We’re going to tell you a little story about Adam Serwer of MSNBC. But first, we want to make a few things clear:
A number of highly professional, ethical, and hardworking journalists were given press passes to the wildly successful First International Conference on Men’s Issues on June 27 and 28, along with its warm-up, a press conference on June 26. Many of those reporters asked hard, even uncomfortable questions and published critical but reasonably accurate pieces. Even reporters who weren’t there were able to do the serious work of seeking us out to ask questions and get clarifications; take, for example, this highly negative piece, which, whatever its flaws, the reporter actually took the time to contact us to ask serious questions, even if he gets a few things wrong in our opinion. We may take issue with some reporters’ conclusions, we may think that they have missed some important questions they should have asked, but overall they clearly did their jobs as professional journalists.
So there’s an important message about AVfM we want to make clear here to the press before we talk some more about Adam Serwer of MSNBC: We don’t care if you’re critical of us. We don’t care if you think we’re evil; although we’re not. We don’t care if you think we’re wildly wrong about things either; in a country that at least purports to embrace liberal democratic values, people should be free to think whatever they want. We don’t care if you like us or what we have to say. Challenge us on any point, tell us we’ve got our facts wrong if we do, even call us names if you want. But know this: We are a part of the media universe, and you do not, and will not, exclusively control the narrative. You are citizens entitled to free speech and free press, and so are we. And you are subject to criticism, just like we are.
If you lie about us, we will call you on it publicly. A press pass isn’t a free pass to abuse us or our supporters. The privilege of a press pass comes with the basic duty to cover the event like a journalist—otherwise you wouldn’t have been given one. If you get in free to cover an event that many people paid hard-earned money and worked long hours to be part of, only to fail basic Journalism 101 due diligence, that press pass will be revoked and your ass will be thrown out. If you abuse a press pass and then fail to do the basic work of asking questions and requesting clarifications before you write about something, or fail in your duty as a journalist by twisting, distorting, and misreporting, you and everyone you know will be hearing from us. As will the general public.
So. With that made clear, we will repeat that there were a number of journalists given press passes to our conference who did their jobs. There were three who did not, and who instead chose to lie to a national audience, embarrass their editors, and abuse the privilege that a press pass grants. And one of these three was rage-filled Adam Serwer of MSNBC, part of the NBC Universal corporate juggernaut.
Multiple conference attendees noted that Serwer was antagonistic, sneering, and hostile during the event—the very picture of what “unprofessional” looks like in a reporter. Now, in fairness, none of the conference presenters reported this behavior—but that may be because, so far as we can determine, Serwer did not ask a single question of any of the presenters he wrote about, even though all of them were available pretty much all day for any questions or clarifications a reporter might seek.
Other reporters sought out our presenters to ask them questions and request clarifications before they wrote about them. Adam Serwer of MSNBC did not. Journalism 101 fail.
Serwer did talk to random attendees though. In those cases, sometimes at least, Serwer was visibly shaking with rage, refusing eye contact, clenching fists, and spitting out questions in almost robotic fashion, as if he’d rather punch people than talk to them like human beings. Many of us also watched him apparently collaborate online with Time‘s Jessica K. Roy on a hatchet job instead of asking questions of the presenters he was busy writing about.
Both conference attendees and online viewers reported being absolutely flabbergasted at Serwer’s “reporting.” They compared this error-filled piece of Adam Serwer’s yellow journalism with their own conference experiences and the online videos of the event and openly asked, “Was he even in the same building?”
Well, we saw him there, so we can confirm that he was in the building at least part of the time, though he doesn’t seem to have asked the staff or presenters much of anything.
Adam Serwer’s offering of journalistic tripe is so full of prejudices and errors we don’t even know where to begin. I mean, it’s tempting to ask him why on Earth he thinks a recent Supreme Court decision about employers paying for women’s contraception has anything to do with our event, since we don’t control the Supreme Court and men have no real birth control options in today’s world anyway. But that would just be a distraction from the main issue: Adam Serwer of MSNBC lied to a national audience, and disgraced MSNBC and its editors and producers, with ideological axe-grinding apparently more important to him than doing his job. Worse yet, this error-laden piece led to, among other things, this bizarre segment on MSNBC’s “NOW with Alex Wagner.”
Now, this piece by Alex Wagner and her comedian buddy is gobsmackingly shallow in its own right. I mean, my God, even though one of her assistants (Allison MacDonald, who at least purports to care about civil rights and equality just like we do) called me to ask for some video of the conference, and emailed back and forth with me throughout the day about it, all Alex Wagner apparently chose to do was trash-talk us using Adam Serwer’s ridiculous yellow journalism as her primary source. They didn’t even try to talk to Dr. Tara Palmatier or learn to pronounce her name before trash-talking her to a national audience, in what sure looked like a case of classic relational aggression/bullying to us.
And yes, for the record, I offered to put them in contact with Dr. T. or any of the other presenters if they wanted it, and they chose not to before running their segment. And Alex actually thinks men have more reproductive rights than women? Really, Alex? What color is the sky on the planet where you come from?
