As if the Current Year could become any more surreal, Vanity Fair editor and Newsweek reporter Kurt Eichenwald claims he was assaulted by a flashing gif and is posting his legal threats across Twitter.
Last Thursday, Fox News’ Tucker Carlson asked Eichenwald to back up his Tweet from September in which he claimed: “I believe Trump was institutionalized in a mental hospital for a nervous breakdown in 1990, which is why he won’t release medical records.”
In response to Carlson. Eichenwald went on long tangents without ever answering the question, and eventually purported to give a message from the CIA about Trump. [‘Nobody Is Getting Fooled!’: Face-Off Between Tucker Carlson, Newsweek Writer Goes Off the Rails, by Josh Feldman, Mediaite, December 15, 2016
See video below:
Eichenwald then went on incoherent tweetstorm against Carlson. And then, as Eichenwald’s lawyer explained in his police report about the incident.
“On the evening of December 15, 2016, John Doe (a/k/a Ari Goldstein, a/k/a @jew_goldstein) (‘Doe’) tweeted to Eichenwald an image known to trigger seizures in people with epilepsy, e.g., a strobe image flashing at a rapid speed. Doe sent this image with the intent of causing a seizure” [Newsweek Writer Has Filed Complaint With Dallas PD Over Alleged Twitter Assault, by Alex Pfeiffer, Daily Caller, December 20, 2016]
This is his wife, you caused a seizure. I have your information and have called the police to report the assault.— Kurt Eichenwald (@kurteichenwald) December 16, 2016
In addition to the police report, Eichenwald has subpoenaed Twitter for @jew_goldstein’s information for potential criminal or civil litigation.
This is not the first assault gif sent to Eichenwald. In October, he reported how a Trump supporter sent him an animated gif:
The video was some sort of strobe light, with flashing circles and images of Pepe flying toward the screen. It’s what’s called epileptogenic - something that triggers seizures. Fortunately, since I was standing, I simply dropped my iPad to the ground the second I realized what Mike had done. It landed face down on the bathroom floor. The deplorables are real. The deplorables are dangerous. [How Donald Trump Supporters Attack Journalists, Newsweek, October 7, 2016]
On Tuesday, Eichenwald appeared on Good Morning America to discuss this attack with George Stephanopoulos. Prior to this interview, ABC Reporter Linsey Davis explained:
For someone with photosensitive epilepsy these images are so serious they have the potential to be fatal. And while this is not the first time someone has sent Kurt Eichenwald a message intended to cause a seizure, he says it’s the first time it's had this effect where he was bedridden for 24 hours and likely be unable to drive for months. [Newsweek Reporter Kurt Eichenwald on Twitter Seizure Claim, ABC News-Youtube, December 20, 2016]
Based on my cursory research on photosensitive epilepsy, Eichenwald appears to be a very atypical compared to most photosensitive epileptics.
Only three percent of epileptics are photosensitive. Eichenwald apparently never mentioned it until he first claimed an assault gif attack in October, although he is not shy about writing about his epilepsy, including a 4,000-word essay in the New York Times discussing his early experiences with epilepsy in college. [Braving Epilepsy's Storm, January 11, 1987].
I may have missed some other articles, but I have not seen any of them mention his seizures being triggered by strobing lights. It’s not clear if his statement “it’s the first time it's had this effect,” meant that he never had a seizure triggered by lights, or that he had never had a seizure from an assault gif.
TIme Magazine ran a piece concluding:
The larger question—the one on which Eichenwald’s case may turn—is whether a computer screen flashing at a certain brightness with a certain frequency could indeed have triggered a seizure in his case. The answer is: maybe.
