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Dr. V’s Magical Putter
January 17, 2014 7:18 AM   Subscribe

Dr. Essay Anne Vanderbilt invented a radical new golf putter. But Dr. Vanderbilt may not be exactly whom she seems to be....
posted by Chrysostom (180 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
"Dan Quayle was also an acquaintance."
posted by box at 7:22 AM on January 17


Non-golfers probably don't understand the deep, dark jungle of voodoo, alchemy, and snakeoil that is putter design. It's truly amazing. And that's in a game utterly drenched in voodoo, alchemy, and snakeoil.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:31 AM on January 17 [4 favorites]


That's probably the strangest golf-related story I've read, strange enough I'd like to forward it to Thomas Pynchon.
posted by Doktor Zed at 7:35 AM on January 17 [2 favorites]


What a sad fucking story.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 7:44 AM on January 17 [8 favorites]


"Dr. V’s Magical Putter: The remarkable story of how I hounded a troubled trans woman to her grave."
posted by this is a thing at 7:48 AM on January 17 [51 favorites]


"The remarkable story of how I hounded a troubled trans woman to her grave."

What an awful thing to accuse the author of.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 7:54 AM on January 17 [15 favorites]


"Dr. V’s Magical Putter: The remarkable story of how I hounded a troubled trans woman to her grave."

...by exposing her scheme to rip people off by peddling made-up pseudoscience backed up by falsified credentials.
posted by enn at 7:55 AM on January 17 [7 favorites]


He threatened to out her. She committed suicide. What am I missing here?
posted by this is a thing at 8:01 AM on January 17 [10 favorites]


I just re-read the article, and can't find a single instance where the author "threatened to out her".
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 8:04 AM on January 17


this is a thing, do you think that any investigative journalism that involves the past of a potentially trans person should be off limits for fear of driving them to suicide? I'm genuinely curious.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 8:07 AM on January 17


Oh, I don't fucking know. The story hit a nerve. I should have kept my mouth shut.
posted by this is a thing at 8:09 AM on January 17


The author threatened to reveal that she had been scamming people out of their life savings to "invest" in her company on the basis of fake credentials and fake science, for which she might easily have gone to prison.

It's a horrible outcome. I do think the author seems to take her suicide very lightly in a way that seems callous. But to say that he "hounded" her implies that her scam was not the legitimate subject of journalistic inquiry, and I don't agree with that at all.
posted by enn at 8:09 AM on January 17 [5 favorites]


I just re-read the article, and can't find a single instance where the author "threatened to out her".

He did more than threaten. He outed her as a trans woman to several people during the investigation of the story:
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.
posted by muddgirl at 8:10 AM on January 17 [32 favorites]


Would it have been possible to investigate and report the scam without outing her without her permission? We'll never know.
posted by muddgirl at 8:11 AM on January 17 [2 favorites]


Also on re-reading that quote, I like how the fact that she had "once been a man" is presented as damning as the fact that she wasn't an aerospace engineer. One of those facts is very relevant to the story of a person lying about their credentials and work history in order to sell a putter. The other one seems entirely irrelevant unless one is trying to claim that she changed her name and gender identity for fraudulent purposes as well.
posted by muddgirl at 8:20 AM on January 17 [41 favorites]


"Dr. V’s Magical Putter: The remarkable story of how I hounded a troubled trans woman to her grave."

I don't think that's fair or accurate, and I think the whole thing would have been a non-story without the highly relevant lies about her background and credentials.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 8:21 AM on January 17


She told him she had spent most of her career as a private contractor for the Department of Defense, working on projects so secretive — including the stealth bomber — that her name wasn’t listed on government records. “Isn’t that about as clandestine as you can get?” McCord asked me.

No, this is not correct. The records might be really locked down, but they are still there.

The putter doesn't look that different from others, except for the ball retrieval part.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:21 AM on January 17


I love how the Yar Golf webpage has a clear THIS IS A SCAM disclaimer:

"Important Notice: Only Yar Golf Certified Putter Consultatives understand Yar Putter Science Theorems"
posted by straight at 8:24 AM on January 17 [5 favorites]


I think it's pretty clear that digging around to verify her backstory, which on the face of it was too ridiculous to be believed by anyone with common sense, was the the first step in a chain of events that was guaranteed to out her as a fraud/con-person.

