My favorite letters to The Washington Post
These thoughtful letters to The Washington Post challenged the Post for planning a despicable “racism” hit-piece against me—something the Post still hasn’t apologized for.
The Washington Post got hundreds of comments in response to its attempt to cancel me as “racist.” This included at least dozens of letters (I’m sure many were sent that I’m not aware of). To my knowledge, the Post did not respond to any of these letters directly, but smeared them all indirectly by publicly defending the journalist who went after me against what she called our “baseless attacks.”
Here are some of my favorite letters.
From a Kenyan reader
To the Editors,
I am writing in regards to the smear campaign against Alex Epstein as a racist, based on articles he did at age 18/19. I find the whole ordeal disturbing and here is why;
I have followed Alex's work for sometime, I mean the podcasts, Twitter and most, if not all of his debates on energy. As an Agricultural Engineer from Kenya I have found his work informative, educative and eye opening. My field is basically the Physics in agriculture, and I can say with certainty that more than 90% of the energy required comes from fossil fuels. I couldn't imagine a combine harvester or planter with batteries and some solar panels!
I haven't found anything racist about him. I haven't found demeaning stuff about Africa from him. Stating the facts is just that, facts. And the right way to disagree with him would be to present evidence to counter him on energy and fossil fuels like Bill McKibben and others have. But not tainting his name, falsely.
From Dr. Edwin Locke, world-famous industrial psychologist
I am informed that the Washington Post climate reporter has [“canceled”] Alex Epstein. I am quite shocked at this because it seems to be really an ad hominem attack with the goal of ending certain views about the value of oil.
Let me say that I am a world famous psychologist (edwinlocke.com) and as a scientist I have read very widely on many scientific topics including climate. I have read Alex's posts for many years, and have found him to be as well informed (probably more well informed) about the issue of oil as anyone who has written about it. He is greatly respected, has testified before Congressional committees among other places and has been interviewed many times by respected journalists. I have found him to be totally ethical in all respects.
I am well acquainted with today's cultural climate where insults and misrepresentations occur everyday, but I would hope that a distinguished paper like the Washington Post would never stoop to that level. [Canceling] him would be a great disservice to the public.
Edwin A. Locke
Professor of Leadership and Motivation, Emeritus
University of Maryland
College Park, MD
From James Lennox, highly-respected philosopher of science
Dear Ms. Buzbee:
I truly hope that you were unaware of one of your “journalist’s” utterly dishonest and contemptible smear attack on one of most courageous public intellectuals in our country today. (Please read Alex Epstein’s response, below.) I expect the Post to spike this pitiful hack job by Maxine Joselow, and I think you need to reconsider whether a reporter that will stoop to such tactics deserves a job with a prestigious national newspaper.
Professor Emeritus of History and Philosophy of Science
University of Pittsburgh
From Evan Picoult, adjunct professor at Columbia University and longtime Managing Director at Citigroup
Dear Ms. Buzbee,
I just learned about Washington Post climate journalist Maxine Joselow’s astonishing, unjust, and reprehensible plan to attack Alex Epstein and his book Fossil Future by falsely portraying Alex as a racist. I have personally known Alex for many, many years. I know Alex’s philosophical ideas and his character in great depth. I can attest with complete certainty that Alex is not a racist.
The Washington Post should absolutely not run this hit piece. It owes Alex an apology.
From Matthew Mejia, a friend of mine and a victim himself of unjust “cancel” attempts
As context for his letter to the Post, Matthew wrote me:
From my experience, don't let them break you. It's what they want. I still flinch at every new notification I get. I remember waking up to hundreds of emails and retweets calling me a White supremacist, racist, fascist, and a Nazi. It tears at your soul and tests who you are and what you stand for. But they won't win.
Here’s what Matthew wrote to the Post:
Maxine Joselow, Sally Buzbee, Cameron Barr, Krissah Thompson, & The Washington Post,
This letter is in response to the egregious and complete lack of journalistic integrity displayed by Maxine Joselow in attempting to discredit, defame, and socially attack my friend, Alex Epstein.
