Verizon Dumps Loren “Tech Nigga” Feldman. Blogosphere Crys Foul

Loren Feldman and video production company 1938 Media are in the news again. The story is that Feldman recently got a video distribution deal with Verizon Wireless on their mobile VCast service, and that deal was pulled yesterday because protesters feel Feldman is a racist. This comes on the heels of a similar deal with C|NET/CBS announced several weeks ago that seems to have been put on “hiatus”, which I presume is a polite way of saying canceled.

The history of this is as follows.

Almost a year ago, Loren Feldman posted a video he wrote, produced and starred in, called “Tech Nigga.” In it, he questions why there aren’t any black tech bloggers, and then in a supposedly satirical manner, pretends to be one, and imagines what it might be like. Feldman employs a fake black accent, dons gold jewelry, and uses every other conceivable stereotype that could be packed into three minutes including discussions of “bitches and hoes.”

The video was indeed offensive, but perhaps what was more offensive is other audio clips Feldman has produced saying things like “black people are lame” and essentially breaking down how horrible black people and black culture are. It is truly amazing material that doesn’t get nearly as much play as the Tech Nigga stuff, but it should.

In previous coverage, I have organized the relevant audio/video clips here.

In any case, I was offended from the day Feldman produced these pieces. But people have a right to be offensive on the Internet.

My real problem came when people started to give Feldman a really large platform. I initially wrote about this problem several months ago, when Feldman appeared on a panel here in New York, talking about mobile video. But this was small potatoes compared to when Mike Arrington, the most powerful man in the tech blogosphere, became Feldman’s best friend and seemingly set up interviews with Kara Swisher from the Wall Street Journal’s All Things Digital, Dan Farber from C|NET/CBS, and many other “A-List” bloggers and Internet stars.

I publicly commented to Kara about her support for Feldman and got a nasty private email from Loren. He said he was writing to gloat over his success. To me it smacked of some attempt at intimidation. But whatever, it was totally low class and inappropriate.

In any case, the blogosphere support trend was disturbing but still no big deal. But when it really starts to become a big deal is when huge corporations like C|NET/CBS or Verizon decide to start distributing content from someone who “guiltlessly” produces “entertainment” like Tech Nigga.

Thankfully, it appears that both the C|NET deal and the Verizon deal have gone away.

But that is not the interesting part of this story.

What is really fascinating to me that so many top level bloggers are supporting him. Michael Arrington at TechCrunch suggests the reaction might be some kind of conspiracy tied to another Feldman controversy related to Shel Israel. Mathew Ingram frames it as a free speech issue, and thinks “it would be nice if there were some voices on the other side.” Mark ‘Rizzin’ Hopkins from Mashable seems to think if you have a problem with Feldman you should just not watch but shut up about it. Tom, from Toms Tech Blog agreeswith Mark that if you don’t like it you just shouldn’t watch, but that protesting is out of bounds. More interestingly, in the comments on the TechCrunch article, Tom questions the morality of protesters, presumably black, who are petitioning Verizon. He seems unswayed by the idea that targets of racist material might be angry, or hurt, and that it might be totally within *their* rights to protest.

To me, it is amazing that all these guys seem, on one level or another to support Feldman. It is also totally clear in the comments that they are all incredibly out of touch with the vast majority of their readerships who “get” why Verizon would drop him and seem to fully support the decision.

The concept that this could be a free speech issue is bizarre. Verizon has every right to not air the content of people who they or a large part of their audience find offensive. Mathew Ingram works for Toronto’s Globe and Mail, and as an example I suspect none of their reporters are (at least publicly) racist. It is certainly Globe and Mail’s right not to hire such people or distribute their work. Free speech means you are free to speak anywhere that will have you, not that you are free to speak wherever you want. It is not your right to speak on Verizon’s service, or on C|NET/CBS, or anywhere that thinks your presence would not reflect well on them.

And if a bunch of black people decide they don’t want to be Verizon customers over an issue like this, and they choose to make that public, that is their right as well. As I see it, free speech worked perfectly in this situation. Feldman has the free speech right to be offensive. I have the free speech right to be offended, just as the constitution intended it.

The bottom line for Feldman is that it turns out that free speech doesn’t mean free from the consequences of your speech. Hopefully, that, if nothing else, is a useful lesson.

Post Author: Ruby H. Rosenbaum

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