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Why Journalists Can’t Always Tell You What They Know

We're not trying to keep secrets from you

In the grand tradition of the Friday night news dump, a tweet from a former Twitch employee has set the internet alight with speculation that, at long last, we’ve finally found out why streamer Guy “Dr Disrespect” Beahm was banned from Twitch in 2020. Have we? No. Why not? It’s complicated.

It’s worth pointing out that people have run with who they think the tweet is referring to without the tweet ever referring to anyone by name. Cody Connors, previously a strategic partnerships account director at Twitch, wrote, seemingly out of the blue, “He got banned because got caught sexting a minor in the then existing Twitch whispers product. He was trying to meet up with her at TwitchCon. The powers that be could read in plain text.” Speculation that the “he” here referred to Disrespect ran wild over Twitter. Disrespect responded to one quote tweet of Connors by writing, “I get it, it’s a hot topic but this has been settled, no wrongdoing was acknowledged and they paid out the whole contract,” which only fueled the speculation.

Earlier today, Disrespect responded further to the rumors, tweeting, "Listen, I’m obviously tied to legal obligations from the settlement with Twitch but I just need to say what I can say since this is the fucking internet. I didn’t do anything wrong, all this has been probed and settled, nothing illegal, no wrongdoing was found, and I was paid."

(Update, 6/25/24, 2:17pm--Following reports from The Verge and Bloomberg, Dr Disrespect has made a statement on Twitter saying in part, "Were there twitch whisper messages with an individual minor back in 2017? The answer is yes. Were there real intentions behind these messages, the answer is absolutely not... Nothing illegal happened, no pictures were shared, no crimes were committed, I never even met the individual. I went through a lengthy arbitration regarding a civil dispute with twitch and that case was resolved by a settlement. Let me be clear, it was not a criminal case against me and no criminal charges have ever been brought against me.

"Now, from a moral standpoint I'll absolutely take responsibility. I should have never entertained these conversations to begin with."

Midnight Society, a game studio Disrespect co-founded, terminated his involvement with them on Monday. Sponsor Turtle Beach cut ties with him on Tuesday.)

It must be stressed, for reasons I’ll get to, that nothing that's happened serves as actual confirmation of why Disrespect was banned from Twitch, and that this whole conversation is rumors and conjecture. In my corner of Twitter, the response was less one of shocked revelation and more a sigh of relief. Journalists and games industry figures, including Aftermath’s Nathan, seemed to agree that they’d heard similar things, but no one had reported on it. As my Launcher colleague Mikhail Klimentov wrote in his very good newsletter on the topic, “The responses from journalists, industry insiders and gadflies also seemed to suggest that behind the scenes, some kind of alleged impropriety relating to a minor had been the going theory for some time.” 

This response, of course, led to some asking the fair question: If so many people seemed to know about this, why did no one say anything? Mikhail does an excellent job breaking down the why across his newsletter:

The truth is that inasmuch as it may seem that the story has advanced, we’re really still on square one. There’s a reason what we think we know came in the form of a vaguepost. Every journalist wants to be the one to nail this story — if it’s true. But not a single one has gathered the requisite sourcing to make it happen.

Mikhail enumerates the requirements: identifying more than one first-hand source inside Twitch, and then getting them to talk to you in the face of the legal and professional risks, and how “one ambiguous tweet falls far short of the standard journalists aspire to.” Nathan tweeted a more personal insight into this, writing, “All of the sources I spoke to were secondhand. They were not in the room when it happened, nor could they provide documentation. In other words, this is NOT confirmation. Until somebody who actually pulled the trigger either comes forward or talks to a reporter, we will not necessarily have the full or true story.”

If you’re a journalist, this all makes sense to you: you know what goes into a story being publishable, and you’ve probably had stories yourself that, for one reason or another, couldn’t clear that bar. But if you’re not a journalist, these “open secret” vibes might hit differently. One response has been outrage over the possibility that journalists were more concerned with capital-J Journalism than protecting a minor; another has been the insinuation or potential perception that journalists in the know could have been protecting Twitch or Disrespect’s reputation through their silence. 

If you’re a journalist, or an avid newsreader, these accusations probably sound ridiculous. And in games, a space where relationships between journalists, content creators, and audiences are hostile at the best of times, it’s easy to shrug off such ideas as just more of the bullshit we’ve been dealing with since 2014. But on Twitter, and now here, I take a more generous stance: I don’t know that I’d expect your average person, who reads games news and followed the Disrespect story but otherwise lives a life outside the news cycle, to look at all these people who seemed to be silently familiar with the rumor and say, “yeah, seems fair.” This surge of raised hands can read like braggadocio or bandwagoning, even if, as Mikhail writes, journalists “aren’t showing off. If anything, their knowing should be treated as a statement of humility (even if it doesn’t look like one at first blush).” 