I shouldn’t need to write this part, but unfortunately these days it has become more and more necessary. I am a descendant of Japanese, Mexican, and Indigenous ancestors who have been bombed, raped, stolen, murdered, and yet still, persevered. My family has experienced racism throughout all facets of our lives, and I fully understand the damage and impact it has on one’s existence. Alex Epstein is not a racist.
I have been the object of the same defamatory and hateful attempts at character assassination as Maxine is trying to do to Alex. When I heard about the intellectual assault on Alex, I saw the same faces as those who attacked me when I looked at Maxine—the same arrogance, hatred, and utter disregard for humanity on full display. The experience I went through broke me mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. I understand very well the effects that these deliberate attacks have on people and cannot stand by while Maxine Joselow and The Washington Post try to do the same to my friend.
To attempt to assassinate Alex’s character in such a defamatory manner is not only a disgusting act of ignorance, but it also spits in the faces of all people who suffer through actual racism daily. Completely ignoring Alex’s policy positions and instead, attacking his character is absolute proof that Maxine lacks all journalistic integrity and professionalism.
Alex has no ounce of racism in him. I have shared meals with him in his home, he has on multiple occasions offered his home to me in times of need, and when travelling, he always checks in to make sure I made it home safely. The absurdity of accusing such a kind-hearted man of a something so heinous as being racist is almost laughable, but I find no humor here.
The privilege of having an Ivy League education is rare, and for many, something to be sought-after. Having experienced an education where academic and journalistic integrity should be honored greatly, Maxine Joselow should know better. Maxine’s attempt to defame my friend is a stain not only on the position and career of journalist, The Washington Post, but also to Brown University. The privilege it must take to use someone’s color against them instead of their intellectual position is absurd and should be immediately denounced and swiftly remedied. Allowing stories like this to be published, printed, and shared destroy not only the lives of the victims, but also the lives of their friends and families. This type of inhumane conduct is an act of violence.
We should be promoting constructive discourse when debating the issues before us, not personal attacks. If there is racism, we should fight it. We do not need to be creating racists where none exist. Any student who has successfully studied any form of writing or analysis should be familiar with the fallacies Maxine is immaturely displaying. I will not accuse The Washington Post, Maxine, or the rest of the editorial board of being racist, but allowing this behavior to continue is toeing the line. We are more than our skin color and journalism that makes color the focus is not purposeful or productive. Discriminatory practices from major media outlets must no longer be glorified or encouraged. You claim to stand for People of Color, marginalized voices, and the underprivileged, it’s time you backed up those words honestly and without empty theatrics. Essentially, put up or shut up. We see through it.
Alex Epstein deserves a public apology from Maxine Joselow, Sally Buzbee, Cameron Barr, Krissah Thompson, and The Washington Post.
Maxine Joselow deserves to be immediately terminated and barred from any future positions as a journalist. The lack of journalistic integrity proves that Maxine is unfit for the profession.
The Washington Post deserves to be served a lawsuit on the basis of defamation and held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.
Racism is real. Situations like these where privileged people and powerful organizations manufacture more only adds to the issue. Maxine, you are preserving and spreading racist ideologies and beliefs. It ends now. -MM
From a friend of mine, with the subject “A Minority, on Alex Epstein...the Full Truth”
Dear Ms. Buzbee and Co.,
My name is [name removed] and I'm writing to tell you the truth about Alex Epstein.
But first -- and only because my surname and gender validate my perspective to the leaders, writers, and readers of The Post -- I'd like to begrudgingly announce that I come to you as a mixed-race female of Hispanic descent.
