former journalists discuss a profession in crisis

Archive for January, 2014|Monthly archive page

Grantland’s Insensitivity is a Cautionary Tale for Reporters

In Blog on January 25, 2014 at 1:21 pm

All journalists hope that their work will have an impact.  But we don’t want that impact to be suicide.  I realize that journalist Caleb Hannan did not want his subject — the inventor of a new golf putter who had hidden her identity and misstated her qualifications – to take her own life. It is not fair to say that Hannan’s reporting caused a suicide, but it’s pretty clear that his digging alarmed and upset a very vulnerable individual.

In pursuing his story, which contributes nothing to the welfare of mankind – it’s about the invention of a new putter for goodness sake – Hannan certainly displayed a lack of awareness of the potential consequences of his reporting.

Hannan’s story was published on the ESPN-owned website Grantland.com on January 15.  He recounts his reportorial odyssey in trying to discover the truth about the elusive Dr. Anne Essay Vanderbilt, known as Dr. V, the inventor of what she touted as a revolutionary new putter. I am not linking to the story because I don’t want to add to its page views.

I know nothing about golf, but I think most of us will agree that it is a game, and whether or not a putter is revolutionary is relatively unimportant in the larger scheme of things.

But Grantland being about sports, this long-form story seemed appropriate to its editors.  However, the writer of the piece and those who permitted it to be posted forgot that not all stories have to be published.

Hannan discovered that Dr. V had lied about her credentials – she was not an MIT-trained physicist, or many of the other things she claimed to be.  He ultimately discovered that Dr. V was a transgender woman. What he did not uncover was any proof that the putter she invented did not work, or that she had attempted to bilk any investors out of their money. (In the course of his reporting, Hannan told one of Dr. V’s investors that Dr. V once had been a man, an inexcusable invasion of Dr. V’s privacy. The investor wasn’t nearly as shocked by this revelation as Hannan apparently was.)

Oh yes, he’d also that learned Dr. V had attempted suicide in 2008, after a fight with her girlfriend.

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When Did Contraception Become Controversial?

In Blog on January 5, 2014 at 1:01 pm

Tell me, when did the media decide that contraception was controversial?  When I did a search on Google News, I found that the words contraception and controversy occurred together more than 4,000 times, often in broadcast and print news accounts.

Contraception is not some bizarre practice that most Americans avoid.  Yet, ideologues and the Catholic hierarchy have managed to brainwash reporters, most of whom I’ll wager practiced birth control at some point in their lives, and persuaded them to treat the term gingerly.  Contraception used to be called family planning. That term better reflects the well-established concept that people have the right to determine how many children they can love, raise and financially support.

Most sexually experienced  Catholic women of child-bearing age – an estimated 98 percent — have practiced contraception at some point in their lives.  As a reporter colleague of mine once put it, “We’re Catholics, but we’re not idiots.”  The statistics are pretty clear that most Catholics don’t see anything wrong with contraception.  Only 15 percent find it morally wrong.  Even among Catholics who attend weekly mass, two-thirds don’t find contraception objectionable.  Count me among that group.  Heck, I even sing in the choir at my church.

And as a few media outlets have tried to point out, federal regulations long on the books already had made the availability of birth control pills a requirement for most employers that provide health insurance.  Many state laws had imposed similar requirements on Catholic institutions. Catholic institutions that fought these rules were often blocked by the courts.

But by and large  journalists have done a terrible job of making the point that contraceptive use is the norm in this country, and that federal regulations and state laws have been quietly requiring that it be a part of employer-provided health insurance for years.

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