So you remember that dubious screenshot (see the bottom of this post) that appeared on A Voice for Men, and that I wrote about last week in several different posts? The one that looked like the most obvious fake in the history of obvious fakes, but that AVFM’s managing editor Dean Esmay insisted was the result of some sort of weird computer glitch?
Well, it looks like he was actually telling the truth. And I owe him — and A Voice for Men — an apology for suggesting otherwise.
This means that Esmay’s seemingly far-fetched explanation of how that screenshot came to be posted on AVFM — which I sort of made fun of a little bit here — is actually starting to sound fairly plausible. This does not mean that he’s been completely honest in his handling of this whole thing. Far from it.
The seeming proof that the screenshot was not the result of forgery but of a glitch came out in a strange and backwards way, and for those interested I think it’s worth going over the details.
Last week, you see, Jason Gregory, the author of the original post on AVFM that started this whole controversy (read more about it here) wrote a long, angry, and rambling tirade about my posts on the subject. I figured I might as well use the opportunity to see if I could get him to answer a few of the questions I still had about the whole thing, and started posting in the comments there.
This didn’t go so well, at least at first, and he more or less refused to answer anything I asked. Esmay himself showed up in the comments in a similarly less than forthcoming mood. In one long rant, which quoted extensively from the lyrics to “Head Like a Hole,” by Nine Inch Nails, he declared:
Let us make no bones about it: Futrelle is not mistaken. He is not stupid. He is evil, and his readers are generally 1) lowbrow idiots, 2) raging hatemongering bigots, and 3) careerists whose income is threatened by any threat to their ideology. He feeds on and profits from all this, dancing on the backs of the poor, the disenfranchised, the powerless–and innocent children. He’s not just a sadistic bully, he’s a sadistic professional bully. And like all bullies, he’s ultimately a coward and runs and obfuscates whenever he’s caught, which he has been here, repeatedly. …
“Bow down before the one you serve, you’re going to get what you deserve.”
And what he deserves is a lonely death, unmourned and unloved in some obscure hospital bed many years from now, knowing that he was a pathetic opponent of basic human rights, to be looked upon like we look upon the flunkies of HIram Evans or the defenders of the Apartheid regime, whenever anyone bothers to think of him at all. That will be his life’s legacy.
There’s more of this there, much, much more.
But — critically — after a bit of prodding from me and from a couple of other critics there, Gregory posted a video that showed him searching for “violence against men” and getting search results for “violence against,” just like in the screenshot that I had assumed was faked. (His screenshot software is screwy here, but what’s going on should be clear.)
It’s not clear why this happened — one commenter suggested it might be the result of a computer virus, but Gregory has rejected this explanation — and Gregory says he’s only been able to recreate this glitch on a few occasions. Most of the time when Gregory searches for “violence against men” — as another of his videos shows clearly — he gets the proper results, with no glitches.
But if this explains how the screenshot got made, it doesn’t quite explain why he sent it to Esmay, with a note saying “I admit it. I have no idea how search engines work. Here is a screencap from today after searching ‘violence against men.’”
Gregory says he sent this “as proof of my confusion about my search results,” though it’s not clear to me why he would send these atypical results and not mention that most of his search results were normal.
And Gregory has still not explained why he made the false claims in his original post.
On his own blog, in his original post, he has removed his original claim — that searching for “violence against men” gets you mostly search results for “violence against women” — and replaced it with a much less dramatic claim — that searching for “violence against” gets mostly results relating to violence against women.”
On that page, he describes these changes as a “correction,” a clear acknowledgement that he was wrong. But he is so allergic to answering questions from me that he simply refuses to say whether the incorrect claim in his original post was a mistake or a deliberate lie. I will be charitable and assume it was a mistake.
Esmay, despite his tirade against me, was actually been a bit more forthcoming with answers when I approached him via email.
At this point I am reasonably convinced that he wasn’t deliberately committing fraud when he used Gregory’s misleading screenshot as evidence supporting his rather unconvincing theory that Gregory’s original post — which Gregory himself has disavowed — was “really” right, and that the problem was simply that Google had changed its search formulas after AVFM published its post, so that searches about “violence against men” stopped returning results relating to “violence against women” and started returning search results actually relating to “violence against men.”