I'd like to express my disapproval of Maxine Joselow's claim that Alex Epstein is a racist. Now, I understand that Truth isn't a particular interest of Ms. Joselow's, but I'm hoping, Ms. Buzbee, that you are a bit more honest than she. The truth is simple, and although it doesn't make for as sexy a story as labeling Epstein a racist, I find it compelling enough to consider. The truth is that your publication dislikes his ideas. The truth is that Maxine Joselow is a lazy thinker and an irresponsible journalist who threatens to damage her craft and the credibility of her fellow colleagues. The truth is that she couldn't care less about the character of the man behind a controversial premise, but rather, values greater her ability to slander him at the slightest sign of personal discomfort.
I won't insult my own dignity, nor Mr. Epstein's, by telling you of the many minorities existing within his personal milieu. Nor will I rattle off the names of dozens of People of Color participating in his professional pursuits. Maxine can (and should) do that research for you.
Instead, I wish to express my extreme disappointment in The Washington Post's willingness to employ and support a journalist (nay, defamer) who aims to damage Mr. Epstein by applying to him the worst possible label: That of a "racist". The truth about Alex Epstein is that his individualistic nature makes impossible this ridiculous notion that he is even capable of harboring a racist ideology. The tiniest effort to understand his context would immediately make this fact clear. Unlike Ms. Joselow, who thwarts "social progress" with her impending assertion that Epstein's ideas are greatly influenced -- and limited by -- the color of his skin, Alex's position is one of reason, individualism, and human progress.
While I can assume that you and I may disagree on many things, I'm confident we can both agree that racism is despicable. It is unforgivable. Harmful. Terrifying, at its core. It is one of the gravest epistemological mistakes a person can make. Alex Epstein is not a racist. And because denouncing someone as a racist requires mounds of evidence, I won't accuse Ms. Joselow of being one, either. It is, however, quite clear that the truth, Ms. Buzbee, is that Joselow is a small-minded bigot and a slanderer. As a woman/minority/advocate of free speech, I find her assertion offensive. Those in my community find this assertion offensive.
It is for this reason that I urge you to immediately terminate Maxine Joselow. It is because of the personal and philosophical offense of her claim that I ask for Wa Po's public apology to Alex Epstein.
Please, consider correcting this wrong and do a bit better with your recruiting efforts.
Yours in the Pursuit of Truth,
A friend of mine who is the CEO of a company and did not want to be named for fear of a hostile reaction from investors
To the editors -
There is a forthcoming article to be posted regarding author Alex Epstein's book "Fossil Future", by your reporter Maxine Joselow.
In that article, Maxine accuses Alex of racism, and his racism as motivating his pro-energy arguments.
Instead of addressing the substance of Alex's claims, Maxine attacks Alex's character and attempts to cancel him.
As a black man, having known Alex for years, it is an absolutely ugly and despicable claim to make. It is absolutely a lie.
I am asking that article to not be published, for Alex to be given an apology, and for Maxine to be terminated.
From a friend of mine who went out of her way to be as generous as possible to the journalist who conceived of the “racism” hit-piece against me. I think this letter is a model of effective communication, and the fact that it got no response speaks volumes.
Dear Ms. Joselow,
Earlier today, Krissah Thompson and other friends and colleagues of yours published statements applauding your fairness, your high standard of journalism, and your character broadly. Unfortunately, what you outlined in your email to Alex Epstein on Monday does not reflect that. I write to you with the hope of respectfully making the case for why in a way that you might be open to hearing, as a journalist who is said to aspire to high standards in her reporting.
Though I’d like to stay anonymous in this exchange, I will share that I am a supporter of Alex Epstein’s work and someone who knows him very well personally. However, before reading his first book “The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels,” I was actually someone who found that title pretty unfathomable -- someone who would have supported policies to terminate the use of fossil fuel use as swiftly as possible. Recalling my perspective then, as someone who would almost certainly have been a supporter of your work, I’m sorry to say that even then I would have found your choice to attack Alex Epstein in this manner distasteful and unpersuasive.
