USA Today Piece Shaming Crowdfunding Targets the Unpopular

Alastair Pike/Getty Images Do journalists have an important role to play in crushing weak, unpopular Americans? Former Intercept chi...


USA Today

Alastair Pike/Getty Images

Do journalists have an important role to play in crushing weak, unpopular Americans?

Former Intercept chief Glenn Greenwald explored that topic in a Monday column responding to a USA Today story a day earlier. The story — authored by Brenna Smith, Jessica Guynn, and Will Carless — complained that conservatives were using certain fundraising websites to support some of the Americans who faced legal costs resulting from their participation in January’s unrest in Washington, D.C. In particular, its authors targeted companies including PayPal and Stripe for partnering with websites such as GiveSendGo, which bills itself as a “Christian crowdfunding site.”

The story “provided a road map for snitching on… these private citizens,” Greenwald charged, noting that those who had been raising money had yet to be convicted of anything. He added, “The USA Today reporters went far beyond merely reporting how this fundraising was being conducted. They went so far as to tattle to PayPal and other funding sites on two of those defendants, Joe Biggs and Dominic Pezzola, and then boasted of their success in having their accounts terminated.”

The subject became a topic on Twitter earlier in the day, after one of its authors wrote that it was her “first story” with USA Today. “Congratulations on using your new journalistic platform to try to pressure tech companies to terminate the ability of impoverished criminal defendants to raise money for their legal defense from online donations,” Greenwald wrote. “You’re well on your way upward in this industry for sure.”

Twitter’s employees tellingly opted to make Greenwald — rather than the story itself — trend on the platform by Monday afternoon, with messages accusing Greenwald of being “misogynistic” or “racist” quickly derailing the discourse.

His effort to broach the topic was nonetheless a laudable one, as valid questions exist about USA Today’s report. Among them: Why did it take three reporters to rehash public information?

Users received a total of $209,030 using the platforms in question, according to the paper. (That excludes $11 reporters said they sent through Venmo and a platform called Our Freedom Funding.) Of that figure, a public website indicates, $178,348 went to Brandon Straka, the 44-year-old “former liberal” who founded the #WalkAway campaign.

Considering the resources devoted to a rehashing of publicly available facts, readers might expect the report to include basic background critical to contextual understanding. On the contrary, authors omitted any mention of Straka’s relatively uncontroversial past prior to this year — including his role in founding the #WalkAway movement, and the fact that he spent nearly three years he spent as a frequent guest on cable television and speaker at conservative conferences, including CPAC.

Rather than being a hardened criminal, those details make it seem possible Straka made what some readers might deem a “mistake.” Of course, it’s hard to gather that from a story where he was described only as “a supporter of Donald Trump.” USA Today maintained that fact, taken in conjunction with his participation in January’s unrest, should apparently be sufficient to bar him from receiving aid or comfort from his fellow Americans, and to convict him without a fully-funded defense.

Left-wing Americans might applaud that position, but there is reason to believe that they, too, may face negative consequences if they seek to pile trouble on Americans who hold a certain political bent. “Nearly 60 percent of the people facing charges related to the Capitol riot showed signs of prior money troubles,” The Washington Post noted in a February study, “including bankruptcies, notices of eviction or foreclosure, bad debts, or unpaid taxes over the past two decades.”

As the Post was almost certainly trying to tell us, quite a few Americans suffering from economic hardship felt Trump would do more for them than the alternative. Will they feel compelled to recant their support for Trump if corporate America impairs their ability to climb up the social ladder by shutting them out? While we wait to find out, an ample number of studies exist to remind us that economic exclusion tends to correlate positively with crime rates and political radicalization.

GiveSendGo CEO Jacob Wells, whose platform was named in USA Today’s story, told me in a statement that he had a difficult time seeing the justice in targeting people who had not been convicted.

“Unless you believe only the wealthy should be able to hire a lawyer of their choosing, the argument they use falls apart,” Wells said. “Everyone charged with a crime has the right to an attorney. Under our Constitution, everyone has the right to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. We do not condone the behavior that happened at the Capitol , but we do believe that friends and family should be able to help someone charged with a crime to afford a legal team. Then let the legal system do their job of examining the evidence and making a judgement. It is a slippery slope when people are tried and convicted by the court of personal opinion.”

It “reminds me of the Salem witch trials,” Wells added. “Journalism is supposed to be unbiased, but most of the article was spent not even trying to hide the fact that USA Today thinks fundraising for legal fees is wrong, and they are out to shut down any processor that allows it. They… made donations to campaigns, then reported them to get them shut down. It’s bizarre to be a news outlet with that much unfiltered bias.”

It’s worth noting that having participated in January’s unrest is no prerequisite for becoming a target for some in modern media. The New York Times’ Taylor Lorenz has developed a reputation — over at least the last year — for trying to infiltrate online platforms, hoping she might hear someone say something that is at least mildly politically incorrect, and complaining when she’s banned. (In her overexcitement, she falsely accused Marc Andreessen of using a “slur” in February.) And CNN may have pioneered the practice of targeting unknown Trump supporters, including with the 2018 segment where it harassed a Florida woman at her own home.

The same reporters eager to ruin the lives of others lash out at anyone in their industry who speaks critically of the practice. “A senior USA Today editor actually emailed me to chide me for my inappropriate behavior — i.e., critiquing the journalism of the reporter they placed first on the byline,” Greenwald noted in his assessment. He added:

Journalists with these outlets wield immense power and influence. These are not the voiceless, marginalized, powerless people in society. They’re the ones who attack, expose and ruin marginalized people if they dare express political views of which these journalists disapprove.

When journalism turns its guns not on the powerful but on the powerless — descending as low as trying to prevent them from raising needed money for a legal defense — the contempt is well deserved. The demographic characteristics of the journalists doing this disgraceful, cowardly journalism is irrelevant. The only reason they even mention it is because they think they can weaponize it against their critics.

The media’s new business of targeting the weak and unpopular hasn’t brought any notable success to the industry. Newsrooms suffered from diminished revenue in 2020, and they have suffered from declining readership in 2021. They should take the hint by making an effort to return to the era of more substantive reporting, relying less on scratching the itch of viral outrage.

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.



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Newsrust - US Top News: USA Today Piece Shaming Crowdfunding Targets the Unpopular
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