Last night I went to a party for Tina Brown’s new book The Palace Papers. I love Tina, I think she is a genius, and I was excited to celebrate her at a proper literati party. It’s nice to get out of the house twice a year and drink a white wine with a bunch of media elites. I thought I’d have one Sauvignon Blanc and head back home to watch Real Housewives with my dog.
I did not expect to get reamed out by Thomas Chatterton Williams.
First, some background. Thomas Chatterton Williams is a writer and a member of the so-called “Intellectual Dark Web” who has become renowned for his heterodox opinions that are actually just, well, dox. I think he’s smart, and a good writer, but in general has a bad case of Identity Politics Brain Disease. About seven years ago I edited a piece he wrote at the first iteration of Gawker and maybe a year later we had coffee at a pie shop near my house. If we’ve talked since, I don’t remember it, or those conversations have been lost to erstwhile work email addresses.
At this version of Gawker, we’ve written two articles about him: how he was leaving his post at Harper’s to go to the Atlantic, how he was mad he couldn’t get a blue check on Twitter. The posts were cutting but nothing anyone hasn’t already said about him in book reviews or on Wikipedia or on Twitter, where he regularly gets into extended skirmishes with other writers.
Anyway, I was at this party, and so was Thomas Chatterton Williams. I was with a pal who wanted to say hi to him, so we went over to chat. He greeted my friend warmly and then turned to me. “You,” he said, pointing his finger at me, “you are disgusting. Disgusting.”
I laughed. What? He must be kidding, I thought. This is a fun party for adults! Meghan and Harry! The Queen is old! The Jubbly! The only thing I could think of to say was “it takes one to know one” (not very good, I know).
But he continued on his odd tirade. “You are disgusting. You are not successful. You are disgusting.” He must have said “you are disgusting” to me about 15 times. It became clear that he was definitely not joking. My friend tried to intervene: “Stop! Stop! You can’t say that!” But he kept going, and finally, he walked away, leaving my friend and I in shock.
So, I know you’re wondering. Am I disgusting? I don’t really think so. I run the second edition of a gossip website that makes fun of celebrities and sometimes media people, and I like to think it carries the spirit of its predecessor with a quarter of the bitchiness and one percent of the misogyny. Yes, at the age of 28 — almost eight years ago — I did write that a baby was hipster scum. In the past I’ve engaged in the dastardly practice of subtweeting, but I don’t really tweet or express my opinions about things anymore, because who cares what I have to say? I’m a lousy gossip but I’m not looking to pick stupid fights. I live a quiet life.
I have a few takeaways from my interaction with Thomas. One: no one — no matter how “disgusting” — deserves to be yelled at at a party for a new book about the Royal family. Well, maybe if Prince Andrew was there, it would be acceptable to tell him he is disgusting. But he is a pedophile, and I still would have taken him aside to express my discontent with his behavior, or maybe sent him an email afterwards, so as not to sully the event.
Two, while we were both invited to a party full of successful people, Thomas Chatterton Williams is decidedly more successful than I am. Not to puff him up, but facts are facts. He won a Guggenheim, is a visiting professor at Bard, a writer at the Atlantic, has published several books, and even though I do have a blue check on Twitter, he has 122,000 followers to my 26,000. Meanwhile, I am a media cockroach who dropped out of Columbia Journalism School and has been fired from several jobs for insubordination.
Three, the whole crux of Thomas Chatterton Williams’s online persona rests on the importance of open debate and good-faith engagement, and how our current culture, marred by the scourge of identity politics, is suppressing those things. Walking up to someone at a party and telling her she’s disgusting 15 times in a row and then turning heel before she can get a word in is, well, not exactly honoring that ethos. And as his former editor, I would have suggested he at least try a few different ways of saying it.