But this article isn’t about “NOW with Alex Wagner” really; they just relied on Serwer’s error-filled hit piece, and they weren’t the only sources to do so. For example, the perpetually enraged screed-writer TBogg of The Raw Story used Serwer’s misreporting practically verbatim.
In case you don’t think we do any due diligence of our own, let’s make another thing clear: we wrote to Adam Serwer of MSNBC before we ran this article you’re reading in order to give him a chance to issue retractions, clarifications, expand on any points, or respond to any complaints we might have, or to point to anything we might have misunderstood. After Serwer sent us an email over the weekend asking questions we consider to be none of his business, I emailed him to let him know I had questions of my own and asked if he would be willing to respond to them. He did not answer. The next day, Sunday, I emailed him those questions, along with a copy to another member of the MSNBC crew, asking him to either answer by end-of-business day on Monday, July 7, or at least ask for an extension if he needed more time.
As of mid-day on Thursday, July 10, he has not responded. Here’s that email:
from: Dean Esmay [email address redacted]
to: “Serwer, Adam (NBCUniversal)” [email address redacted], Allison MacDonald [email address redacted]
date: Sun, Jul 6, 2014 at 4:02pm
subject: Questions for Adam Serwer and his employer, NBC Universal
Mr. Serwer, a few questions we would like answered before we go forward with our piece profiling you and your reporting, as well as subsequent on-air reporting on us on MSNBC’s “Now With Alex” which, amongst others, like The Raw Story, used your reporting as the basis for their own stories:
1) You opened your piece by claiming that at our conference, “feminists were ruining everything.” Who exactly said that to you? Or is that something that you merely perceived, and if so, what led you to believe feminists were ruining everything? We wouldn’t agree that feminists were ruining everything, so what makes you think it?
2) You noted that Erin Pizzey called feminism an “evil empire.” Did you at any time bother to ask her what she bases that on? She would tell you it has to do with literally billions of dollars in government and private donations that go into programs and organizations dedicated to ideological feminism; did you think to ask her or anyone else about this? If you did not ask anyone why they see feminism as a multibillion$$ empire, why did you not ask, or ask us to name any of the ideological organizations that receive this money? If you did ask, why did you not print the responses?
3) You also called Erin Pizzey’s criticism of one particular politician, Hillary Clinton, “overtly partisan.” Can you explain how an English woman who cannot vote in and does not live in the United States can be partisan about a US politician? Furthermore, can you explain how criticizing one particular politician is partisan in your eyes? When Barack Obama criticized Hillary Clinton in 2008, was he being “overtly partisan?” Please elaborate on how criticizing one politician is partisanship.
4) You reported “over 100 attendees” at the conference, but the correct figure is over 250. Did you bother asking anyone about that before running that number, which makes the conference look smaller than it was?
5) You claim in your piece that “What animated most of the speakers at the conference was feminism and how it needed to be defeated.” But here is complete video of all the speakers:
Anyone watching can see that many of the speakers did not mention feminism at all, and of those who did, most only mentioned it in passing and some acknowledged openly that there are feminists who are widely admired in our movement. Why did you therefore report that feminism was the main topic when it was not?
6) You wrote, “Although generally understood as an ideology of equal rights for women, at the conference such feminists were called “equity feminists,” discussed the way Democrats might refer to “sane conservatives” or Republicans to “good liberals.” In other words, a largely fictional exception whose purpose is merely to define the whole as extreme. Feminists, for many of the speakers, were the enemy.”
This is clear opining, not reporting, on multiple levels. We were given to understand you were there as a reporter. We are confused: did you misrepresent yourself as a reporter when your mission was to inject your ideological preconceptions and prejudices onto us, in which case we would have charged you for a ticket? Do you claim journalistic integrity, or merely that your piece for MSNBC was an opinion piece only and should not be subjected to fact-checking or used as a reliable source on the conference’s events? In short, were you reporting or opining? If it was opining, please explain why anyone is using it as a journalistic source. If it was not opining, please explain the errors mentioned so far, and the ones I will mention later:
7) Do you consider yourself a feminist? If not, why not? If so, how do you think this may have affected your reporting and your ability to give a factual, honest account of our conference to your readers?
8) You reported, and I quote you here, “the audience laughed when speaker Fred Jones mentioned his fears about his son being raped after being arrested in New Orleans.” Video of this is available free online and clearly shows that, in a room of over 200 people, Jones was giving a rousing, moving, passionate, and funny speech, then suddenly stopped and mentioned his worry for his son—and the entire room grew quiet, with nothing heard but a few obviously nervous and uncomfortable and confused laughs. You could have otherwise heard a pin drop. He then quickly moved on to other subjects and back into more inspiring motivational material. Any sane person present or watching that video can verify this, and that your reporting was therefore highly misleading. Do you wish to apologize now for your slandering of the conference attendees, or issue any form of clarification or retraction?
