Questions About Zinzi Clemmons

OUR COVERAGE OF THE JUNOT DIAZ CONTROVERSY CONTINUES

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We note that Zinzi Clemmons, one of the three initial accusers in the Junot Diaz matter, has been staying off twitter since her exchange with noted novelist Roxane Gay– which didn’t go well. Which brings up the question: Why have so many leading feminist literary personalities– Margaret Atwood and Joyce Carol Oates foremost among them– declined to sign the VIDA petition about the matter, or in any other way publicly support the accusers?

THE “POWER OF INSTITUTIONS” side would insist these women fear to oppose established entities which continue to back Junot Diaz– MIT and Boston Review among them. That viewpoint gives those places more influence than they may have in reality. Besides, if anyone can afford to oppose those mid-level bureaucracies, it’s Atwood, Oates, Gay, and Company.

COULD the reason for their lack of support be the perceived volatility of Zinzi Clemmons? From the start of the controversy, Clemmons’ combativeness has matched that of fellow accuser Monica Byrne:

Or–

In another tweet, Zinzi Clemmons gave Monica Byrne all credit for organizing the anti-Junot Diaz posse–

Like Monica Byrne, Zinzi Clemmons also said their accusations were the tip of the iceberg–

IN AN interview with the Johannesburg Review of Books on May 10th, Clemmons said “it’s worse than most people think,” and affirmed that many more women would come forward with allegations against Junot Diaz. Those women have yet to materialize.
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WHATEVER Monica Byrne’s contributions to breaking the story– with media encouragement behind the scenes– the most pressure among the accusers was put on Zinzi Clemmons. Handed the task of confronting Diaz at the Sydney Writers Festival. (Remember, the accusations were planned and coordinated in advance.) Zinzi Clemmons did confront him. It could not have been easy. Did she drop off of twitter because the pressure of being at the forefront of the story has become too much?

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REGARDLESS, this commentator is discovering the more he digs into the story, the more complicated it becomes. Which includes Zinzi’s volatile, score-settling spouse, and another, different sexual harassment accusation in the book world, which I’ll discuss in a future New Pop Lit NEWS post.

-Karl Wenclas

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Collapsing New York City Media?

NEW YORK DAILY NEWS: THE BIGGER PICTURE

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SOMETIMES things move slowly. Incrementally. Glacially. Ever see snails? They come out when it rains. They’re not moving– but they are. One minute in one spot. Later it’s in another spot, and you can’t be sure, really, how it got there.

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“How did you go bankrupt?”

“Two ways,” Mike said. “Gradually then suddenly.”

-Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises
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SUCH is the case with the mighty edifice of New York City media. With every aspect of New York media: newspapers, magazines, publishing companies. You can’t see them collapsing, but they are. The New York Daily News layoffs were inevitable. There will be more layoffs at other Manhattan flagships. Many more.

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Why? Because the fundamentals are strongly against them. New York City is a ridiculously expansive place in which to do business– yet Big Five publishing and their many acolytes insist on being there. In the internet age when one can set up anyplace, there’s no reason to be on that narrow island or its environs– other than to have swanky three-martini lunches at Sardi’s while playing the role of Manhattan editor or journalist circa 1959.

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Taxes, rents, leases, staffs, cost of living– everything in New York City is hyperexpensive.

A recent cost of living index put out by the Council for Community and Economic Research put Manhattan’s cost of living rating at 238.6. By contrast, Detroit’s is 96.9.

Manhattan’s recent average cost of office space was pegged at $75 per square foot. Downtown Detroit’s? It’s risen to $20 per square foot.

Manhattan is a more appealing place to live, no doubt. But when you’re in competition in business, the arithmetic will eventually catch up to you. Glamor or no glamor.

It’s not just the where these legacy businesses are located. It’s how they’re constructed– top-heavy, vertical, overstaffed. Leaner, meaner, more aggressive upstarts will eventually destroy them. Hungrier upstarts– those willing to do most of their work rent-free at Starbucks, or set up printing presses in a basement. And eat at McDonald’s.

