Imagine the worst parts of Gawker, the New New Republic and the terribly hip Vice with an overwhelming web interface you’d have to scroll through and you would have a good idea of what The Outline is. Publications, including legacy outlets such as The New York Times and The Guardian, are slowly becoming a special class of people that have the breadth of a student rag you find in the corners of your campus food court, while deluding themselves in thinking they’re counter-cultural Woodward and Bernsteins on social media. The Outline, conceived as a left-leaning, anti-establishment webzine, turns out to be no exception. They’re no strangers to writing takedowns — mostly of conservative and pro-Hillary centre-left commentators — and it gets them so much plaudits from DSA- loving Twitter users.
Recently I had a tweetstorm about a piece published on the Outline, and thought it was beyond comprehension in how awful it was. Penned by Gaby Del Valle, the piece headlined “Conservatives Love Playing The Victim” is a take down of the webzine Quillette. Their explicit suggestion is that the website is right-leaning, but that they’re making conservativism edgy.
For those who are unfamiliar with the piece’s subject of ire, Quillette is a webzine that’s specialize on unorthodox perspectives in politics, science and culture. Founded by Claire Lehmann, the site has received acclaim from big name scientists such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Jordan Peterson, and Steven Pinker. Personally, I think the website have a consistent run of online writings that’s better than average. While it does have a bout of publishing ‘campus crazies gone amok’ stories too much that it becomes exhausting, every article I come across still keep me reading from beginning to end. Quillette is not a conservative website that Gaby wants her readers to believe, for the same reason Reason is not a conservative website. While it has contributors who are conservative in the philosophical sense, it publishes articles that defends psychedelics and internationalism. For every review on a book about Title IX failings, a critical review of Mark Lilla’s The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics comes along. Any argument that they’re condoning the alt-right is debunked when they publish, in my opinion, the most comprehensive look on the movement.
The hitpiece is a package of typically shallow tropes you see in modern commentary and journalism; ‘alt-right’ and ‘centrist’ are used as insults, women and minorities are brought as shields while ignoring many who had contributed to the site, excessive guilt by association and mocking the malevolent comments section and paints it as the site’s audience. If Gaby and The Outline’s goal was to cut short the attention that Quillette received, then they need to do a better job. Pet issues on genetics and IQ, sex differences and free speech are dismissed in broad strokes as ‘conservative/alt-right’ talking points, not only to mislead you, but to convince readers that the people who are willing to discuss them on that website are bigots.
The tweetstorm was the most attention I’ve ever had received on Twitter, primarily from contributors of Quillette who immensely retweeted it. But there’s another problem: this isn’t even a piece getting worked up over. Not because it was bad — it’s unreadable of course — but because this is what the Outline wants. I was retweeted by the author, who sarcastically thanked me by my display name. That she’s satisfied and I and a dozen of people aren’t is revealing about this scenario.
While I still stand by many of my tweets defending Lehmann and the site, I felt that calling out the piece rewards The Outline, fulfilling that sense of righteousness that many online publications crave. You could slip up and be the bait of the troll while they are immensely in the wrong. Gaby is one where she can attack Quillette, while her Twitter is littered with excessive childlike irony and create a write-up defending a horrible person like Linda Sarsour. A person this juvenile should not be a staff writer of a ‘serious’ website, but the game in which snarktimony and anger is predominant in online discourse, ensures that she is still going to be here.
Funnily enough, after a limp kicker that tells Lehmann and the website’s readers ‘triggered much’, an article from the website “A GUIDE TO CONSERVATIVE PUBLICATIONS” is then linked at the end of the piece. From what I’ve glanced, that piece already got a commotion with the author’s Twitter tribes. One conservative commentator got pissed, but the rest of its audience devour it heartily into believing they’re the correct people.
Oliver Traldi, a contributor to Quillette, tweeted that after writing a piece at National Review, only the people he criticizes gave it attention out of misquoting. He then said it best that exposure to hot takes gives these outlets power the outrage had already convince them that they’re the winners. The Federalist, for example, is a site that I often see called out on Twitter for the number of conservative hot takes it publishes (they’re beginning to resemble a Salon for the Right). While they have some smart people working there, there’s no doubt they’re satisfied by how much hate the site gets from people screenshotting their inflammatory headlines, not giving their article’s quality a chance.
No one’s actually interested in talking about ideas, because that can’t sell better and it’s a bland proposal, in and of itself. Of course, Quillette’s brand is to give a platform for out-of-the-water ideas that aren’t given one in other platforms, but that doesn’t have as much longevity as The Outline, where issues such as intersectionality and post-colonialism, are already accepted by many in academia and the media as a solution to societal ills. It’s genuinely hard to communicate them and not expect it to be the fuel of its fire.
Did The Outline expected this snowball of anger unleashed for one of its pieces? Yes, they did. But they don’t rely only on angry clicks from people calling them out on their nonsense, they have an audience that’s extremely cultish who would devour it instantly. It didn’t really matter if they weren’t coherent. Emotionally driven SEOs are the main goal. While The Outline and many other publications from the Left and Right should be called out for a lack of integrity, it should be starved to death through indifference. But it won’t because blanket indignation is an inescapable drug.