The Twitter trolls attacking my work are all wrong


“Dad, it’s not true,” I said, fighting to keep my voice steady through tears.

My 81-year-old father had just seen a Huffington Post headline — “Take Salena Zito Neither Seriously Nor Literally On Trump Voters” — with a picture of me next to it. The piece accused me of fabricating stories and omitting facts. None of that is true, but that didn’t stop the attack from ricocheting to every corner of political journalism’s Twitter-sphere.

It began days earlier with a story I wrote for The New York Post about President Trump’s followers continuing to support him after Michael Cohen’s guilty plea and Paul Manafort’s conviction. Facebook took that story down from my Facebook page, and others who re-posted it soon found it removed from their pages as well. With the story marked as “spam,” or not meeting “community standards,” I tweeted, then wrote about the experience.

That’s when things got worse. Within hours, an anonymous troll with an account created only a few days earlier went on the attack. The thread tossed false accusations that I withheld information from the book I co-authored this year. The troll and his followers alleged that some Trump supporters who struggled with their decision in the 2016 election and were profiled in the book are actually elected Republican officials who (in the trolls’ opinion) could not possibly have struggled with that decision.

First, that wasn’t true. Half the thesis of the book I co-wrote with Brad Todd, “The Great Revolt: Inside the Populist Coalition Reshaping American Politics,” is that Trump’s polarizing style causes many Republicans to fit uneasily, if at all, into his coalition. Many people in the book were profiled explicitly because they are Republicans, not in spite of it.

Within minutes, the initial Twitter attack was retweeted by other anonymous trolls and online bullies who have attacked my writing before — some continuously since I first reported in the summer of 2016 that this political shift was happening. They demanded that the publications for which I write, including The Post, the Washington Examiner and Crown Publishing, address their allegations or fire me.The idea that I owed anonymous trolls on Twitter an explanation for the straw-man argument they invented is utterly laughable. But soon enough two things happen. First, they swarm—these brave souls who like to anonymously harass women online prefer to do so in numbers. Second, partisan journalists looking for a scalp join in, which lends it credibility.

Soon the pile-on makes using Twitter miserable.

This is the sad state of American public and political discourse today. This is the state of social media.

The crux of the criticism of my writing, in hundreds of columns and in my book, is what Ashley Feinberg of the left-oriented Huffington Post wrote: “Much of her gimmick rests on the idea that her interlocutors are apostate populist Democrats who swung to the Republican Party.” Feinberg continued: “This is the story many conservatives prefer to tell about Trump — that he is a populist phenomenon, not the product of regular country-clubs-and-chambers-of-commerce Republicanism.”

Except that’s not my “gimmick” or my view at all. The book, and many of my columns in the run-up to the 2016 election and afterward, are not only about Obama voters who voted for Trump; they’re about the realignment underway in American politics and the changes making it happen.

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Transcript of an interview with Dave Rubbico

The book profiles seven surprising archetypes of Trump voters, four of those almost exclusively Republicans. These Republicans might have been expected to defect from Trump in a campaign that saw many Republican celebrities and opinion leaders do exactly that. Hillary Clinton ran ads featuring Republican testimonials claiming they were going to cross the aisle just this once; senators, congressmen and even the head of the Republican Governors Association denounced Trump.

One of those archetypes detailed in the attack of my work was Amy Giles-Maurer. The complaint is that I did not say Giles-Maurer was a Republican. Of course, I never said she wasn’t a Republican. And in a preview for the book published in The Post, my story is online with a large photo of her wearing a Kenosha GOP board pin. The idea that I was trying to hide her affiliation is nonsense.

Another similar criticism regarded Erie suburban mom Patty Bloomstine. My critics said Bloomstine could not go from Democrat to Republican between 2008 and 2010 — which shows that there are many people covering or observing American politics who don’t understand a swing voter who lives in a swing district and who feels squeezed by the leftward lurch of the Democratic Party on social issues. My critics should get out more.

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A transcript of the interview with Mathilde

Another example: My portrayal of Erie voter Dave Rubbico. Feinberg: “The problem here is with Zito’s characterization of Rubbico as some sort of swing voter.” Well, he says quite clearly that he voted for Obama twice, had voted Democrat all of his life, but by the second term had soured on Obama. Feinberg points to Rubbico’s disenchantment with Obama in a 2017 op-ed he wrote as proof he could not possibly be a swing voter. Feinberg and others can call a lifelong Democrat who swung his vote to the GOP in 2016 whatever they want, but “swing voter” is so obviously correct that it’s baffling we’re having this conversation. Readers and listeners can decide for themselves: The audio of my interview with Rubbico is included below.

Other accusations are more serious. One is that a teenager I interviewed named Mathilde couldn’t really have used the phrase “people young and old.” I record many of my interviews on audio tape, then send them to a transcription service. Those transcripts show that Mathilde did indeed use that phrase.