You are a climate reporter, a career I must assume you’ve entered into because you have sincere concerns about the future of our planet and are called to ensure the public receives the best possible information regarding policies to combat such a crisis. Alex Epstein is a prominent public figure making a case for fossil fuels, a case that is uniquely influential and persuasive. He has just written a second book, and given the success of his first, it is likely to sell many copies, and reach many people. It will change minds, as his first book changed mine in 2014.
It is difficult for me to understand why, as a person whose life’s work is dedicated to climate journalism, you would respond to Alex Epstein’s work in this manner. Perhaps you regard his conclusions as very dangerous -- then, I would think, you’d feel an urgent need to refute his arguments for your audience. Perhaps you regard his conclusions as so obviously wrong that you believe his arguments unworthy of a platform entirely -- then, I would think, you wouldn’t expose your audience to him at all. I would not share your perspective in either case, but I could understand it. But you haven’t done either. And as far as I can tell, you intend to do neither. Instead, what you've done is taken any scraps of information Documented could find on Alex Epstein to help you issue the most reprehensible accusation possible against him. It seems it was irrelevant whether such information had anything to do with the content of his book at all -- only that you had something that might allow you mount an attack against the man’s character.
I truly want to understand your motivations in doing this as a journalist. I must say that from this reader’s perspective, your reporting here does not read as ethical. It does not read as “fair”. It does not read as “the highest standard of journalism”. I do not revel in writing something so negative. While I do not know the contents of your email inbox or Twitter DMs right now, I see that friends and colleagues of yours such as Krissah Thompson, Scott Waldman, and Jamal Raad, have stated that you’ve experienced backlash they categorize as “vitriolic”, “toxic”, and so on. I do not wish hateful comments upon you and I do not wish to pile on.
And yet I must point out: being a racist is among the most despicable things a person can be and therefore accusing someone of such is one of the most deeply insulting accusations. And that is what you have done to Alex Epstein. Being accused of racism is not so horrible because others may view racism as despicable, it is horrible because racism is despicable. Alex Epstein is a man who believes, completely, that racism is despicable and he is a man who takes his principles and ideas extremely seriously. He holds the belief that one’s race is entirely irrelevant to one’s intelligence, character, and value as a human being, and this belief of his is profoundly unshakeable.
Alex Epstein has never held racist beliefs and you have found no evidence to support the conclusion that he has. You and the organization Documented have uncovered articles penned by a spirited college underclassman writing for a conservative student paper around the year 1999 that are strongly individualistic in nature. That is all you’ve done. These articles include criticisms of culture and criticisms of individuals, but they do not include criticisms of any race of people. You have simply not uncovered any racism here, and you never could, because it is not and never has been in Alex’s character. If you are really interested in a story about Alex’s racial attitudes around that age, allow me to share a short anecdote I happen to know about him: At age 17, Alex Epstein was carrying around a yearbook photo of a black female friend in his wallet, and encountered a peer who, upon seeing the photo, made some vile, racist remarks, and actually began to spout off a case for white supremacy to Alex. Overcome with anger, Alex punched that boy.
In your planned article you include a statement that Alex Epstein has a clear bias against black individuals and in favor of white ones. This is a lie, plain and simple. It is not honest, it is not fair, and it is not what journalism ought to be.
You have launched a deeply offensive attack against Alex Epstein and it is my view that only a racist would happily allow someone to publicly call them a racist. It is because Alex finds racism so evil that he must defend himself against such an accusation. Now I see that some of your colleagues are characterizing his collected, reasoned video response to this accusation as a cruel, baseless attack against you. I regard this as a total distortion, and one that completely ignores the context at hand.
I am a supporter of Alex Epstein’s, but I would eagerly read a refutation of his case by you, as I’m sure many would. Such a piece would also better serve your supporters and your cause and it is what I think should be expected from an accomplished climate journalist. I urge you to write that article instead. Your colleagues have commended you for your fairness and your high standard of journalism. Please show that to us.
A reader hoping to reach the best within you