|From Clancy et al., PLoS ONE, 2014 SAFE Study|
In what follows, I will refer to the original complaint filed against me last September 30 as the "Original Complaint," and the formal complaint I was charged with answering as the "New Complaint," to (I hope) avoid confusion.
The Original Complaint.
In an earlier blog post, I described briefly how the Original Complaint came about and how it became public (in violation of NASW policies and procedures.)
The complaint remains online, and is easily found via a Google search; in a later post, I will put it online myself, but only when I am able to respond in detail to all of the allegations in it (but see below for the text of the New Complaint.)
The Original Complaint was filed with the organization on September 30, 2020, addressed to NASW executive director Tinsley Davis and president Jill Adams. It was signed by 10 active members of NASW and one person described as an "inactive member." The complaint concluded as follows:
"We therefore request a thorough review, statement of censure and removal of Michael Balter from the organization." [Italics added]
I recognized a few of the signatories as individuals I had engaged with in various ways on social media, but the great majority were individuals who I knew had no direct knowledge of my #MeToo reporting, most of which involved situations in anthropology and archaeology. That included the NASW member who coordinated the complaint and did most of the interviews for it, Bethany Brookshire, a staff writer at Science News for Students. I had never had any contact with Brookshire, nor her with me, and I did not know her; but she and Kate Clancy have a long association and friendship going back to at least 2016.
As Clancy describes the relationship on her Web site:
"Dr. Brookshire is also a blogger, which is how we met years ago, and a podcaster and host with Science for the People. Dr. Brookshire was the first person I turned to when I wanted to start my own podcast, and her advice has been crucial to me at several points this year. You can attribute many of the good things of this podcast to her, and none of the bad."
Clancy was also an invited author for a book Brookshire co-edited on science blogging, and Brookshire penned an article in 2016 about Clancy's own podcasting experiences. Since then, the two have had a close relationship on social media, often Re-Tweeting or commenting on each other's posts.
Clancy has claimed, in a sworn declaration, that she did not instigate the Original Complaint and was only tangential to it, but I have serious doubts that this characterization is accurate. For one thing, Clancy was fully involved in the episode that triggered the complaint, an online altercation last September between me and anthropology graduate student Hilary Leathem, formerly of the University of Chicago. Also, it is a reasonable hypothesis that Clancy put Brookshire, who has no special expertise in anthropology, in touch with the other three anthropologists whose "stories" figure in the Original Complaint.
As for Leathem, as I will detail in a future post, she took to Twitter at least three times to tell a completely false story about her interactions with me after she asked me to help her with a #MeToo situation. Clancy quickly weighed in, as she had done in previous situations involving me (see previous blog post for an earlier example):
Also, documents that Clancy produced in response to my subpoena show clearly that she and Brookshire were in close contact about the Original Complaint. Brookshire kept Clancy closely apprised, via email, of discussions about the complaint that took place on several NASW discussion groups after it was made public; and the following private message exchange raises a number of questions:
In this exchange from late December, Brookshire is in blue and Clancy responds in the dark field. Brookshire is referring to my argument, and that of some other NASW members, that the NASW complaint process had become hopelessly compromised once the document was made public.
But more even more troubling for due process in the Original Complaint is Bethany Brookshire's statement to Clancy that "people keep requesting access to the locked drive." Since the question of how the Original Complaint became public is highly relevant to the internal NASW process, this bears close examination. The New Complaint was delivered to me in a pdf that was password protected, and I think it is reasonable to assume that the Original Complaint, also in pdf form, was password protected as well. Clearly, Brookshire not only had the password, but other colleagues knew that she did. Who did she share it with? At this point, I do not claim to know, but I will report back on further investigations into this key question.
As I pointed out in the previous post, it should have been a red flag to the NASW board, and the review committee assigned to "investigate" the allegations, that all of the charges stemmed from my writing about #MeToo and bullying issues in anthropology and archaeology.
The New Complaint.
In an update to the previous post, I cited the very strict confidentiality requirements NASW put me under, including an admonition not to reveal the internal processes by which such complaints are handled. Out of respect for an organization I was an active member of for 35 years, I will only cite the specific allegations concerning Clancy below. However, Clancy has waived any "privacy" rights she might have had concerning her dispute with me, by her own behavior and by the fact that the entire Original Complaint is now public. As I will show (and demonstrated in the previous post), she is not a "victim" of harassment or bullying by me, but just the opposite.
Here are the charges that the NASW board asked me to answer:
So let me take these allegations in turn, beginning with the introduction and then the numbered sections.
It is correct that the Original Complaint, assembled by Bethany Brookshire, involves allegations by several individuals in anthropology and archaeology. I will respond to these now public allegations in future posts, and also give my views as to why--not surprisingly--my extensive reporting of #MeToo violations and bullying in these fields has raised alarm among some researchers. In addition to Clancy herself, the allegations concern Holly Dunsworth, an anthropologist at the University of Rhode Island, whose interactions with me back in 2017 and 2018 were exploited by Clancy and became her origins story for charges that I harassed and exploited survivors of abuse; Hilary Leathem, mentioned above, a rape survivor who, after contacting me and asking for help dealing with alleged stalking by her rapist, lied blatantly about our interactions and then doubled down when I produced conclusive proof of her dishonesty; and Akshay Sarathi, a former graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison--and now visiting professor at Indiana University--a former source for my reporting who helped engineer my removal from a Facebook group when he detected opposition to my reporting from some of its members. (In these later reports, I will also discuss the growing consensus among journalists that sources who lie to reporters can waive confidentiality and "off the record" agreements.)