I think these feelings are–at their deepest core if not their surface–fair, because journalism is fucking weird. It plays by standards very different than those you employ in your everyday life when telling other people about things. It uses language in arcane ways–”anonymous” doesn’t mean what you think it means; there’s an entire ritual around the concept of “on” or “off” the record; and none of us even have the same definition of what “background” is. Concepts like “objectivity” or “journalists aren’t activists” further muddy the waters, alienating readers (see: The New York Times) and gatekeeping journalism itself, keeping diverse journalists out of the field when they can’t or won’t play by standards created by old, wealthy white men. While waning media literacy certainly plays a role in the hostility between journalists and readers, journalism as an institution isn’t doing itself any favors. It’s a tendency we try to counteract here at Aftermath, alongside other reporters and outlets who are transparent about their processes. But we have a long way to go before journalism is truly accessible to more people, both on and off the page.

This problem is compounded in a very particular way in games, where companies, influencers, and content creators insert themselves between readers and the news and fan the flames of distrust. For every People Make Games out there, there are countless more drama YouTubers or social media personalities who aren’t beholden to journalism’s standards. Many of these people have drummed up the idea that they’re more trustworthy than established journalists and outlets; while they are not, they can be more personable and move faster than journalists do, which can make them feel more relatable and exciting than an article full of dry “allegedly”s and “did not reply to request for comment”s. A personality might say or print something journalists won’t, creating the impression that they’re braver or more honest, or that journalists’ silence indicates an agenda. This is made more complicated by the fact that, in games, people frequently switch roles between journalist and PR and content creator, or exist in some middle space between them all. Journalists coming out of the woodwork to hold up the rules of their field can feel confusing when it’s hard to even tell what game everyone is playing.

And this is to say nothing of the universe of straight-up hatemongers and grifters out there, both in the past and right now, drumming up hate campaigns and red-stringing conspiracy theories to discredit anyone they don’t like, whether that’s journalists, developers, or players. These aren’t folks who are going to be reached by journalism explainers or swayed by arguments about sourcing. But even if a reader isn’t in their camp, the distrust and hostility they sow hangs in the air. It might be obvious that you shouldn’t trust them, but the sheer noise and chaos they create might make it hard to know if you can trust anyone

On Twitter, game developer Leena van Deventer raised to me the very good point that, journalism’s weirdness aside, it’s harder than ever to trust it in the wake of global news coverage like Palestine, where seemingly reputable outlets like CNN and The New York Times tout objectivity and spout bias in the same breath. Why does it seem like journalists will print and defend questionable stories about the October 7 attacks, but act extra careful not to get it wrong when it comes to some streamer? I honestly can’t say I have a good answer to that one, besides the fact that journalists and outlets aren’t a monolith, that we’re dealing in different beats with different audiences and different pressures and different editors with different priorities calling the shots. But the question points to a truth: these days, in more and more instances, you can’t trust the news, even news you thought you could trust. How do you figure out how to trust a journalist explaining why they didn’t report something when it can be so hard to trust them when they do?

We’ve gotten pretty far from a bunch of tweets about Dr Disrespect. I am satisfied by the explanations of why no one’s published anything about this rumor it might feel like everyone but you has heard, but I would be: I’m a journalism editor, who has been the manager of people pursuing this story, and have been party to decisions of what to run or not. I would not run a news story based off Connors’ tweet, though other outlets have, couching their headlines with all the words journalists use as talismans in hopes of not getting sued. (The piece you're reading now is not a news story, another very journalism distinction with its own unique form in games, in one guise of hostile readers calling everything a "review.") At the least, I’m sure Connors’ tweet has redoubled the efforts of journalists pursuing this story to keep pursuing it, though that’s no guarantee it will ever see print. 

But I wouldn’t fault a reader for feeling baffled or frustrated by all this. I’d hope that you trust whatever journalists and outlets you go to for your news to do the right thing the right way. I hope that if they one day break that trust, they are transparent about the circumstances and that you hold them to account. (That goes for us at Aftermath, too!) The deeper issue, particularly in games, is bigger than “poor media literacy” or “journalists can’t be trusted.” It’s bigger than some tweets about a streamer, and it’s going to take all of us to solve.  

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