Michele Catalano is my friend



Michele Catalano is my friend. So take that as you will, before you read this.

Yesterday morning, she published a story on the Internet that caused a media ruckus. It had implications about the government spying on Americans. By yesterday afternoon, she was being pilloried as a liar, or at least a provocateur.  

I believed Michele was telling the truth to the best of her knowledge from the get go—because she’s a friend. An Internet friend, sure, but a friend whom I know well enough to know wasn’t Making Shit Up. She lives online, and uses the medium to express herself. I would wager that many of us today find the distinction between Internet friends and real friends increasingly if not completely meaningless. And so, she often goes online and talks to her friends (or: “friends”) about her moods, her kids, her jobs and, sometimes, things that have upset her. Things like six cops who identified themselves as part of a joint terrorism task force coming into her home.

And so, here’s the thing: it turned out that she got a key assumption wrong. Yes, they were there to ask about search history, but that questioning was triggered by an employer, not government monitoring. She accurately portrayed her perception, but she didn’t know a key detail, and it turned out to be one that would have avoided a subsequent frenzy.

There was this sin too: she wouldn’t answer questions from the media. She took a lot of heat for dropping a bombshell and then walking away. (She didn’t, completely. I was in touch with her via DM on and off all day yesterday. But still, she didn’t talk to the press in an official capacity.) The media doesn’t like to be ignored. Especially when its by one of their own, which Michele, more or less at least, is. 

And so the media was left simultaneously arguing that her husband (not a writer; not a reporter) should have been more aggressive with the police (gotten badge numbers, refused to answer questions or allowed a search of the home) while also making the case that she should be more supple with the press (return our emails, answer our phone calls).

Don’t talk to the cops; do talk to us.

Michele is a loudmouth. And rude. And sarcastic. And as I began turning this over in my head yesterday, I made an assumption too. I assumed she had—over her many years online—perhaps said something obnoxious or sarcastic or both that landed her on Some Sort of List. That was wrong. But what is true is that it is in character for her to say fuck it and walk away from a big mess of people questioning her story and motives with her middle finger in the air. She was under no obligation to talk to the press, no matter how much we wanted her too.

—And to be clear, I attempted to get her to talk to Wired on the record.—

Two days ago, most people had never heard of Michele Catalano. And then yesterday, she was all over the news, being used a convenient prop for our existing prejudices—be they about the police state, hysteria about the police state, or fucking blogging platforms. She made the mistake of writing about something that traumatized her, with an attempt at levity, that wasn’t thoroughly and completely documented and then refusing to answer questions about it from a story-hungry media beast. She made the mistake of failing to anticipate how her story would be received. So maybe she deserves to be pilloried for that.

Maybe she of all people should have understood what the media is, and how it operates, feeding on itself and its sources and shitting out traffic and truth.

But she didn’t. And so, now we get to call her a liar, or at least a provocateur.

And you may think of her as a liar, or at least a provocateur. Or you may think of her as someone who reached out to other human beings to share a troubling story she didn’t fully understand.

Either way, Michele Catalano is still my friend.


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  1. indefensible said: Thanks, Mat. Michele’s been a friend of mine and Erin’s since Fark/Totalfark days of almost a decade ago. She’s good people, and so is Todd. I feel very much for them right now and it’s good of you to write this in public.
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