“We made an indefensible mistake”: Grantland editor apologizes for story outing trans woman

From Salon:  http://www.salon.com/2014/01/21/we_made_an_indefensible_mistake_grantland_editor_apologizes_for_story_outing_trans_woman/

After a suicide and an outcry, editor in chief Bill Simmons explains

It had begun as a story about a unique piece of sports equipment. It ended with a suicide. Along the way, it became a debate about journalistic ethics, and how far a writer and editors should go into a subject’s personal life. And in a Monday letter from the editor, Grantland’s Bill Simmons gave a lengthy and remarkably candid peek into how a story that may have led to a transgender woman’s death came about.

Last week, the ESPN-owned site Grantland published Caleb Hannan’s “Dr. V’s Magical Putter,” a story of the author’s quest to unlock the mystery behind a seemingly “magical” putter, and an inventor named Essay Anne Vanderbilt. Though Dr. V requested that “any subsequent article about her putter focus on the science and not the scientist,” Hannan couldn’t resist. He became intrigued by the “quirks to her character” and a voice that was “deeper than expected.” He began digging and uncovered “discrepancies” in the biographical information she’d supplied, until eventually he was able to declare, “Here is what I now know about Dr. Essay Anne Vanderbilt, inventor of the Oracle GX1 putter. She was born a boy on July 12, 1953, in Philadelphia. She was given the name Stephen Krol, a person who has not received degrees from MIT or the University of Pennsylvania. She has been married at least twice, and the brother of one of Krol’s ex-wives says Dr. V has two children, possibly more. She was once a mechanic at a Sunoco station that she also may have run in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.”

Was this now the story of a magical putter? Or was it of a businessperson who’d faked her credentials? Or was it, cruelly, just an outing of a trans woman? In the piece, Hannan told how he revealed Dr. V’s secret to one of her investors, saying, “Maybe the most surprising thing about my conversation with Kinney was how calmly he took the news that the woman he thought was an aerospace engineer had once been a man, and a mechanic.” He told of Dr. V’s increasing agitation that Hannan was pursuing the story, an act she calls a “hate crime.” And in the end, he said that she killed herself in October.

Did Grantland kill Dr. V? Of course not. Hannan even noted in his original story that she’d attempted suicide at least once before. But the cavalier invasiveness of the piece, its sly depiction of a trans person as a sneaky liar, inspired a vocal and strongly critical chorus of shock and disgust at Grantland’s choice to run the story. Shakesville’s Melissa McEwan summed it up quite well in a piece whose title says it all: “Careless, Cruel and Unaccountable.”

When Grantland was slow to respond to the criticism, it seemed for a while it might have been trying to stick its head in the sand until the whole thing blew over. But Bill Simmons’ thoughtful, lengthy Sunday letter takes on, from its first sentence, the baffling question of “How could you guys run that?” In it, he praises Hannan’s “well-written” piece and runs down the various checkpoints the story passed until he himself signed off on it. He admits that when Hannan turned in a version in September – a month before Vanderbilt’s suicide, he told him, “Sorry, Caleb, you need to keep reporting this one. It’s not there.”

Continue reading at:  http://www.salon.com/2014/01/21/we_made_an_indefensible_mistake_grantland_editor_apologizes_for_story_outing_trans_woman/

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