TLDR: #46 - Episode 45 Redux
February 19, 2015 9:08 PM - Subscribe

The last episode of TLDR was titled "Quiet, Wadhwa." It concerned a man named Vivek Wadhwa, but we did not ask him for comment. The episode was later removed. This week we look at the controversy we've become a part of and our role in it. To read Amelia Greenhall's original blog post, titled "Quiet, Ladies. @wadhwa is speaking," click here. To read Greenhall's post-podcast removal follow up, titled "I wrote about Vivek Wadhwa and you'll never guess what happened next!," click here. To read Vivek Wadhwa's rebuttal of episode #45 on Venture Beat, titled "My response to the podcast that unfairly attacked me," click here. To read Vivek Wadhwa's other response to the situation on South Asia Mail, titled "Perils of becoming a public figure," click here. To read Gawker and Gizmodo's coverage of the situation, click here and here.

Vivek Wadhwa given a chance to reach out to his "accusers", in his own words.

I'm very interested to see what people think about this episode.
posted by tjgrathwell (39 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
My immediate response is that he could not have done more damage to himself than he did with his behavior in this episode.
posted by maxsparber at 11:16 PM on February 19, 2015 [3 favorites]

Oh jeez, that South Asia Mail piece is just too much. Back after RTFA etc
posted by infini at 2:32 AM on February 20, 2015

Oh. I was a party to his convo with Randi (mentioned in the South Asia mail). Looked up the tweets the other day in my archive. Guess what? He came off as condescending then too. Plus, at the time she only had followers in the low thousands (vs 10k+ now due to making one of the GG block tools). He retweeted her into his feed and the book account's. And ".@" replied to her. Several of us explained that doing so is implicitly (intentionally or not) encouraging your followers to pile on and reply to defend you which can result in a lot of abuse if follower counts are very different. Recently he avowed not to know this.
posted by R343L at 3:55 AM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

As for the episode, he's been critical about the opening segment (before the interview with him) but it's actually very much in the style of On the Media. They've even done something like this - "interviewing themselves".

The interview itself was definitely graciously handled by Haggerty. Given how personal it is she keeps her cool and doesn't get far off track (I can't imagine the interviewer hasn't had similar experiences as many women in tech, esp having heard the yanked podcast). He even opened very unctuously by saying her apology was inadequate and asked if she felt remorse. That's the kind of thing that, if it weren't journalism, you'd just hang up or walk away.

She also did a good job trying to pursue the idea that the things he called accusations (of harassment, etc) were actually just women expressing discomfort at behavior they perceived as creepy (intentional or not.).

Some other spots I wish Haggerty could have pursued a bit more, but I suspect a lot of it was very hard since he kept interrupting and claiming (in my opinion inaccurately) that she wasn't letting him speak or lying about him. I imagine she was trying very hard just to keep it on track enough to be a usable interview at all.
posted by R343L at 4:06 AM on February 20, 2015 [5 favorites]

Christ, what a [paternalistic] asshole.
posted by dinty_moore at 7:01 AM on February 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

I definitely felt his behavior in the interview came out similar to his described online behavior (at one point he asks the interviewer to have her boss listen to the interview and re-explain it to her....)

I whish they'd delve more into his actual research - he refers back to his authority as a researcher, but has he published research on the topic?

The one point I felt was actually interesting was the idea that reporters are looking for a male voice on the topic - it would be interesting to hear from journalists as to why this is the case....
posted by motdiem2 at 7:46 AM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

That was one of the strangest and most uncomfortable podcasts I've ever listened to.

I'd only discovered TL:DR very recently through the Reply All connection (I'm British, no NPR). Interestingly, after last week's episode I was telling my boyfriend how great it was that TL:DR is edited and fronted by women.

To start with the most charitable observations, I believe Wadhwa when he says that he's been harangued and that the notoriety from last week's podcast has had a detrimental effect on his wellbeing. I can somewhat sympathise with his defensiveness...

