Two weeks ago, TL;DR, the internet-centered companion show to WYNC and NPR's On the Media, ran an episode criticizing Vivek Wadhwa, an author, entrepreneur and academic who writes about women in tech, for overshadowing the voices of actual women. WYNC took the episode down early last week because it didn't include comment from Wadhwa himself, and announced TL;DR would do a follow-up piece now that the show had become part of its own story.
After the original episode came out, Wadhwa claimed on Twitter that host Meredith Haggerty and guest Amelia Greenhall, the feminist, UX designer and writer whose blog post "Quiet, Ladies. @wadhwa is speaking now" inspired the episode, had lied about and possibly defamed him on air.
Wadhwa's appearance on the show got off to a combative start when Haggerty apologized for not interviewing him in the first place.
"Is that the only apology I'm getting, Meredith?" he responded, "Or do you also feel remorseful about the false allegations you made and how you disparaged me and how you laughed at me?"
About those allegations: Much of Haggerty's and Wadhwa's conversation centered around her description of contacting someone privately on Twitter as "the hand on the knee of social media." Wadhwa felt that characterization had wrongly portrayed him as a harasser, predator, and creep.
He pointed to last week's Gawker article to support the assertion that Haggerty and Greenhall had accused him of harassing women, but Haggerty responded by quoting it directly: "That discussion could be read as accusing Wadwha of sexual harassment ... but no one is actually making that accusation."
Although Wadhwa says some of his critics have been taking things too far on Twitter, it's a pretty big leap to say TL;DR's explanation of how sliding into a woman's DMs can make her feel uncomfortable was tantamount to calling him a sexual harasser.
Wadhwa did correct the record on a couple of points, though: He hasn't financially profited from his writing and speaking on women in tech, and he does sometimes point media outlets toward women they could be interviewing.
Haggerty told producers at the beginning of the show that the reason she hadn't sought comment from Wadhwa in the first place was because it seemed "counterproductive" to address accusations that he's drowning out women in tech by making his own voice even louder.
It's a good point, but this episode proves that including him would have been the right thing to do. It's often the right thing to do: If someone is as wrong as you believe they are, they're liable to make your point for you.
In the process of defending himself, Vivek Wadhwa ended up confirming much of what TL;DR asserted about his attitude. Here's someone who's been criticized for figuratively talking over women, and we hear him literally talking over Haggerty and then asking to bring in her producers when he doesn't like where she's taking the conversation. In the episode, it comes up that some of his female critics have given him the nickname "Dadhwa," and that's how he comes off here: as a dad dressing down a misbehaving child.
As a commenter on the On the Media website aptly put it, "It was clearly a serious journalistic error not to interview Mr. Wadhwa for the first piece. I think that mistake will probably not be made again, especially because in this case, it seems as though his response would have gone a long way towards validating some of the claims against him."
The follow-up accomplished all of its goals: It gave Wadhwa his opportunity to speak, gave listeners a chance to make up their minds about him, and covered all the journalistic bases for WYNC. Still, the whole two-week debacle may have left us worse off than we began.
The biggest problem with leaving Wadhwa out of episode 45 wasn't that it was unfair, it was that the inevitable controversy ended up overshadowing the conversation TL;DR set out to start. Instead of being just one example of the challenges women face industry-wide, Wadhwa ended up becoming the whole story. The larger discussion was hijacked for a couple of weeks by a much louder, much narrower debate about the specifics of one man's behavior.
You might even say it was drowned out.