Oh No, This Hasan Minhaj–New Yorker Fight Is Getting Even Messier

Hasan Minhaj looking at the viewer, with four smaller versions of him in the background.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Netflix and Roy Rochlin/Getty Images.
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When the New Yorker published staff writer Clare Malone’s exposé on comedian Hasan Minhaj in September—which brought to light, among other things, some alleged fabrications in his stand-up specials—fans and critics were shocked and disappointed. Minhaj, who had gained major recognition as a Daily Show correspondent starting in 2014, had made a name for himself as a political comedian who used his work to highlight oppression, marginalization, and the insidious ways racism affects brown people, particularly brown Muslim Americans. He achieved even greater prominence through critically acclaimed Netflix specials and his talk show Patriot Act, which, during its two-year run, took a more journalistic approach to exploring contemporary cultural and political issues. Minhaj was said to have been the front-runner to succeed Trevor Noah and become the next host of The Daily Show—until, per the rumor mill, Malone’s New Yorker piece came out.

But the saga doesn’t end there. On Thursday, more than a month after the career-halting piece’s publication, Minhaj posted a 21-minute YouTube video response to the New Yorker article in which he claims to have “brought receipts” that rebuke some of Malone’s claims. Minhaj executes this response in the most Hasan Minhaj way: by doing a “deep dive” on his “own scandal,” complete with graphics, screenshots of emails, and raw audio of the interview with Malone. Before launching in, Minhaj warns viewers to “buckle up because it’s about to get tedious.” He was not lying—but, in the service of curious readers, I watched the very long rebuttal so you don’t have to. Read on for the TL;DR on the ongoing controversy.

So much has happened since the original exposé was published. Remind me, what were the allegations?

Malone’s article alleges that Minhaj admitted that “many of the anecdotes he related in his Netflix specials were untrue”—choices that he, per the article, still stands by in the name of telling the “emotional truth” for storytelling and impact purposes. There are plenty of examples in the report, but we will concern ourselves with the three major points that Minhaj’s response attempts to disprove.

OK—what’s the first?

The first alleged fabrication Minhaj attempts to refute pertains to a story he told in his first Netflix special, Homecoming King. In the special, Minhaj recounts how he successfully asked a white girl to his high school prom, only to be rejected on the day of the dance at her doorstep because of her family’s concern over her appearing with a brown boy in the prom photos that they would share with their relatives. (Ironically, Minhaj reveals, he found out she ended up marrying an Indian American man years later.)

According to the New Yorker piece, for which Malone spoke to the woman in question, Minhaj was turned down days before the dance, not on the night of. The article states that Minhaj and his almost-prom-date had “long carried different understandings of her rejection.” Additionally, the woman allegedly told Malone that she and her family had experienced threats online due to Minhaj’s failure to appropriately safeguard her identity, and that he was allegedly dismissive of her requests to get certain “threads taken down.” Finally, Malone reports, the woman claims that Minhaj invited her to an off-Broadway performance of Homecoming King, which she originally took as a good-faith invitation, but later believed to be intentionally humiliating.

In his response, Minhaj accuses the New Yorker of implying that he fabricated the entire thing, and of insinuating that his “race wasn’t a factor” in the girl’s rejection of him. Minhaj says that the race-motivated rejection had happened, just a few days earlier—he had created the doorstep scene to make the emotional devastation feel more palpable to the audience. Minhaj castigates the New Yorker for Malone’s “long carried different understandings of her rejection” line, which he calls misleading; he provides audio tape of his longer quote, wherein he explains the “difference” was in the woman’s apparent lack of knowledge of how deeply the incident had hurt him.

Minhaj also shows an email exchange he had allegedly had with this woman, in which she appears to acknowledge that her parents have “come a long way” from what is implied to be racist beliefs.

The comedian then moves on to debunking the piece’s claim that he had invited her to his show to humiliate her; more emails—again, allegedly from the woman—seem to suggest that she came to the show on her own.

As for the online threats and doxxing, Minhaj shows other emails between the two in which the woman appears to thank him for “always protecting” her and her family, which he says he did by way of reaching out to her and cautioning her to take down social media posts that would identify her, and by using blurred-out photos of actors in the Netflix special to protect her image.

