Yesterday, the well-known political blogger Matt Bruenig picked a minor fight on Twitter with Neera Tanden, the president of the Center for American Progress, about her alleged endorsement of reducing welfare benefits for the impoverished. “You don’t get to be president of CAP without starving some poor mothers,” he wrote in one tweet. Today, Bruenig’s employer, the liberal think tank Demos, fired him:
After multiple conversations, Matt Bruenig and Demos have agreed to disagree on the value of the attack mode on Twitter. We part ways on the effectiveness of these kinds of personalized, online fights and so we are parting ways as colleagues today. And just as we did with Matt three years ago when he first joined our blog, Demos will continue to find and amplify the voices of lesser-known progressive policy commentators to make for a more inclusive public sphere.
(The term “parting ways as colleagues” suggests that Demos and Bruenig arrived an amiable solution, but we’re reliably told that Bruenig was, in fact, terminated.)
The incident over which Bruenig was fired began to unfold yesterday afternoon, when he criticized Joan Walsh of The Nation after she published an article about “the presumption of moral and ideological superiority” of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ supporters (many of whom, Walsh argued, are “trying to overturn the will of black, brown, and female voters or somehow deem it fraudulent”).
@joanwalsh It's really about old people versus young people, but you know that.— Matt Bruenig (@MattBruenig) May 19, 2016
To which Walsh responded:
Matt, you're becoming a troll. https://t.co/vDYkbEIQH0— Joan Walsh (@joanwalsh) May 19, 2016
And Bruenig, again:
At this point, Neera Tanden entered the conversation by publishing a tweet, directed at Walsh, that linked to Bruenig’s tweet (which was also directed at Walsh):
Twitter notifies users when other users link to one of your tweets, so Bruenig eventually responded to Tanden with a tweet referring to her as a “geriatric”:
It's fun when the geriatrics who worked to starve my mother of cash assistance get going. https://t.co/ugXi9qH7lx— Matt Bruenig (@MattBruenig) May 19, 2016
To which Tanden responded:
Tanden responded by denying that she ever supported “welfare reform,” the term of art for the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996, which drastically slashed government aid to poor Americans:
It’s true that, based on the available evidence, Tanden didn’t “support” welfare reform. But it’s also true that Tanden served as an “associate director for domestic policy” during the Clinton administration, after President Clinton signed the policy into law. So while she may not have supported the welfare reform as it was written and implemented, she didn’t reject it to the point where she might have refused to work in Clinton’s White House.
Sometime after their spat, Bruenig stopped tweeting at Tanden, and his employer apologized on Twitter:
After apologizing, Demos “received emails from multiple individuals who made it clear that we were not aware of the extent to which Matt has been at the center of controversies surrounding online harassment of people with whom he disagrees,” according to a press release the think tank published on Friday afternoon.
Demos didn’t name these people or specify the controversies in which Bruenig was involved, but apparently concluded that the incidents were serious enough to warrant a reprimand: “It was evidence of a pattern of behavior that is far out of line with our code of conduct.” Later on in the the same announcement, the organization clarified, “We are not taking issue with our blogger’s political opinions or with him challenging prominent, powerful people. What troubles us is a pattern of tone and conduct, not his chosen targets or the content of his ideas.”
Update, 7:50 p.m.
The Bruenig Bailout— Matt Bruenig (@MattBruenig) May 20, 2016
As of this update, the drive has raised over $14,000.
Update, 7:55 p.m.
Neera Tanden emails Gawker:
I find the whole situation unfortunate. Mr. Bruenig has made contributions on the poverty discourse and I wish him well in the future. I would welcome an actual discussion of ideas with him.