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The Ivy League prep school crowd inhabiting New York skyscrapers may scoff (or whine and cry when they lose their jobs), but it’s the way of the world. Always has been. Doesn’t look to change now.
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-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit News

Junot Diaz Versus Lynch Mob

BUCKING THE ACCEPTED NARRATIVE

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OUR BRAINS like to simplify the bombardment of information coming from all directions at them. They draw conclusions about an issue then file away those conclusions– but not the entirety of arguments, complexities, and nuances leading to them. Once those conclusions, right or wrong, become the accepted narrative, that narrative is embedded like concrete into the minds of thousands– even millions– of people.

THE MEDIA feeds on those narratives. It creates them, expands them and spreads them via headlines, hyperbole, and hysteria.

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WITH the Junot Diaz issue we have a narrative that was already created. Sexual harassers everywhere– and they are everywhere. The frantic scramble to out them spread to the literary world. One or two members of the Old Boy network like Lorin Stein at Paris Review were quickly taken down. For a hungry media that wasn’t enough.

WHEN an aggressive activist fed media members gossip, rumors, and exaggerations about Junot Diaz, already worked-up journalists were primed to pounce.
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THESE THOUGHTS were occasioned by an exchange on twitter I became part of.

NOTE how minds have already been made up– that Diaz’s guilt in the matter is assumed. Attempts by Heather Quinn  and myself to bring up actual facts and evidence met with closed doors. (I ended up blocked.)

Junot Diaz’s fiction used to condemn him? Really? Why?

Because it fits with the accepted narrative about him, which was established by a media frenzy on May 4th and has since become embedded into the literary public’s heads.

But the authentic intellectual questions the accepted narrative.
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-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit News

Happy Hemingway Day!

YEP, another year has shot by and we’re again back celebrating one of our favorite authors, Ernest Hemingway. Maybe we just like his Michigan connection, an excuse for us sneak up to Hemingway country in Petoskey and environs. Away from urban civilization as we know it.

WE were there this May, encountering a Hemingway statue–

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–and examining the pier in Harbor Springs where the boat from Chicago carrying the young Hemingway would dock–

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–or staying in the exact same hotel in Petoskey that young Ernest Hemingway boarded at–

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–drinking at taverns with trademark Hemingway atmosphere–

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–reading Hemingway novels–

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–then closing the day with a Petoskey Michigan sunset.

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Schizophrenic Literary World

THE CURIOUS REHABILITATION OF TAO LIN

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THE WAR within establishment literature continues– as evidenced by this article by Jakob Maier of Buzzfeed News commenting on the sudden comeback of alt-lit opportunist Tao Lin.

(NOTE: Buzzfeed News was at the forefront of promoting accusations against Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Diaz— we have yet to receive a yes-or-no answer from reporters Amber Jamieson and Dara Levy about how much they knew in advance about the Zinzi Clemmons confrontation with Diaz at the Sydney Writers Festival this past May.)

ACCORDING to the Jakob Maier article, Tao Lin is currently being promoted by several icons of the established literary world– Vintage Books, The New Yorker and New York magazine. Anna Silman of The Cut (a New York mag project), has been leading the charge against Junot Diaz, so it’s a bit surprising to see this article in New York about what Tao Lin– accused of statutory rape four years ago– adds to his shopping cart.

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AS Tao Lin infamously published a book titled Shoplifting at American Apparel, can we surmise that he doesn’t have a shopping cart? Confusion, confusion, all is confusion.

(To add to the confusion, the publisher of that book, Melville House, has also been on the anti-Junot Diaz bandwagon.)

For the record, Tao Lin as a writer is no Junot Diaz. In this critic’s opinion he has yet to demonstrate any writing talent at all.

More worrisome is possibility that the entire alt-lit movement of literary scam artists will make a comeback. Let’s hope not.

Is Politico a Credible News Outlet?

WHY DOES POLITICO EMPLOY LOBBYIST MOLLY MCKEW?