However, either he is truly ignorant and tone-deaf or he is a contemptuous egotist. Either way he is incredibly patronising, and all he did was legitimise Greenhall et al's complaints about his attitude and actions.

I felt really sorry for Haggerty, and thought she did the best job possible given the circumstances. I for one don't think that TL:DR were obligated to get Wadhwa's opinion (the lack of fact checking was a gross oversight, however). Last week's podcast was about Greenhall's experiences as a woman in tech, and I am really disappointed that WNYC has redacted it. Also, if Wadhwa is as respected as he says he is, then maybe he should start recruiting from the (binders full of) women he has worked with to stand up for him.
posted by dumdidumdum at 9:06 AM on February 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

I’m struck by a lot of questions:

1. So there was a lot of talk about not fact checking in the last episode, but I’m not really clear what facts they got wrong? Was this about them missing the fact that he gives his proceeds away? I wasn’t able to listen to it before it was taken down, so I’m kind of curious.

2. The whole Kelly Ellis thing – Vivek spent a lot of time saying he didn’t know who she was, that he’d never talked to her (presumably talking about face to face, since they had at least one conversation on twitter). That was weird, right? A cursory search for her makes it appear that she has been writing about women in tech for a while and there’s a Kelly Ellis that’s a software engineer at Medium. I’m wondering if this was about her lack of appropriate credentials (maybe she didn’t go to X, Y, and Z school), or was he trying to say that she wasn’t a real woman in tech? (And also, why would a woman in tech need credentials beyond being a woman in tech to comment on being a woman in tech?)

3. Appealing to her producers was just gross, and I’m stuck wondering what the story was there, with the takedown.

4. There was a lot of talk about how there were all of those women aspiring to be in tech couldn’t look up to the twitter women in tech, but could look up to the women Vivek talks about in his book (and, presumably Vivek himself). What exactly is the difference between the two, besides one group being on twitter? I’m wondering if he was trying to imply that twitter was too US-centric, while his book was not – and whether or not that could be true.

5. Was the whole ally thing about trying to set himself up as the safe alternative to all of those strident feminists? Ally really ... isn't slang. If you aren't familiar with the word as an ESL person, cool, but it seemed like more than that.

6. What kind of balls do you have to have to say to a journalist (even obliquely) that they just don’t understand how journalism works?
posted by dinty_moore at 10:06 AM on February 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

On the upside, he is hung by his own petard in this podcast.
posted by infini at 10:20 AM on February 20, 2015 [4 favorites]

If you aren't familiar with the word as an ESL person, cool, but it seemed like more than that.

This is such a bullshit argument. English is one of the two official langugages of India. It's widely taught and spoken. He may well have grown up speaking English - I know from experience that many Indians do - but I cannot confirm that.

In any case, Wadhwa did both his undergrad and postgrad in English. He's been studying, working, researching...etc in English speaking countries at least since 1974. He writes, teaches, researches (or should that be 'researches'?), lectures in English. He is clearly fluent.

And if he doesn't understand slang, and knows he does not, why does he keep using it?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:18 PM on February 20, 2015

I wonder how people who don't already think he's a jerk think he came out in that interview.
posted by bq at 8:44 PM on February 20, 2015

A couple of thoughts...

I thought that the framing editing on this one was really great. The way that they explain what the accusations Adee before before the interview keeps them fresh in your mind and ready to hear those things happening in the interview itself.

I also think that this is why I prefer podcasts these days over radio. There is a lot more room for things like this to happen and it makes for very interesting (if uncomfortable) listening.
posted by montag2k at 12:33 AM on February 21, 2015

I wonder how people who don't already think he's a jerk think he came out in that interview.

Well, the responses on twitter seem to be similar to the responses here, while a good chunk of the comments on the website (yeah, I know, but I was curious) seem to either think that both Meredith and Vivek look bad, or that Vivek was 'understandably angry'. A lot of it has to do with the focus on the hand on the knee statement. Which, well, I'd have gone with the 'guided elbow' of social media myself, but her word choice over mine, eh.

