I’ve long avoided using superlatives when writing about journalism. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t read an article in the legacy media and think to myself, “This has got to be the worst piece of journalism ever published.” Say one thing about the legacy media, they’re consistent in driving their standards lower.
Originally, the example I planned to feature as exemplifying appallingly bad journalism was this article in the New York Times celebrating a TikTok “financial educator” with no training or certifications charging $99 for a one-hour workshop to get this gem of advice: Buying Amazon stock is akin to “owning a grain of sand on Bezos’ beach.” I know there’s a sizeable group who shared my disbelief that the Times published such a thoughtless and irresponsible article because my LinkedIn post expressing my alarm seems to have found its way to every Wall Street firm. It’s comforting to know there are still some thinking people out there, particularly in high finance and money management.
Taylor Lorenz, whose “journalism” brand is currently on loan to the Washington Post, has made me comfortable declaring that her April 19 story about a woman responsible for aggregating disturbing videos featuring educators bragging about their sexualization of children on TikTok marks the bottom of modern-day journalism. It would be overly kind to say that Lorenz lowered the bar; she successfully removed it. That such a dishonest and sophomoric article made its way into the Post makes clear the publication’s leadership is inept. If the Post wasn’t owned by one of the world’s richest persons, its future would be far from certain.
If assigned to a capable journalist, Lorenz’s profile subject would have made for a fascinating read. Lorenz’s target was the previously anonymous woman behind the Twitter handle @libsoftiktok, whose identity Lorenz felt compelled to make public because “for all we knew, this could have been a foreign actor.” Intrepid Lorenz revealed the person behind the @libsoftiktok handle is purportedly an Orthodox Jewish woman who until recently sold real estate in Brooklyn and has since relocated to California, possibly Los Angeles.
According to Washington Examiner reporterJerry Dunleavy, Lorenz’s article originally linked to her subject’s real estate license, which listed her name, real estate numbers, possible physical address, and other personal details. WaPo’s editors apparently had a change of heart, or were possibly counseled by their attorneys, and subsequently removed it. Lorenz also reportedly misidentified the “Libs of TikTok” website when WaPo first posted her article.
Lorenz’s takedown of the woman behind @libsoftiktok dispenses with even the appearance of objectivity. What angers Lorenz is that the videos posted by @libsoftiktok routinely have found their way to FOX News’ Tucker Carlson, have been mentioned as noteworthy by popular podcaster Joe Rogan, and possibly played a role in the passage of Florida’s recent “Parental Rights in Education Act,” which is intended to prevent “classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity” in kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Lorenz spares her readers details about the videos @libsoftiktok aggregated and featured, just notes her subject’s objections to them. In a previous era, Lorenz’s story would have included what was known as the “To be sure graph.” This was an obligatory paragraph that put a story’s subject matter in a broader context and demonstrated that a publication was attempting to be fair and objective.
What’s missing from Lorenz’s story is this: “To be sure, most Americans, particularly parents of young children, would be horrified by the videos @libsoftiktok captured from the internet.”
Twitter has suspended @libsoftiktok for violating its vaunted “community standards.” I imagine ISIS and other terrorist organizations who are welcome on Twitter’s site might find the aggregated TikTok videos a tad offensive. You can some find some of the videos embedded in this New York Post article. According to Batya Ungar-Sargon, other aggregated videos included educators bragging about teaching toddlers to masturbate, teaching 6-year-olds that doctors sometimes misgender babies, arguing that 3-year-olds are old enough to learn about gender identity, or having a Q&A with students about coming out trans.”
Lorenz makes clear that she shoots first and asks questions later. She mistakenly confused an account with a similar name to @libsoftiktok and warned the account holder that “you’re being implicated as starting a hate campaign against LGBTQ people.” Lorenz noted that “I need to turn in my story today,” a comment that suggests she was more concerned about meeting a deadline than getting all her facts straight. That comment might not play well before a jury at a libel trial, but surprisingly the Post seemingly has a learning curve when it comes to mastering the ins and outs of libel laws.