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FOR THE PAST YEAR Politico has been publishing hysterical articles by Molly McKew of Fianna Strategies. The titles of the articles would make tabloids like the National Enquirer and Weekly World News blush:

“Putin’s Attack on the U.S. Is Our Pearl Harbor”

The articles are accompanied by tweets promoting those articles:

THE PROBLEM is that Molly McKee’s company Fianna Strategies is a registered foreign agent for the President of the Republic of Georgia. McKee is PAID to offer their viewpoint. (By one account, $320,000 over a 16-month period.)

Georgia– once part of the Soviet Union; sitting between Russia and Turkey– wants NATO membership. McKew is paid to expedite this.

THE QUESTION is why Politico presents as a credible journalist an individual paid to be biased?

BEYOND THIS, it’s irresponsible for anyone to casually make analogies to the attack on Pearl Harbor, where 2,403 American sailors and soldiers died in an actual military event. What does Molly McKee advocate? That the United States declare war on Russia? (Listed as co-author of the Pearl Harbor article is a retired U.S. General who was involved in the 2003 invasion of Iraq.) (The last time we witnessed this level of war hysteria was in 2003, about Iraq.)

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Russia has a crumbling economy smaller than California’s. They have a plummeting population, and are desperately trying to hang onto what remains of their shattered empire. BUT they also retain an enormous nuclear arsenal. Thoughtlessly promoting war with that country is insanity.

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WHAT OF Molly McKew’s neoconservative thesis that Russia is promoting a “global imperialist insurgency”?

FACTS contradict this. The USA surrounds Russia with military bases to the immediate west, south, and east– Germany, Bulgaria, Italy, Greece, Kosovo, Turkey, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, UAE, Afghanistan, Indian Ocean, Philippines, S. Korea, Okinawa, Japan, etc. This doesn’t include NATO troops stationed in Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, which are on Russia’s border.

Russia meanwhile has ONE military base outside its immediate vicinity– in Syria. None in the western hemisphere.

WHICH nation is the insurgent global imperialist??

The Politico articles go beyond bias and slant into actual untruth.
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THE PREMISE behind the flood of articles from Politico and other news outlets is that Russia is engaged in some kind of massive propaganda assault. Yet when looking at which countries are more greatly influencing elections– which have the propaganda and cyber ability to influence elections– Russia, for all its machinations and duplicities, ranks far down the list. We’ll cover this with a follow-up sometime next week we’re tentatively calling “Propaganda USA.” Stay tuned.

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(NOTE: We’ve gone outside the lines of our usual topics because we like this planet and don’t wish to see it wiped out because of bouts of war hysteria. We have follow-ups to the Junot Diaz matter, and coverage of other lit-world topics, COMING SOON.)

-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit News.

View from the Dominican Republic

OUR COVERAGE OF THE JUNOT DIAZ CONTROVERSY CONTINUES

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WE’VE been receiving a certain number of tips and information regarding the Junot Diaz matter and are trying to look into all of them. Several of them come from the Dominican Republic.

One, for instance, about the mysterious @Get_Hip twitter account. This person joined the anti-Junot Diaz bandwagon when news broke, claiming to be from the Dominican Republic. Journalist Anna Silman even encouraged this individual to contact her– but when “Get Hip” was questioned about her claims the twitter account swiftly vanished. One of Monica Byrne’s apocryphal 38 names?

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AMONG other emails we’ve received, I can excerpt these quotes, from individuals who wish to remain anonymous:

One (almost) invisible aspect– at least in the mainstream media–of this saga is the silence of the Dominican artistic community. Why? you might wonder. According to a well respected male Dominican writer and early supporter of Junot –and early means the time he was starving like a dog–there is a climate of fear thanks to the way some people have reclaimed the #MeToo movement or sentiment to advance their own personal, reactionary and individualistic agendas that have nothing to do with fighting for women’s liberation or fighting for a just and better world. So some people are waiting to see how it all ends. No one wants their careers, personal reputations or livelihoods destroyed by a media frenzy. Despues de la tormenta viene la calma.

