Who's Afraid of Michael Arrington?

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The reason the press has stayed mostly silent in the wake of sexual assault allegations connected to Silicon Valley big-wig Michael is not because, as several have suggested, the tech world is scared of the TechCrunch founder. In its latest post on the matter, Gawker's Adrian Chen has several named sources, including the former HR director of a company Arrington once worked with, describing incidents in which Arrington allegedly physically threatened women. The sexual assault allegations are much more vague and thinly sourced: Jenn Allen, Arrington's ex-girlfriend, who had posted on Facebook that Arrington had cheated on her and accused him of  "physical abuse." Allen left a comment on a Gawker story reprinting her Facebook post claiming that an unnamed woman told her she was raped by Arrington. It's pretty murky stuff, which is the most obvious reason why the rest of the tech blogging world didn't light up with follow-ups. (The story was picked up by a few blogs but certainly didn't dominate the conversation.)

Chen deserves credit for sticking with the story and adding facts to the public record, but in the process (maybe to raise the dramatic stakes?) he's pushed a false narrative that Arrington's sway over the tech world is so complete that people are afraid to discuss the allegations. "The Silicon Valley tech press has been largely silent," Chen wrote, implying his own bravery. On Twitter he has been more explicit: "The race is on to be the last tech blog to pick up the Arrington story." He's been supported by other Gawker Media employees: "People are too afraid to even mention Arrington by name," suggested Gizmodo's Sam BiddleGawker's Max Read echoed that sentiment calling it  "unbelievably embarrassing for most of the tech press that this isnt getting publicly talked about."

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But let's take a moment to consider this fear-of-Michael-Arrington premise: it would have been a much more reasonable and plausible explanation back when Arrington, as gatekeeper to the startup publicity machine TechCrunch, had real power in Silicon Valley. In 2007 Wired ran a whole article about how much that meant in the startup ecosystem. For example: "A positive 400-word write-up on TechCrunch usually means a sudden bump in traffic and a major uptick in credibility among potential investors," wrote Fred Vogelstein in his five page success story. To the degree that that exposure had real business value, Arrington's ability to cut people off was a real threat.

But that was 2007. In April 2013, Arrington no longer occupies his perch at TechCrunch. He only kind of sort of works as a columnist for TechCrunch now, which he left in a huff after its owner AOL felt uncomfortable with his cozy relationship with the start-ups he personally funds. In the wake of his noisy exit as the editor, numerous other outlets have sprung up to write about angel rounds, soft launches, and acquisitions of tech startups. TechCrunch has lost a lot of its Silicon Valley sway, with the tech blog scene proliferating since. It's no longer TechCrunch versus Engadget anymore. Not only is Arrington, who runs the blog "Uncrunched" when he's not investing in companies directly, no longer that all-powerful Michael Arrington, no single person has the power Michael Arrington once did. Sure, he has important friends. And lots of people may have lingering fear of his past threats. But, the tech reporting world has changed since those days, probably for the better, and if there is adequate sourcing to these allegations of abusive behavior, journalists will pursue the story. If anything, the fact that so many people are talking about these rumors (which Chen writes "circulated almost from the time he started his career in the tech industry") is testament to his diminished influence over the tech press.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.