The Journalist's Guide to Fact-Checking a GamerGate Story
May 23, 2015
Recently a woman named Brianna Wu, who made $13,000 a month on Patreon for doing nothing, wrote an article claiming #GamerGate made death threats against her.
She claimed no prosecutor cared about her story, because misogyny.
Several bloggers, including some who claim to be journalists, ran with Wu's story. A fellow by the name of Cory Doctorow entitled his breathless article, "Brianna Wu uploads Gamergate death threat to shame Ohio prosecutor."
There was, of course, a major problem with the story. As kids on the Internet say, "Y'all posting in a troll thread."
Yes, that's right. Wu lied. She never called the police to report the "death threats."
When the prosecutor whose hatred of women caused him to ignore Wu was contacted - not by journalists who wrote about the story, but by concerned citizens - they learned Wu never actually called the prosecutor she lied about to tens of thousands of people.
(As Wu has been caught making threats against herself, it's likely she never reported the threat as that would be a felony. You can blog about death threats you made against yourself all day. But once you call that hoax into a prosecutor, watch out.)
It appears to me Mr. Doctorow never took journalism classes. I'm going to explain to Mr. Doctorow and other journalists how they can perform some basic fact checks.
Step 1.When someone claims a prosecutor has ignored her complaints, do this first:
Contact the prosecutor.
This cannot be overstated. Before destroying someone's reputation, you reach out to them. You know? This is just basic human decency.
Surely Mr. Doctorow has some human decency. He simply did not know how to contact the prosecutor who he falsely accused of ignoring complaints a woman reported to him.
Step 2. Google the name of the prosecutor.
Google is a website that allows you to type in stuff you want to learn about. For example, in her article Wu wrote, "The death threat you can hear in this tape comes from Columbus, Ohio. The prosecuting attorney in that district is Ron O’Brien. If he wished, he could bring criminal charges against this man by the end of the day."
When you go to this website called Google and type "Columbus Ohio Ron O'Brien prosecuting attorney," you receive what's called a "search result."
As you can see, the search result displays Ron O'Brien's web page. It has his contact information and everything!
Step 3. Click on this "search result."
This is important. You must click on the search result in order to obtain the contact information required to contact the prosecutor.
When you click on this search result, you are able to see the prosecuting attorney's contact information.
Step 4. Send an email to the prosecutor. (Or call him or her.)
Prosecutors are usually called State's Attorneys, Prosecuting Attorneys, or District Attorneys. It varies based on state.
Don't let the formalities slip you up. You can use "Mr." or "Ms."
Here is a sample e-mail to send off:
Dear [put the prosecutor's name here]:
Hello. I'm a reporter for [insert the publication's name].
It recently came to our attention that your office had not been giving any attention to death threats received by [Brianna Wu/Anita Sarkeesian/Zoe Quinn].
On what date did [insert name of professional victim] contact your office?
Why has your office not responded to the complaint?
Games Pro Journalist.
Step 5. Write your article.
Include the prosecutor's comment or non-response.
If the prosecutor gives you a comment, provide that comment.
If the prosecutor blows you off, include that in your story. Write something like, "As of press time, the prosecutor's office has not issued a comment."
As you can see, this website called Google is a big help.
I encourage Cory Doctorow to reach out to me if he would like to learn more about how Google works.