9) You wrote, and I quote you, “At the conference, feminism was responsible for turning wives against their husbands, bleeding them dry in divorce proceedings and separating them from their children, levying false accusations of rape and abuse against good men, or creating an ever-present culture of hatred where men are vilified.” You correctly quote Mike Buchanan* as having such an opinion. Others issued very different opinions, and in fact I can tell you that would not be anything close to an accurate representation of my opinion or that of others I work with, although most of us would see some truth in some of it. Why did you report in a way to lead readers to believe this was the position of the entire conference or its organizers?
10) You quote Dr. Tara Palmatier, who has written extensively on her humorous concept of the Golden Uterus Syndrome, as being, “fleece your ex-husband in divorce court and take assets you didn’t earn, you deserve it, take that bastard to the cleaners, force a man into fatherhood with an accidental pregnancy, hey, if he wouldn’t commit, sometimes you gotta push him into it.”
Yet this does not describe how Palmatier has repeatedly described Golden Uterus Syndrome, and as this video of the presentation clearly showed, what she said was, “I believe men are more susceptible to gender-shaming because of our mother-centric culture. If a boy is raised to believe it’s his job to make his mother happy and please women, he will be more susceptible to shaming tactics. If he was raised to make his mother happy and his mother was abusive, he will be especially susceptible to gender shaming tactics. Meanwhile, we have removed the stigma and shame from bad female behavior. We now view behaviors that were once shunned in women as acts of female empowerment. Being a bitch or a female [garbled] is considered a sign of strength in women. Being promiscuous is an act of female empowerment. Demanding to be treated like a princess is condoned and encouraged. We deify mothers, even the bad ones, to the point where it has become what I call The Golden Uterus Syndrome.”
This is actually what Dr. Palmatier has frequently described—humorously—as Golden Uterus Syndrome, which can easily be verified by just asking her or looking at her online writings. By any chance did you think to ask Dr. Palmatier any questions at all about her presentation or what she meant before you ran this quotation in the way you did?
11) In The Raw Story, firebrand opinionator TBogg of FiredogLake fame wrote that you, Adam Serwer, “drew the short straw” implying you were in some group he knew of who were to potentially be sent to the conference. This raises three questions: a) What exactly is your relationship with TBogg, b) why would he imply that he, you, and others were in some kind of circle of journalists who might have to attend the conference and you were just the unlucky one, and c) since you were apparently TBogg’s sole source for the misreporting of the entire conference as being about blaming women, or blaming feminists, when anyone watching or attending the conference can see it wasn’t (again, see here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLHLREeMe4S0OmV_BYAfWNWi0qQzu2FWzK ), do you plan to issue any clarifications or retractions so that others relying on you as a source will be able to give a more balanced view of the conference and its attendees?
12) Attendees, including one professional journalist who was there who asked to remain anonymous for the purposes of this reporting, described you as frequently hostile, shaking with rage, asking questions in robotic and even sneering fashion of attendees. Others, who you also wrote on, report that you did not talk to them at all. Can you explain to us if you were angry while you were at our event, and what exactly you were angry about? Do you feel you may have anger issues that may have tainted your reporting? And again, do you feel that what you were doing was reporting or just opining?
13) MSNBC’s Alex Wagner, apparently using you as a source, claimed that at the conference the message was that “every single one” of men’s problems were the fault of women and/or feminism. The video of the entire conference shows that this is clearly, and unequivocally, untrue. Wagner even blamed us for inventing the word “rapey” when the only use of it we can recall was by Dr. Palmatier who explained how much she hated this word. Did you have any direct contact with Alex Wagner or her production staff before they aired their ridiculous hit piece here? And do you have any opinion, at all, on whether it was appropriate for MSNBC and/or Alex Wagner to run this piece without themselves interviewing Dr. Tara Palmatier or any of the other conference presenters to get their opinions and their takes? What is your relationship with Alex Wagner and her staff, if any?
I have CC’d a member of Alex Wagner’s staff so she can see these questions and ponder them herself. Please note that we will be running our profile on you and your reporting this week, along with a profile and report on two other journalists who we believe egregiously misled their readers to a national audience, and that if we don’t hear from you by end of business on Monday July 7 we will print that you had no response at this time. If on the other hand you feel you need more time to formulate a response, please feel free to let me know.
And Allison, if you have any further questions for us, please do feel free to reach out, before we do our piece on what we feel to be Alex Wagner lying to a national audience about our conference, its presenters, and its attendees.
Thanks much, hope you’re both having a good 4th of July weekend.
As of now, we assume Adam Serwer’s response is “no comment” until we hear further from him.
For now, we will close this sorry story of the unethical, unprofessional, and just plain dishonest reporting of Adam Serwer of MSNBC. We will just repeat for the rest of the press: we don’t hate you; indeed, we don’t hate anybody. We do hate lies, and if you lie about us or our supporters, expect to be called out on it, publicly, and without apology. We’re as much a part of the media as you are, and you’d better get used to it.
- Two errors in the original email, Erin Pizzey gave the searing opinion of feminism, not Mike Buchanan, who tells us that that statement is not one he would make although he sees some truth to it, and we accidentally sent Adam a link to all the videos in the part where we meant to give him Dr. Palmatier’s video, though he could have found it himself with less than a minute’s effort anyway.