Another: In a February story for the Washington Examiner on Shannon Edwards, I’m accused of cribbing from a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette piece without crediting the Post-Gazette. In fact, the citation was removed during the editing process, I noticed and asked for it to be restored.

Enlarge ImageAnother: Folks who didn’t recognize the word “stagery” — a word I’ve heard repeatedly and used myself — insisted I’d made up an interview because a quote contained that word. That accusation is also false.

Some of the accusations, in addition to being malicious, are just lazy. I stand accused of misrepresenting the socioeconomic standing of people profiled in one article because the headline included the term “blue collar.” Obviously, reporters don’t write their own headlines, so this accusation tells you something about my trolls and the journalists who fell for the trolling.

The most interesting, and lasting, story of the 2016 election is not Russia or Facebook or Jim Comey — it’s whether or not Republicans, now at the apex of their political power, can hold the new Trump coalition together to win more elections. It’s an open question, involving a great deal of tension in holding old-school Republicans under the same tent as new, edgy populists. The jury is still out on whether that can happen; personally, I have my doubts. It will be news either way.

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Salena Zito’s notebook featuring the word “stagery” from an interview

And I will be on the road — just as I was, for more than 27,000 miles, to research my columns and the book — to find that news.

The upside of social media and the internet for me has always been that my stories could be read by a wide variety of people beyond my Western Pennsylvania base, or New York and Washington.

But there’s a dark downside to both, too: A lie can spread faster than the truth can ever catch up.

A few journalists, particularly those who rarely if ever leave the Washington Beltway or Midtown Manhattan, want to discredit my work because of what it reports. They want to silence the voices I listen to and record. They think of 2016 as a fluke, of the voters who elected Trump as victims of some mass temporary insanity. They don’t believe there really are Trump supporters who are complex, who defy traditional party lines, who are central figures in the good, bad and ugly aspects of what has and still is happening in and to America. They don’t just dislike such people, they dismiss and disparage them.

Many of those who voted for Trump in 2016 are people who stepped outside their comfort zones, whether as an evangelical Christian, a suburban mother, a long-time Democrat or a college-educated Republican. Many have seen their communities collapse while those in power — in both parties — barely seemed to notice, let alone care.

I have no personal stake in Donald Trump; his success or failure is up to him and the voters. But I do have a stake in my integrity as a reporter. I don’t report what I want to happen, or what I wish had happened. I report what is happening. And the Twitter harassment isn’t going to stop me.

Twitter trolls questioning my reporting won’t stop me;
Voir enfin:

Quand Donald Trump divise jusqu’au cœur des familles

REPORTAGE – Lynette Villano, 72 ans, est brouillée avec son petit-fils depuis l’élection de Donald Trump à la présidence en 2016.

Laure Mandeville
Le Figaro

Depuis le 8 novembre 2016 au soir, Lynette Villano, 72 ans, militante républicaine du comté de Luzerne, au nord-est de la Pennsylvanie, est au septième ciel: son héros, Donald Trump, qu’elle a soutenu «dès qu’il est apparu sur l’escalator de la tour Trump» pour annoncer sa candidature, est devenu président. Mais depuis ce même jour, elle porte aussi en elle une blessure familiale douloureuse, car l’événement lui a coûté sa relation avec son petit-fils. Les messages texto qu’ils ont échangés ce soir-là ont été publiés dans un livre tout juste paru du journaliste Ben Bradlee, The Forgotten, consacré au district électoral où elle milite.

«J’imagine que tu sais que je suis très heureuse aujourd’hui. Donald Trump est à ta génération ce que Ronald Reagan a été à la nôtre… Je suis si chanceuse d’avoir été partie prenante à ces deux aventures…», texte-t-elle, enthousiaste, à son petit-fils Connor Mulvey, alors que la stupéfiante nouvelle tombe.

«J’ai sauvé l’Amérique et j’en suis fière…»

«Donald Trump est un imbécile qui a surfé sur le racisme et l’ignorance de l’Amérique. Tu as raison, il est comme Ronald Reagan. Il va laisser ce pays en ruines et complètement ignorer les problèmes des minorités… Mes amis LGBT ont peur, mes amis musulmans ont peur, mes amis hispaniques ont peur. Mes amies femmes ont peur. J’ai peur… Félicitations, tu as abîmé l’Amérique», répond ce dernier furieux à sa grand-mère. «J’ai sauvé l’Amérique et j’en suis fière… À propos, j’ai aussi des amis LGBT, latinos et femmes qui soutiennent Donald Trump… Nous, les déplorables non éduqués, sommes beaucoup plus intelligents que vous ne pensez et on ne va plus continuer à tout avaler», réplique-t-elle du tac au tac. «Tu n’as pas sauvé l’Amérique, tu l’as damnée», dit le texto qui lui revient. «Jusqu’au jour de ma mort, je défendrai ma décision d’aider à faire élire Donald Trump… C’est une honte que le collège ne t’ait pas appris la courtoisie et la tolérance pour les idées des autres… Je t’aime et je suis fière de toi-même, même si je ne suis d’accord avec aucune de tes opinions», répond alors Lynette. Mais l’ultime réponse est sans appel. «J’ai vraiment honte. Tu es allée trop loin. Ton parti est devenu le parti du KKK et des néonazis», rétorque Connor.