Where I do think things get tragic/troubling is how her gender history is seen as a relevant data point in this -- as though being trans is also part of the con. I do wonder if the author still crossed the line even post-mortem, and whether any of her gender history needed to be mentioned in the first place. With the crass way it is handled in the story, as a reader I do wonder to what extent fear of being outed as con-person versus being outed as trans played a role in the awful course of events. There is some terrible unintended irony here on the author's part -- the details he is willing to include do come off as somewhat damning.

At the same time, creating made up reputation/credentials, attaching them to your name following a gender transition,putting it out there behind a product like this, and fielding inquiries for publicity/journalism directly with this tangled history also seems like a recipe for disaster.

This is all just horrible.
posted by drpynchon at 8:24 AM on January 17 [13 favorites]


Would it have been possible to investigate and report the scam without outing her without her permission? We'll never know

This is, certainly, an extremely difficult area, but surely it can't be reasonable to say a journalist should be completely forbidden to report on or discuss a trans person's past? I mean, if you're examining the story of a given con artist in depth you'll report on all kinds of aspects of their past life that have gone to make them the person they are today. Many of these might well be things that the subject would prefer to keep private: past traumas, embarrassing political beliefs, membership in a cult or what have you. If we say that gender transition shouldn't be reported on because of potential embarrassment or psychological stress to the subject then what is the bright dividing line that separates that from any of the other things that are routinely reported about people's past lives to their discomfort?
posted by yoink at 8:25 AM on January 17 [5 favorites]


Yeah it's a difficult question. The revelation to the investor seems to stress the former-man part of the story no more than the former-mechanic part of the story, with the only judgement potentially made being that this person was not necessarily who they claimed to be. (on preview of muddgirl's last comment, I can see how the inclusion of "once a man" could be seen as irrelevant/judgmental. I can also see it as being the result of some innocuously sloppy/inconsiderate framing of a the fact that she wasn't who she seemed to be).

I see how the imperative to not "out" people might squick some out in a story like this, but I'm uncomfortable with the idea that an investigative reporter could run into facts regarding gender or sexuality (or any other protected category) and have to elide them from consideration or potentially just call off the whole investigation.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 8:25 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]


Yeah, to be clear: Investigating her credentials was a good thing to do. Exposing her lack of credentials would have been a good thing to do if he'd stopped there. Accidentally finding out she was trans was fine. Exposing that to IRL acquaintances of hers, and including it in an article slated for publication during her lifetime, was totally disgusting. Crowing over her gender history and suicide as Weird! Plot! Twists! is the icing on the disgusting cake.

I'm not about to write you a sound and coherent universal policy on investigative journalism about "the past of a potentially trans person." But I do think this was gross as hell.
posted by this is a thing at 8:26 AM on January 17 [54 favorites]


" He did more than threaten. He outed her as a trans woman to several people during the investigation of the story"

Only the one person is mentioned - the investor in "Dr. V.'s" company. The reporter outed Dr. V's trans status in the context of outing her as a pathological liar and con artist who had fabricated all of her history in the process of defrauding the investor out of serious cash. Maybe the reporter could have detailed Dr. V's actual history without mentioning her birth gender, but it seems like pretty much a side note either way.
posted by tdismukes at 8:31 AM on January 17 [2 favorites]


I'm not about to write you a sound and coherent universal policy on investigative journalism about "the past of a potentially trans person.

Well, fair enough--but somebody is going to have to do that before we can make meaningful judgments about what is or is not "gross as hell" in a case like this.

I suspect that our judgments about this case are badly distorted by the fact of this person's suicide. As is often the case with suicide, we hunt around looking for things to "blame" for the action and that, in turn, casts the journalist's actions in a particularly troubling light. Had this been simply a story about a scam artist who got outed and was now being prosecuted we'd be far less troubled about the 'outing' aspects of the story. But that, as a matter either of morality or journalistic ethics, is absurd. The journalist had no reason to suspect that the subject would commit suicide in this case and we have no actual reason to believe that this suicide was in any simple sense "caused" by the fact that she was outed as transgender.
posted by yoink at 8:32 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]


Had this been simply a story about a scam artist who got outed and was now being prosecuted we'd be far less troubled about the 'outing' aspects of the story.... The journalist had no reason to suspect that the subject would commit suicide in this case.