In another indication that Lorenz rushed her story, at around 8 p.m. she gave Christina Pushaw, the spokesperson for Gov. Ron DeSantis, an hour to comment on being mentioned in the Post’s story. Lorenz possibly isn’t aware that Florida is a high-profile state very much in the news these days. At any given moment Pushaw likely has dozens of outstanding media inquiries to respond to, especially from dishonest corporate journalists looking to take her boss down. Underscoring the Post’s diminished national reputation, Pushaw responded to Lorenz’s comment request with a clown’s emoji.
Jordan Boyd, a writer for The Federalist, argues that referencing the person behind @atlibsoftiktok as being an Orthodox Jew was antisemitic, but I don’t buy that given the account holder publicly characterized herself that way. That said, the Orthodox Jews I know from Brooklyn would consider it an abomination to go on Twitter, given that lashon hara, or speaking badly about others, is considered one of the biggest sins in Judaism. Lorenz provides us no other details about the woman behind @libsoftiktok, leaving the reader to guess about her age, and whether she has a spouse or children.
Lorenz employs deft deceptions to make her point. For example, she describes Glenn Greenwald as an “online influencer,” which is akin to referring to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein as reporters specializing in burglary coverage.
Greenwald in 2014 was part of a team that was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for public service, in recognition of their reporting on the National Security Agency documents leaked by Edward Snowden. Foreign Policy Magazine named Greenwald one of the top 100 Global Thinkers of 2013. Greenwald has since gone rogue and become one of the leading critics of the legacy media.
Not surprisingly, Greenwald has no time for Lorenz’s brand of journalism.
I profiled Lorenz last month, noting that she regards reporters as brands and her disdain for journalists “still marinating in this old (journalism) system that’s kind of dying.” Lorenz also criticized “legacy newsrooms” of being dominated by “this cisgender, white, privileged kind of outlook.”
Lorenz, 37, grew up in Old Greenwich, CT, and attended a Swiss boarding school. Greenwich is the wealthiest and one of the whitest places in all of Connecticut. Lorenz first attended University of Colorado, Boulder, and then transferred to Hobart and William Smith Colleges where she graduated with an undergraduate degree in political science. The tuition for Hobart and William Smith Colleges is $58,990, plus $16,000 for room and board.
I’ve watched some interviews with Lorenz, and she strikes me as emotionally quite vulnerable. In one interview she burst out crying while discussing all the abuse she’s taken for her work. In another interview, she revealed the pressure had caused her to have suicidal thoughts. A responsible publication would have promptly yanked Lorenz off the social media beat after Lorenz’s suicidal ideation disclosure.
One can understand Lorenz’s perceived value to the Post. According to leaked documents to the Wall Street Journal, unique visitors to the Post’s website in October were down 28 percent to 66 million from a year ago. The Post’s digital subscriptions fell to 2.7 million in October from 3 million in January, despite aggressive discount promotions. Most alarmingly, only 14 percent of the Post’s subscribers are under 55 compared with 61 percent of the U.S. adult population. Admittedly, other legacy publications and broadcast outlets experienced readership and viewership declines, but notably only Politico saw a bigger drop than the Post.
I’m guessing the Post hopes Lorenz will attract a new generation of readers to the publication, including some of her 512,000 TikTok followers. In doing so, the Post risks alienating 86 percent of its older readers who prefer deeper thought and analysis than Lorenz can provide. The publication is prepared to take the risk; Cameron Barr, a senior managing editor at the Post, defended Lorenz’s brand of journalism.
“Taylor Lorenz is a diligent and accomplished journalist whose reporting methods comport entirely with the Washington Post’s professional standards,” Barr said in a statement.
Former New York Times writer Nellie Bowles last week noted that Lorenz has emerged as America’s most famous reporter. As Twitter has become the benchmark journalists use to measure their influence, I looked up the Twitter followings of Lorenz, Bob Woodward, and Carl Bernstein. The findings were quite sobering.
Woodward: 205.2K followers.
Bernstein: 198.7K followers.
Lorenz: 307.9K followers.
Woodward and Bernstein will be remembered for making the Washington Post among the most storied publications in the world. Taylor Lorenz will be remembered as the journalist who destroyed the publication’s reputation.