The Houston Chronicle Fires a Reporter for Having an Opinion

We ignore the story of Deshaun Watson at our own peril. It is difficult to convince self-described “investigative journalists” to take any interest in professional sports, even when there is relevance to the subjects of institutional corruption and propaganda. I have learned this the hard way, as none of my writings or videos on the theme of sports as a means of social control attracted any serious interest, and I have similarly limited expectations for this piece, its clear journalistic implications notwithstanding. Nevertheless, we will continue to provide the Overwritten audience with content worth of their attention, even if it falls on deaf ears and blind eyes.

On Saturday, the tenth of April, Defector Media reported that the Houston Chronicle terminated a writer named Aaron Wilson for his commentary on Deshaun Watson. For those outside the know, Mr. Watson is the starting quarterback for the Houston Texans, one of the thirty-two teams in the National Football League. After signing a massive contract with the Texans in September of last year, Watson became increasingly critical of the organization and eventually demanded a trade to another, presumably more competent, team. However, that demand has been thwarted by a series of twenty-odd lawsuits filed by masseuses who allege that Watson sexually assaulted them.

Though the mass media supported Watson almost unilaterally in his negotiations with the Texans, the same informative apparatus universally presumed his guilt as soon as the masseuses filed their complaints. Seemingly, Aaron Wilson was the sole exception: on the nineteenth of March, Wilson participated in an interview for Boston’s largest sports radio network, wherein he questioned the masseuses’ motivation and criticized their attorney, Tony Buzbee. The Houston Chronicle seemed to suspend him shortly thereafter, but his termination became public knowledge only last week. In an internal email obtained by Defector Media, Reid Laymance, the Chronicle’s sports editor, warned his staff with the following language:

This note serves as a reminder that as we report, analyze and describe those allegations [against Deshaun Watson], those who bring them and the person they are brought against, we must approach the story with fairness and care toward all involved. Given the frequency of content we are creating, on a growing number of print and digital channels, our editors must also be more vigilant with our oversight of coverage on all platforms … Facts are good. Analysis is OK. Opinion, speculation or baseless assertions are not. We won’t tolerate that sort of commentary.”

At Overwritten, we have written and spoken at some length about the sustained, variegated assaults on intellectual independence for more than two years, but still we should be astonished on the day that an editor declares that personal opinion is unacceptable—not a particular opinion, but opinion in and of itself. We should be astonished and we should be appalled, but we are not—either because we believe that the matter on which Wilson expressed his opinion is meaningless and frivolous, or because we are so accustomed to censorious overreach that we effectively expect editors to exert such extreme authority.

Notwithstanding the explicit specificity of Laymance’s dictum, his suggestion is that Wilson made an inappropriate or unprofessional comment about Watson’s accusers—who, we are told, are owed “fairness and care”. Laymance’s expectation is in striking contrast to the abundance of indignant commentary in which Watson has been depicted, without any substantive evidence, as a “sexual predator”, to borrow the Houston Chronicle’s own description. For the nonce, we will set aside the question of balance or “fairness” and address Wilson’s comments on their own terms. Allow us to present the most notorious of them now:

Yeah, it’s a money grab and it started off that way, and once the lawyer put it out after they didn’t want to acquiesce and pay the money demands, then they put out a call for more. And that’s what [Buzbee is] doing by using the Instagram, he’s trying to attract more cases. Basically, it’s ambulance chasing … I tell you what, most of the legal community in Houston thinks low of what Tony Buzbee is doing. It’s looked down upon … It’s easier, actually, when you go after someone with an impeccable reputation in many ways, because they have the means to pay. In the case of someone like this, Deshaun Watson, they’re more likely to pay to make the whole thing go away. In his case, it’s kind of like you don’t negotiate with terrorists. People are demanding money, they’re asking for money.”

To be clear, Wilson’s argument is not the one that I made in my recent video about Watson. I have taken the view that the Houston Texans have fostered, if not engineered, this scandal in order to salvage their franchise, the reputation of which was risking irreversible damage in the midst of Watson’s demand for a trade. However, I raise absolutely no objection to any of Wilson’s suggestions: it is perfectly feasible that Buzbee has shopped for litigants in an attempt to extort an uncommonly wealthy celebrity whose career, already in transition as a result of his demand for a trade, would be in very serious jeopardy if his public image were to be compromised. At the very least, the Texans must be promoting this story and encouraging public discussion in order to make themselves look better, if only by comparison.

As we learned of Wilson’s termination, Watson’s attorney admitted that his client has engaged in consensual sexual behavior with masseuses. The mass media, fettered by its own puerility, cannot draw the obvious conclusion, but every culturally educated individual understands that Watson has a penchant for the kind of masseuse you might find in Bangkok, who can perform additional services—for a fee. Such activity is practiced in every nation on Earth, but in the United States, where a prevailingly puritanical sexual morality prohibits prostitution, it is demonized. If Watson is revealed to be engaging in this practice, then he will become an irredeemable beast in the eyes of a reactionary, unlearned public—and unrelated accusations, such as that of sexual violence, gain an unwarranted credibility.

Concordantly, Wilson’s comments have also purposefully interpreted as the crude expressions of a misogynistic ire. Per the command of the neoliberal political elite, the mass media has broadcast this message—this ad hominem attack—with relentless insistence for the better part of the past six years; and as I have suggested in multiple previous videos, we are being subjected to a redoubling of this theme in preparation for Kamala Harris’s next presidential campaign. The objective is to teach, or to command, unquestioning obedience—not to female authority figures, per se, but to authority figures that have been sanctioned by this force of neoliberal authoritarianism. However, the bourgeois-capitalist ideology of fourth-wave feminism has exploited legitimate issues of sex inequality to insist upon the moral integrity of this process.

Wilson is not the first or most prominent victim of this process, and perhaps his case is not as significant as I have suggested here, but the outcome of his case—rigid indifference on the part of a supposedly liberal public, and submission on his part through an open apology for the imaginary offense—is an illustration of the objective preferred by the authoritarian class. Arguably the most frightening element of this situation is how commonplace it all is, how we accept intellectual intolerance as a natural occurrence, if not as a virtue. One senses that we are losing this battle against it, but perhaps it is for that very reason that we must continue fighting.

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