Inaction is an Action: Moving Forward with Podcast Movement
At the most recent Podcast Movement, Ben Shapiro showed up. He didn’t have a badge, but was nonetheless present at the booth for his podcast network, The Daily Wire. This was the first year Podcast Movement had agreed to give the network a booth (at the reported cost of $30k).
If you’re unfamiliar with the company, The Daily Wire is a conservative American media company founded by Ben Shapiro and Jeremy Boreing that has branched out into the podcast sphere. They are also known for their consistent efforts to dehumanize and degrade queer and transgender people. Shapiro, among other things, has argued homosexuality should remain in the DSM as a mental illness. Recently, a member of their team, Matt Walsh, attempted to trick trans people into joining his anti-trans documentary. The Daily Wire is known for creating and spreading misinformation about transgender people (for more information on this disinformation pipeline and how it vilifies trans people, check out Jessie Gender’s breakdown on Youtube. For more information on the general Alt-Right Playbook, check out this video by Innuendo Studios).
Here it needs to be said: I am a queer and nonbinary podcaster who uses they/them pronouns. I was attending Podcast Movement both as a speaker and exhibitor; I was on stage each day of the conference and part of a team running a booth in the expo hall. You are getting my personal experience in this piece, and I hope you can respect it.
I saw the Daily Wire’s booth on Tuesday evening, August 24, after I had finished setting up my own. I felt that its presence said something — that Podcast Movement had decided their actions were acceptable, or at minimum acceptable enough to give them a booth on the first floor, next to the likes of Paramount, Audible, and Stitcher. I’ll be honest, it sucked to see Podcast Movement endorsing a company that has been actively threatening the livelihood of transgender activists and individuals. I hope it is clear why I wasn’t (and still am not) happy about this booth. I tweeted a picture of it captioned “oh come on” that evening, mostly so that people not attending the conference would know about the booth, and moved on. What else was there to do?
The Inciting Incident
I even moved on when Shapiro bypassed conference security to take pictures and shake hands at his booth on the 24th. I say “bypassed security” because I want to be clear that he was in an area of the conference where only people with badges were supposed to be, and he did not have one. This was not a public space. This was a Sheraton. When I saw he was there, I took a picture, tweeted directly to Podcast Movement, and shared in a reply that his presence made me feel unsafe and unwelcome. I went back to manning my booth on the lower floor. Shapiro left the conference.
At the time, I had no idea if he was an invited guest. The presence of The Daily Wire booth implied so, but the lack of any sort of badge implied the opposite. But soon after, I ran into Jared Easley walking around the expo hall, and asked him. Easley is the head of Community and Content, and one of the organizers of the conference. I got confirmation that Shapiro was not invited, but I also got to see firsthand that Easley wasn’t very concerned about it.
Dan Franks, President of Podcast Movement, messaged me on twitter not long after, confirming what Easley has said. Unlike Easley, Franks did seem concerned. He wrote:
“We did not know he was attending. There was no badge registered for him or any talent associated with him, and we did not put any of their people on any sessions. Him showing up was the first we knew about it. I know that does not make it right, but I was caught off guard completely by this.”
The Aftermath During The Event
The next day (August 25), Podcast Movement posted their first apology for Shapiro’s presence. I thanked them, publicly, in the replies of their tweet thread, and went on with my busy day. I took the stage in the afternoon to talk about sound design, then had two pre-scheduled meetings back to back. I did not look at my phone for a long time — not until, after my final meeting, a friend ran (literally ran) up to me, and told me “Libs of TikTok is sharing your tweets. You need to lock your account down.”
For those unaware, Libs of TikTok is a multi-platform hate account. They’ve had their TikTok, Twitter, and Instagram accounts each temporarily suspended at least once for breaking community guidelines. On Twitter, one such suspension was for “violence, threats or harassment against others based on their sexual orientation or other factors such as race or gender.” Most recently, the account is connected to multiple bomb threats against children’s hospitals that provide gender-affirming care.
