Some of you may have witnessed the ugliness that ensued yesterday after labor reporter Mike Elk posted — and then deleted — a pro- “due process” tweet that juxtaposed Woody Allen and Emmett Till.

I’m not interested in constructing a blow-by-blow account of what happened next — it’s pretty much all still there on Twitter, if you care to look. But this morning Elk sent me and a few other people a long letter about what happened, and asked me to reply. Part of my response was private, but I don’t think there’s any reason to treat the rest of it as a privileged communication.

I’m posting the excerpt that follows not to embarrass Elk further (I hope it won’t, and I don’t think it will), but because these kinds of social media blowups follow a pretty predictable pattern, and I think it’s in everyone’s interest to nip them in the bud while there’s still time. So read it if you like, and if any of it seems like it might be of use in the future, bookmark it somewhere you’ll be able to find it.


You keep returning to the fact that you apologized for your initial comments about Till, but you haven’t acknowledged the fact that many people felt — as I did, and do — that those apologies misrepresented the criticism you received. You don’t have to agree with your critics, but if your apology is based on an understanding of your behavior that they disagree with, and that they’ve told you they disagree with, it’s not unfair or churlish or dishonest for them to discount that apology. It’s merely a reflection of the fact that the gulf between you has not yet been mended.

You’re angry and frustrated that the arguments you were trying to make about child abuse and the benefit of the doubt have gotten lost in the firestorm. But they got lost because of what you said — not just your initial deleted tweet, but the dozens (hundreds?) you posted subsequently. After the initial tweet people were tweeting at you for most of an hour trying to get you to acknowledge it and apologize for it. Initially you ignored them. Then you acknowledged the error but ignored the calls for an apology. Then you argued about what you’d said and what it meant. Then you apologized, and then you started lashing out at the people who didn’t accept your apology.

You should have walked away. You should have let yourself calm down. You should have taken some time to think and reflect and talk privately to people you respected. People urged you to do all that, but you didn’t. And so things got worse. And that’s on you.

This didn’t need to turn into a huge crisis, and many of the people you’re blaming now tried to head the crisis off. You’ve never acknowledged that.

To suggest that people who are angry at you are posturing for followers and preening for the public? That’s ugly, and it’s not cool. You created this mess. Don’t blame other people if they’re splashing in the mud.

You say you tried really hard to achieve racial reconciliation. If there was a moment when you asked any of your critics what they thought you should do and then engaged generously with their response, I didn’t see it. Reconciliation comes when people are reconciled to each other. It’s the result of dialogue, not mea culpas.

And frankly, as a fellow white guy, I think it’s pretty gross that you’re suggesting that you’re being picked on because you’re a white guy. 

People don’t know your past, and they’re not under any obligation to know your past. What they saw yesterday was what you did yesterday. What they saw today was what you did today. And overwhelmingly, almost universally, they thought you screwed up. THAT’S why you’re getting hassled. Not because you’re a white guy. Not because you struck a spark. But because you’ve spent the last 24 hours spraying gasoline all over the place.

I don’t think you’re a racist. I’m not even sure I think you said anything that was racist — and those are, of course, two very different things. But remember that link I sent you yesterday? I don’t know if you read it, but in it I said that there are some things about which no decent American has the right to remain ignorant.

Your tweet about Allen and Till was ignorant.

It was ignorant because you confused Till with other cases. It was ignorant because you thought he’d been accused of rape. It was ignorant because you conflated the legal concept of due process with the interpersonal concept of the benefit of the doubt. But it was ignorant for other reasons too.

It was ignorant because it was grossly disproportionate. It was ignorant because it was appropriative. It was ignorant because it was clumsy. It was ignorant because anyone who knows anything about anything should have predicted it would have been greeted with justified outrage.

And because of all that, because people TOLD you all that and because you didn’t listen when they spoke, your apologies didn’t ameliorate the original insult, they compounded it. 

And you still haven’t addressed that. Not really.