Feminism, Media, Top Stories

How Anonymous, Unproven Accusations Turned Mike Tunison’s Career Into MeToo Road Kill

Mike Tunison has become the latest writer to go public with details of life among The Canceled. In a newly published essay, the Washington-Post-journalist-turned-restaurant-janitor explains what it’s like to go through the #MeToo false-accusation meat grinder and come out the other side with your career reduced to tiny shards. His friends and colleagues abandoned him, and he was unable to earn an income in his field—all thanks to writer Moira Donegan’s “Shitty Men in Media” list, a crowdsourced database that became a forum for anonymous, unproven allegations in 2017:

Almost immediately after its release, a close friend of 10 years cut me off and hasn’t spoken to me since, even after I reached out to him. Day after day, I’m tortured by the thought that even more people will learn of the allegations or that I’ll be unexpectedly attacked for them online. Too often, I’ve found myself hanging out with friends as the discussion turned to celebrities being MeToo’d, and been incapable of revealing what happened to me. Sooner or later, I’ve feared, they’ll know, too. It’s been more than a year since I’ve dated. Working three low-paying jobs means I’m always busy—and broke. Plus, any woman who does the usual, pre-date research online could stumble upon the list. How could I explain it away in the early stages of a relationship?

Tunison wasn’t famous, which made things worse. Though he was sufficiently well-known to be targeted with false allegations (having written a book with a major publisher and been a frequent contributor to Deadspin), he wasn’t one of those well-connected intellectual celebrities who could call in career-saving support from powerful allies. “My story is noteworthy,” writes Tunison, “only because I’m one of the least powerful men to have been publicly accused in the #MeToo era. What makes this event intolerable isn’t just that the allegations against me are false. It’s that I have no idea who made them.”

Moira Donegan

Lately, Tunison has come upon especially difficult times. Working as a janitor and canvasser hasn’t left him enough money to get the inspection tags on his car renewed. When he was pulled over and ticketed recently, Tunison took to Twitter for help. That’s when Stephen Elliott, a man who knows exactly what Tunison is going through, decided to raise funds for him with a GoFundMe page—which, as of this writing, has raised almost $4,000. (Having been included on Donegan’s Shitty Media Men list alongside Tunison, Elliott is suing Donegan for defamation. Ironically, Tunison himself disagrees with Elliott’s lawsuit, and wrote that the list probably did more good than harm—though that didn’t stop Donegan from immediately blocking him on social media.)

“I think a lot about how there is no community for the accused,” Elliott told me. “MeToo is all about community for the accusers. But the accused are shunned by their networks, even their family in some cases. Often, they’re afraid to talk to each other because of guilt by association, and because they think, or some do, that one day their old tribes will take them back. [But] If you’re a liberal in the literary community, once you’ve been cast out, there’s no way back.”

Tunison can’t be exonerated because he hasn’t been formally charged. (In fact, one common feature of the men catalogued on the Shitty Men List is that none of the alleged wrongdoing seems to have been the subject of criminal prosecution.) And since Tunison doesn’t know who made the accusations, he has no venue in which to prove his innocence. An accuser claims there’s an incriminating human-resources file on Tunison at the Washington Post. But Tunison says he was told that nothing along those lines is contained in his employment record.

Donegan herself initially made a half-hearted attempted to remain anonymous in 2017. But the former New Republic assistant editor went public amid social-media acclaim, and was rewarded with a book deal and a column in the Guardian. She also remains unrepentant about creating a medium for people to make unproven career-ending allegations from behind a cloak of anonymity. “The value of the spreadsheet was that it had no enforcement mechanisms,” she told Vox. “Without legal authority or professional power, it offered an impartial, rather than adversarial, tool to those who used it. It was intended specifically not to inflict consequences, not to be a weapon—and yet, once it became public, many people immediately saw it as exactly that.”

Donegan’s claim that she didn’t intend for the list to be weaponized strains credulity. By late 2017, it was already well-known that the “Believe Women” campaign was leading to false accusations. In those heady days, even speaking up for due process was cast as a sort of thoughtcrime. Many writers didn’t speak out against the list, or the lack of any presumption of innocence, because they knew that, in this atmosphere, ideologically motivated opponents could simply throw their name on the list, too.

There are now so many “canceled” people out there that they have created their own electronic civil society, which has acted as feedstock for media outlets (including Quillette) that seek to give the accused a voice. Or as a New York Times headline writer put it in November, Those People We Tried to Cancel? They’re All Hanging Out Together. But this can be a socially and ideologically jarring experience for the canceled, as they typically are replacing a monolithically progressive peer group with one that is more free-wheeling and classically liberal in its outlook.