And this:

When the Junot affair exploded it also had important ramifications in the Dominican Republic where most people adore him except for right wingers because of his political outlook. In social media, right-wingers used Zinzi Clemmons’ words to destroy Junot and demonstrate what a ‘pervert” and “degenerate” he was. For right wingers, Junot should be silenced at all cost for his outspoken support of social justice causes: immigrant rights, abortion, gay liberation, etc. Was Zinzi aware of the damage she was inflicting on Junot or the Dominican community? Did she know that by attacking Junot she was also silencing someone who spoke out against injustice against immigrants and other marginalized groups in society not only in the Dominican Republic but also in the US? Perhaps she never cared about the consequences or she was not aware of the activism Junot was involved. Or better yet, she never cared. The middle class never cares. Clearly, there are class issues at play. 

Zinzi and the others aided far right xenophobic elements in the Dominican Republic who now argue that Junot is a rapist or a sexual predator. Her actions damaged the reputation of one of the most outspoken writers of these last decades in the US and the world, someone who went to picket lines; denounced corrupt politicians here and abroad and expressed solidarity for the best causes. And the end, this is the story of how a media frenzy was able to silence–for the time being– a public intellectual.
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THESE quotes are a mix of information, speculation, and opinion. I’m offering them here for information purposes– our goal to present vantage points not given by the mainstream media. Take them for what you will– Dominican writers can better judge their accuracy than I can.

THOUGH I think in some sense the affair is over– or should be over, given what’s been discovered about the weakness of the accusations against Junot Diaz– I also believe there’s more to find out about the larger picture. Including the full role of media people in creating this controversy on May 4.

If YOU have credible information to add, feel free to send it to us c/o newpoplitATgmailDOTcom.

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-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit News

Unraveling the Monica Byrne Accusation

DELVING DEEPER INTO THE JUNOT DIAZ CONTROVERSY

Peter_Straub_BBF_2010_Shankbone(Best-selling novelist Peter Straub.)

DEFENDERS of the accusers in the Junot Diaz matter have said, “Forget her past history. What of the Monica Byrne accusation itself?”

What of it? Byrne’s date for the evening, Eugene Fischer, backs Monica’s version implicitly. Then again, he also fully backed Carmen Maria Machado’s version of her encounter with Diaz, and that’s been contradicted by the recorded audio.

Noted novelist Peter Straub was present at the Byrne-Diaz encounter, and has given his testimony on Facebook. In a tweet, Monica Byrne has referred to Straub as an “OWM.” Old White Male. Straub is old in at least one sense. While his books may be filled with irrationality, Straub is still living in a world which believes in the quaint notion of objective reality. When he said, in a twitter exchange with Monica, that there was room for different perspectives on a past event, Byrne set him straight.

In the new politicized world of arts and letters there is room for only ONE version of events– that fueled by emotion and ideology.
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A KEY PART of Monica Byrne’s statement on the event, released to the world on Facebook May 4th, this year, is this paragraph referring to Junot Diaz:

His voice had risen to a shout. He literally shouted the word “rape” in my face. This is after knowing me for maybe ten minutes. His response was completely bizarre, disproportionate, and violent. I was speechless and felt sick. I would have, anyway, but this was also only two weeks after I’d been sexually assaulted in Belize.

THIS has been taken to mean by at least one Diaz defender on twitter that Byrne was suffering from a kind of PTSD, and so overreacted when he disagreed with her.

Which raises the question: What WAS Monica Byrne’s state of mind going into her April 4, 2014 encounter with Junot Diaz?

FACT IS we have a kind of recorded narrative of Monica Byrne’s outlook in the month leading up to April 4th, including her vacation in Belize. A series of snapshots– her tweets. I’ve counted 258 tweets made by Monica in the month leading up to April 4, 2014. That is, 3/4 through 4/3.

BEGIN TO READ a stream of Monica Byrne tweets and you find yourself swamped in egocentrism. Every feeling, thought, mood, whim; every review or note from her agent; every encounter on the beach on Belize; every pizza slice– sunburn, virus, cave expedition, karaoke– is displayed in that twitter stream.

