Gupta Exchange Continued

Arun Gupta has made some lengthy FB comments that continued his critiques of my work. Some people have asked that I respond, and so I’m posting his comments in full and my response to them below. You can find my original post about this here.

Arun Gupta:

I already dealt with this twice, once publicly, once privately. Here goes a third time.

Below you will find the relevant passage from Reagan’s article. This is his “evidence,” all of which is utterly false. I am only going to deal with his original article. And this will be my only response.

First, methodology. One immediately begins on weak ground by equating reporting — interviewing people, getting multiple perspectives and talking to all sides, revealing new information including documents that have not been made public — with googling up a story. That, with rare exceptions, leads one to be incomplete, tendentious, and sloppy.

There is simply no equivalence between reporting and googling up some links. I was in the Seattle City Council chambers for hearings on the bill, at the $15 Now convention. I interviewed Sawant, labor leaders, $15 Now activists, critics of SAlt at the convention, fast-food workers, SEIU field organizers, and the mayor’s office. In addition, I reviewed all the relevant source documents I could access, including emails and drafts of the plan, as well as more than half a year of reporting.

XXX, I imagine much if not all of your work is peer-reviewed, workshopped, read by other knowledgeable sources for feedback. Similarly, most of my work is edited and fact-checked. We answer to a higher standard and the cost for us is much greater if we get something wrong. At minimum we have to issue a correction immediately, and it hurts our credibility.

This isn’t the case for a googler. After I pointed out falsehoods in Reagan’s article, his latest response is a screed of disinformation, non sequiters, and whining about being bullied because I told him I wasn’t going to deal with his fabrications.

That some who should know better choose to call his latest response an “important aspect of this discussion” is sad.

On to the evidence, or lack thereof. He claims the facts below support his conclusion, which is, “Sawant became their [labor unions] candidate. Her major campaign plank became the $15 minimum wage, rather than a party for the 99%, and it defined her candidacy and reflected the interests of her backers.”

Reagan wants to present Sawant as a tool of the unions. He has two points of evidence. The first is, “big unions gave big and gave early,” and he names five unions. He was too lazy or too sloppy to fact-check properly. In fact, not one of them gave early. They gave from 2 months to nearly half-a-year AFTER Sawant was elected. Second, “gave big.” They gave $700 each. Even if they gave that $3,500 before, you have to be delusional to think that puny sum out of a $160,000 campaign budget can exert any sort of influence.

If Reagan did his homework, which he didn’t, one can only identify about $1,000 from unions and officers before her election. You know who gave far more? Employees with Microsoft, Amazon, and Google donated more than $4,000 before her election, and that’s not to speak of the many other tech industry employees who contributed to her. School and university employees donated far more than unions. Same with healthcare industry workers. So is Sawant a tool of the tech industry? A tool of teachers and medical professionals? Hell, I know more than a dozen people who gave her thousands of dollars. Does this mean I exert influence over Sawant?

Additionally, Reagan did not bother to contrast any of this with donations to her opponent, Richard Conlin. He received more than $4,000 in union contributions before the election. In other words, he got four times as much union money than Sawant did. Reagan calls her campaign war chest “whopping.” Except Conlin’s war chest was 50% greater, at $240K. This is tendentious on Reagan’s part.

What all the evidence and methodology points to is Reagan has an ax to grind. Reporting in the Pacific Northwest, I’ve found a common bias among some anarcho-syndicalists. They imagine union bosses are all powerful and control all opposition in the same way that many leftists imagine the Democratic Party is all powerful. Reagan already has his conclusion and is fabricating evidence to fit it. He is so ideologically blind that he can’t even see how committed he is to his Big Lie.

His second source of evidence is that five other unions endorsed Sawant and did all this work on his campaign. You can tell he hasn’t done any research, he is just imagining: “union endorsements come with staff, voter drives, phone banking and mailers.”

I did what Reagan was too lazy to do — I contacted sources in Sawant’s campaign. They said, “In 2013 I’m not aware of any union mailers, nor phone banking or door knocking except by individual rank and file members.” I was told the five unions that Reagan falsely claimed worked on her 2013 campaign have a combined total of 9,000 members. SEIU 1199 NW has 29,000 members by itself. So that piece of evidence falls apart as well. That means his entire argument that Sawant is a tool of organized labor is utterly bogus.

