Wednesday, December 12, 2018

On the Tablet Women's March Story

As you've no doubt seen, Tablet published a long investigative piece on the Women's March organization -- covering turmoil in the ranks, weird patterns of money moving around, how the current leadership rose to power and attempted to consolidate its position, and, of course, antisemitism.

Others will no doubt offer more in-depth commentary, but I wanted to give some quick blush reactions to the main themes:

  • This was, on the whole, a well-reported and professional piece. It was not a drive-by, and it was not a hit job. Kudos to the authors on that.
  • I know the antisemitism portions of the article are the sexiest, but I think some are over-extending from the evidence presented. The claims of explicit, overt antisemitism by WM leaders tended to be thinly sourced -- either relying on inference or on accounts by persons unwilling to go on the record. The claims of implicit or negligent antisemitism -- or simple indifference to the needs and concerns of Jewish stakeholders -- were by contrast very well-supported. The latter, of course, is on its own well-worth criticizing.
  • Despite diligent efforts by the authors, it was hard to follow the parts of the article focusing on where money was and wasn't going, or suggestions of improper organizational structures designed to benefit certain insiders. On the whole, the conduct described was the sort where I couldn't really get a bead on how abnormal it was vis-a-vis other like organizations. Were these the sorts of claims you'd could dig up on any decent-sized non-profit if you dug around long enough, or is WM a uniquely bad actor? I couldn't tell.
  • The evidence that the Women's March was linked to Nation of Islam personnel for use in their personal security was relatively well-established. This linkage, of course, casts new light on why the Women's March was so markedly reluctant to condemn Farrakhan. And it is also striking given the conversations occurring on the left critiquing increased police presence in, e.g., synagogues, because of how such presence impacts communities targeted by police violence. The same argument, of course, applies to how queer or Jewish persons must feel knowing that Women's March security relies on a group like NoI. Either Women's March leaders thought about that parallel, or they didn't -- and neither option is all that great.
  • We already knew about serious tension between Women's March national leadership and regional or "rank-and-file" operatives, and this article definitely provides additional support for those who think that some in the former category are really running the ship ego-first, if you will. It definitely seems that some of the leadership viewed Women's March more as their personal fiefdom and launching pad to greater personal glory than as a grassroots, member-led women's organization that wasn't About Them, per se.
Finally, this wasn't in the article, but the response of the Women's March PR flacks -- offering to send journalists a "fact-check", but only if they wouldn't publish it(!?!), while demanding that journalists take down tweets referencing the Tablet story -- has to be one of the biggest own-goals in crisis management we've seen in contemporary journalism. It is the laughing-stock of journalistic Twitter, and -- to the extent the Tablet story suggests the Women's March organization is in disarray and deeply unprofessional -- has done massive work buttressing that narrative.

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