Do you understand why my friend did not simply walk? With them standing next to me, I put my twitter account on private, deleted my bio, and closed DMs. But those hours in which I was offline were significant. I had already accrued hundreds of hateful replies to my tweets about Shapiro. Naturally, these people did not know the situation and did not care to. It didn’t matter that I was an invited guest to this conference, nor did it matter that Shapiro was not. It’s ironic how many times I was told “facts don’t care about your feelings” from a group of people who did not care about the facts, only their feelings.
I noticed I had been added to lists, some simply titled “idiots”, others which say “accounts to be removed.” You stay on lists even as a private account. I had to ask my friends how to get myself removed. The answer turned out to be blocking the creator, so I did that, 20 different times for 20 different people.
Later that day, a friend gave me the heads up that the Daily Wire had posted a video that included screenshots of my tweets. This directed more people to my account — those who missed the initial virality of my tweet before I went on private. Not content with merely bothering me, they found anyone replying kindly to my tweets and harassed them too. By the end of the day, many of my friends put their accounts on private. Later, when someone mentions that many queer podcasters have locked their account, they will be met with replies calling them a liar and asking for proof — proof that would necessarily link the accounts of people avoiding harassment. It’s a clear catch 22, and that is what they want.
I spent that night blocking people on my phone, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of them. Many had found other tweets I had made from the conference before I went on private. One of them, in which I shared a photo of the pride flag we had hung up at our booth in the expo hall, was a favorite for homophobic replies. On that one, I got called a groomer, pedophile, and spreader of monkeypox. Most of my other tweets faced transphobic and generally hateful comments. I was called a crossdresser, a “gender pretender”, told I would never be a man, and separately, that I would never be a woman. Many favored calling me antisemitic, some picked racist, others went for fascist. Most people used whatever pronoun they thought matched my gender assigned at birth, some used they (the right one!), and many went for “it” in a form of blatant and basic dehumanization. I don’t even remember what Libs of TikTok said, their comment lost among the mob.
I asked friends online to help me report people. There were too many terrible tweets to link directly, so I told my friends to just search my username. They found plenty of people to report. Twitter will end up taking maybe 5% of the hateful comments down.
The online harassment continued on August 26. Unable to reply directly to my tweets, people took to simply tagging my username in their tweets. I know they hoped their hateful words would show up in my notifications, but I had changed my twitter settings long ago. I took to periodically searching my username and blocking those people.
A small part of me was worried that someone would try to harass me in person. Of the thousands of Shapiro fans gleefully posting about me online, were any of them here? A friend walked with me to and from my final time on stage, just in case. This was the only time strangers would know my location. Nothing happened, and I breathed a little easier. I’m sure some would call that cowardly. I call it basic safety.
Later that day I found out Alex Stein had visited the conference, camera in tow. He doesn’t have a badge either, but he’s been allowed inside. On the two videos he tweeted August 25, he shares screenshots of my tweets and heckles attendees and workers at the conference. To me, this is confirmation my fears were warranted. I’m grateful our paths did not cross.
On Twitter, many were claiming I had single-handedly forced Podcast Movement’s hand. Of course this was not the case — several others talked to Dan Franks, those who had worked with him in ways beyond speaking at his conference. The Daily Wire’s website still says that Podcast Movement’s apology was due to “one person being triggered,” but we’ve already covered how they’re not known for accurate reporting.
I think here we should review my crime. I, a speaker and attendee at Podcast Movement, shared that someone without a badge at the conference made me feel unwelcome and unsafe. To Ben Shapiro and The Daily Wire, this statement was worth the effort of directing their fans to harass me online (and in at least one case, threaten my life). I said I felt unsafe, and they ran to prove me right.
The Aftermath Post-Event
The next day, as I traveled home, I got emails with negative Apple Podcast reviews. They called my shows trash, intolerant, and generally terrible. Of course, these weren’t people who had listened to my shows. It was the people discontent with harassing me on a single platform. Before I deleted my bio, it linked to three of my podcasts: Sidequesting, What Will Be Here, and Someone Dies in This Elevator. Guess which three podcasts got review-bombed. Yep. Not Hubris, not Falling Forward, not Light Hearts. I wasn’t entirely surprised. I had already gotten multiple hateful/spammy emails to my business account (one of them was just BEN SHAPIRO written out 50 times), and one “review request” to my newsletter (titled “You Need Help”). I had sort of figured it was a matter of time.