Sounds … not great for the New Yorker.

It seems to be a mixed bag. In the New Yorker piece, Malone doesn’t explicitly state that the allegedly racist nature of the prom rejection had never happened, just that the timing of the rejection was fabricated.

As for the “different understandings” line, again, technically Malone doesn’t state that a racist interaction had never occurred, but it’s true that readers could walk away with a different impression.

As for the anonymity concerns, Minhaj claims he used photos of actors for the Netflix special, but the New Yorker piece actually says he used a real picture during the off-Broadway run—functionally, two different productions. Minhaj’s point about the social media precautions is also not in conflict with Malone’s account, as she writes in the piece that he did reach out to the woman suggesting that she “scrub social media posts,” and that the tone of their correspondence was “always friendly.”

As for who invited whom to the show, and whether there was any intentional humiliation, that seems the most up for debate.

What about Minhaj’s other points?

After the admittedly murky prom date debacle, the comedian’s refutations lessen in severity as they go on. The second story Minhaj addresses is from his special The King’s Jester, involving an FBI informant—who allegedly called himself Brother Eric—who Minhaj claims invaded his local mosque and tried to entrap Minhaj and his friends in 2002, while Minhaj was in high school in the Sacramento, California, area. In his special, Minhaj describes how he, harboring suspicions that Brother Eric was an informant, decided to make fun of the man, leading to him being roughed up by Brother Eric—only to later see the guy on the news under another name, allegedly proving that Minhaj’s suspicions were correct. He uses this story to segue into the story of Hamid Hayat, a young Pakistani American who spent most of his young adult years in prison after being entrapped by an undercover informant and wrongfully convicted on terrorism charges. Per the New Yorker, Craig Monteilh—the man Minhaj calls Brother Eric—says the entire story never happened, that he hadn’t even been working in counterterrorism for the FBI until 2006, and that he had not worked near the Northern California area.

In his response, Minhaj acknowledges that this incident didn’t happen, but that he “did have altercations with undercover law enforcement growing up,” including being physically harassed while playing basketball (an account that Malone does include in the piece). He apologizes, explaining that his intention was to amplify the stories of people who actually experienced devastating run-ins with law enforcement, like Hayat. Minhaj says he created the story in the way he did to heighten the feeling of paranoia that all Muslim Americans were feeling at that time. Minhaj shows text messages allegedly from Hayat praising and thanking him for talking about his story on the special. Minhaj accuses the New Yorker of being “more concerned” with the FBI informant than his intentions of spreading awareness for stories like Hayat’s.

Now what’s the third thing?

The final allegation in question concerns his claim in The King’s Jester that he rushed his daughter to the hospital after he received a letter in the mail with white powder that he thought could have been anthrax. This incident occurred among other threats Minhaj received after an episode of Patriot Act about the Saudi involvement in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The New Yorker exposé reveals that Minhaj’s daughter was never actually hospitalized, but it also includes Minhaj’s explanation that there was a real letter with white powder, the contents just never spilled on his daughter, and Minhaj found out shortly that it wasn’t anthrax. The article also states that Minhaj did “joke” to his wife about the bonkers reality that it really could have been.

In the YouTube video, Minhaj apologizes for embellishing this story and, again, explains that a letter did exist, his daughter was mere feet away from him when he opened it, but he realized soon after that it wasn’t real anthrax. He goes on to explain how terrifying that period of his life was—getting random phone calls at night, the anthrax scare, Netflix receiving threatening letters—so much so that he traveled with constant security provided by Netflix.

That already sounds incredibly horrifying. So then why did he need to make up the story about the hospital?

Minhaj says he created the hospital scene to make the audience feel the same terror that he and his wife felt knowing the powder could have been anthrax and could have easily fallen on his daughter. But, in asking the question, he acknowledges that the reality of his life was already scary enough.

Is there anything else Minhaj doesn’t mention in his response that the New Yorker article does?

