Posted in GamerGate, Media

The conflicts of interest of the journalists covering Zoe Quinn

In August 2014, Quinn’s ex made a long post about her in a Cringe-worthy breakup stories thread. This post included Quinn’s admission that she had an affair with Kotaku’s Nathan Grayson—a journalist who had written about  her.

This was the spark that caused a still-ongoing explosion, an avalanche of events spanning two years—events that a neutral party will have even more trouble following, since no souce universally recognized as neutral is available to get informed on them.

Let’s stick to just the conflicts of interest, and let’s stick to the facts. How many journalists covering Quinn did so without disclosing a conflict of interest? By my estimate, at least fifteen.

We knew about six conflicts of interest

I run a website called DeepFreeze.it. It’s a (clumsy) effort to file and index issues compromising the credibility of game journalists and outlets—relying, as much as possible, on verifiable factual data. One of its efforts is cataloging apparent conflicts of interest: journalists found, from public information, to have financial ties to subjects of coverage, to have an apparently friendly relationship… that sort of thing.

The site started off already populated with lots of entries, which I had simply taken from external sources and filed. A bit after DeepFreeze was launched, I had six conflicts of interest from journalists covering Zoe Quinn without disclosing a friendship or other tie.

  •  Of course, one was Nathan Grayson. This was acknowledged by Grayson’s Editor-in-Chief—in the infamous “Kotaku investigated Kotaku and found Kotaku innocent” post that claimed this was a nonissue because Grayson’s article about Quinn was not a review (?), and, anyway their affair had started about a week after the article. Even if that were true (circumstantial evidence seems to indicate it started a little earlier), it’s a moot point, since their relationship was very likely already strong enough to be a considered a CoI at the time of the article, and either way Quinn and Grayson were already on friendly enough terms to go out for drinks together two years before.
  • Another Kotaku journalist, Patricia Hernandez, Quinn’s ex-roommate. Fresh on the heels of the tremendous backlash faced for their response to the Grayson situation, Kotaku handled this one exemplary, publicly acknowledging the issue and disclosing on all articles. When publicly discussing their accusations of CoIs, it’s very common for Kotaku to bring this one up, to make themselves look better.
  • Leigh Alexander, now at the Guardian, seems to be on friendly terms with Quinn. Alexander doesn’t seem to consider covering her friends to be an issue, and has a boatload of entries on DeepFreeze.it—to the point that there’s a running joke about DeepFreeze being actually her blog.
  • Ben Kuchera, of Polygon, covering Quinn without disclosing he was financially backing her on Patreon. Polygon swiftly disclosed this one, and changed their policies to forbid its journalists from using Patreon.
  • Jenn Frank, who also was backing Quinn on Patreon and provided her with one thousand dollars to pay for an hotel room, on the Guardian. Guardian added a misleading disclosure, which only mentioned the Patreon.
  • Jonathan Holmes, former Editor-in-Chief of Destructoid. Has acknowledged the entry, discussed it fairly openly—stated the assumption that he’s on friendly terms with Quinn is an exaggeration.

All these entries were simply picked and filed without any intervention on my part except to check their authenticity. Despite what a lot of people think, I don’t really do a lot of research—I’ve fleshed out a few, but only found three or four issues on my own, and they were all accidental while I was looking for something else. That is, until last week or so.

It was easy to find nine more

The fact that DeepFreeze can actually exist is, in my opinion, only because the corruption situation in game journalism is extraordinary. I also believe that there is so much dirt that a lot of it is out there in the open, easy to find, but no one is actually bothering to look.

These past few days, there’s been a lot of talk about Quinn’s Crash Override Network. Leaks have shown that CON, an alleged “anti-harassment resource” which at the time of its launch received an overwhelming amount of very favorable press, was behaving fairly embarrassingly behind closed doors—and I decided to write about it here to give people some context. That brought me to research Quinn, stumble on a few of her old crowdfunding campaigns—saw a name I recognized, then another. Actually decided to stop a bit and give things a proper sweep.

Finalizing these social media “digs” requires a lot of effort, and I certainly spent a lot of time doing legwork, but there was no major investigative effort. At the end, I had nine entries.