1. To me, it seems absurd that a professional complaint against a journalist would include a private, albeit frank and sharp, email exchange between a reporter and an academic he had asked to comment for an article he was doing. But so be it, as Clancy obviously has her perspective on what happened, and I have mine.
A little background: I have long admired Kate Clancy, and still do in many ways, for the critical research she and her colleagues did on sexual harassment in academia and her continued advocacy for victims and survivors of harassment. (Clancy is also well known for her research on human reproduction.) I have known Clancy since 2015, when I began work on the Brian Richmond case for Science. The previous year, Clancy and three other colleagues had published a groundbreaking study of sexual harassment in field-based sciences such as archaeology, anthropology, and paleontology, which showed that such misconduct--which largely, although not entirely, targeted women--was rampant and was having a strongly deleterious effect on academic careers. The Survey of Academic Field Experiences (SAFE) was enormously influential, and also gave a big boost to science journalists who were beginning to do #MeToo reporting, more than two years before the Harvey Weinstein cases made that a household word. For reporters such as Azeen Ghorayshi at BuzzFeed, Amy Harmon at the New York Times, Jeff Mervis and myself at Science, and others, the Clancy et al. study made clear that that the individual cases we were investigating were part of a much larger pattern. Indeed, I cited the SAFE study in my Richmond story and have continued to do so up to the present.
Thus, when I asked Clancy to comment about Title IX for a major 2016 sexual harassment investigation for The Verge, which involved the Smithsonian's Natural Museum of Natural History and Texas Tech University, I was happy that she obliged me. I sent the story to Clancy, who responded about only one aspect of it: That I had truncated a quote she had given me. As all reporters know, complaints about supposedly being misquoted are a very frequent occurrence.
In the New Complaint, this episode is discussed but turned on its head to say that I felt wronged by "a perceived lack of credit or praise for [my] reporting." In coming to this conclusion, the NASW Review Committee ascribed thoughts to me that I had not expressed; nor could the Committee have known what I was really thinking other than be reading the emails that Clancy provided to Brookshire as part of the Original Complaint. As I told Clancy at the time, I was keenly disappointed that she had not said anything about the importance of exposing very serious misconduct at two institutions, nor about the victims of that misconduct, and instead had focused on a relatively minor issue concerning her quotes--she had, in my view, "centered" herself, something she has accused me of doing many times since.
In fact, I was really astonished by Clancy's failure to express any sympathy at all for the survivors who had come to me and asked these stories to be told, including one, whom we called "Angie," whose story of sexual harassment at the Smithsonian had led to the uncovering of a long tradition of abuses at Texas Tech. This pattern, of criticizing my reporting methods while ignoring the survivors who have come to me so many times asking for help, has characterized Clancy's public attacks on me for several years now. While I have never questioned the sincerity of Clancy's advocacy, I did begin to wonder if careerism and her own public image were at least a part of her motivation (the accusation, more or less, that she began to make against me publicly the following year.)
2. Remarkably, in the remainder of the New Complaint, the Review Committee--despite supposedly investigating the allegations for more than five months--never seems to have looked into the history and context of the dispute between Clancy and me. Instead, the complaint jumps forward nearly four years to 2020, ignoring Clancy's calling me a "garbage person" in 2019 (see previous post) and her talking about my "bullshit" in September 2020 after the Hilary Leathem events. The Review Committee also seems to have been unaware, or at least did not consider, the public attacks on me in November 2017 during the Holly Dunsworth episode (both the Leathem and Dunsworth events will be covered in subsequent posts in this series.)
Thus the Committee, and the NASW board in approving this complaint, failed to exercise due diligence and to make a fair inquiry, and to consider on its own--since I was not allowed to participate in the process until the Committee had actually arrived at a conclusion--that there might have been important context for what had gone on. In fact, between 2017 and 2020, I only very infrequently responded publicly to Clancy's attacks on me, even though I knew about them in most cases. Friends and colleagues sometimes asked why I did not do more to defend myself; I explained that I was following the counsel of those who argued that doing so would only attract more attention to Clancy and invite more attacks.
3. Beginning in September 2020, I did, however, begin to respond to Clancy's public attacks, sometimes by subTweeting and then by increasingly naming her publicly. And, as explained in previous blog posts, once the Original Complaint was made public, I felt I had no choice but to mount a defense. This was not just for the sake of my own reputation as a journalist, although that was very important to me, but also for the sake of the survivors who had put their trust in me and who felt they were rendered invisible when Clancy and others tried to discredit my accurate reporting about abusers.
Why does this all matter?
In future posts, I will delve more into what I see as the real issues here. It's not just some kind of personal spat between me and Clancy, nor is it really about my "mistreatment" of survivors--I have already dissected those accusations in previous posts and I will do much more along those lines very soon.
Rather, as I will try to show, #MeToo reporting in academia has generated a backlash, not just among abusers who would be expected to object to being exposed, but also among some colleagues who prefer to keep the movement on a rhetorical and advocacy footing and feel very uncomfortable about the outing of specific individuals. Why would they feel that way? Because outing abusers almost invariably upsets power structures which everyone in academia, no matter how sincerely motivated to fight abuses, has had to negotiate to get where they are. And when a reporter concentrates largely on one academic field, such as anthropology, the degree of upset can be quite dramatic, as major scientific figures with big labs and lots of grant money are exposed.
There are a lot more issues to explore, including the mob mentality that sometimes leads scientifically trained academics to believe things they are told simply based on the status and prestige of the person doing the telling, rather than seriously evaluating the truth of allegations that find their way onto social media or the whisper network. Please watch for future posts in this series for more detailed explanations of just what I mean.