Did you see the long, meticulous apology by Grantland editor Bill Simmons over the Dr. V story? It is an amazing document in which the editor of a major online magazine confesses his publication’s errors in committing journalism. It reads like a statement signed by a victim of a Maoist struggle session, in which the Party humiliated its enemies by forcing them to confess publicly to their errors and deviations from the revolutionary line. It was followed by a similar Grantland piece by Christina Kahrl, an ESPN.com journalist and transsexual who is angry, so angry, about the piece and its monstrous author. Excerpt:
But I’m also angry because of the more fundamental problem that this story perpetuates. We’re talking about a piece aimed at golf readers. So we’re talking about a mostly white, mostly older, mostly male audience that wound up reading a story that reinforced several negative stereotypes about trans people. For an audience that doesn’t usually know and may never know anyone who’s trans and may get few opportunities to ever learn any differently, that’s confirmation bias of the worst sort.
Huh? The article unmasked a con man who built an undeserved reputation and bilked people out of money because he was an expert at making people believe he was something that he was not. How on earth is that information about Dr. V’s life history not relevant to the overall story? I will grant you that there might have been better ways of handling this story, but the fact remains that Dr. V was a mentally unstable con man, mistrusted and disliked by those who knew him/her best. Did Caleb Hannan’s story drive her over the line to commit suicide. Maybe. Maybe not. Hannan and Grantland are being judged extremely harshly for reporting a relevant piece of information because they didn’t first run it by the sensibilities of the cultural police to see if It Is Good For The LGBT Community. That’s what Kahrl is complaining about in this last bit: that it doesn’t serve the cause of normalizing transgender. Is that what journalism is supposed to do: serve the cause of cultural politics?
It seems to me that in this case, Hannan was obliged to report what he discovered was true; it’s up to the reader to decide if Dr. V’s transgenderism tells us anything about how he became so expert at passing himself off as someone he wasn’t. Let’s say that Dr. V was a light-skinned black man who had spent much of his life successfully passing himself off as white. A reporter discovered by accident that Dr. V was a con man. Do you really think that Dr. V’s experiences passing had nothing to do the the psychology of being a first-rate con man? It seems to me that one has to deliberately blind oneself to a relevant, but not necessarily dispositive, fact in reporting this story. The idea is not that all trans persons are con men — that would be false and malicious — but that someone who was inclined to be a serial liar and manipulator may have had a psychological disposition to and self-training in masking and creating illusions — a skill that would be extremely helpful in deceiving investors and journalists into thinking your big invention was something it wasn’t. It is at least an arguable point — but it’s not a point on which we can argue profitably, because if you disagree, you are an outrageous bigot. Case closed.
Anyway, poor Caleb Hannan. He didn’t learn where the land mines are in American journalism. There goes his career, until and unless he comes to the struggle session. This young writer has surely learned an important lesson about journalism, but for the sake of his integrity as a journalist, I hope it’s not the lesson the Party wants him to have learned.