“Horrifying.” “Sickening.” “Horrific.” That’s how tech and mainstream news outlets irresponsibly and negligently reported on false rape accusations against Silicon Valley venture capitalist Joe Lonsdale, who was convicted in the media long before he cleared his name in court.
The story began when Lonsdale was accused of rape by his former intern, Elise Clougherty, whom he had previously mentored while she was a student at Stanford University. Between 2012 and 2013, Clougherty and Lonsdale were in a relationship. After the relationship ended, Clougherty would allege that it was physically and emotionally abusive and that Lonsdale engaged in “hundreds of non-consensual, and often violent, sexual acts.” Clougherty has now withdrawn all of her claims, and the case has been dropped.
Lonsdale, who filed a counterclaim of defamation, said that Clougherty was hurt that he had ended the relationship and described her claims as a “vengeful, personal attack” aimed at hurting his career. In a statement, Lonsdale claimed to have a text from Clougherty to a friend, in which she described her plans as a “Joe take-down scheme.”
Lonsdale’s attorney, Kristen Dumont, suggested that Clougherty had felt guilt about engaging in pre-marital sex as a Catholic and was attempting to avoid culpability with charges of rape.
Lonsale also dropped his defamation suit in the wake of Clougherty’s withdrawal. Due process working correctly, one might think. Except that the tech and mainstream press didn’t see it that way: they were convinced Lonsdale was guilty from the start and said so. Loudly.
Business Insider ran a headline describing the allegations against Lonsdale as “horrifying,” with correspondent Shane Ferro writing that they would “make your stomach turn.” Half the article was dedicated to a copy-paste of Clougherty’s most graphic descriptions of rape, including forced period sex and strangling. New York magazine also devoted almost half their article to Clougherty’s graphic claims, while Lonsdale’s counter-claims are relegated to a couple of paragraphs. Cosmopolitan ran another sensationalist headline describing the allegations as “horrific.”
Thanks to the resultant hysteria, Stanford University issued a 10-year ban against Lonsdale on the basis of allegations alone. A Title IX investigation – now a byword for the abuse of due process – was also initiated by the college. Lonsdale accused Stanford of having been pressured into the investigation due to the “political climate” surrounding campus rape. As more details of the case emerged, including a stream of lovey-dovey emails from Clougherty to Lonsdale, Stanford reversed the ban and dropped the Title IX investigation.
Lonsdale’s case closely mirrors that of Brad Wardell, CEO of software and video games developer Stardock corporation. Between 2010 and 2014, Wardell, a 20-year veteran of the games industry, almost had his career destroyed by a video games press that was then firmly in the grip of ideological and mendacious social justice warriors.
Wardell was accused of sexual harassment by a former employee who later dropped her case and apologised for her behaviour. Nevertheless, the games press reported the initial allegations as if they were prima facie true.
As a result, Wardell and his family faced near-constant harassment from activists over several years. He claims that they only subsided after GamerGate, a backlash against the social justice warriors of the video games press that finally led to Wardell receiving apologies from his former accusers.