I got an email from James Cridland of Podnews with a request for comment. I started writing something on the last plane. I finished it the next day, published it on twitter, and sent it to him, along with the piece Wil Williams had just published.
Williams had been hit with similar harassment as myself. Reading their article, I found out that Easley had been interacting with the very people harassing me on twitter and validating them. I had no idea of this until I got home. “You are right,” he said, to the same group of people harassing me. I found out some other things about the history of Podcast Movement, but Easley’s words were what stuck with me.
But Wait, There’s More
On Sunday I am greeted with unexpected and devastating news. You don’t get to know the news, only that it was fully unrelated to podcasting and it leaves me miserable and heartbroken. The next week passes in a haze where I do not care about anything.
Here’s what was notable:
On August 30, I change my twitter handle. None of the Shapiro fans notice. They’re still tagging starplanes. I unlock my account.
On September 2, Podcast Movement unfollows me on twitter. They post:
“We’re listening to our Podcast Movement community — many who’ve been with us since the start. We’re putting in place policies to guide our social media & events with inclusivity, diversity & respect for all. It’s a journey. We’ll keep listening, keep growing together.”
It feels like they are not listening.
On September 3, Joe Rogan chimes in, calling Podcast Movement a cult. This naturally adds fuel to the fire. Cumulus (Daily Wire’s ad rep) pulls their sponsorship of Podcast Movement a few days later, on the 6th.
September 6 is also the first day nobody tags me in a hateful message on twitter.
It took two weeks.
Give it up for Week Three
September 7 is when Podnews joins the fray, over a week after Wil and I had published our pieces, and in time for me to start caring about this situation again. They write:
“Since the Shapiro thing has resurfaced: Dave Jackson, a member of the Podcast Hall of Fame and podcast consultant, has written his thoughts. After reflection, Podnews has consciously avoided publishing “hot takes” from both sides, but unlike many, Dave’s piece is balanced, respectful, and written with humility and curiosity.”
Personally, I don’t feel that Wil or I’s pieces were hot takes, and I was disappointed to see them called such. They were write ups of our experiences being harassed by Shaprio fans, and our calls for Podcast Movement to improve. Wil’s piece included history of their work with the company. Perhaps we weren’t respectful enough of the organization that platformed a transphobic network, or didn’t have the necessary humility after being called slurs online for half a week. Maybe, by virtue of being queer and nonbinary podcasters, we are assumed to be too invested for a balanced take. Whatever Podnews’ thoughts were, the article they chose to platform was, in my own opinion, simply bad. This article references Wil and I’s writing, but misses the point entirely.
Dave did not know who Ben Shapiro was until the latter showed up at Podcast Movement. It follows that he’s therefore unaware of The Daily Wire’s consistent attacks on transgender rights or anything I detailed in the second paragraph of this article. I don’t fault him for not knowing, but I do fault his entire piece for being poorly researched. He uses she/her pronouns for me (my twitter bio, website, and medium bio all state I use exclusively they/them pronouns), and misspells Wil’s name. Dave does link the GLAAD site on Shapiro, and states “When I saw that he has argued homosexuality should remain in the DSM as a mental illness, I could see why people find him offensive.”
This is as close as he comes to understanding what I was getting at, but fails to make the leap that a conference platforming a man with these views would make queer podcasters feel unwelcome in that space. Dave writes, “It sure sounds like everyone is welcome except Ben Shapiro. If you are inclusive you include everyone.” The fact of the matter is that welcoming hateful people like Shapiro will exclude the marginalized people he attacks. It’s disappointing that Dave read what Shapiro fans said to me online, and still fail to understand that I would not be safe in a room of Shapiro fans.