What does it tell us?

Leading up to her argument with Junot Diaz, Monica Byrne was in an excessively good mood.

On vacation in Belize– who wouldn’t be happy? PLUS, her novel was about to come out. This tweet, from two days before encountering Diaz:

But what of her feelings toward men? Was she fearful or damaged?

PERHAPS the most revealing tweet about her mindset toward men in the days leading up to April 4th is this one.

BUT!? But, but what of the sexual assault in Belize– a key part of her anti-Diaz narrative? Where is that?

Perusal of the tweets reveals two possibilities. First was a young man hitting on Monica.

The other was when a boy on the beach also made a pass at her. This a little better fits her timeline of two weeks before April 4th. (Well, it’s three-and-a-half weeks.) Monica finds this encounter hilarious.

THE BEST barometer is how she felt ON THE VERY DAY that she would later meet Junot Diaz. We have evidence about that as well.

She’d been at a book signing for her new novel the evening before. If she wasn’t quite ready to arm wrestle every man in sight, her confidence, her self-esteem, was hardly lacking. Pulitzer Prize or no Pulitzer Prize, she was scarcely in a state to be intimidated by a moderately well-known author. As she was not at all intimidated by the better known author Peter Straub. Monica Byrne in fact had– and has– a substantial support system. Friends not only with award-winning science fiction writer Eugene Fischer– who was with her at the Diaz dinner– but also with some of the biggest names in the sci-fi game like John Scalzi.

BUT WHAT of the most damaging statement against Junot Diaz in her 2018 statements– that he shouted “RAPE!” at her? If not at all traumatized before going into the 2014 dinner, was she traumatized afterward?

She was perturbed, sure. Disappointed in Junot Diaz? Likely. But there’s no evidence in any of her tweets immediately after the encounter that it was a shattering experience. Also no mention– none– at that point of time of him shouting in her face the word “rape.” Her main complaint, at that time, seems to be that he was disrespectful, dismissive, arrogant.

If every well-known author be dismissed from his-or-her jobs for being arrogant, there might not be anyone left! (Not an all-bad idea, actually.)
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-Karl Wenclas on the New Pop Lit News beat.

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How Does a News Story Go Viral?

PUBLICITY IN THE JUNOT DIAZ CONTROVERSY

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I ADMIT IT. I’m amazed at how fast the publicity game has changed, thanks to social media. Compared to ten years ago, the creation of buzz moves now at lightning speed.

It’s the difference between military techniques in World Wars One and Two. The speed of blitzkrieg in the latter contest revolutionized the game.

As I’ve said a couple times in this series: Who wins the debate over the sexual harassment allegations about prize-winning author Junot Diaz will be decided by who’s better at PR. Institutions (MIT; Boston Review) cleared Diaz, but it’s out of their hands. In the new media age, static bureaucracies have been left behind.

A key post of ours in this regard is “System versus Zeitgeist.”

The Junot Diaz camp is now fully in the game with their army of twitter fans and trolls. They’ve moved quickly up to speed. Will it be enough?

We have two opinion armies maneuvering against one another online– across twitter, blogs, and media sites.

The accusers’ side has made significant mistakes– but their opening moves in the chess game which began May 4th were breathtaking.

CREATING HYSTERIA

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THE GREATEST publicity feat of all time was the creation of Beatlemania. Most people believe it was spontaneous. Yeah, yeah, the band was talented and young people liked them. As simple as that? Not really.

In November, 1961, Liverpool record store manager Brian Epstein saw an unkempt band playing in an underground club in that beaten-down UK working class city and thought, “I can make these guys bigger than Elvis Presley.” A hidden genius behind the scenes, Brian Epstein was in back of every step of the band’s rise. Some of the facts of how he accomplished this are known. For instance, mass hysteria in New York City in February 1964 when the little-known (in America) band landed for the first time. Reluctant Capitol Records was forced by Epstein to spend $70,000 ($570,000 in today’s dollars) to promote their arrival and the concurrent release of their single, “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”

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WE ALSO know the mob of kids holding signs at the airport wasn’t a spontaneous happening. Their presence was arranged. The kick-off of Beatlemania was staged.

