Former New Yorker fact-checker Talia Lavin believed she had weathered the storm over her ill-advised tweet about a photo of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement employee last June, suggesting erroneously that he was wearing a Nazi Iron Cross tattoo.
No such luck. Lavin (pronounced “lay-vin”) remains in the conservative-media crosshairs even though she deleted the offending tweet after 15 minutes, promptly resigned from her job at the prestigious weekly magazine, and profusely apologized to ICE computer forensics analyst Justin Gaertner, a wheelchair-bound Marine Corps veteran of the fighting in Afghanistan.
The 29-year-old Lavin more recently took a job researching extreme-right outlets for the left-leaning press watchdog Media Matters, before she was laid off after six months.
But after reports this past week that she has been hired to teach a once-a-week journalism course this fall at New York University—on researching the outlets of the far right—conservative media organizations quickly revived the nine-month-old tattoo controversy and vented outrage over Lavin’s new gig.
Among other brickbats, Commentary editor John Podhoretz tweeted (“satirical[ly],” he later explained, as he apologized and deleted his Twitter account) that “J Schools should be neutron bombed.”
Fox News star Laura Ingraham invited convicted and presidentially pardoned felon Dinesh D’Souza on her 10 p.m. show to help her denounce Lavin and her fellow NYU journalism instructor Lauren Duca, another favorite Fox News target, as “little journo-terrorists.”
Ingraham’s Thursday-night broadside repeatedly featured images of Lavin and Duca.
At the same time, Duca also was the target of an extensive Jezebel piece, which alleged she had sent “cruel and harassing anonymous emails to coworkers.”
Both women responded to their critics in interviews with The Daily Beast.
“It’s very disconcerting when someone with 3 million viewers calls me a terrorist,” a sleep-deprived Lavin told The Daily Beast the day after Ingraham devoted a six-minute segment to condemning Lavin’s and Duca’s NYU teaching gigs. “I’ve gotten some death threats. I got lots of slurs. I have been called a ‘cunt’ 10,000 times… Hopefully no one shows up to my class and murders me.”
Duca, a visiting NYU scholar who’ll be teaching a three-day-a-week course on feminist journalism this summer, told The Daily Beast that she frequently has been targeted by alt-right trolls, has become a periodic Fox News punching bag, and has been forced to consult with law enforcement authorities.
“Some of it I can think about with some attempts at critical remove. The Fox stuff actually is dangerous, and results in death threats, sometimes including my family,” Duca said. “That’s the part where I’m not quite sure how to unplug myself from the kind of lightning-rod avatar I’ve become. Because that has practical safety concerns associated with it.”
Asked for a response to Lavin’s and Duca’s claims, Fox News offered no comment.
Lavin, a prolific tweeter, posted Ingraham’s segment with the comment: “I am 29. I have no full-time job. I am teaching a single course, for $7k, as an adjunct. This is insane. And irresponsible. It is incitement. It is not okay.”
D’Souza, meanwhile, tweeted at Lavin: “No one is saying you shouldn’t have a job. Go work at Costco or a tattoo parlor or wherever. But should you be TEACHING in the very area where you proved yourself a fraud?”
Talking Points Memo editor Josh Marshall fired back at D’Souza: “You got booted from the Christian college you ran for adultery. Then you got convicted of fraud & became a felon. Then whatever dignity you had left got leeched out of you like a wine press by a group of historians unwinding your crank bullshit. What job should you be doing?”
Ingraham and D’Souza’s attack was the climax of a day that began with Fox & Friends newsreader Jillian Mele slamming Lavin for “infamously smear[ing] an American hero” (while misidentifying her as a former “New York Times fact-checker”).
Lavin’s latest time in the barrel began on March 20 when Jon Levine, a media writer for The Wrap, reported on her NYU appointment and stressed her mistaken tweet. Levine also spotlighted the tattoo tweet last July when Lavin got the job at Media Matters.
“I feel that Jon Levine’s record of writing puff pieces about [alt-right figures] Mike Cernovich and Laura Loomer, and cozying up to the alt-right while viciously attacking left-wing journalists, absolutely comports with his undistinguished and frankly disgusting record,” Lavin said. “It also shows a clear line between Jon Levine and the right-wing press, so I don’t know who The Wrap thinks they’re fooling by employing him.”
The Wrap’s executive editor, Tim Molloy, responded: “Jon Levine writes tough, fair and carefully reported pieces about people everywhere on the political spectrum. That's what reporters do. It’s odd that Ms. Lavin called his stories about Laura Loomer and Mike Cernovich ‘puff pieces,’ because he just reported stories about Ms. Loomer getting a press credential revoked and Mr. Cernovich publicly contradicting himself. Obviously Ms. Lavin is unhappy with Jon’s recent piece holding her accountable for a past error.”
Lavin, for her part, is still recovering from the ugly blowback prompted by an article in the neo-Nazi, white supremacist Daily Stormer in the wake of the Justin Gaertner flap.
