks of prestige and patronage (linked as well to the patriarchal structure of academia) and the reluctance--or in some cases outright hostility--that some colleagues have towards allowing those (necessary) disruptions. More to come.