One of the rather ironic details included by the author is in fact a prior history of attempted suicide. Knowing that, and charging ahead for the story really doesn't paint the author in a good light.
posted by drpynchon at 8:35 AM on January 17 [4 favorites]


It's tricky because, to me, the fact that she had changed her public gender identity is a mitigating factor in having fabricated other details about her past and leaving it out of her story would in a sense be unfairly painting her in a less-charitable light. It seems obvious that fraud was not the only (or maybe even the principal) reason she had for hiding her past.
posted by straight at 8:37 AM on January 17 [3 favorites]


IMO Caleb, the author, surely plays a very significant role in driving Dr. V to suicide. I really can't see where the story is worth that sort of price. I guess it's some sort of notch in his belt, though: investigative journalist uncovers such a juicy scandal that perps kill themselves is a heck of a credential. Way to succeed, Caleb. Congrats.

.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:37 AM on January 17 [7 favorites]


Except that nonconsesual public outing has led to trans people committing suicide or being put on suicide watch, etc. before. It's kind of an understandably stressful thing. It is harassment.

Not having read through the entirety yet, this is an interesting story, but there are a lot of issues with how the author behaves and the post here is very poorly framed. "...may not be exactly whom she seems to be..." is exactly the kind of Othering, gotcha language that wilts productive, respectful discussions of trans people/issues right out of the gate.
posted by byanyothername at 8:41 AM on January 17 [20 favorites]


I suspect that our judgments about this case are badly distorted by the fact of this person's suicide.

When someone's gender is portrayed as a point of voyeuristic interest in a story where it has no relevance, it's bad enough...but the author here brings it up as part of a narrative of deception, and that plays into a whole lot of really gross preconceptions we have about transgender people. This idea of taking an irrelevant but socially-charged detail and using it to add a negative cast to things...we do it with sexuality, we do it with gender, we do it with race, and it's hard to pretend that it is just being dropped in as objective, interesting information, rather than as a way to nudge a reader's judgment in a negative direction.
posted by mittens at 8:43 AM on January 17 [31 favorites]


I think lingering anti-trans sentiment makes it hard to see how inappropriate the outing part of the story is. I suspect the reaction would be different if the author had breathlessly revealed that the fraudster was also a closeted homosexual, then proceeded to engage in liberal public outing.
posted by prefpara at 8:44 AM on January 17 [20 favorites]


Or imagine the author revealing that *gasp* the fraudster was 1/8 BLACK OMG AND WAS HIDING IT AND PASSING FOR WHITE!!!!
posted by prefpara at 8:45 AM on January 17 [10 favorites]


Dr V may have been trans, but Caleb is a piece of shit.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:45 AM on January 17 [6 favorites]


...by exposing her scheme to rip people off by peddling made-up pseudoscience backed up by falsified credentials.

I didn't see an explanation in the article of why her putter wasn't any better than the putters on the market. It seems the only way she possibly ripped people off was by presenting false credentials and by being difficult to her investor. Does it matter if she was just a mechanic if the putter she invented is truly better than what's out on the market?
posted by gyc at 8:47 AM on January 17 [3 favorites]


.
posted by yeoz at 8:48 AM on January 17 [7 favorites]


Fascinating story... as a side note, I run once in awhile with Karsten Soldheim, son of the founder of Ping. Even in his late-70s, that dude is a badass beyond other badasses.
posted by ph00dz at 8:49 AM on January 17


Yeah, I think part of what makes it feels sort of grossly regressive to me is that there's not much sign of care in the article to separate the scam narrative from the gender history narrative; it comes off not so much as "here's a difficult personal secret that might be motivating some of the other deception I was originally investigating" as it does "heck, she even lied about being a woman!", which just feels crappy.

The narrative that a trans person is in the business of scamming marks about their gender is such a long-established and ugly one that its rough to see a story nominally about a business/credentials scam so ploddingly roll the gender revelation into the story without much clear reflection of that shittiness. The sort of "did you know that 'pretty lady' used to be a man?" bit and even Hannan's characterization of the contact there being surprisingly chill about it doesn't help, like the most notable part of the conversation is that somebody didn't flip out about having found a trans woman attractive. Just, yech.

I don't know whether there can be a clear bright line on reporting revelations of gender history in the course of investigative journalism, but there are sure as shit better ways to handle it if you're going to.
posted by cortex at 8:52 AM on January 17 [37 favorites]


Maybe the reporter could have detailed Dr. V's actual history without mentioning her birth gender, but it seems like pretty much a side note either way.

