“This site is so dumb,” Ken Jennings, the local Jeopardy! star and interim Alex Trebek successor, wrote on Twitter a little after noon on Sunday. The comment came at the end of a protracted uproar about his Omnibus podcast cohost John Roderick. The Long Winters musician and one-time Seattle City Council candidate has been dubbed Bean Dad. (Seattle Met has written about Roderick and Omnibus a few times.) Quickly, ire engulfed Roderick, so Jennings, like so many have before him, blamed the platform.
The story started like this: On Saturday, Roderick took to Twitter with a long thread about how, when his nine-year-old daughter said she was hungry, he told her to eat a can of beans. She didn’t know how to open the can, so he decided it was a “teaching moment.” On and off over the course of six hours, the thread claimed, she couldn’t figure out how to use a can opener, and he wouldn’t tell her outright, only explaining the tool’s parts. “She said, ‘I hate you.’ I’m sure she believes that she does. I said, ‘You understand everything except how the tool addresses the can,’” Roderick wrote.
Twitter responded with the year’s first major pile on, accusing Roderick of child abuse. He, and Jennings, reveled in it for a moment. “Somebody had to start the year off with a bang!” Roderick wrote. “Extremely jealous and annoyed that my podcast co-host is going to be a dictionary entry and I never will,” Jennings wrote. Followed by, “If this reassures anyone, I personally know John to be (a) a loving and attentive dad who (b) tells heightened-for-effect stories about his own irascibility on like ten podcasts a week. This site is so dumb.”
Around then, on Sunday, Twitter users dug up anti-Semitic, homophobic, and just generally putrid tweets and replies from Roderick’s account, such as, from 2013, “The 4th has been perverted by activist (Jew) judges and ***-people apologists. The founders intended USA as white homeland.” Jennings came to Roderick’s defense, writing off the tweets as jokes: “Yeah, you're playing a dumb game for dummies. You could also find long, thoughtful Twitter threads of John talking seriously about anti-Semitism on the left and right. Is that less fun than finding a 2013 at-reply where he's talking to a friend in ‘conspiracy theory guy’ voice?” Another podcast My Brother, My Brother and Me stopped using a Long Winters song for its intro. By Monday, the bean dad saga had made international news.
Before any of this, last Wednesday, Jennings had posted an apology for his own “unartful and insensitive” tweets (such as “Nothing sadder than a hot person in a wheelchair”). “Sometimes,” he went on, “I said dumb things in a dumb way and I want to apologize to people who were (rightfully!) offended. It wasn't my intention to hurt anyone, but that doesn't matter: I screwed up, and I'm truly sorry.” Perhaps the apology was sincere. Perhaps, after years of such dumb things and with his rise to Jeopardy! host presumed, he was doing some late PR bandaging.
But it at least places the dumbness on Jennings. Wrapped around his defense of Roderick is the idea that Twitter itself is the problem, the “dumb” site which gives us a window into a past but erases context. (And it does: He’d tweeted about “activist (Jew) judges” after expressing outrage about the story in this Jezebel piece. Though plenty of his statements were standalone tweets.) In this thinking, the irony of their “jokes”—which, at best, fall in the useless realm of “Look at me being so ironically bigoted!” white guy comedy—no longer tracks.
Blaming platforms for societal ills is de rigueur if you’re skeptical of big tech, and because of that platform-hate can become a catchall. Indeed, there are plenty of reasons to call Twitter “dumb.” An incomplete list: It’s a time suck (see, for instance, this entire story); it collapses the world into a template rooted in binaries; it’s been unwilling and inept at moderating disinformation and hate speech. But this is not a reason: Getting two white guys to quit slinging jokes that pretend to a sort of solidarity, but are actually rooted in unchecked privilege, the self-perception that they’re so clearly above bigotry that clear statements of it can only be seen as hilarity.
Roderick might have immediately apologized. Instead, on Sunday afternoon, as if Twitter itself were the problem, Roderick deleted his account. On Monday afternoon, he reactivated it. By Tuesday, it was deactivated again, but he posted an apology on his website. He said he took down his Twitter "in a panic" and that the bean story was “poorly told” (“I was ignorant, insensitive to the message that my ‘pedant dad’ comedic persona was indistinguishable from how abusive dads act, talk and think”). He said the execrable comments were meant to be ironic (“I continued to believe long past the point I should’ve known better that because I was a hipster intellectual from a diverse community it was ok for me to joke and deploy slurs in that context”). Quickly, though, calls for LeVar Burton to host Jeopardy! have arisen.