By Sherrie Lifton
Sherrie is responding to a blog post on Medium, which was quickly taken down. The post is summarized here in Wayne’s own blog which I have posted here, where I have posted my comments based on factual evidence.
“We’re really lucky to have a journalist right here, Saul Elbein, who is writing a piece for Business Insider and The New York Times”, said Wayne Hsiung less than one year ago. Yet, last week, Wayne published an attack article smearing Mr. Elbein. What happened? Why did Mr. Hsiung vilify the very same journalist he courted not long ago?
Mr. Hsiung, a lawyer, founded Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), a 501C3 ostensibly focused on mobilizing large numbers of activists to achieve animal liberation. Since its inception, DxE has been plagued with a consistent stream of allegations including a misogynistic culture rife with sexual assault and harassment, false accusations against others, and shady financial practices.
Wayne Hsiung’s long-standing pattern of publicizing erroneous character assassinations against those he deems a threat has been well-documented. In 2017, forty three activists within Mr. Hsiung’s organization sent the following document to all organizers, detailing some of Wayne’s abusive actions and corrupt practices: https://tinyurl.com/Steps2healing. Two years prior, another group of activists published similar complaints: https://dismantledxe.wordpress.com/. In response, Mr. Hsiung invoked legal threats in the form of Cease and Desist orders that were, in reality, fake. Another exodus of activists took place in 2019. Currently, a professed sexual assault victim is under a legal gag order prohibiting her from speaking publicly about her experience with DxE.
Mr. Hsiung claims “Elbein was fond of using drugs and alcohol with his source.” By reducing the human beings a writer connected with over a period of time to share their story to being “sources”, Wayne cleverly paints a picture that distorts reality. (As an aside, this is the very tactic used to minimize the value and worth of non-human animals in our society, thus justifying their exploitation. Utilizing tools of oppression always supports and perpetuates oppressive systems).
I suspect that during the period he was extolling Saul Elbein’s virtues as an ethical journalist, Mr. Hsiung showered him with flattery and eager invitations to spend time with DxE’s inner circle. To have a journalist of his caliber in their midst was a coup for DxE. Sources report that the marijuana shared with the group was purchased by DxE’s press coordinator, Matt Johnson. Characterizing such a situation as a bribe is absurd.
In his indictment, Wayne claims that Mr. Elbein showed a “penchant for tawdry storylines”. A cursory internet search of published articles by Mr. Elbein uncovers stories about the Dakota Access Pipeline and Standing Rock, in-depth explorations of the complex machinations surrounding ISIS, and dangers to rainforests. I could not locate a single “tawdry” piece (admittedly, I am NOT an investigative journalist).
On the other hand, DxE routinely stages flashy demonstrations in order to attract press coverage. They do this quite effectively (let’s give credit where credit is due). Recently, they’ve engaged in a series of disruptions featuring topless women. Thus, they perpetuate the sexual objectification of women by utilizing it to maximize shock value. To stretch out the attention grabbing period, DxE’s press coordinator, Matt Johnson, posted on Facebook telling women to post photos of themselves (topless) holding a placard with the hashtag: #RespectFemaleBodies. Within the past week, during an emergency pandemic and statewide shelter in place order, a group of DxE members entered a factory farm, putting low-income workers of color at risk. This was followed by a demonstration at the capital in Sacramento.
Mr. Hsiung accuses Saul Elbein of “switching gears” after a few other articles were published by other journalists with the claim that Saul was angry about being scooped. However, Mr. Elbein had been conducting interviews for an exposé on DxE months before those articles came out. Wayne misrepresented the chronology to support his fabricated story.
As part of his pre-emptive strike, Mr. Hsiung smeared two individuals whom he believed shared information with Mr. Elbein . In January, Leif Greenz posted a series of videos recounting how Wayne Hsiung pursued and exploited her when she was a vulnerable teenager. The second video can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q3zUZzBWMS0. In Wayne’s smear piece, he implies that Leif is somehow influenced by conservative lobbyist Richard Berman. How could anyone take such an absurd suggestion seriously? Why does it matter whether she is estranged from her family and the animal rights movement? What does this have to do with her story? This is a typical maneuver designed to deflect attention away from his own malfeasance.
The other person caught in Wayne’s crosshairs is Jon Spear, who has publicly criticized Mr. Hsiung for fraudulent fundraising and numerous other misdeeds. In a desperate attempt to give credence to his characterization of Mr. Spear, Hsiung posts a private message purportedly sent by Jon Spear to an undisclosed person asking for her phone number. Clearly this does not support Wayne’s depiction; baseless insinuations are Mr. Hsiung’s modus operandi.
Wayne Hsiung’s remarks about dangers of the profit driven media sector are correct. Journalists, more than anyone, wish that media were independent and that they were free to pursue stories they deem important rather than those that “sell”. That said, Wayne’s motivation in writing this smear article has nothing to do with journalistic ethics. I hope people will read Saul Elbein’s forthcoming article with an open mind.