And all the while, they are being lectured by their old woke pals about how cancel culture is just a figment of their guilty imaginations. “It seems at least possible that tweets are just tweets,” wrote Osita Nwanevu in a New Republic article entitled The “Cancel Culture” Con, “that as difficult as criticism in the social media age may be to contend with at times, it bears no meaningful resemblance to genocides, excommunications, executions, assassinations, political imprisonments, and official bans past. Perhaps we should choose instead to understand cancel culture as something much more mundane: ordinary public disfavor voiced by ordinary people across new platforms.”

And in that aforementioned Times article, John McDermott suggested that many of the canceled are doing just fine: “At the bottom end, cancellation consists of some mild, inconsequential criticism. On YouTube, vloggers cancel each other and even themselves with startling regularity, often for petty or invented grievances.”

It’s early days yet, but it now seems we are living through a sort of unintended crowdsourced social experiment. The truth is that we don’t actually know what ultimately will become of men such as Tunison. But as the sample set grows larger and the longitudinal data becomes more detailed, it will be interesting to compare the fates of these men.

At the center of this experiment are figures such as Elliott, who, having gone public with accounts of being falsely accused, have become connective nodes in the network of canceled individuals and their non-canceled supporters. In the face of witch hunts inspired by #SocialJustice mobs, they’ve effectively become unpaid volunteers in the fight for actual social justice. “I’m all about community for the accused,” he told me, “though I can’t always convince people [to go public].”

In our conversations, Elliott describes a sort of back-office writer’s underground, which allows canceled talent to stay in the game, so long as the men stay under the radar—at least for now. “There are a lot of people who are secretly working for places, doing the work from home,” Elliott says. “They’re worried [that] if word gets out, they’ll lose their jobs. It’s so crazy. It’s the people who aren’t that famous and don’t have a lot of money that really get hurt.”

 

Libby Emmons is a New York-based freelance writer. She Tweets at @li88yinc.

Featured image: Mike Tunison.

Comments

  1. To me, the good news in this otherwise sad story is that a growing number of victims of #MeToo and cancel culture in general have begun to connect and organize. @TobyYoung’s Free Speech Union , which @claire mentioned in her last newsletter, could prove extremely helpful here as well. If enough people get involved, the people under attack will no longer be alone. Hopefully one day the support will be strong enough to protect all dissidents against the woke mob.

    As the saying goes: You can break a finger, but five fingers are a fist!

  2. “In our conversations, Elliott describes a sort of back-office writer’s underground, which allows canceled talent to stay in the game, so long as the men stay under the radar—at least for now.”

    Like the 1950s Hollywood Blacklist!

  3. “But what can we do?’ Otto Quangel says, unnerved by this onslaught. ‘There are so few of us, and all those millions for him, and now, after the victory against France, there will be even more. We can do nothing!’ ‘We can do plenty!’ she whispers. ‘We can vandalize the machines, we can work badly, work slowly, we can tear down their posters and put up others where we tell people the truth about how they are being cheated and lied to.’ She drops her voice further: ‘But the main thing is that we remain different from them, that we never allow ourselves to be made into them, or start thinking as they do. Even if they conquer the whole world, we must refuse to become Nazis.”
    ― Hans Fallada, [Alone in Berlin]

  4. It sounds as though this fellow got a raw deal with undeserved consequences. So why not fight? Why not join in the lawsuit or commence a separate lawsuit? Lawsuits permit discovery perhaps he could learn the identity of his accuser. He could assist in making sure others are not targets of false accusations by participating in a legal action. It must be horrific to have one’s life cancelled but one must still be willing to fight for his life.

    “[But] If you’re a liberal in the literary community, once you’ve been cast out, there’s no way back.”

    True with that defeatist attitude. One could even make the argument his refusal to fight is an admission in and of itself. What happened to this man is truly terrible but the ball is in his court now.

  5. Here’s my advice: if you’re innocent, sue. If you’re not, and it wasn’t a crime, own it. Start a blog, write a book or script, and brag about it. Start the horny media men society. You’ll probably end up a hero, in a black comedy kind of way.

    But as always, so delicious watching the progs devour one another…

  6. (Having been included on Donegan’s Shitty Media Men list alongside Tunison, Elliott is suing Donegan for defamation. Ironically, Tunison himself disagrees with Elliott’s lawsuit, and wrote that the list probably did more good than harm—though that didn’t stop Donegan from immediately blocking him on social media.)