  • First of all, Ian Miles Cheong and Katherine Cross were in the previously-mentioned leaks, so they were working together with Quinn while covering her.
  • I got a tip about Andrew Todd and Amanda Hudgins. Fleshed it out, turned out it was solid.
  • Aside from Cheong, the people I recognized on the crowdfunding were Cameron Kunzelman and Brendan Keogh, who I had already filed on DeepFreeze and turned out to also have a very solid personal relationship. I checked a name that looked familiar and he turned out to be Danny O’Dwyer, who made videos from GameSpot until last week or so.
  • Quinn’s fundraiser mentioned it was submitted to two sites. Other site listed Polygon’s Philip Kollar. Apparently, his friendly relationship and backing of Quinn (on Patreon, aside from the crowdfunding I found) was already well-known, but he hadn’t covered Quinn until later.
  • The one slightest bit of initiative I took was that, while researching Kunzelman, I saw he and Quinn had hanged out with Maddy Myers, who had also covered Quinn and met her multiple times, so I fleshed that out too.

I contacted all journalists involved, except Todd, Cross and Keogh, who I can’t contact on social media since they block me with a tool called GGAutoblocker—which automatically blocks people who follow certain accounts. Only Cheong and Hudgins responded, the first adding disclosures (good job!) and the second offering comments that I linked in the DeepFreeze entry.

This was just scratching the surface

Unless a journalist were to straight up say “yes, I covered this guy just because he was my friend!”, it’s impossible to prove an actual conflict of interest. What can be found by investigating social media and public financial backing are apparent conflicts of interest.

DeepFreeze’s built around evidence, and around the reader’s agency. Every page of the site says “Readers are encouraged to take entries critically, and form their opinion independently”.

Maybe some of these readers could look at these issues, and say that they’re not such a big deal. Maybe they’ll think Kollar hasn’t covered Quinn that much, or that O’Dwyer’s financial tie for a few dollars isn’t such a big deal. That’s ok, it’s the site working as intended. Still, it works both ways. Think how many conflicts of interest could have no public footprint, making them impossible to discover, or how many of those discovered could be deeper than it appears from public evidence.

I detailed above how these investigations were done to show how easy, how out in the open these issues were. I have a gargantuan pile of leads I have never had the time or the manpower to investigate—several on Quinn, as well. And, let’s keep in mind: I don’t do mainstream media, just videogame journalists.

My impression is that, for every apparent conflict of interest found, at least two go missed. And this time, we have fifteen.

Journalists and I

In August 2014, when Quinn’s ex made that post, Grayson’s conflict of interest was discovered, I was visiting 4chan’s /v/ board. My friends on /v/ had always had fun bashing game journalists, and they were having a blast with this.

Then Quinn claimed she had been hacked and was being harassed, and the journalists that had shrugged off Grayson’s conflict of interest were very quick to pick on that: that harassment became the news. Then the news, somehow, became that the people who were criticizing the blatantly corrupt gaming press were to blame for Quinn’s harassment. Then the news became that all gamers were essentially monsters, misogynists… a soon to be dead relic of the past.

I was part of the “girotondini” movement. We marched against war and against the corruption in the Italian government, against prime minister and media mogul Silvio Berlusconi. The press did all it could to depict us as few, meaningless, or even as rioters. and a documentary shows that Berlusconi had applied an unprecedented amount of pressure on journalists to achieve that. Journalists were under order to call us “disobedients”, and never “pacifists”.

I got ticked. I stopped watching, started acting. Eventually, I made DeepFreeze.

Harvest season

DeepFreeze updates at a glacier’s pace. A lot of the problems it has come from the fact that I barely have time to correct them. Busy with family issues, busy with real life problems, busy with work on our farm.

Grape harvest is in a couple of weeks. I’ll be busy with that, and I’m busy now. Thankfully, our fields didn’t get mildew, but a lot of our drying warehouse’s customers did, and I need to look around for someone else. Vineyard needs trimming, and I realized I forgot one of the lanes when I was giving the first pass. That lane didn’t even look so much like a jungle, more like an eldrich location with grapes—got two cuts in my hand while working on that.

Still, you know what? At to point, not even at my clumsiest, a journalist was ever forced to come to me, take my scissors and do my job for me, because I was so bad at it. This has never happened.

A journalist’s conflict of interest should be news. If not, fifteen on the same subject should definitely be. Out of the conflicts of interest filed on DeepFreeze—I lost count, I think we’re between 150 and 200—there must be one or two that warrant coverage?

And yet, most journalists—thank god there are exceptions—won’t tell you a thing. The only way you’ll hear about it, is on the barely-alive blog of an Italian farmer. Something ain’t right with that.