Even after reading “my very existence as a marginalized person is inherently political. The only thing a ‘politics free’ space does is form a breeding ground for hate” (in my article), Dave asks in his, “So, can we have a ‘Check your politics at the door sign?’”. For many people who are not white, able-bodied, straight, or cisgender, they cannot check their politics at the door because their politics involve demanding basic human dignity and rights. For example, my simple request for Dave to use my correct pronouns was deemed “absurd theater” by a commenter on his article. It’s clear that Dave doesn’t understand the experience of marginalized groups. His statement of “I’ve attended MANY podcast conferences and I’ve never heard anyone ask someone to “turn down your queerness.” further reflects this.
I say this not specifically to tear down Dave’s writing, but to underline that this was the article Podnews chose to send to their 20k subscribers. Not Wil’s article calmly explaining what happened at Podcast Movement, and the steps they should do to improve. Not my piece explaining why I tweeted about Shapiro’s appearance and breaking down the fallout of it. Nothing written by a queer, or trans individual. Nothing written by someone actually impacted by Shapiro’s performance.
I think it highlights an issue within the podcast industry — taking the stance of “both sides” and maintaining a “neutral image” more often than not silences marginalized voices. There’s a level of tone policing also at play here, where those impacted by the platforming of racist/homophobic/transphobic creators are criticized for being over-emotional or disrespectful in their responses. And thus, it’s the “balanced” responses by people without a stake in the situation that get shared. A cishet white man’s poorly researched article gets sent to thousands of people, and the pieces by nonbinary people don’t. We see this again and again in the podcast industry, and it is a problem.
Additionally, maintaining a neutral image while platforming The Daily Wire is impossible. When you do this, you’re platforming an organization with a host (Matt Walsh) that has declared “an all out assault on gender ideology” and a founder (Ben Shapiro) that has said being transgender “ is a psychological disorder.” This is not neutral. By platforming them, you are complicit in their active harm of trans people.
And so you can imagine my disappointment when, on September 8, Podcast Movement deleted the apology they posted during the conference. They tweeted:
“As we stated, we’re continuing to evaluate our policies guiding social media & events with inclusivity, diversity & respect for all. We have to start by sincerely apologizing to Mr. Shapiro for our reaction when he visited a booth we sold his company. That wasn’t right.”
In my perspective, they are apologizing to a man who put my tweets in a video for his company, twitter handle and all, and directed his followers to harass me. They have said the experience I’ve laid out for you in this article is acceptable. Exhibitors at Podcast Movement can encourage the harassment of Podcast Movement speakers online, and it’s fine.
Wil and I have been left out to dry by Podcast Movement. Since the direct messages we received from Dan Franks at Dallas, neither of us have been spoken to. The closest thing to direct correspondence we’ve received was Podcast Movement unfollowing us on twitter. Unlike The Daily Wire, I don’t need an apology. I simply need to know what they plan to do moving forward. But it seems like they’re hoping we’ll forget about it.
Us and everyone else.
Where do we go from here?
On September 23, Podcast Movement sent out a standard marketing email about Evolutions. It was reported they were going to meet with The Daily Wire on the 14th, but if they did, nothing has been said about it. There was no mention of this debacle, no statement on how they’re moving forward. I waited nearly a month to publish this article in the hopes it would have a satisfying conclusion, but alas, we don’t know what their game plan is.
People aren’t going to forget, though.
At minimum, without knowing if Podcast Movement will be actually checking badges at their next event, I don’t feel safe attending. Some of you will say this is overblown, but you don’t get to have an opinion unless you’ve gotten death threats too. Regardless, if Podcast Movement is platforming the Daily Wire again, I won’t be there. You can’t support transgender speakers at your event and give floor space to a company attacking them. In turn, I will not be supporting you.
The actions Podcast Movement takes before their next event in March will make it clear if their support is and has been performative, or if they genuinely value diversity and inclusion. They still have a chance to do the right thing. I hope they take it.
ps. If you are unkind in the replies of this article I will remove your comments.