I have a confession to make. I’m black.
I’m a black guy with black parents and black relatives and even some black friends. I also work at Morgan State, a historically black university. And since we’re keeping it 100, I’m the political editor at The Root, which you are reading right now, and which was co-founded by, and is still editorially run by, black people.
Writing about black culture, life and politics in a compelling and nuanced way makes some people anxious. In fact, a certain strain of nonblack liberal journalists, the kind who complain about “identity politics” and “establishment Democrats,” find all of this blackity blackness suspect and dangerous, and go out of their way to undermine it.
Some of those very people at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The Intercept wrote about me, called me a liar and tried to discredit me, all because they didn’t like a story I wrote. I gave them some time to clean it up, apologize or make amends—they didn’t—and now it’s time to clap back.
On Oct. 5 I wrote a piece about the Georgia Democratic gubernatorial primary called, “Black Stacey vs. White Stacey: A Lesson in Race Politics From Georgia.”
The main idea of the piece was that in this post-Sanders-vs.-Clinton world, black Democrats like Stacey Abrams often face two parties: Republicans and white Democrats (like Abrams’ opponent Stacey Evans) so obsessed with “working-class voters” (i.e., Donald Trump supporters) that they marginalize or even attack rising black Democratic stars. The Nation ran a piece, “The Obsession With White Voters Could Cost Democrats the Virginia Governor’s Race,” which tapped into similar themes this week.
This is a conversation that many nonblack liberals want to stifle at all costs. Consequently, a boy band of reporters and wannabe political commentators—Greg Bluestein at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Zaid Jilani and Lee Fang at The Intercept—felt that it was their dirtbag-left duty to shut me up.
In my piece, I wrote about the whisper campaign in Georgia that candidate Stacey Abrams is a lesbian, a rumor stoked in part by the campaign of her opponent Stacey Evans.
A few days later, on Oct. 10, Bluestein questioned my quotes and stated that I was an Abrams “supporter.” This was based on no evidence other than—I don’t know—I’m a black guy? Who writes for a black site? An assumption that is not only unprofessional but also the racially journalistic equivalent of “I thought all black people knew each other.”
That same day, Zaid Jilani from The Intercept decided to give Bluestein a signal boost by posting the hit piece on Twitter and claiming that I hadn’t “fact-checked” my work, despite failing to point out what “facts” were in dispute.
Neither of them called me to clarify or discuss with whom I spoke for my story, a normal professional courtesy among journalists. Even worse, if one is going to throw shade, at least have the courage to @ The Root directly.
Then came the best part. I got the following email at Morgan State University:
From: Lee Fang <email@example.com>
Date: October 6, 2017 at 7:54:59 PM EDT
Subject: ~~MPIArequests~~ MPIA Request
Office of the President
Attn: MPIA Request Dr. Don-Terry Veal, Chief Of Staff
Morgan State University 1700 E. Cold Spring Lane Baltimore, MD 21251
Dear Dr. Don-Terry Veal,
I’m a reporter for The Intercept. I would like to a file a request under the Maryland Public Information Act. Per the Morgan State website on record act requests, please see below:
Name: Lee Fang
Address: First Look / The Intercept 604 Mission Street - 7th Floor San Francisco, CA 94105
Specify the records that you are requesting: I am requesting a copy of all emails, including attachments, sent by or received by Professor Jason Johnson (Jason.firstname.lastname@example.org) containing the word “Abrams” or “Evans” during the 2017 calendar year. I would also like to receive a copy of all emails, including attachments, between Professor Johnson and the following individuals: Stacey Abrams, Sinclair R. Abraham, Caitlin Highland, Priyanka Mantha, Danny Glover and Lauren Groh-Wargo during 2017. If possible, I would like to view the emails in electronic format.
Journalist Lee Fang (also from The Intercept) sent a Freedom of Information Act request to the university for my emails. While it’s common for professors and academics to receive FOIA requests, let’s be clear: Fang was not reaching out to me as an academic. He wanted to know what I was doing as a journalist, and as journalistic standards go, this is about as out-of-bounds, despicable and cowardly as you can get.
FOIA requests are a tactic used to expose vast corruption, dirty cops and human rights abuses, not to snoop after other journalists who say things you don’t like. I guess Fang was hoping to find some type of nefarious collusion between me and the Stacey Abrams campaign (which is ironic, since I thought The Intercept didn’t believe in collusion).
I’m surprised that Fang thinks I’d be dumb enough to communicate with any political source on my work email. That’s Journalism 101. He might need to retake that class; I’ll save him a seat when I teach it next fall.
I honored the FOIA request, but I didn’t have anything to give him because there was nothing to give.
I am all for journalists rigorously challenging each other in search of the truth, but to use such over-the-top methods to attack a fellow journalist about one little Democratic primary seems like overkill. My beat is black politics. What’s their motivation?
Is is just a coincidence that gubernatorial candidate Stacey Evans, Greg Bluestein and Zaid Jilani all overlapped at different times at the University of Georgia? Or that Zaid Jilani worked at the same college paper Bluestein did? Or that Zaid and Fang both interned at ThinkProgress at the same time?
Is it a coincidence that in the same week that my column ran, Fang sent the FOIA request, followed by Bluestein writing a hit piece and Jilani tweeting that I was a liar? Are they just a bunch of frustrated Bernie Bro friends working as attack dogs for Stacey Evans under the guise of being journalists?
But, wait, there’s more! Does the fact that Bluestein suggested that Marcus Ferrell, former Abrams campaign staffer (and former head of black outreach for the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign), was up to something after appearing on a Kremlin-backed news station discredit his journalism?
Does the fact that Zaid Jilani left his job at ThinkProgress (an arm of the Center for American Progress) after a series of disputed anti-Semitic tweets, and believes that “identity politics” fuel the right wing, make him less legitimate?
Is Lee Fang just a liberal hack with a penchant for error-riddled and misleading reports, topless pics and smoking weed?
Does the fact that all of these men seem to be particularly caustic when writing about people like Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams and Samuel Sinyangwe while giving similar white politicians a pass make them a bunch of condescending, liberal, anti-black racists?
Or, maybe, association isn’t causation. That just because I’m an African American writing about black politics doesn’t mean I am a surrogate for every black person about whom I write.
Just like the fact that Bluestein, Fang and Jilani have a history of attacking black campaign veterans, politicians and journalists doesn’t mean that they’re a bunch of smug, racist trolls.
Just like the fact that because they have overlapping educations and careers doesn’t necessarily mean they actually know one another and are working in support of Stacey Evans.
You see, I can play the baseless innuendo game, too, but I’ve got receipts.
Editor’s note: Attempts to reach Zaid Jilani, Lee Fang and Greg Bluestein before the posting of this story were unsuccessful.