But if we reject fraud as an explanation, the only explanation that really makes sense is incompetence, with a side order of wishful thinking. We’re talking about a supposed “editor” who got an email with a screenshot that was clearly said to have been taken “today,” and who somehow convinced himself that it was taken weeks earlier. And then didn’t notice that the search results didn’t actually match the search term.
It certainly wouldn’t be the first time that someone at AVFM let their ideology make it impossible to see what was right in front of them.
In an email, I asked Esmay directly why, when Gregory handed in his revised version of his post (which replaced his incorrect assertion about the search results for “violence against men” with a correct assertion about the search results for “violence against”) he didn’t simply run this corrected version?
Here is his unedited answer:
Ha, I didn’t even see his revised version of the post, I was doing about five things at once. The way Gmail shows certain things also added a bit to that–although it’s not Gmail’s fault, it’s mine– it showed me a big ol’ image with a little bit of text written by Jason. So I skim, see a couple things from JG expressing dismay and consternation and thought “all right all right I’ll get to it” then BOOM a big screen shot came in. So I rushed in an “update” like a dumbass. That’s what hurrying will get you, and then others followed my lead and assumed I must know what I’m doing.
What we’d originally published matched things I’d seen many times before in casual conversaton showing people things like it. As an amusing bit of trivia, a few weeks ago I did a search on YouTube, looking for psychotherapist Tom Golden’s “Men Are Good” channel and the search results first showed up “men are good for nothing” as the #1 result. I find this sort of thing so common I just rolled my eyes and moved on, briefly thinking it was worth mentioning in a piece somewhere but probably not worth a whole article. Was composing an article about this sort of thing in general in my head the last few weeks but after this debacle I went and tried the same search again on YouTube, and it doesn’t do that anymore and more reasonable shit shows up. It doesn’t shock me, although I am pleased. Search algorithms change constantly and the churn of new info on the internet is incredible these days compared to what it used to be. And yes, like it or not, AVfM is big enough now that when we write about something, it changes what the search engines do.
So he ran a post making a literally unbelievable assertion — which proved to be wrong — without factchecking it, but after people pointed this out he decided that it was probably right anyway in the past because he vaguely remembered that when he made a somewhat similar search himself he sort of got results that were sort of analogous to the search results Gregory said he got in the story he has now disavowed.
And then Esmay basically ignored everything from the author of that story — including the disavowal — except the one thing that seemed to back up his own theory, even though it was a weird screenshot caused by a glitch that didn’t reflect anything other than that glitch.
AVFM’s TyphonBlue has made a video that basically corroborates Esmay’s account and suggests that she was the mysterious “green editor” who actually posted that screenshot.
But even though the screenshot appears not to be a fraud, Esmay’s various explanations are filled with contradictions and, well, it’s hard to call them anything but lies.
Now — in that quote above — he claims to have merely witnessed similar results to Gregory’s original claims from similar web searches.
But in his last public explanation he suggested he had in fact done the exact same search and gotten the exact same results, with the only problem being that he hadn’t taken screenshots:
The fact is that I did witness the Google behavior I mentioned in Update 2. … It’s pathetic, really, to make this much out of this little. But Dave Futrelle has been given this opportunity because I personally failed to take and include a screen shot before publication … .
There are other, well, inconsistencies. If Gregory only sent over this one screenshot, why did Esmay post on AVFM that he had “found” multiple screen shots to back up his story and prove Gregory “100% correct?” When I asked him this directly, he provided this explanation:
I honestly don’t specifically remember but I’m pretty sure it was the same damn thing. Stupid really. That’s what rushing will get you, although my real intent was to write up the way these things really work at the likes of Google, how quickly things can change, and so on.
“Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity,” they say. I have seen plenty of both from AVFM in the past, but in this case I think it’s clear that it is stupidity that predominated.
NOTE: Here’s the original screenshot that caused so much trouble for everyone: