Kudos to the Atlantic: The most mainstream news source to be willing to take 
this on.


The Most Common Error in Media Coverage of the Google Memo
Many headlines labeled the document “anti-diversity,” misleading readers about 
its actual contents.

Conor FriedersdorfAug 8, 2017
Mike Blake / Reuters
This week, headlines across a diverse array of media outlets proclaimed that  
at least one Google employee was so antagonistic to women that he circulated a 
10-page “anti-diversity screed.”

That is how Gizmodo characterized the now infamous internal memo when 
publishing it Saturday. Similar language was used in headlines at Fox News, 
CNN, ABC News, the BBC, NBC News, Time, Slate, Engadget, The Huffington Post, 
PBS, Fast Company, and beyond (including a fleeting appearance in a headline 
here at The Atlantic).

But love or hate the memo, which makes a number of substantive claims, some of 
which I regard as wrongheaded (and which would’ve benefitted greatly from an 
editor with more emotional intelligence than the author to help him avoid 
alienating his audience, even if he was determined to raise all of the same 
arguments), the many characterizations of the memo as “anti-diversity” are 

Using that shorthand is highly misleading.

As many who read past the headlines would later observe, its author, who was 
later fired, began, “I value diversity and inclusion, am not denying that 
sexism exists, and don’t endorse using stereotypes. When addressing the gap in 
representation in the population, we need to look at population level 
differences in distributions. If we can’t have an honest discussion about this, 
then we can never truly solve the problem.”

The balance of his memo argues that he is not against pursuing greater gender 
diversity at Google; he says it is against the current means Google is using to 
pursue that end and the way the company conceives of tradeoffs between the good 
of diversity and other goods.

He wants to use different means to address “the problem,” he insists, and 
doubts that the tradeoffs of getting to a staff of 50 percent men and 50 
percent women would be worth it (a position implicitly shared by every company 
that doesn’t have gender parity in its workforce). He may be incorrect, but 
even if the substance of every viewpoint that he expressed is wrongheaded and 
even if Google must make huge strides in its treatment of women, that won’t 
make characterizing the memo as an anti-diversity screed any more accurate.

The author specifically objects to using what his memo calls discriminatory 
means to achieve greater gender diversity, then adds that he has concrete 
suggestions for changes at Google that would “increase women’s representation 
in tech and without resorting to discrimination.” In his telling, this could be 
achieved by making software engineering “more people-oriented with pair 
programming and more collaboration” and changes that would “allow those 
exhibiting cooperative behavior to thrive,” as well as offering more 
opportunities for employees to work part time.

Whether one regards those suggestions as brilliant, rooted in pernicious gender 
stereotypes, or anywhere in between, they are clearly and explicitly 
suggestions to increase diversity in a manner the author regards as having a 
stronger chance of actually working than some of the tactics that he is 

Later, the author writes, “Philosophically, I don’t think we should do 
arbitrary social engineering of tech just to make it appealing to equal 
portions of both men and women. For each of these changes, we need principled 
reasons for why it helps Google; that is, we should be optimizing for 
Google—with Google’s diversity being a component of that.” Someone who believes 
diversity is one component of many for “optimizing” a company is not 
anti-diversity, even if he places a lesser value on achieving gender parity in 
staff, vis-a-vis other goods, than those who argue that Google should make 
whatever tradeoffs are necessary to achieve equal gender representation.

Perhaps the author’s approach would lead to less gender diversity at the 
company if it were adopted. To shorthand his position as “anti-diversity” 
before the fact is still misleading.

Journalists grasp this nuance on lots of other issues.

Donald Trump campaigned on the promise of more jobs for working-class 
Americans. In service of that end, he has proposed canceling free-trade 
agreements, building a wall to keep out immigrants, and eliminating lots of 
environmental regulations. Critics who avow that they favor more jobs for the 
working class, but oppose achieving more jobs through those specific means, are 
not described as “anti-job,” especially when they suggest specific alternatives 
for job-creation. Even if their alternatives would result in fewer jobs than 
the Trump administration’s plans, that still wouldn’t make a writeup of their 
proposal “an anti-job memo.”

