Last Thursday, Vanity Fair published an article written by Nancy Jo Sales titled, “‘They Say We’re White Supremacists’: Inside the Strange World of Conservative College Women.” Over a series of months, 54-year-old Sales pretended to befriend four conservative women at UNC-Chapel Hill, treated them to dinner and even gifted them signed copies of her book "American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Life of Teenagers," a depiction of the psychological dangers from online harassment. A mother to a college-aged daughter herself, she acted as their advocate with a desire to highlight their experiences as young female conservatives. The four students participated in hours of interviews, hoping to promote civil political discourse. Textual evidence confirms Sales agreed to run the women’s featured quotes by them before the article’s release, but no such promise was kept. In fact, without warning them at all, the article suddenly appeared on a national platform. It was grotesquely slanderous and exploitative, and now she won’t return their calls.
Nancy Jo Sales is not a journalist; she is an unethical solicitor. She used her position of power to manipulate the women into disclosing the most deeply personal aspects of their lives, including sexual assault and family divorce, for her own career advancement. Her professionally immature article reeks of irony: She mocks conservative women for feeling judged and morally attacked by judging and morally attacking them, describing them as, “the most despised women in America.” Where is the feminist outcry?
Unsurprisingly, Chapel Hill’s common senselessness and blind trust in the media fueled the ruthless torment of the young women. A newspaper column vilified them as existential threats to the lives of others. Mighty keyboard warriors took it to an exclusive social media page to pin them as “white supremacists.” UNC Professor Elin Slavick, whose Facebook cover photo features her European travels, slammed them as “privileged fools.” (Maybe they’ll check their privilege when Slavick checks her bags at the airport.) Since the article’s release, the women have endured relentless, inflammatory accusations against their character based on misinformation, exacerbating a phenomenon that affects conservative women nationwide.
The women insist they are directly misquoted, that their quotes lack appropriate context and that they are ultimately subjects of journalistic predation. Sales, either ill intentioned or toxically ignorant, selectively manipulated quotes to further her own bias and cater to Chapel Hill’s nearly politically monotonous audience. When quoting one woman, she inserted racially charged words within brackets; a grammatical tool typically used to clarify meaning, here used to misconstrue the statement’s original point. Even though the article is littered with obvious falsities, inaccurately depicting Chapel Hill as mountainous, bullies apparently found her credible enough to justify the character assassination of the four women that consumed students’ social media accounts. At least Sales gave them copies of her book to help them cope with their harassment.
Last week, The Daily Tar Heel featured an op-ed written by Susan King, dean of the UNC School of Media and Journalism, where she defended journalists amidst an era of public distrust. She stresses journalists must stand together as a profession, as trust in the media is “under assault.” Here’s a newsflash with actual credibility: it’s not “assault” when victims of slander act in self defense.