Hit Pieces: Bias, Libel and Accusation in Contemporary Journalism

Payton Williams
Voices Editor

Hit pieces are the lowest form of journalism, and recently there has been an overwhelming surge of them.

For readers who have never heard the term, a hit piece is an attempt to turn public opinion against someone under the guise of objective reporting.

The problem with this sort of piece, however, is that it only appears objective. A hit piece is written with the express purpose of ruining someone’s career or life so the bias is built into the basic premise of the story.

A hit piece might read as investigative journalism, but it should not be confused with it.

A journalist writes an investigative piece, ideally, because he wants to find answers. A journalist writes a hit piece because he believes he already has the answers.

Popular music review site Fader recently displayed a particularly odious example of this kind of “journalism.”

The site published a piece recently, titled “The Needle Drop pioneered music review vlogs. His lesser-known channel pandered to the alt-right.”

The piece is a complete mess of opinion and grossly incomplete research masquerading as objective journalism.

The piece deals with Anthony Fantano, aka “The Needle Drop,” a well-known music critic whose YouTube channel has become more popular than any other of its type, and earned him a place as one of the most famous music critics in the world.

The Fader piece details videos on Fantano’s other YouTube channel, “thatistheplan,” which Fantano recently removed from the site. The channel featured surreal comedy content and videos of Fantano playing a character meant to lampoon various examples of more outlandish left-wing political views.

The humor on the channel was not always smart, certainly, but to label it as any kind of hate speech would be a stretch.

However, the Fader piece doesn’t just accuse Fantano of hate speech, but goes so far as to call him a racist, and accuse him of openly pandering to the alt-right, a rightwing political movement whose stances are so ill-defined, everyone on the political spectrum to the right of Karl Marx seems to get the label thrown on them.

It is at this point that I should note a crucial problem with Fader’s piece that goes beyond the dreadful content of it: Fader is a music review publication.

This may not seem like much of an observation at first, but when it is taken under consideration that Anthony Fantano and his “The Needle Drop” channel is the most important and popular source of music criticism in the world right now, it becomes apparent that there is a conflict of interest.

The central problem with this coverage, aside from the lack of research, is that Fader stands to gain considerably from ruining Anthony Fantano’s reputation.

In doing so, Fader is removing some of their biggest competition, and they are doing it by throwing the worst accusations possible at Fantano, true or not.

This is against any journalistic code of ethics I’ve ever seen, but quite a bit of Fader’s audience doesn’t seem to care.

No proof is required to ruin a person’s reputation.

When someone is accused of something grotesque, especially in the abstract way Fader has done it in this piece, all they need to do is place the stink of suspicion on the target.

Fader even misrepresented Fantano’s reaction to their story.

After Fader published the piece, Fantano posted a video on YouTube responding to the piece.

In the video, he states he removed his other channel because it was not a successful revenue source, and YouTube’s changing policy made it increasingly difficult to keep the channel running.

Two weeks later, Fader amended the story with a new subtitle, which read, “He deleted the entire channel when we asked for comment about why it was so bad.”

That statement is a baldfaced lie, yet there it is, front and center on a piece published in a professional publication.

How this can be seen as anything other than libel, I have no idea.

These sorts of stories appear in various publications with increasing regularity, and the accusations can get far harsher and far more difficult to avoid.

Popular indie rock musician Conor Oberst is another example of this.

A few years ago, a commenter on various websites accused Oberst of sexually assaulting her in 2003.

The commenter has since recanted her story, and the story has been demonstrably proven false in every conceivable way since it was first reported.

Of the reasons the story is false, chief among them is that Oberst was not even in the state at the time of the alleged crime.

However, the facts of the case have not stopped publications such as The Daily Dot or Jezebel from running hit pieces portraying Oberst in a dubious or, at worst, criminal light.

One such article even calls him an outspoken hero for men’s rights activists, who are another loosely organized rightwing political group.

Notably, this is very similar to, and just as ridiculous as, Anthony Fantano being called a spokesperson for the alt-right.

It is important to note that, despite the false accusations against Oberst, very few of the news sources who ran the stories portraying him as guilty printed retractions.

Hit pieces are not objective journalism. They have their biases built into them from the very beginning.

Any piece written with the express purpose of hurting someone’s reputation should be discredited outright, or at least read with a critical eye.

As a matter of fact, the future of journalism depends on all of us keeping a critical eye on every story.

Sometimes, someone’s reputation may well be depending on it.


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