I'm not sure how TL;DR could be accused of cherry picking - if anything they would have had to edit him down to make him look better. I'd be really interested to see if gawker or gizmodo does a follow up piece.
posted by dinty_moore at 3:30 AM on February 21, 2015

I'm not sure how TL;DR could be accused of cherry picking - if anything they would have had to edit him down to make him look better.

I didn't notice any edits, but that could just be good editing. I noted Haggerty's statement that she would be happy to air the interview in its entirety. I'm skeptical that they cherry picked. TLDR has way more credibility for me that Wadhwa, who seems to say whatever it takes to discredit his detractrors.

I'd be really interested to see if gawker or gizmodo does a follow up piece.

Gawker: Vivek Wadhwa Makes Great Case Against Vivek Wadhwa on WNYC
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:59 AM on February 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

I was just listening to this and got 19 minutes in (so there were about 5 minutes of the episode remaining) and I had to stop, because I couldn't continue listening to him digging hole after hole. Yuck.
posted by minsies at 4:01 AM on February 22, 2015

Wow. I'm listening to it now, and it is *epically* uncomfortable. I mean, epically. He's clearly awful, but it's *so* uncomfortable.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:03 AM on February 22, 2015

Finally listened to this. Wow what an uncomfortable interview. Wadwha did a good job hanging himself. Props to Meredith for keeping her cool - I probably wouldn't have. I was shaking on her behalf!

One thing they didn't quite flesh out is him "profiting" from speaking about women. Even if he is not paid for writing articles, giving speeches, etc, it all serves as PR to boost his rep, which certainly can lead to financial gains in other ways later on.

Although the "interview the interviewer" at the beginning was an interesting touch, I wasn't really crazy about Brooke's tone of voice. It was rather patronizing. The whole ep had a "mom and dad stepped in" feel to it - hard to say if that gives it more weight or if it's a slap on the wrist to Meredith.
posted by radioamy at 9:03 AM on February 23, 2015

Oh yeah also I know a fair amount of Indians, and I don't buy his "I'm a foreigner" excuse about language at all.
posted by radioamy at 9:05 AM on February 23, 2015

The whole ep had a "mom and dad stepped in" feel to it...

Yep, and mom and dad should have been the ones interviewed. Who made the decision to pull the episode? Why was it done so seemingly fast and clumsily? That's the air that needed to be cleared more than the decision not to get input from Wadwha.
posted by pb at 9:58 AM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Gawker makes a good point in the article His thought were red thoughts linked to:

The biggest problem with leaving Wadhwa out of episode 45 wasn't that it was unfair, it was that the inevitable controversy ended up overshadowing the conversation TL;DR set out to start. Instead of being just one example of the challenges women face industry-wide, Wadhwa ended up becoming the whole story. The larger discussion was hijacked for a couple of weeks by a much louder, much narrower debate about the specifics of one man's behavior.
posted by radioamy at 12:32 PM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

Well, at least he's stepping out.
posted by dinty_moore at 12:51 PM on February 23, 2015

Why I am stepping out of the debate on women in technology

Ugh. Even when he's doing the right thing, he manages to be a dick about it.

Also, for some reason he thinks 'cut and paste' means 'edit'.

I can't imagine what possible context he feels could make his responses seem any less appalling, but I would still be interested in hearing the full interview (if it's not just a product of his fevered persecution complex).
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 1:58 PM on February 23, 2015

I just listened to the interview on the way home. The sense I got from it was of a generally well-meaning blowhard who has no ability to take criticism. (Especially from women.)

Anyone who has been active online in the last decade is more than familiar with having your words taken out of context, with having random strangers do drive-by criticism (or attacks), and with having people share things you thought were private. He should have known all of this was possible, and his shock and horror strike me as alternately naive and disingenuous.

That said:

Kelly Ellis shouldn't have reposted his private DMs publicly; that put her in the wrong there.

