The hacked DNC emails have thus far provided an abundance of mostly non-revelatory riches, though some nuggets have been more useful than others. However, because tone and intent are often lost in translation, they’re also apparently easy to misinterpret, as xoJane discovered earlier today.
In a listicle of the hacked DNC emails’ “most awkward dispatches” published Monday, writer S.E. Smith decided that this email referring to “taco bowl engagement” meant that a member of the DNC was referring to Latinxs as “taco bowls”. Smith wrote:
Now, if I was generous, I’d say she was riffing off the taco bowl controversy and referring to the outrage over the Trump tweet. But her comments are ambiguous enough that it...kinda sounds like she’s referring to Latinx voters as “taco bowls.”
The email in question, written by Rebecca Christopher, reads:
Attached is a script for a new video we’d like to use to mop up some more taco bowl engagement, and demonstrate the Trump actually isn’t trying. Let me know if you have any flags and thank you!
It’s true that Smith was not being “generous” at all—in fact, at my least generous, it reads like Smith maybe wanted to relish in a deliberate misreading of the term “taco bowl engagement,” when it’s pretty obvious that the worst crime committed here was Christopher’s use of slangy corporate jargon to refer to social media during a time when “tweeters” were in fact “engaging” with the fact that Donald Trump made a weak stab at Hispandering with his pinche taco bowl.
It’s an odd interpretation to me. Latinxs don’t have to read into innocent phrasings like Christopher’s when there are so many really obvious slurs all around us, particularly those that sting very acutely and, at their worst, will have real-world impact on us and our families. It makes sense that the DNC would want to “engage” people who were outraged about the taco bowl tweet; that’s not even a matter of good politicking as a matter of good internetting. They made a video to “mop up taco bowl engagement” for probably the same reasons xoJane wrote a post of the seven “most awkward” moments in the DNC hack: because they both have an audience to whom they hope to communicate something illuminating, particularly when that something is timely.
The resulting video in question, by the way, is here:
While it’s no secret that large swaths of Democrats aren’t quite sure how to engage Latinxs—¡ayyy, abuelita!—and we are often skeptical of outreach attempts based on the present and past, this video is fine, and does exactly what Christopher says it’s meant to do.
When deputy communications director Eric Walker emailed both Smith and Jane Pratt defending Christopher and claiming that the xoJane post has made her “the subject of incredibly unfair vitriol over the past 24 hours online,” Pratt posted it and asked her readers, “How would you respond to this email?” Her header asked, “Doesn’t the DNC Have Bigger Fish to Fry at the Moment?” Then, inexplicably and within a few hours, she deleted it. (It remains viewable at Disqus and other cached sites.)
In his email, Walker asked xoJane to change the post, a request that tends to make those of us in the media dig in our heels, particularly when coming from a PR/communications representative. Though factual errors can and should be changed with a correction, the case in question is Smith’s opinion, and no thorough journalist would change a valid opinion at the behest of a subject. However, it’s good and common practice in journalism when receiving emails such as this to update the post with these sorts of responses, even or perhaps especially when they cast aspersions on the journalist’s work. The assumption is that your readership is smart enough to figure it out, or at least discerning enough to make up their own minds. xoJane has not done this, which is fine, but Smith claimed that by sending the email, the DNC was “intimidating” Smith “into changing a story.”
Update, 7/27/16: An xoJane representative has emailed Jezebel the following:
xoJane did in fact update s.e. smith’s piece at 3:00p to include a statement from the DNC. We did not at any time remove smith’s piece. It remains on the site, with the DNC statement clearly embedded. Jane Pratt often invites readers to engage on various subjects on the “Jane’s Phone” section of the site. Today, an incomplete draft of a post regarding the update to this story was pushed live to the site prematurely and later taken down only as it was incomplete. We invite all of our readers to continue to weigh in on this topic in the comments thread of smith’s piece.