Time brought up many questions about whether computer screens could trigger seizures, and how only 3% of epileptics suffer are photosensitive. [Can a Tweet Really Trigger a Seizure? by Jeffrey Kluger, December 20, 2016]
It’s incredibly unusual for someone with Eichenwald’s demographics to have photosensitive epilepsy. He is a 55-year-old man. According to the Epilepsy Foundation, two thirds of photosensitive epileptics are female [Photosensitive Epilepsy, 2007] and
Photosensitive epilepsy is more common in children and adolescents, especially those with generalized epilepsy, and a type known as juvenile myoclonic epilepsy. It becomes less frequent with age, with relatively few cases in the mid twenties. [Photosensitivity and Seizures, 2013]
There are some cases of adults having photosensitive epilepsy, but it is extremely rare. According to the textbook, The Epilepsies Seizures, Syndromes and Management, “Adult onset [photosensitive epilepsy] has been recently documented. The prevalence is low and comprises about 0.4% of all epilepsies.”
As Eichenwald has shown himself to be quite litigious, I want to be clear that I am not arguing that the above proves he is lying about the seizure. It does, however show that this would be very unusual type of seizure for someone of his age and gender. But given how extraordinary and odd this story is to begin with, who can say?
This said, I am going to make a few other factual observations and let the readers draw their own conclusions.
All of the alleged assault gifs are animated. Many people find these gifs annoying, and prevent them from animating unless they choose. I took 30 seconds of Googling, and found several easy solutions to prevent Gif’s from autoplaying, which would have prevented this from ever occurring.
Given the life or death stakes, Eichenwald may want to consider this [How to Stop Animated GIFs From Auto-Playing in Your Browser, by Eric Griffith, PC Mag, June 30, 2016]
The day after he claimed to have a seizure, Eichenwald Tweeted.
Again, I will not be seeing your comments or tweeting for awhile except to upload copies of litigation and police documents.— Kurt Eichenwald (@kurteichenwald) December 16, 2016
On Tuesday morning, he apparently was still unaware that he could disable autoplaying gifs, telling George Stephanopoulos, that there were so many of these images, "I can't look at my Twitter feed anymore."
Yet Eichenwald continues to interact with commenters on his Twitter feed. In particular, he has seized upon anyone who uses their real name and says he will use their photo and name in an article to shame them and states he will contact their employer.
Kurt Eichenwald is obtaining people's private info and threatening to doxx them. Seems stable. pic.twitter.com/Yt4CL9NvqB— elisabeth (@elisabethlehem) December 20, 2016
To one woman who merely called him “little boy in adult body,” he responded
Can't load tweet https://twitter.com/Lisa_Franceski/status/811229533709959168: Sorry, you are not authorized to see this status.
When people accused him of harassment, he responded
I apologize if my tweet was unclear. I was merely saying I could call if u would allow, rather than having Convo on twitter— Kurt Eichenwald (@kurteichenwald) December 20, 2016
In 2005, Eichenwald wrote a front page investigative report on child pornography for the New York Times. In violation of New York Times policy, his wife paid the main subject of the story $3,100 dollars, which he did not disclose. Eichenwald then blamed his failure to disclose these payments on memory loss caused by the seizures. [Seizures Hurt Memory, Ex-'Times' Reporter Says, by David Folkenflik, NPR, October 19, 2007]
As noted, this entire episode began when Tucker Carlson asked Eichenwald to answer whether Trump was indeed committed to an mental hospital in 1990. In the Stephanopoulos interview, Eichenwald explained:
I thought I was making fun of FOX News and the rest who were doing 'Hillary has seizures. Hillary has multiple sclerosis. Hillary has Parkinson's.' You know, 'Let's go to Dr. Oz.' So I was running a series of jokes leading up to that with the intent of sending that tweet which was a signal to a source to talk to me. [Eichenwald: My Trump Mental Hospital Accusation Was A Joke And A "Signal To A Source To Talk To Me", by Ian Schwartz, Real Clear Politics, December 20, 2016]
With all this said, Eichenwald undoubtedly suffers from a severe case of epilepsy and many of the Twitter trolls crossed the line. Regardless of the specifics of his case, they should realize that what seems like a dumb prank can cause real consequences.
While neocon Louise Mensch thinks that @jew_goldstein was a Kremlin agent, if he is identified, my guess is that it’s a high school student—as many of the more extreme trolls are.
This is not to defend their action. But worth considering when it’s being used to portray Trump supporters as would-be Brownshirts out to kill all who oppose them.
Alexander Hart (email him) is a conservative journalist.