But the fact that he couldn't even be bothered to identify her, or give Amelia Greenhall's name, didn't help him any: it just reinforced the impression of arrogance.

I fail to understand how he can claim not to be an ally or an activist when he gives so many talks on diversity and spends his own money to publish a book about women innovators, with the stated goal of assisting women to become economically and politically more independent. That was blatant misrepresentation: you can be an academic and an activist/ally, they are not necessarily contrary positions.

The incessant scolding was over the top, and again reinforced how patronizing he is.

And he never did specify exactly what it was that TLDR had libeled him about. Other than the financial stuff, which as noted above still helped him PR-wise.

I sincerely doubt that anything substantive was edited out of this interview prior to airing: Brooke Gladstone is savvy enough to let an interviewee hang himself.
posted by suelac at 7:16 PM on February 24, 2015

IIRC, Kelly tweeted publicly about him DMing her so he demanded she post their conversation in full. His "who is she, is she really a software engineer" was just so incredibly awful. It wasn't enough for him to say he disagreed with her. He had to say she wasn't even a believable, real person.
posted by R343L at 8:06 PM on February 24, 2015

Correction: she posted the "I'm disappointed" DM. Then he demanded she show the rest. But frankly I don't think sharing DMs is somehow all that awful. It's one thing to share private communication someone would expect to keep private -- because it's very personal or has actually privileged information in it -- but ones where some person you don't even know is criticizing you? Ha.
posted by R343L at 8:11 PM on February 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Kelly Ellis shouldn't have reposted his private DMs publicly; that put her in the wrong there.

Why not? She didn't ask for his DMs. She gave him no assurance of confidence. He continued to contact her after she asked him to stop. He was being a patronising dick to her, she called him on it. Staying silent on that kind of behaviour just enables him doing it to others.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:40 PM on February 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

Nitasha Tiku took Wadhwa up on his offer to visit him at Stanford.

That's a great article. It sounds like an uncomfortable interview though.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 2:55 PM on February 25, 2015

Yeah I thought Nitasha was pretty brave to go out to visit him. I would have liked to hear the actual audio...then again maybe not, as listening to him talk over and belittle Meredith was pretty painful.

Watching all this unfold is like reading a B-School case study. If he had just kept his cool after the TLDR episode, it would have blown over. However he continues to dig his own grave.
posted by radioamy at 4:29 PM on February 25, 2015

However he continues to dig his own grave.

I'm not sure about that. I think he's finally wised up. He's publicly bowed out, albeit gracelessly and with all the hallmarks of a bad faith gesture, and he's stopped tweeting about it. He hasn't publicly abused Tiku on Twitter or made outrageous claims of libel, slander, unprofessionalism and and unfairness like he did with Haggarty, TLDR and WYNC.

That's progress, if only because he set such an incredibly low bar for himself.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:41 PM on February 25, 2015

He got a professional handler?
posted by infini at 2:02 AM on February 26, 2015

So it occurred to me that I hadn't seen this podcast on my podcast player thingie in a while, so I googled, and it turns out that WNYC canceled the podcast and fired Meredith Heggerty in March. Ouch. I guess Wadhwa won this one.

WNYC is currently asking me for money through push notifications on their app, and I think I'm going to email them and say that I'm not donating this year.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:47 AM on May 22, 2015

Wow, I didn't even realize. That's really unfortunate.
posted by dinty_moore at 6:15 AM on May 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

She seemed like she was taking the podcast in a welcome direction, pointing out places on the web where women had carved out creative spaces or spaces for discussion. I guess that was less valuable to Wadhwa than whatever the hell he thinks he's doing. It's too bad WNYC responded as they did, because they lost something they don't have otherwise.
posted by maxsparber at 8:11 AM on May 22, 2015

WNYC does have another podcast, New Tech City, that is also hosted by a woman and covers somewhat similar topics.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:16 AM on May 22, 2015

That sucks intensely.
posted by bq at 12:28 PM on May 22, 2015

WTF?! Seriously?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:32 PM on May 22, 2015

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