By now, most of you have read the Buzzfeed report regarding Milo Yiannopoulos getting stories for Brietbart from sympathetic liberal journalists. Specifically, one of these journalists was a Sarah Lawrence alumni that graduated around the same time I did. Predictably, he’s been fired from his position (as he deserved to be), but the heat has mostly been on him. There are, of course, other journalists who emailed Milo. But most of them are veterans whose work does not relate to feminism, and have probably noted that journalism has become undervalued. In their own way, they’re raging at the system that screwed their careers. Still, this is what happens when a writer gets too big too quickly. They get full of themselves and think they’re invincible.
But the issue with what this particular Sarah Lawrence alumni did is that they took advantage of their position. They touted certain values as a semi-public figure, but had other ones in private. That’s not to say that’s unprecedented (do you think Trump believes everything he says?) but it’s bad if you set yourself up as a moral authority. It’s even worse if you represent marginalized groups, and try to give voices to the voiceless through your writing.
As a writer, this can be an incredibly difficult line to walk. Writing is frustrating for most writers, and the biggest way to gain traffic online is to generate controversy. That’s true whether you’re blogging or writing for The New York Times. But that doesn’t mean that making friends with someone’s values you profess to hate publicly is okay. He isn’t the first journalist to be cajoled by Milo — and he sure as shit won’t be the last. But you’d imagine having Sarah Lawrence education would make you less susceptible to that.
Then again, when a writer gets too big, they don’t see it that way. They see themselves as bigger than the culture wars surrounding them. I’ve never been a big writer myself — although I was a video game journalist, have written for some big publications, and have a graphic novel coming out next year. But I do know that not experiencing a meteoric rise has kept me grounded. I don’t think about my writing career in terms of a ladder, but in terms of a path that I’m always walking.
As my mentor at Sarah Lawrence told me, “a writer is someone who writes.” That doesn’t mean that a writer can’t or shouldn’t have aspirations. But it does show that when a writer gets too big, they’ll quickly turn on their own values. Or even worse, they’ll co-opt values in order to get bigger and bigger bylines. And with that kind of social climbing, you’re bound to fall clear off the ladder.