But that should be prima facie evident. Look at how bad his history is. Has everyone forgotten how anti-Communist organized labor still is, that it’s leaders and much of the rank and file want nothing to do with Marxist parties? Can anyone point to any instance in the last 60 years of unions lining up behind a M-L candidate for office? On those grounds alone his article raised red warning flags of poor scholarship and methodology.

Reagan shows his true character by revealing private conversations. Now, I don’t say anything of significance. But any journalism student knows it is unethical to reveal private conversations without the other party’s permission. This is all you need to know about Reagan.

You want to side with that, be my guest.


“But the key to Sawant’s campaign victory in 2013, as opposed to the previous year, was support from the labor movement. In her first campaign against Chopp, Sawant and SA raised an impressive $21,000, mostly from small contributions. When she ran against Conlin in 2013 major labor unions backed her. A look at her contributors shows that, on the second campaign, big unions gave big and gave early; SEIU Local 6, PTE Local 17, SEIU Local 1199NW, Teamsters Local 117 and IBEW Local 77 all maxed out their allowed contributions at $700. (All told candidate Sawant raised a whopping $161,023 for the campaign). Sawant also won significant endorsements from major local unions including AFSME Local 1488, AFT Local 1789, IBEW Local 46, and CWA Local 37083 and the Seattle local of the APWU. Union support like this is more significant than just the dollars collected, union endorsements come with staff, voter drives, phone banking and mailers.”

Gupta initially began his critique by arguing my evidence was factually “wrong” and therefore my claims faulty too. But the empirical validity of union contributions and endorsements are unquestionable. So he has now shifted his argument to focus on the significance of the evidence rather than their factual accuracy. The core of his argument now is that there were large contributions made to Sawant’s opponent, Richard Conlin, and that there were greater contributions from individuals who worked for tech to Sawant’s campaign, among other claims. Therefore, Gupta argues, union donations are not significant and don’t constitute evidence of influence. (I’m choosing to generously interpret his “utterly false” claims as hyperbole.)

Again, this defies credulity. Sawant’s campaign was built around the $15 policy. And she received numerous maximum allowable contributions from individuals and organizations that supported that policy and were working to build a movement that made the minimum wage bill the single biggest issue of the 2013 election cycle. For receiving contributions and reflecting those in policy, do the laws of political contributions somehow not apply to her and SA? Are we to believe the two are unrelated?

His dispute about the numbers of the contributions is not significant. The main point of my article is that the movement unions generated around $15 included supporting candidates, and moved the entire spectrum of politics to the left. Conlin, Sawant’s opponent, also supported a $15 minimum wage. So yes, he took contributions, she did too, they both adopted the position of their backers. The point is that it was not Sawant’s political savvy, or scrappy campaign that made $15 happen, it was centers of power outside elected office and electoral campaigns. And her repeated policy failures since then bear this out.

In fact there is an interesting point made about this in the original article. The actual bill that was passed was much closer to the position of Conlin, the candidate who lost, rather than Sawant. Throughout the campaign Conlin said he supported the minimum wage increase, but that it had to be phased in so as not to hurt small businesses, and there should be exemptions. This in contrast to Sawant’s “$15Now” pledge, which she lost. This poses serious questions about the nature of American electoral democracy when the election results produce opposite policy outcomes. Again, these are questions serious analysts should pursue, rather than whatever Gupta is doing with his “tweets” article.

Gupta also claims that donations from individuals who work in tech or health care should be given the same weight in our analysis, but this too is laughable. Were they giving as part of a coordinated campaign to increasing the minimum wage from their employers and associated political organizations? Obviously not. Instead they likely supported Sawant’s campaign as individuals. And it was in fact the movement dynamics that made her election possible, as I argue in the original article, in fact in the paragraph succeeding the one Gupta quotes. These movement dynamics are the third piece of evidence that Gupta chooses to ignore is his criticisms. I encourage people to go back and look for themselves.

His other claims don’t rise to the level of critique.

He says that that my methodology is wrong because I haven’t done personal interviews but again that doesn’t change the facts of Sawant’s campaign contributions, and he seems to be using that more as an argument from authority: “I’m a professional journalist and he is a googler.” If Gupta was so expert, he should have gotten this right. And he employs other ad-hominem and spurious red-herring arguments unworthy of response.

Lastly, on publishing our conversations, I’ve learned that numerous other people have been treated similarly by Gupta. There seems to be a pattern in his behavior of personal attacks, name calling, and retreating behind blocks and unfriending. Bullies and predators love to thrive in the dark. I have no qualms with bringing that behavior to light.

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