MAY 4 ANTI-JUNOT DIAZ HYSTERIA

I’m still amazed at how quickly fervor against Junot Diaz took place. Three threads of tweets from Zinzi Clemmons, Monica Byrne, and Carmen Maria Machado taking place in the middle of night, one right after another. By morning they’d gone viral. To such extent that The Cut’s Anna Silman was already contacting Monica Byrne for a statement.

Spontaneous? Byrne said to Silman, “The network was activated”– which might be clue enough for an explanation.

Monica Byrne’s unsupported rumors about Melania Trump in June 2017, which went viral, albeit on a smaller scale, served as trial run for this situation. This time out Byrne had at least a smattering of substance to the story, and other women on her side. Enough substance that even the mighty and respectable New York Times joined the generated hysteria.

QUESTION: Was the hysteria against Junot Diaz generated or spontaneous?

Another tweet from Monica:

AIDING buzz creation was dramatic language used by the accusers in the tweeted narratives.

BYRNE: “I’ve never faced such virulent misogyny in my adult life.”

MACHADO: “–a blast of misogynist rage.”

Promotional blitzkrieg on May 4th worked masterfully– on that very same day the accusations were news across the globe. The feat deserves a chapter of its own in the history of publicity. The planning and coordination worked– but not well enough to claim quick victory. No knockout. Junot Diaz apologized, but he and his institutional backers held firm. By now, today, the controversy has settled into trench warfare– both sides sniping at each other from steady lines, World War One-style.

For the time being, the controversy is at a stalemate.

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WILL the stalemate continue? More to come from:

-New Pop Lit News-
https://newpoplitnews.wordpress.com/

-Karl Wenclas on the literary news beat.

 

Assumptions and Allegations

PIECING TOGETHER THE JUNOT DIAZ CONTROVERSY

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REMEMBER, the Junot Diaz alleged sexual harassment controversy has been based on assumptions and allegations from the beginning. A score of press outlets, beginning May 4th, swallowed the allegations entirely. They assumed the stories were correct– hyperbolic language and all. In the media’s mind they had to be. They did no research into the matter. To this day they’ve done little-to-no research. Discoveries which have come to light since have been made by citizen journalists, concerned individuals, and upstart literary sites like this one.

For my part, I’ve sifted the available evidence, examining each piece to see if it fit, and will continue to examine them. An occasional piece of the puzzle has to be thrown out. The overall picture for me remains delineated.
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MY OWN assumptions were based in part on two documented facts:

1.)  Dara Levy of Buzzfeed News emailed Zinzi Clemmons on December 18, 2017, asking Clemmons to phone Levy about rumors concerning a writer later identified by Clemmons as Junot Diaz.

2.)  Dara Levy co-authored the Buzzfeed News article of May 4, 2018.

What conversations took place in the interim? Was Dara Levy privy to information about Zinzi Clemmon’s upcoming confrontation with Diaz in Sydney, Australia?
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STIPULATE if you wish that the breaking news of May 4th created itself, an act of spontaneous combustion, with no one’s aid, intent, or participation. Tweets in the middle of the night from three obscure writers went viral on their own, no reporters or buzz creators notified. Twitter works that quickly. A host of respectable news outlets ran with the story and its unchecked allegations almost immediately.

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IF THIS is how it actually happened, things become more scary. Caught up in an electronic frenzy, major media outlets decided to destroy the reputation of one of America’s leading writers. Just like that. Behaving like a blind, unthinking herd. Run the story! Journalists climbed over one another in haste to deliver the narrative.
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I DO have some new information I’ll be posting shortly. First though, soon, I plan to do a short post on the question of how stories go viral. The Junot Diaz story may be the quickest in literary history– but we are dealing with new technologies.

-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit News
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(Painting: “Stampede” by W.R. Leigh.)