Words that wound

I spent a lot of the past weekend mulling over the Grantland article which was ostensibly about a new type of putter, but morphed into the character-assassination of a (now deceased) trans* woman.

I don’t want to link to the article itself, because page-views can be used to justify all kinds of things, and the editors of Grantland have yet to come forward with a response to the outcry over Caleb Hannan’s piece. I do realize that depriving them of a few paltry click-thoughs is hardly the most effective protest, but a protest it is. That, and my words, are all that I’ve got.

I wasn’t going to write anything about this at all, because there are many articles already out there, most of which are far more eloquent than I could hope to be when writing about something like this.

Some of those pieces include:

Mallory Ortberg at The Toast, curating early online reactions and offering additional links – all of which are worth clicking through.

Paris Lees at Vice, hitting Hannan where he lives with a skewering of his style and using similar breaches of journalistic ethics to contextualize his piece.

Alyssa Rosenberg at Think Progress has questions for Hannan, his editors and ESPN (who own the Grantland site).

There are more, many more, but those three (and the links within them) are all worth reading for anyone who is trying to understand the controversy.

It’s easy to skim-read an article and miss the insidious subtext – that’s what seems to have happened to a lot of people initially – zooming through 7k+ words in order to get a handle on what the fuss is about, and coming up baffled. Rebecca Schoenkopf over at Happynicetimepeople initially said it was ok for Grantland to have published the piece even though it was flawed, but then clarified in the comments that she’d missed some of Hannan’s dodgy word choices when reading the article. Being the wonderful Editrix that she is, she’s left her initial piece, and the comments intact for all to see. They’re worth reading, it’s clear that she was never going to jump on the Jezebel click-bait bandwagon with a headline all but screaming bloody murder (which, to be fair, does not match the tone of their piece), but she was open to having such oversights pointed out and more than willing to explain her reasoning on a personal level (ultimately: the piece sucked and was more about Hannan’s ego than anything else).

What bothered me most about Hannan’s piece was how it stopped being about a putter and instead became all about Dr. V.. How the scientist who did not want publicity instead became the focus of all of Hannan’s research. How he aggressively outed her to an investor and was gobsmacked when that investor was sanguine about it. How that seemed to make him even more determined to dismantle Dr. V. publicly, in front of everyone, including her business partners and romantic partner. There’s no justification offered for this, save for going after “the story”. I don’t quite know how he convinced himself and his editors that the inventor of the putter was suddenly more interesting than the putter itself, unless they were all equally appalled by the notion that a trans* woman could fly under his radar. The amount of other-ing going on in and around this piece is spectacular.

Disclosure: I am not a trans* person. I don’t claim any special insight into how trans* women think or feel. I have met, spoken to and spent time with trans* women in various stages of transition (I hope I’m using the correct phrasing here, please correct me if not), and I have heard how difficult life can be, has been and is for trans* women. On a basic human level, where does some guy think he has the right to attack someone’s business and romantic relationships, wielding some ungainly truth that he has decided is germane to all discussions from here on in. All discussions, everywhere. A truth that he then goes on to use to cast the subject of his article in the murkiest of lights, in all aspects of her life.

When Hannan confronted Dr. V’s partner, Gerri Jordan, he received this response: “If I am to believe your diatribe, what you are telling golfers is that the most scientifically advanced Near Zero MOI putter, and the science of the Inertia Matrix was invented by a lesbian auto mechanic.” 

That line alone, is heartbreaking. Jordan simply did not know what Hannan was talking about, and he should have been falling over himself to apologize at that point, to back off, to tell Grantland he wasn’t going forward with the piece, but no. Instead he refused to sign an NDA in return for Dr. V.’s academic records, and kept working on his story. No wonder she “despised” him.

What effect Hannan’s continued pursuit of “the story” had on Dr. V. we will never know. We do know that she took her own life, as do a tragically high percentage of trans* people each year, but we do not know how much the pressure being brought to bear on her personally and professionally by his scrutiny contributed to her suicide. We can never know, but Caleb Hannan can’t know either, and it’s unclear whether he has even thought about it. He certainly doesn’t admit to any concerns, instead he glibly calls what amounts to an excessively verbose hatchet-job on a dead woman, “a eulogy”. I do not think this word means what he thinks it means (then again, if he didn’t know what “communiqué” means, then he probably isn’t too familiar with “eulogy” either).

And yet, and yet there is an editorial team at Grantland, and no-one spiked this piece. No-one said “Oh hey, I thought this was about a putter, what does any of this stuff have to do with the putter?”. No-one said, “We don’t think it’s a good idea, or good journalistic practice to out someone as trans*, even if they are deceased”. No-one said, “Oh my god, she’s dead? We really shouldn’t publish this.”

Hannan is responsible for the article, for chasing what he perceived to be a story at the expense of a human being.

Grantland is responsible for validating that pursuit and the methods used by him (including outing Dr. V) by publishing the article.

None of that is good journalism, and no amount of page-views can make it so.




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