The hit piece, which suggested that Jews like Lavin are going to inspire a “real Holocaust,” was headlined, in part, “Greasy Fat Kike ‘Fact Checker’”; ICE, a taxpayer-supported federal agency, also issued a press-release trashing Lavin (misspelling her name as “Levin”) for “advancing [her] political opinions by baselessly slandering an American hero…”
Lavin’s resumé includes her 2012 cum laude degree in comparative literature from Harvard, a surfeit of academic prizes, and a Fulbright research fellowship; also her proficiency in Russian, Hebrew, and Ukrainian; and she has written for publications ranging from The Daily Beast to The Washington Post to The New York Times Book Review.
“I am more than my worst tweet,” she said, adding that she resigned her New Yorker job because her colleagues were being unfairly swept up in the storm over her tattoo tweet; also, alt-right controversialist Milo Yiannopoulos was threatening to withdraw his cooperation for a profile she was fact-checking.
NYU associate professor Adam Penenberg, director of undergraduate studies at the school’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, said it was his idea to hire Duca and Lavin, who was initially skeptical that she had much to teach but eventually realized that she might indeed.
“It’s sickening to me that young female journalists have to put up with such toxicity in a way that you and I, and our colleagues, never had to before,” Penenberg said. “It seems like they get caught up in the right-wing attack machine, and then their lives are made a living hell. What they want them to do is disappear and go away. And what I really respect about both Lauren and Talia is they’re not going away. They’re fighting.”
The 28-year-old Duca—a former Teen Vogue columnist—shot to instant fame in December 2016 after she successfully tangled on-air with Fox News’ Tucker Carlson over her column arguing that then-President-elect Donald Trump was “gaslighting America.”
After that fiery appearance, which boasts nearly 180,000 views on YouTube, “I spoke to a lot of authoritative figures in media who talked to me and said, ‘I had brunch with Tucker and he’s actually a nice guy,’” Duca told The Daily Beast. “And I don’t really understand that, because the damage that he’s doing to the country and to my dad’s brain is a real, measurable, toxic thing. I really don’t care if he was affable over scrambled eggs.”
Carlson declined to comment.
Duca is represented by the Hollywood talent agency UTA and recently finished writing a book on young people and politics, to be published in September by Simon & Schuster. She is outspoken, occasionally profane, and deliberately provocative on social media; her February 2018 tweet upon the death of 99-year-old evangelist Billy Graham—“Have fun in hell, bitch”—sent the conservative twitterverse into a tailspin and prompted Fox & Friends host Ainsley Earhardt to call Duca’s post “really disgusting.”
“Not everything I tweet is fully thought out—whatever,” Duca said. “But basically every one of my friends, including myself, is gay. So that person [Graham] made hate mainstream and has a lot of blood on his hands. And respect for the dead is kind of a nonsense, made-up thing. I could have been way more thoughtful. I didn’t expect it to take off.”
Ingraham’s attack coincided with the publication of a 4,500-word essay on Jezebel, the feminist-oriented Gizmodo Media Group site, headlined “We Should Probably Talk About Lauren Duca.”
The piece, by Anna Merlan, deployed a pained, sorrowful tone as it took a deep dive into the possibility that Duca, as a 25-year-old fashion writer for the Huffington Post, might have anonymously sent “cruel and harassing anonymous emails to coworkers,” including a message that insulted a male co-worker as “a bald freak” and a female co-worker—“the most damaging,” Merlan writes—as an “overweight fake blonde.”
Merlan never definitively proves that Duca authored these insults years ago, though apparently she spoke with a sufficient number of anonymous former colleagues to demonstrate that Duca was not universally popular in the Huffington Post newsroom.
Noting that “Duca’s level of self-regard can feel excessive and even unwise to her former Huffington Post coworkers,” Merlan writes that Duca’s “growing platform has… created consternation among her former colleagues at Huffington Post.”
Duca didn’t respond to Merlan’s requests for comment and claimed to The Daily Beast that she hasn’t read the Jezebel piece, though she didn’t deny the allegations of mean-girl behavior.
“What I have to say is that if anybody would like to know who I am, they are more than welcome to take a look at the work I have done since the election, and that is all that you need to know,” she said. “Regardless, ‘young woman getting a rare voice in American politics may have said mean things in 2015’ is not journalism.”
In response, Merlan sent The Daily Beast an email that said in part: “Workplace harassment isn’t really the same as ‘saying mean things,’ and this story was about a pattern of behavior that allegedly continued well after Duca left Huffington Post. It raised larger issues about what kind of accountability we expect from people who choose a public life… I would say that Duca’s refusal to address those questions, acknowledge her past behavior, or even consider apologizing for it… is indicative of why the story was worth telling at all.”
Duca, for her part, laughingly added: “I didn’t take my dick out or wear blackface, so I feel like life goes on.”
CORRECTION, 3/24/19, 11:12 p.m. ET: An incorrect reference to “Gawker Media Group” has been corrected to “Gizmodo Media Group.”