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Once again, the media try to turn toxic boss Ellen Pao into a victim of Silicon Valley sexism

July 14, 2015

My latest blog post for the Independent Women’s Forum:

St. Ellen, Woman and Martyr

The media fans of Ellen Pao (i.e. practically the entire media) won’t stop twisting themselves into butterfly loops to portray the just-ousted Reddit interim CEO as a victim of Silicon Valley sexism instead of the toxic employee that everything we know about her job performance at two Bay Area tech firms seems to portray.

The latest, most hilarious chapter in the media Saga of St. Ellen, Woman and Martyr, is New York Times technology reporter David Streitfeld’s frantic rewrite (chronicled by NewsDiff) of fellow NYT reporter Mike Isaac’s straightforward account of  Pao’s July 10 resignation by mutual agreement from the popular social-networking site.

Here’s Isaac’s lead paragraphs, filed at 5:23 p.m. on July 10:

“Ellen Pao, the interim chief executive of Reddit, resigned from the online message board on Friday after a week of ceaseless criticism from scores of angry users over the handling of an employee departure.

“Ms. Pao will be replaced by Steve Huffman, who, along with Alexis Ohanian, started Reddit from a two-bedroom apartment in a suburb of Boston a decade ago. Ms. Pao said she would remain as an adviser to Reddit’s board for the remainder of the year.

“Her exit, which the company described as a mutual agreement between her and Reddit’s board, follows a week of unrest in the Reddit community, which is made up of more than 160 million regular users who use the site to talk about anything from current events to viral cat photos.”

And here’s Streitfeld’s rewrite of those same paragraphs, filed at 7:48 p.m.:

“Ellen Pao became a hero to many when she took on the entrenched sexist culture of Silicon Valley. But sentiment is a fickle thing, and late Friday the entrepreneur fell victim to a shrill crowd demanding her ouster as chief executive of the popular social media site Reddit.

“Ms. Pao’s abrupt downfall in the face of a torrent of sexist and racist attacks, many of them on Reddit itself, is likely to renew charges that bullying, harrassment and ugly behavior are out of control on the web — and that Silicon Valley’s well-publicized lack of interest in hiring anyone who is not male and white is contributing to the problem.”

According to the Daily Caller, New York Times editors wrestled all that evening with toning down and later reinstating some of Streitfeld’s inflammatory diction (after all, he was supposed to be rewriting a news story, not an op-ed piece):

“Apparently even the Times realized Streitfeld’s edit went too far, as an hour later it made a second edit to the piece toning down much of its language. Pao was no longer described as an ‘entrepreneur’ (while Pao has worked in venture capital, she isn’t known for founding companies), and the quip about Silicon Valley’s ‘lack of interest’ in non-white employees is removed. ‘Male aggression’ was downgraded to ‘machismo,’ and women were now ‘often’ put in secondary roles rather than ‘always’

“A third edit later made one additional change, changing Silicon Valley’s ‘sexist’ culture to a ‘male-dominated’ one. Then, 20 minutes later, it was changed back. After another 20 minutes, it became ‘male-dominated’ again, suggesting a feud in the Times newsroom over what was best.”

Posted by Charlotte Allen

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