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Content warning: Mentions of sexual misconduct.

We’ve discussed Andrew Callaghan before, although in a much different context. He’s known for his work with internet-disseminated vox populi journalism on the YouTube channels “All Gas No Brakes” and “Channel 5.” Several days after the premiere of his documentary, two women came forward publicly detailing incidents of sexual misconduct with him. It is alleged by h3h3productions’s Ethan Klein that Callaghan checked himself into a psych ward, admitted to the allegations and prepared his response. An official statement from Callaghan’s legal representation was then released to TMZ, seemingly not confirming nor denying the allegations but saying that “Andrew is devastated he is being accused” and adding that “repeated requests for money should not be part of these conversations.” This appears to be in reference to a reported exchange between Callaghan and an accuser, where the latter sent a single text asking if the former could help cover the cost of therapy from the trauma of the situation. Callaghan himself has now come forward with his own response.

Now, the details of these allegations have come with receipts of said accusations, as well as even more stories coming from different sources as alleged by leftist livestreamer Vaush and collected on this Reddit thread, which also detailed incidents with Callaghan’s friends and production crew. The purpose of this article is not to dive deep into or recap the traumatic details given. These stories will no doubt be scrutinized, picked apart bit by bit and cross-referenced for inconsistencies on every corner of the internet, as is tragically the circumstances of such situations. It’s that exact online response that needs to be examined instead.

As I just mentioned, notable online figures have already come out with their own commentary on the situation. Among these are Tim Heidecker, who was part of producing Callaghan’s documentary, and streamer Hasan Piker, also known as HasanAbi. The fact that these creators are addressing the allegations is important, and not just because of their personal relationships with Callaghan. All the people we’ve touched on provided Callaghan with a platform and spread his influence. They hold a responsibility to address the news, and it’s good to see they have done so, which is part of the reason this very article is being written — because I’m also culpable, even if it is to a smaller audience. That’s the only part of my role I want to mention, because my next point is people who are centering themselves in the wake of these allegations. 

The Michigan Daily’s art section has already discussed how parasocial relationships can influence people’s reactions to news of such misconduct, to the extent that fans might feel personally betrayed by their idols. Let’s reaffirm this now: The people hurt the most in these situations are the survivors. In such incidents, we see countless posts circulating about former fans centering their pain or, even worse, lashing out at survivors from loyalty to an influencer — who they ultimately don’t know — based on the quality of their work. Situations like these allegations coming out will unfortunately inevitably repeat themselves as the long work of making the world safer continues, so it’s important to remember how we should approach survivors, perpetrators and the responsibility of those in power. However, the work of Channel 5 is where Callaghan’s case is a bit more complicated. 

Callaghan’s position as a center-of-left journalist who became especially popular in leftist spaces was absolutely and hypocritically leveraged by him in these alleged incidents. Those defending him and his actions illustrate even more unsafe beliefs held by men in leftist spaces, and the defense of such actions is antithetical to the work of “radical empathy” Callaghan claimed to promote. This comes as such a tragedy, as these circumstances are now being co-opted by conspiratorial reactionaries treating this news as either some sabotage against leftist/independent journalism or justification of their bigoted beliefs. Unfortunately, these kinds of takes illustrate how much harm Callaghan has done to his own journalistic mission. 

While there are claims that Callaghan’s work in interviewing people in their respective situations was always exploitative, it always seemed to be coming from a place of building empathy for those showcased, regardless of political alignment. The independent journalism that Channel 5 encouraged pointed the blame squarely on the role of corporate media in dividing the people.

Empathy is so vitally necessary to navigating our current hyper-polarized sociopolitical landscape, and the necessity of work like Callaghan’s still exists: Ali G, John Wilson and his inspiration Louis Theroux are some examples. His actions have only served to sabotage that mission. We’re left now in this still-developing situation, but with the knowledge that Callaghan’s work and fame will not and should not continue in the way it has. We can only hope that someone better will pick up the mic.

Digital Culture Beat Editor Saarthak Johri can be reached at sjohri@umich.edu.