To object to a means of achieving x is not to be anti-x.

The failure to apply that same logic to the author of the memo is 
straightforwardly frustrating for those who agree with many of the views that 
the memo expressed. And it should also frustrate those who disagree with the 
author but care about social justice.

Every prominent instance of journalism that proceeds with less than normal 
rigor when the subject touches on social justice feeds a growing national 
impulse to dismiss everything published about these subjects—even important, 
rigorous, accurate articles. Large swathes of the public now believe the 
mainstream media is more concerned with stigmatizing wrong-think and being 
politically correct than being accurate. The political fallout from this shift 
has been ruinous to lots of social-justice causes—causes that would thrive in 
an environment in which the public accepted the facts.

Most journalists strive to do their jobs with rigor and accuracy, just as most 
chefs try to put out good food, but occasionally send out a plate that is 
undercooked or over-salted, being fallible humans working under deadline 
pressure. But their journalistic blind spots and confirmation biases that no 
human can completely escape are exacerbated by an aggressive cohort on social 
media that reacts angrily when journalists present themselves as proceeding 
with dispassionate rigor on stories related to social justice, as if simply 
interrogating the least charitable interpretations of something like the Google 
memo is objectionable. That is shortsighted even from the perspective of 
understandably angry social-justice activists. A reputation for rigor is 
indispensable if journalism is to persuade anyone of that which they do not 
already believe. Mischaracterizations rooted in group think undermine otherwise 
factual articles. Social-media activists ought to stop heckling chefs who are 
trying to measure precisely.

To me, the Google memo is an outlier—I cannot remember the last time so many 
outlets and observers mischaracterized so many aspects of a text everyone 

Casually perusing “anti-diversity” headlines without reading the memo might 
mislead readers into thinking a Google employee had assigned a negative value 
to gender diversity, when in fact he assigned a positive value to gender 
diversity, but objected to some ways it was being pursued and tradeoffs others 
would make to maximize it.

The distinction is not insignificant, especially as some news reports mentioned 
that some at Google agreed with the memo. Many people might prefer to have 
colleagues with the actual views of the memo’s author, however objectionable or 
wrongheaded they find those views, rather than work alongside colleagues who 
believe that the presence of women at the company is a net negative, and want a 
future in which only men are recruited and employed there. Coverage that 
conflates those perspectives ill-serves even readers who would object to both 
views, but who do not see them as remotely equivalent. And it doesn’t capture 
the contents of a memo which concludes, “I strongly believe in gender and 
racial diversity, and I think we should strive for more.”

If anything good is to come of the broad public circulation of this story, news 
outlets must do a better job of accurately characterizing the memo’s 
contents—I’ve seen numerous mischaracterizations that would lead readers to 
believe that women had been attacked or disparaged in ways that the text of the 
memo does not actually bear out.

And then news outlets should transition from stigmatizing the memo’s claims, as 
if the entire audience has preemptively rejected all of them, to marshaling 
facts and arguments to adjudicate each of its many claims on the merits. Some 
may believe that even arguing about what the former Google employee wrote will 
“normalize” his views. That instinct is wrong. In fact, adjudicating the memo’s 
most dubious arguments on their merits is particularly important: coverage 
rooted in stigma will be no more effective in stopping the embrace of beliefs 
expressed by the author than it was at stopping Donald Trump from being elected 

When journalistic institutions widely publicize material of this sort, only to 
abdicate the vital work of rigorously addressing its substance, they make its 
least plausible claims more likely to be normalized. They leave the project of 
assessing its merits and flaws to Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, and other venues 
where the loudest voices tend to prevail, instead of offering their own careful 
reporting and expert analysis.

Sent from my iPhone

Centroids: The Center of the Radical Centrist Community 
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