Why “real journalists” hate Sean Parker’s wedding

Silicon Valley has launched a backlash against ankle-biting journalists. Careful what you wish for, guys

Topics: Sean Parker, Bryan Goldberg, redwood grove, alexis madrigal, conspicuous consumption, excess, Silicon Valley, Journalism, ,

Why "real journalists" hate Sean Parker's weddingAP/Sean Parker (Credit: John Shearer)

So, let’s get this straight: Rich Silicon Valley techies are so mad at the current, ongoing backlash against rich Silicon Valley techies that they have unleashed a backlash of their own — against tech journalists!

The line that tech journalism should never have crossed? Mocking Napster co-founder and Facebook investor Sean Parker’s $4.5 million wedding in a redwood grove on the Monterey Peninsula.

If you’ve been following this story, you are probably familiar with Alexis Madrigal’s initial rant condemning the wedding, based on a report by the California Coastal Commission, and the undeniable fact that Parker will shell out an additional $2.5 million from his own pocket to deal with permit violations and excise the ghost of any possible impropriety. You may also have found time to wade through Sean Parker’s 10,000 word defense, in TechCrunch, of the sacredness of weddings, his own credentials as an environmentalist, and the pitiable state of Internet journalism.

There are some interesting issues of fact at play in this dispute: namely, just exactly how much damage did Parker’s wedding do to the redwood grove? Reasonable people can differ reasonably on this topic.

But then here comes Bryan Goldberg, ranting off the hook this Monday morning in PandoDaily, in an “article” titled The “Real Journalists” Need to Wake Up. And suddenly this whole saga takes a sharp turn into the distressingly absurd.

Goldberg, a co-founder of the sports news site Bleacher Report, appears to have been nursing a serious grudge for quite a while about the fact that the author of an article critical of Bleacher Report never contacted him. Therefore, a pox on all tech journalists, who should be doing more important things with their time than being mean to rich techies!

In short, it’s time for the media elite, and their stable of “real journalists” to start covering real news and stop half-assing their way through some poorly-researched Sean Parker roasting.

Why talk about Kim Jung Un when we can hear Alexis Madrigal grill Sean Parker? Why concern ourselves with Mohamed Morsi’s fascism when George Packer and the New Yorker are exposing Dave Morin? Perhaps Mother Jones can report on real racism, as opposed to their article on Silicon Valley — the region of America that most overwhelmingly funded and voted for a black president.

This is funny. Never mind the hilarious attack on Mother Jones for not covering “real racism”– Bryan Goldberg has obviously never actually picked up a copy of Mother Jones and looked at its table of contents. And never mind the fact that Packer’s piece on Silicon Valley was one of the most thoroughly reported and penetrating critiques of Valley culture written in quite a while (even if it did, in my opinion, not give enough credit to the Valley’s widespread liberalism). The most ridiculous part of this screed is the implied argument that tech journalists should be doing something “important” like covering Egypt or North Korea instead of covering technology.

‘”If [Alexis Madrigal] wants to report on social issues, maybe he could write about his hometown Oakland, which is basically a giant metaphor for ‘regional wealth disparity’….. ”

Bryan Goldberg is really mad. Sean Parker’s contributions to Napster and Facebook are so revolutionarily important, and made him so much money, that he should be able to live his life unimpugned by the jealous rabble looking for someone — anyone! — to pull down into the mud.

Both Goldberg and Parker want journalists to be more responsible. Instead of “denouncing first and asking questions later,” they want journalists to make an effort to call the people they’re attacking. This is entirely laudable and I fully support it, even though the economics of the Internet unleashed by so much Silicon Valley innovation and disruption have made it very difficult to build workable business models on top of real investigative reporting.

But be careful what you wish for, Bryan and Sean! Because a legion of reporters who actually try to get the real story would seriously shake up Silicon Valley. Mother Jones (the social activist) is often credited with having declared that her “business” was to “afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.” But that is most certainly not the kind of journalism that Silicon Valley generally depends on for its lifeblood of publicity. Sure, there are a few ankle-biting muckrakers out there, but they are far outnumbered by “journalists” who do little more than serve as stenographers for tech industry P.R. firms — and then get published in places like TechCrunch and PandoDaily. My own experience suggests that the dozens of pitches that arrive in my email from P.R. firms representing tech companies is that the last thing they want me to do is practice some “real journalism” — like point out how there is no reason any sane person would ever want to use their app. And god forbid that I should try to get an executive (if I actually managed to get one who doesn’t have the word “marketing” in his or her title on the line) actually answer a serious question. Maybe Sean Parker is an exception, but most Valley executives are not in the business of facilitating “real journalism.”

What happens if every hack who makes a living repurposing tech companies’ press releases suddenly wakes up and decide to do some “real journalism”? I’ll tell you what: Life would get a lot more uncomfortable in Silicon Valley. Sean Parker might start reminiscing fondly about those days when all people cared about was his absurdly lavish wedding.

Which is not to say his wedding wasn’t worth covering in the first place. Let’s review. The headline of Alexis Madrigal’s original piece was “New Government Documents Show the Sean Parker Wedding Is the Perfect Parable for Silicon Valley Excess.” Even if Parker didn’t scratch a single redwood or cause one iota of streambed erosion, that headline is still true. By his own account, Parker spent $4.5 million on his wedding. He created a limited liability corporation just to run the massive logistical undertaking required to turn his redwood grove into a magical wonderland.

In a country where incomes and wages are stagnating or falling for the vast majority of Americans, Parker is living like a railroad tycoon of yore. I propose that it is part of our fundamental DNA as Americans that we yield to the urge to mock and ridicule such conspicuous consumption!

The extent to which technology has played a role in declining upward mobility of the middle class is a big story, and deserves more “real journalism.” The extent to which companies like Facebook work hand in hand with government intelligence agencies is a big story and deserves more “real journalism.” The way tax laws are written to favor the wealthy — a big Silicon Valley story — deserves more coverage. The division of our society into haves and have-nots, eminently captured by the compensation levels of Silicon Valley executives, deserves more coverage.

Sean Parker’s extravagant wedding was a slap in the face to anyone struggling to make ends meet in the United States. It was the perfect snapshot of 1 percent entitlement, as is the shock and anger that anyone would dare criticize it. If he wanted to protect the sacredness of his wedding, maybe he should have considered a lower budget.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows


Loading Comments...