A beautiful, well-reasoned letter arrived in my inbox. Quite frankly, it was a nice change from some of the hate and threats that I’ve received lately. I wrote a post earlier asking us to be careful and thoughtful when dealing with important things like sexual assault and was surprised at the backlash.
I think we’re all basically saying the same thing: predators aren’t welcome in our community. We can unite on that. But I do urge caution that in the zeal to protect, we don’t become predators ourselves.
I will share this letter. Then I will step away. I won’t talk about this unfortunate situation in interviews, on social media, or in private messages. This has become a circus that greatly distracts from the original message, which is safety, love, and concern.
As this year’s Stoker Awards toastmaster Stephen Jones said in his opening remarks, “It truly saddens me when I see what is happening to our community.”
As writer Mercedes Yardley discussed on her website, these remarks are in reference to a series of cases involving allegations of white supremacy, theft, and sexual assault in our community. “These are important things, and that’s why this is so difficult.”
Since they claim to have disdain for what they call passive aggression (and what Mrs. Yardley and others might call tact in public speech), we’ll be just as direct as they prefer: This letter primarily regards Brian Keene and his Horror Show podcast, particularly the episodes from April 28, May 5,and May 19. (Brian and Dave, there’s your desired plug.) As Mrs. Yardley says, this is about a much broader problem in our community, but for good or ill, it’s one of which the show has recently chosen to put itself at the forefront.
We’ll say it up front: Brian and Dave are not bad guys. But even good men make mistakes, especially when they haven’t been trained in journalism ethics and procedure. And snarkily titling an episode, “Mercedes Yardley’s Rules of Broadcast Excellence” doesn’t mitigate that concern in the slightest, self-evidently. We applaud them tackling issues of importance on their show, but the execution does leave something to be desired, and their colleagues shouldn’t be mocked for simply suggesting that we can all do better.
Among the chief concerns is assuming things not in evidence: First, the demonstrated accusation that Mercedes Yardley was not only speaking purely to Brian and the show, but attacking both. Given the title of her post and the totality of its content, that strikes us as an arrogant assumption. She was clearly speaking to the entire community. Part of Mrs. Yardley’s point revolved around the reactionary abdication of reason and scale going on, and their reaction has perhaps proved her point more singularly than anything.
Then there’s the demonstrated assumption that Mrs. Yardley was referring to RJ Cavender in everything she said. That is beyond not in evidence, and if one assumes that she was not referring to Cavender in that particular section of her remarks, it puts rather a lot of comments both on and off the show into stark relief. So, people got that backward: RJ Cavender is a very different man from the other man named on the podcast, and repeatedly conflating the two is not only unfair to the other man, but frankly negligent. The show not only allowed the other man named on-air, but restated it and further opted to use the word “rape” in conjunction with that man through the duration of that episode. When even the accuser can’t attest to what happened, it’s not proper to name the accused, especially without also naming the accuser, in instances where neither party is a minor.
The show refers to people as witnesses simply because they call themselves witnesses. The show has that backward. A witness who can not say what he or she claims to have witnessed is not yet a witness, neither legally nor rationally. If a person isn’t attesting to anything, that person is just a guest or interviewee, not a witness. Those who did attest are potential witnesses, yes, but not all those the show called witnesses have done so.
They say, “If we’ve been deceived… if Mrs. Yardley has any information… share it with us,” but they’ve got that backward, too. They were right about the current culture being toxic, but wrong in assuming that part of that toxicity doesn’t stem from misapprehending the nature of process and rushing to judgment with only one narrative of events in hand. And to be clear, multiple accounts of the same narrative don’t constitute a hearing of both sides. It’s the show’s responsibility to be ethical and responsible in what and how it “reports” (in quotes because neither of its hosts are actual reporters), especially when accusations of felony behavior are involved. It is not Mercedes Yardley’s responsibility to remind anyone of this fact, nor to provide anyone with evidence or testimony that isn’t hers to share. In at least one instance, people other than Mrs. Yardley have confirmed that information exists and invited Brian to private dialogue about it. As of this writing, he has opted not to take them up on it. No one’s saying Brian and Dave were deceived. We’re saying they and others have chosen to focus on casting aspersions, impugning true motivations, and elevating unsourced gossip. And that’s not serious, sober examination.
People are allowed to bring up the fact that no one has stopped to consider the possibility that evidence or information of that sort even exists; that in a community full of writers, no one could seem to come up with an alternate narrative aside from the one provided by an accuser, let alone one who admits to having no clear recollection of the events in question. Accusing Mrs. Yardley of “attacking” anyone for warning people to be careful with serious allegations is just distasteful. Accusing her of making things more difficult for victims in the future? Unacceptable. A victim is someone for whom victimhood can be demonstrated by a presentation of evidence, not by the collective reactions of a mob, and it’s a bit self-righteous for the hosts to castigate any woman about the perils of sexual assault, nevermind one who just won a Stoker Award for a story about sexual assault.
Beyond that, of course, there’s the small matter of the accused being presumed innocent until proven guilty in our society. Simply using the word “alleged/allegation” doesn’t absolve anyone of the responsibility to bear that fact in mind at all times, and that is precisely why responsible people and media outlets try to account for gaps in coverage. Note, too, that there’s a difference between receiving no reply and getting the response, “No comment.” But then, perhaps one would have to be an actual journalist to know that.
They say, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” but in contextualizing that aphorism, they seem to get the crux backward again, because the expression doesn’t account for who actually set the fire. Which would be fine, except that determining who set the fire is essential to determining who deserves victim status and who deserves to stand accused. Only due process, which the community has not observed and which the show did not observe with regard to one who was named and accused, stands a chance of sorting it out. And since these topics are as important as they are, we don’t get to abdicate due process.
They say they’re embarrassed for Mercedes Yardley. For the culture everyone involved was critiquing, maybe, but for her in particular? They say “shame on” Mercedes Yardley.
Shame on Mercedes Yardley? For being the voice of reason? Really?
It seems to us that the only people who should be ashamed of themselves are those who’d even begin to suggest that Mercedes was somehow engaging in victimblaming. That’s not only an ugly and perverse lie, but worse, one that misses the entire point of her post.
C.A. Suleiman & Craig Spector