    This story reads like a satire of “Darkness at Noon.”

  7. Mike Tunison couldn’t have prevented being a #MeToo target. However, it would not have ruined his life nearly as much if he did not keep himself in a woke bubble. If his friends abandoned him because of a rumour, what does it say about his choice of friends? He cannot get any more freelance work for WaPo or get published in Leftist circles, but one shouldn’t depend on such unreliable sources for one’s livelihood.

    If someone stops working with you and talking with you just because of a post on the internet, then that person was never worth knowing to begin with.

  8. You could ask the same thing of committed Communists who ended up in the gulag. They believed in the system, in communism, no matter how corrupt.

    This is why people really need to continually work to reform bad systems, not support the people who want to tear them down. The people who tear them down generally create a worse system.

  9. Litigation is the only remedy. But it costs money that this guy doesn’t have.

  10. Based upon this statement in the article I respectfully disagree.

    “(Having been included on Donegan’s Shitty Media Men list alongside Tunison, Elliott is suingDonegan for defamation. Ironically, Tunison himself disagrees with Elliott’s lawsuit, and wrote that the list probably did more good than harm—though that didn’t stop Donegan from immediately blocking him on social media.)”

    Even if he could not find a lawyer or group to take his case or work out a contingency fee, he could still support Elliot’s law suit. I would surmise he is too woke to fight back.

  11. So true but it doesn’t make it less painful. We are engineered to be part of a tribe and even when the tribe is dysfunctional it can often seem better to be in the group than to be out on your own. To quote Nassim Taleb, “It has been more profitable for us to bind together in the wrong direction than to be alone in the right one”. It is the rare person who voluntarily chooses to leave his tribe and Mike Tunison did not make that choice, it was made for him.

    Still it provides some re-assurance when shallow relationships are exposed as you suggest. The real vindication comes when you have the opportunity to comfort other former colleagues when they too are similarly cast out. Such opportunities usually do come eventually, and the more corrupt the institution the sooner the vindication.

  12. Everyone on the list is a victim. There may be some on the list who did genuinely do whatever it is they are accused of, although I am sure it is a small percentage, but they are still being punished in an arbitrary way with no end to the punishment, no consideration of proportionality, mitigation or even justification fo whateve rit is they are supposed to have done.
    An argument that some on teh list may genuinely have committed a crime and therefore associating together tars everyone with teh same brush is just more of the same ideological and hate filled mob justice. Why shoudn’t they seek to help each other?

    … and finding situations where they can believe women exist who are not vindictive, narcissistic, gone-girl narcissists, and men exist who are not controlling, violent, hot-cold sociopaths,

    Most people know that most women are not vindicitive narcissists and most men are not violent sociopaths. The problem is that there is a vocal political movement and substantial minority that believes that there are no female vindictive narcissists, let alone sociopaths and that the majority, if not all men are controlling sociopaths. This is the problem, this is why men are condemmed by annonymous accusations with no chance to defend themselves. This is why there is a VAWG policy despite most victims of violence being men, why females are almost always given child custody if there are concerns about abuse despite women being far more likely to abuse, why men spend far longer in prison for the same crimes, why every effort is spent trying to help girls educational performance while boys perfomance is far worse.

    The problem is an irrational hate movement which has gained enough influence to dominate policy, discorse and thinking despite being in a minority. It is a hiuge problem which shows little sign of abbatting. The fact that an innocent victim of this movement still sees it as having an overall positive effect shows its continuing power.

  13. It’s very hard to feel bad for these guys. Most were likely on board with most of the “woke” agenda. When conservatives are all accused of being racist would this guy have an issue? No, he would have agreed and likely still does.

    How they can’t seem to understand that their downfall is a symptom of a larger movement, of which they seemingly are still mostly on board with, seems to escape them.

    Hopefully I’m wrong but his comment about the list being mostly a good thing seems insanely daft. As if that would ever be a good way of dealing with this kind issue.

  14. Easier said than done. I’ve been falsely accused by a politician where I used to live. He filed a frivolous lawsuit and I spent 2 years and $25,000 defending it. As soon as we were about to get it into a courtroom he was magically open to a settlement and dismissal with prejudice. Any attorney is going to want at least a $10,000 retainer before they’ll take the case.

  15. Fair point. His belief that the list does more good than harm suggests he doesn’t really get the problem. He’s ok with collective justice that screws over the falsely accused in the name of the greater good but objects only to his own mistreatment.

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