Malone’s piece includes other allegations of Minhaj conflating timelines and seemingly embellishing or fabricating for dramatic effect—namely, suggesting that he went to the Saudi Embassy in an attempt to interview Mohammed bin Salman as news broke of Khashoggi’s murder, when the meeting had actually taken place at least a month before, and falsely alleging that Jared Kushner had sat in a ceremonious seat for an imprisoned Saudi activist at a Time 100 Gala. The article also mentions female former Patriot Act employees suing the show for alleged discrimination, harassment, and retaliation (the matter was settled out of court, per the New Yorker).

So is that a wrap on Minhaj’s response?

Almost. Minhaj apologizes and promises to be “more thoughtful” about how he tells his stories from now on. He also promises that he’s not a “psycho,” like how he believes the New Yorker article portrays him to be, but “just a guy with IBS and low sperm motility.” However, he suggests that the piece should have been more about the line between truth and storytelling in his stand-up overall, asserting that he’s told more truths than lies. Minhaj takes specific umbrage with two of the article’s lines—the first, that “much of” his stories in his stand-up actually “never happened to him.” He says this is false, that nearly all of his stories in his specials happened to him, only “some of it didn’t.”

Minhaj also rebukes the final line of the piece, which he recounts as “… he told me, ‘The emotional truth is first. The factual truth is secondary.’ ” He proceeds to provide audio tape of the interview with the full quote, wherein he explains that there’s a difference between the Hasan Minhaj on Patriot Act or The Daily Show—where “the truth comes first” and comedy sometimes comes “second to infotainment”—and the Hasan Minhaj in his stand-up. The New Yorker’s final quote about valuing the “emotional truth” over the “factual truth,” he says, comes from him talking about the latter.

But, here’s the thing: The full final quote in the article is, “When it comes to his stage shows, he told me, ‘the emotional truth is first. The factual truth is secondary.’ ” And, toward the beginning of the article, Malone does explicitly explain Minhaj’s thought about the differentiation between the two versions of himself, as he relays in the audio recording played in his response video. In that paragraph, Malone writes that Minhaj “drew a hard line between his hosting duties on Patriot Act and his stage work” in their conversation, specifically stating that he was adamant that “in Patriot Act, his comedic license took a back seat to the information being conveyed.” However, Malone soon poses the question of how “most people likely don’t parse which Hasan Minhaj they’re watching at a given moment.” So Minhaj’s approach is included in full in the New Yorker piece, although it’s true that splitting the final quote from the earlier, more exhaustive paragraph could be misleading to some.

OK—so who was right and who was wrong?

Almost everything the New Yorker article alleges appears to line up with Minhaj’s version of the facts, except for some of the details of the prom date story.

And yet, it still leaves a weird taste in the mouth. Why does it look so bad for the New Yorker?

Hearing a person—and a very charismatic one, at that—actually advocating for himself is almost always going to feel more emotionally arresting than whatever reading an article can provide. Furthermore, some onlookers may have read the tone or thrust of the New Yorker article as more or less exposing Minhaj and authoritatively drawing hard lines in the sand as to what is the “truth,” leaving the magazine open to criticism when its own “truth” is called into question, no matter how big or small the refutations.

Has the New Yorker responded?

Yes. Clare Malone posted a statement to her social media:

Hasan Minhaj confirms in this video that he selectively presents information and embellishes to make a point: exactly what we reported. Our piece, which includes Minhaj’s perspective at length, was carefully reported and fact-checked. It is based on interviews with more than 20 people, including former Patriot Act and Daily Show staffers; members of Minhaj’s security team; and people who have been the subject of his standup work, including the former F.B.I. informant “Brother Eric” and the woman at the center of his prom-rejection story. We stand by our story.

It seems we may now be at an impasse. What do you think, have the tides turned for Minhaj?

It’s hard to understate how much the New Yorker article cost him when it first ran: his credibility, potentially the Daily Show star gig, and tons of unmitigated support from members of his community and beyond. Now, it seems he has already gained back substantial support from fans who believe him. It remains to be seen whether both parties can move on amicably now, but I have a feeling this might get even messier. If it does—you know where to find me.