Suppose you were sitting in your high school cafeteria trying to have a conversation with a friend when someone else who happened to see you over the weekend interrupted to tell you about that. Suppose that third kid was caught later that day spray painting an obscene message on the wall of the gymnasium. Would you think it fair if, on the basis of that cafeteria conversation, you were summoned to the principal’s office? That is what Tim Dickinson of Rolling Stone, once America’s premier pop culture magazine, is doing by accusing Arizona U.S. Senate candidate Blake Masters of lying about his support from Gab.com founder Andrew Torba.
The controversy arose when Masters and GOP gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake renounced Torba’s endorsement. Torba has been a major supporter of several Republican politicians from Arizona, including Representative Paul Gosar and State Senator Wendy Rogers—both of whom have welcomed his support. Masters also denied even knowing Torba, to which the Jewish Insider responded by sharing an audio clip of a Twitter Spaces conversation between Masters and Adam Korzeniewski, a former Trump Administration appointee to the U.S. Census Bureau. Raw Story also picked up on the audio. Left out of the story, however, was that Torba joined the conversation in the manner of a listener calling in to a radio talk show.
Oddly, Dickinson’s defenders have focused more on why Masters had spoken to Torba rather than his denial of even knowing him. Also left unmentioned is that Masters and Torba both had long careers in Silicon Valley. Masters is a protogé of PayPal billionaire Peter Thiel, while Torba was co-founder of Kuhcoon (later Automate Ads), a social advertising startup founded in 2011 in San Mateo. Torba founded Gab in 2016 after stepping down as CEO of Automate Ads, hoping to create an alternative to microblogging social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.
Because of Gab’s refusal to ban users based on eccentric or bigoted viewpoints, Automate Ads was soon crushed by a relentless campaign of digital harassment and sabotage by internet activists, to the point that the company could not function and was eventually sold.
As media reports have correctly pointed out, Torba has a problem with Jews and the Jewish religion. He is unapologetic in his belief that non-Christians should play no role in American government. But there is no evidence that Masters was aware of Torba’s beliefs before their exchange on Twitter Spaces.
Truth is, it doesn’t matter whether Masters “knows” Torba or not. Gab has millions of users, but it’s hardly a household name. Masters doesn’t even have an account there, even after Torba invited him to join. Yet most of Torba’s thoughts on a Christian-centered America live only on Gab or in emails from Gab News. In short, you would need to be a Gab member or subscriber even to be aware of them.
Previously, I’ve argued that journalists too often will demand disavowals and condemnations of controversial views and their proponents in the manner of interrogators demanding a confession. And even then, they refuse to take “yes” for an answer. In this case, Masters has repeatedly disparaged Torba and called him a “nobody,” only for the media to accuse him of either not being vehement enough or being too scripted. In reality, Masters should not have to disavow Torba or Gab at all. He never endorsed Torba or Gab in the first place.
But Tim Dickinson is typical of “gotcha” journalists who only see the world in terms of hypocrisy—or their perception of it, anyway. What would one expect from Rolling Stone, a magazine that went all-in on an egregiously flimsy rape hoax that ended up costing it millions of dollars in a lost defamation lawsuit? Such is the lame state of political reporting today.