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Kotaku Editor-in-Chief Schooled on Journalistic Ethics by One of His Victims

Kotaku’s editor-in-chief, Stephen Totilo, was humiliated on Reddit by one of the most high profile victims of the publication’s agenda-driven reporting.

Stephen Totilo had been belatedly responding to a reply in the r/assassinscreed subreddit in a discussion thread about his editorial entitled “A Price of Games Journalism” that was published on Nov 19th. The post he was replying to wanted to know how he would respond to a 2014 blog post by Stardock CEO Brad Wardell in which he refuted all the details of one of Kotaku’s worst failings.

Published in 2012, Kotaku ran an article detailing a then-ongoing sexual harassment lawsuit against Wardell that had been raised in 2010. The publication alleged that Stardock’s subsequent lawsuit for professional misconduct against the woman who had made the allegations was retaliatory in nature.

Breitbart has covered how Kotaku had put their agenda first over unbiased reporting and published material that took the allegations against Wardell at face value. Kotaku’s self-described feminist writer Kate Cox published salacious details told by the lawsuit claimant, only giving Wardell a brief window to offer up a response. The graphic used for the article was a list of the allegations made by the claimant, including whether or not she “enjoyed tasting semen” with the word “UGLY” emblazoned across it.

The legal process would later go on to completely vindicate Wardell. The harassment case brought against him would be dismissed with prejudice in Oct 2013. The claimant wrote a letter of apology to Wardell for raising a groundless lawsuit against him.

Kotaku’s eagerness to make a monster out of Wardell worked. He went on record about the subsequent harassment he received despite the case being dismissed. “I received an email from someone who described my house in sufficient detail to concern me and promised to kill me, rape my wife and sodomize my son,” he stated in a Breitbart interview. The damage to his reputation continues to this day, even with updates to the original reports about the story that include the fact that the lawsuit was dismissed.

Given it is one of Kotaku’s most remarkable reporting failures, and given the very real consequences for an innocent man, you would think that Kotaku’s editor-in-chief would want to avoid talking about it beyond grovelling apologies. However, following the publication’s pity party for themselves after they came clean about being blacklisted by Bethesda and Ubisoft, it seems Totilo couldn’t resist trying to justify what happened after the Wardell matter was brought up by Reddit user u/CertFresh.

Totilo’s revisionist version of their handling of the story stated that they “included both sides,” justified the absence of time afforded for comment because Wardell “said he wasn’t able to speak as freely then,” and said the way the story played out informed how Kotaku handled “sensitive reporting.” For good measure, he added that he and Wardell had been in contact since the story and that he “wish[ed] him the best and hope these incidents recede into the past for all parties.”

What he hadn’t anticipated would be that Wardell would see the comment and issue a withering reply, detailing the multiple areas where the journalistic process had been ignored in a bid to generate the most damning story possible against an innocent man.

“Your original story did not include both sides. Your writer only used documents that were provided by the plaintiff who cherry picked the documents she provided,” Wardell said, posting under his Reddit account u/draginol.

“If the story was ‘newsworthy’ as you say,” he continued “then your writer would have given us the same courtesy of allowing us to have sufficient time to provide our side of the story. In actuality, while your writer worked with the plaintiff for a month (According to your writer), she didn’t notify us about the story until the night before it was going up and didn’t give us any information with regards to what the story was about.”

He went on to list how the story would have looked very different had he been allowed to provide any input.

We could, for instance, have provided her deposition in which she admitted, under oath, that the statements she claimed I had made in the Kotaku article were, in fact, never spoken. She fabricated her allegations.

We also could have demonstrated that not only did not a single one of her own witnesses corroborate her allegations but in fact stated just the opposite. She not only lied but fabricated events out of whole cloth.

We would also have been able to point out that all of the coworkers she named in the suit as having suffered from our “hostile work environment” still worked at Stardock years later (and now, 5 years later, STILL work at Stardock — that is correct, 100% retention rate of the various female co-workers she named in her suit. How many tech companies can claim such a high retention rate?).

The fact is, your writer had a politically motivated agenda and used Kotaku as her forum to express it. The story had no merit to it whatsoever.

Wardell also rightly pointed out that for Totilo to defend Kotaku’s reporting of the story was a travesty: “I, nor Stardock, have never contemplated taking legal action against Kotaku so it is unnecessary for you to present any sort of plausible deniability angle to the story. Kotaku did a bad thing with that story both from a journalistic ethics point of view as well as in showing basic decency.”

Needless to say Totilo didn’t reply after that.

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