Et depuis, plus rien. Plus de contacts, plus de fêtes de Noël communes. Les cadeaux que la grand-mère a expédiés lui ont été retournés. Connor et sa mère ne l’ont même pas invitée à la cérémonie de diplôme du jeune étudiant, malgré le fait que Lynette est garante d’un prêt qu’il a contracté. «Beaucoup de mes amis vivent des histoires semblables. Un couple a divorcé à cause de Trump, récemment. Certains amis ne se voient plus», commente Lynette.

«Les gens en ont marre d’être méprisés»

Cette inconditionnelle de Donald Trump, sympathique et énergique, nous a donné rendez-vous au café Rodano, à Wilkes Barre, petite ville minière tombée en désuétude, qui a été l’un des cœurs de la «rébellion trumpienne». Impossible de rater la grosse broche en brillants qui affiche le nom du président sur un drapeau américain, sur sa robe. «Je la mets partout», sourit-elle. Militante républicaine depuis toujours, cette employée auprès de l’Autorité sanitaire régionale n’est toujours pas revenue de l’aventure électorale et humaine de 2016. Elle dit que «tout a été extraordinaire». L’enthousiasme massif et immédiat, le flot de démocrates qu’elle a vu changer d’affiliation. Les meetings du candidat qui ont rassemblé 12.000 personnes à Wilkes Barre! Les files d’attente pour acheter les casquettes «Make America Great Again». Elle dit que le thème de l’immigration et l’idée de construire le mur ont joué un rôle clé dans l’engouement pour Trump, de même que sa personnalité haute en couleur. «Tout le monde s’est mis à s’intéresser aux débats!», raconte Lynette qui a été élue déléguée de Trump et surnommée «Mrs Trump». «La caravane des migrants va encore motiver ses supporteurs. Les gens ne sont pas contre les migrants, mais nous voulons un processus légal», analyse Lynette, se disant «exaspérée» par les accusations de racisme. «On n’a pas le droit d’avoir une opinion, se plaint-elle. On est tout de suite des nazis, des déplorables non éduqués… C’est franchement la raison pour laquelle Donald Trump a été élu. Les gens en ont marre d’être méprisés.» Pour elle, il ne fait aucun doute que les médias ont une responsabilité majeure dans le climat du pays. «Ils ne cessent de l’attaquer, quoiqu’il fasse. Nous appelons ça le syndrome de dérangement trumpien», dit Lynette, qui elle, voit tout le positif: «l’économie, les jobs, le mur»…

Quand on lui dit que Trump a une lourde responsabilité dans la spirale vertigineuse d’attaques, Villano réplique qu’il ne fait «que se défendre» et qu’elle adore ses tweets«parce qu’ils lui permettent de contourner le mur médiatique». «Nous, les partisans de Trump, ne prenons pas ses paroles de manière littérale. Il faut regarder ses actes. Mais la presse, elle, s’attache à chaque mot. Elle ne comprend pas son humour!», dit-elle. Lynette s’inquiète de l’émergence d’une génération, celle de son petit-fils justement, qui ne blague plus sur rien. «Les enfants ne peuvent même plus porter un costume de Halloween en se peignant le visage en noir sans être soupçonnés de racisme… C’est comme ce mouvement #MeToo. Ça va trop loin. On a tous des maris, des fils, voudrions-nous les voir accusés sans preuves?» Un discours dont on imagine mal qu’il puisse satisfaire son petit-fils Connor, persuadé que les femmes ont raison «d’avoir peur» sous Trump.

«Un dialogue de sourds»

«C’est un dialogue de sourds», constate le directeur de The American Interest, Jeff Gedmin, effrayé par le fossé idéologique et les nombreux cas de «familles en guerre». Clairement, les deux camps sont si campés sur leurs positions qu’il est difficile d’imaginer que les lignes de partage bougent, confie un responsable de l’Administration Trump, qui reste optimiste sur le résultat et un maintien des deux Chambres côté républicain, malgré des sondages favorables aux démocrates.

Lynette se dit «prudemment optimiste». «Le meeting que Trump a tenu il y a deux semaines était encore plus massif qu’en 2016!», dit-elle. Mais au-delà des élections au résultat incertain, elle s’inquiète du fossé qui grandit. «C’est la première fois que je peux imaginer comment la guerre civile a commencé en Amérique. Les passions sont tellement fortes», dit Lynette.