The Cocky World of Sophia June

When she was a little girl, her daddy probably called her “princess.” Or at least he treated her like one.

She went off to her first day of kindergarten in clean clothes and a smile of anticipation, captured in a photo by a mother who loved her very much. Her father ran a construction company and provided well for her.

Sophia June grew up in a comfortable, white household in the white state of Oregon. She graduated from the University of Oregon with a degree in journalism and gleefully returned to her hometown of Portland – home to the very best in microbrews, cannabis, food carts, strip clubs and progressive politics. The good life.

She had done a bit of travel, enough to let her probably think she had seen some of the world, enough to give her a steady rotation of Facebook photos that would elicit envy from her friends.

And she could show off what passes for a safe political statement in Oregon:

For an “America party,” she went dressed as money in a low-cut dress with a dollar sign on the front and a photo of Barack Obama pinned to her cleavage.

“Obama should be on a bill,” she declared.

“i like your tits in that top,” replied a friend. (The friend is an assistant editor at Penguin Random and not in Donald Trump’s league so no harm done.)

Sophia June decorated her Facebook page with the correct white-privilege accessories, like a poster of black rapper Notorious B.I.G. smoking a blunt. For all her privilege, she could still get down.

She had a steady support group of college-educated, white professionals to lean on and a job as Web Editor at the alternative weekly, Willamette Week. Everything was going as planned in Sophia June’s world.

Until Donald Trump got elected president. What the fuck? (The f-word is popular at alternative newspapers. It separates them from the mainstream media.)

Sophia June was hit hard. How hard? In an election story at Willamette Week, “The Nightmare Comes True,” which sought to blame Trump’s victory on “economic resentment and the rise of white nationalism,” she disagreed with a comment I posted under my name. She made this comment disappear:

“The media cannot say with certainty why the vote went the way it did. Virtually all of the media’s predictions were wrong.

“White nationalism? Explain how a black Republican U.S. senator was elected last night from South Carolina. First black senator since Reconstruction.

“You might want to take a look at the media’s performance, and see how it contributed to Trump’s victory.”

I included this link: http://www.heldtoanswer.com/2016/11/media-trumped-tribalism/

My comment was up long enough to draw another commenter’s affirmation: “Well put.”

But a few hours later, when I checked to see how the conversation was going, my comment was gone and so was the affirmation. There was not even the usual notice “This comment has been deleted” when something has been removed for violating policy.

At first I dismissed it as a technical problem. As the day wore on, I became suspicious and e-mailed Willamette Week’s News Editor Aaron Mesh. Had my comment violated a policy? He didn’t know and said he would forward my email to the moderator who handles comments.

Editors have better things to do, so the next day I simply reposted my comment and added this: “Note to moderator: You deleted this comment yesterday. Don’t do that again. If it offended someone, tough.”

Part of me wanted it to be a technical problem, because I love journalism and want to hold a high opinion of journalists.

But after I reposted my comment, the moderator – Sophia June – weighed in with a response that gave herself away: “Saying that white nationalism doesn’t exist is extremely offensive and racist and makes people feel unsafe, Pamela. Sorry to break it to ya.”

Her title is Web Editor at an alternative weekly, and she can’t tolerate a dissenting opinion? I replied:

“And sorry to break it to you, Sophia, but the world is an unsafe place and always has been. Try to learn from Hillary Clinton’s example. She didn’t get where she is by trembling and whimpering.

“You, dear ‘journalist,’ are the reason why the media totally blew it in this presidential race. You should have been asking questions with an open mind. Instead, the media pack practiced ‘fill-in-the-blanks’ journalism that supported their own biases.

“Life is full of surprises, Sophia. You better start getting used to them.”

I could almost hear the tears in her voice when she replied: “This surprise just really hurts.”

Good.

Maybe a slap in the face (rhetorically speaking, of course!) will force her to examine how smug and self-absorbed her life has become. Journalists are supposed to listen, observe, ask questions – not assume they know what’s best for the rest of us.

Willamette Week’s news editor apologized for the censorship, but I have to wonder how many other comments Sophia June wiped off the website on that first day after Trump’s election.

By the second day, she was forced to leave comments up that she clearly disliked. She responded with her own replies, which is fine. She has a right to her opinions, and many commenters enjoy jousting. But Sophia June’s replies revealed a shallow, self-righteousness that would be barely tolerable in a high school journalist.

A commenter under the name “Matt” posted a long, thoughtful explanation of why someone would prefer to vote for Trump (even if they didn’t like him) and concluded: “Other than that, it is disappointing to read articles like this and read the comments. It reinforced my belief that we (Americans) are narrow minded and lack a world view. Try putting yourselves in the shoes of people in third world countries and civil wars where your life is in danger every day and getting basic needs met is a daily concern. Our Trump problems are minimal in comparison.”

That brought this stunningly ignorant comeback from Sophia June: “If you voted for Trump, you’re racist and sexist and there’s not really much more to it than that, Matt.”

Former Rolling Stone reporter, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, was just as cocksure when she wrote her 9,000-word story “A Rape on Campus” two years ago detailing the graphic gang rape of a University of Virginia freshman named “Jackie,” who was allegedly assaulted by members of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity.

The story prompted protests of University of Virginia administrator Nicole Eramo (who had been portrayed as showing cruel indifference towards “Jackie”), vandalism of a campus fraternity and outrage among rape activists. The story also quickly unraveled, and Rolling Stone was forced to retract it and apologize.

Earlier this month, a jury found Rolling Stone and Erdely guilty of defamation. Jurors believed that Rolling Stone and its writer had acted with actual malice, a tough legal standard to prove. It means the defendants either knew that the information published was false, or they acted with reckless disregard for whether it was true or not.

In other words, they didn’t care if the story was true. It fit their agenda.

According to the Washington Post, attorney Tom Clare presented evidence that Erdely “had a predetermined notion of what her story would be, discussing the concept of the story that became ‘A Rape on Campus’ well ahead of her reporting, including a note describing how college administrations can be ‘indifferent’ to rape survivors.”

Erdely and Rolling Stone’s  “preconceived story line” needed a villain, and university administrator Eramo was cast in that role.

“Once they decided what the story was going to be about, it didn’t matter what the facts were,” Clare said.

This is fill-in-the-blanks journalism. There are no surprises in fill-in-the-blanks journalism, nor is there much truth.

I wish Sophia June a long life filled with many surprises.

– Pamela Fitzsimmons

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