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Correct Opinions

A Letter on Integrity and the Scandal Engulfing Hell Gate

Will recent developments chill Hell Gate’s commitment to taking provocative stands?

This is not an easy post for me to write, and I take no pleasure in it. I have made the decision to publish this only after long internal debate and consultation with my conscience. I write this knowing that it may cause no small controversy, and that it may even cost me cherished friendships. While airing dirty laundry has never been my style, readers have the right to know about recent developments at Hell Gate.

Journalists, I often say, are servants of the sacred flame of truth. But successful journalists everywhere agree that that service must also be bounded by the limits of civility and seemliness. The sanctity of journalism hangs upon the balance of these two principles, truth and decorum. The preservation of this balance has compelled me to hold my tongue until now, but I am increasingly convinced that my principles have been abused by cynical actors exploiting my judicious restraint.

Over the last month, I have struggled shoulder to shoulder with my coworkers to carve a space for Hell Gate in the New York City media landscape. That struggle has demanded of our small team a level of loyalty and trust seldom seen outside of marine foxholes. It has been Hell Gate do-or-die, Hell Gate against the world. Just this past weekend, when the New Yorker published a Talk of the Town piece that bore an uncanny resemblance to a story my colleague Max Rivlin-Nadler had written five days earlier, I gamely rode into battle to defend Max's honor.

Inevitably, this collective struggle has required the subsumption of our individual sensibilities and agendas to the demands of the collective. When Chris Robbins insisted on tethering our fledgling brand to tawdry and frankly distasteful cockroach content, I submitted to the consensus of my peers and held my tongue. "To each their own," I rationalized to myself. "Hell Gate is a big tent, and so long as I can continue to write excruciatingly tedious and weedy stories about the minutiae of the criminal legal apparatus, what’s the harm?"

But solidarity, as I also often say, must have its limits, and today that limit has been reached.

Close readers of Hell Gate may recall that earlier this month, we published a strident manifesto by Max, urging readers to refrain from installing air conditioners in their homes until July.

The piece was, I think I may say without fear of contradiction, a grenade tossed into the calm pool of the discourse. I admired Max's courage in eschewing the obvious woke pieties of conventional HVAC polemics, namely the implications for energy consumption and climate change. Instead, he pioneered a novel and aesthetically grounded argument based on light and sound.

It was, I thought, a bold provocation, a transgressive editorial position that set us against the comfort of our readers, an opposition any sincere journal of intellectual inquiry must undertake. Coupled with Chris’s recent screed against lunch delivery, it firmly aligned Hell Gate with the rough-handed self-sufficiency that once made this country great. If the libertines, wallowing in their Grub Hub and air-conditioned spaces, dismissed Hell Gate as the last stand of stoic cranks, we were probably doing something right, I reasoned.

Imagine then, my dismay and slow-gathering sense of betrayal when, at 10:03 this morning, Max casually dropped into our Slack channel to announce, "Ugh, just for the record I have cracked and am installing my A/C."

A chat transcript in which Max says "Ugh, just for the record I have cracked and am installing my A/C."

What? Indeed. A mere 11 days after urging New Yorkers to embrace the austere trials of uncooled living, Max had quietly chilled his own domicile. It is precisely the sort of do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do high-handed hypocrisy that marks so much of coastal elite journalism. Hell Gate, I had believed, was founded in opposition to this craven double-speak.

But what to do? I considered approaching Max directly to discuss this with him. I considered mercilessly razzing him in our group chat. None of these options carried the gravity and self-importance I felt the situation warranted. I took to Medium, but setting up an account seemed sort of complicated, and then I realized I could probably just sneak this post onto the Hell Gate CMS without anybody noticing.

Where do we go from here? That is not for me to say. That is for you, the readers, and probably the exhaustive Columbia Journalism Review investigation that will doubtless follow these unfortunate revelations. An accounting is surely due. It pains me to consider that the little coracle of Hell Gate might be capsized by the rogue wave of scandal so early in its long journey. But here we are.

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