Alumni magazine profile on alumnus faces controversy

by Pierce Wilson | 7/21/20 7:05pm

by Naina Bhalla / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

On July 10, Blake Neff ’13, former writer for Fox News host Tucker Carlson, resigned from his position following reports of bigoted comments he had posted online under a pseudonym. In light of these revelations, the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine has faced controversy over its recently published profile of Neff entitled “The Right Stuff: Former 'Review' staffer Blake Neff '13 settles in at Fox.”

After CNN broke the news that Neff had used the username “CharlesXII” for years to post racist, misogynistic and homphobic commentary on the online forum AutoAdmit, the website version of the DAM profile became unavailable for 24 hours. The profile was later republished online with an update condemning Neff’s behavior and stating that his actions “in no way reflect the views of the magazine.” 

The profile and the temporary removal of the website version of the article drew criticism from Dartmouth community members, according to DAM editor Sean Plottner. He stressed that, although some news outlets have stated that the profile was “pulled,” the website version of the article was only offline for 24 hours while the staff put together an update. The print version of the article, which is also available to read online in DAM’s digital archives, was not removed or altered at any point. 

“It was an unprecedented situation, and it was important that we took the time to be thoughtful,” Plottner said. 

In the profile, Neff discussed his career at Fox News and his relationship to Carlson, saying “anything [Carlson] is reading off the teleprompter, the first draft was written by me.” 

Neff did not respond to multiple requests for comment. 

Elizabeth Pike ’88, who was recently referenced in a Psychology Today article by Gina Barreca ’79 about DAM’s profile on Neff, said she thinks that instead of having a “dead link” up for 24 hours, DAM should have posted an “immediate response” to communicate that they had seen the news about Neff and that they were working on a more substantial update. 

“There was definitely a response among people that I know who are alumni that it should not have been taken down,” Pike said. “Especially because we have it in print. You can’t undo what’s in print.” 

Sophie Williams ’23 said she was unsure about the intentions behind posting the update. 

“The update text especially seems to be trying to dodge any responsibility for writing about this man,” Williams said. 

Katie Kong ’23 said she was dissatisfied with the update and questioned why DAM decided to write a profile on Neff.

“I think the addendum they have at the beginning doesn’t mean too much if [the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine is] still willing to dedicate space to Blake Neff when that space could be used to highlight BIPOC [alumni] and other marginalized perspectives,” Kong said, adding that she believes the original article was "not particularly interesting or substantial.”   

Pike said she does not believe that DAM should have pursued the profile in the first place given Neff’s involvement with the Review.

“I do not want Dartmouth to celebrate alumni who are associated with the Review,” Pike said. “Profiles of people like Blake Neff are a real slap in the face to many of our alumni, especially people of color.”

Pike added that the “shock tactics and ad hominem attacks” that she said the Review utilizes are “directly counter to the intellectual and personal values that Dartmouth espouses.”

Plottner said that he does not regret pursuing the profile, even after Neff’s online comments were uncovered. 

“If there’s an alum who writes for a well-known TV show of any kind, that’s newsworthy,” Plottner said.

According to Plottner, DAM has received more letters than usual from alumni about the profile. Plottner said that letters will be published at the discretion of the magazine, and that DAM will not publish those that make ad hominem attacks. “Some letters are thoughtful and reasonable even while being critical,” Plottner said.

 “Many readers have expressed anger at the magazine, the Review, Neff and the College. Sadly, others have spewed hate, wrath and vicious ad hominem attacks — not a far cry from some of the things Neff has written.”

Current Review editor-in-chief Rachel Gambee ’21 said that Neff is “very distant in terms of institutional memory at the Review.” 

Gambee added that even the most senior staffers currently at the Review did not overlap with Neff, and that the Review decries Neff’s actions.

As of Tuesday, the Review has not publicly addressed Neff’s behavior. However, Gambee said that she plans to address Neff’s remarks and the controversy surrounding them in an upcoming editorial. 

“We feel as a paper that these comments are objectively heinous and vile.” Gambee said. “He does not reflect what any honest news organization or publication should [associate with]. I’m glad that he's been removed from [his] position.” 

Instead of celebrating Review alumni, Pike said she believes it would be “really interesting” for DAM to dig into the legacy and the current practices of the Review in a critical and honest matter.

In response to Neff’s comments and his association with the Review, Dartmouth alumni have started a petition urging the College to “publicly dissociate from The Dartmouth Review” and “compel the publication to cease and desist from using the Dartmouth name as part of its brand.” As of Tuesday, over 400 Dartmouth students, faculty and alumni have signed the petition.

Stuart Allan ’14, who worked with Neff as a colleague at the Review, condemned Neff’s remarks and said that he “does not recall ever seeing or hearing about [Neff] acting in any way described as racist, misogynist or homophobic” during his time at the College.

“To the contrary, from my interactions with him, I would describe Blake as a really kind, thoughtful and intelligent man although his interests could be a bit ‘nerdy,’ academic or esoteric,” Allan said. 

Allan said that he has been in contact with Neff since the CNN story was published, and that Neff is back at home in South Dakota with his family “weathering [his] personal storm.”

Correction appended (July 22, 2020): A previous version of this article indicated that DAM's profile on Neff was unavailable for 24 hours. The article has been updated to reflect that although the website version of the profile was temporarily removed, the print version of the article in DAM's digital archives was still available to view online. An earlier version of this article also indicated that DAM would still publish letters to the editor that were deemed hostile. The article has been corrected to indicate that DAM will publish letters at its discretion.