I disagree that it's presented as a side note. The fact that she is transgender is presented on the same level as the fact that she's a liar. Those two facts aren't actually equal, because her gender identity has nothing to do with her qualifications to design a putter.
posted by muddgirl at 8:55 AM on January 17 [11 favorites]




Cortex eloquently hit my concerns. The chill "running up" the author's spine is where I lost any faith in the writer.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 9:03 AM on January 17 [9 favorites]


I can definitely see Caleb clutching his pearls regarding Dr. V's gender history, but it also strikes me as 100% standard operating procedure in investigative journalism, particularly with cases of fraud, to note prior identities and aliases. The author seems to take some unseemly relish in recounting it, but it doesn't seem out of place otherwise.

The mere fact that Dr. V was known as Dr. G in Florida and Dr. X in Wisconsin, and Dr. Y in Ohio wouldn't have any per se bearing on her credentials, either, but I'd certainly expect to see it mentioned in an article about a fraudster. The fact that the author seems to savor the fact that one identity is Mr. H is not great framing, but presented without pique it would be entirely germane to the article.

I'll mark Caleb down for a bogey on this.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 9:07 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]


Is there some reason everyone is on a first-name basis with this writer?
posted by enn at 9:08 AM on January 17 [3 favorites]


FFF mentioned it above, and I didn't go back to the article to confirm, personally.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 9:09 AM on January 17


She told him she had spent most of her career as a private contractor for the Department of Defense, working on projects so secretive — including the stealth bomber — that her name wasn’t listed on government records.

In case it ever comes up in your own lives, this is invariably bullshit. There are so many special projects and innocuously named offices that it is trivially easy to assign someone to something that wouldn't reveal any secret project information.

With that said, yeah, this was a gross violation of Vanderbilt's privacy. Gender identity is not fraud; presenting it as further evidence of bad action on her part was disgusting, especially given her sad end and the author's undeniable part in it.
posted by Etrigan at 9:10 AM on January 17 [9 favorites]


Whatever fraud she may or may not have commited was not any sort justification to out her as trans. There was absolutely no reason for the writer to have bought it up. There is no relevance. Her transition has no bearing with regard to any fraud she might have committed.

Honestly, and maybe I'm reaching here, but the only reason I see for the writer adding any of these details is to hit back at her because "[she] accused [the writer] of being everything from a corporate spy to a liar and a fraud" and that "She had also threatened [the writer]." I think at some point, this story became very personal for the writer, and this is how the writer chose to respond to that. It's frankly unprofessional.

No one deserves to be outted (as trans, etc.) for committing fraud.
No one deserves to die for committing fraud.
posted by yeoz at 9:11 AM on January 17 [10 favorites]


Brutal. Had I written that article, I'd certainly be questioning whether Vanderbilt would be alive today if I hadn't.
posted by dobbs at 9:33 AM on January 17 [4 favorites]


I admit I often find myself doubting claims of LGBT persecution and see some of them as a product of overly sensitive/suspicious individuals. In this case:

"Dr. V’s Magical Putter: The remarkable story of how I hounded a troubled trans woman to her grave."

pretty much sums it up for me. The author should consider directing his skills towards less sleazy activities, perhaps ambulance chasing or loan sharking.
posted by Behemoth at 9:45 AM on January 17 [3 favorites]


Doktor Zed: "That's probably the strangest golf-related story I've read, strange enough I'd like to forward it to Thomas Pynchon."

Eponysterical!
posted by chavenet at 10:46 AM on January 17


Lying about credentials is bad, but there are an astonishing number of people out there who do this and most of them get away with it. I don't really know what the legalities of this are, with regard to statements to investors, but outside of that I simply cannot see anything that she did that deserved this level of scrutiny.

Her main investor is quoted in the article defending the quality of her putter and her sincerity in trying to be successful in the business he'd invested in. He quite deliberately disavows her being a con-artist.

So what seems to me to be a not-terribly-unusual amount of hucksterism in an industry with loads of hucksterism is used as justification for basically tearing this woman's entire life down around her. Which kills her.

Would she have been as devastated had the writer not outed her as trans* and limited his narrative to her invented credentials, as well as not outing her to her associates, and making it clear to her that the gender she was assigned at birth was irrelevant to his article? Who knows? Maybe it would have. I doubt that the author ever considered this, given how clear he makes it in his article that the details of her gender were central to his story.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:01 AM on January 17 [13 favorites]


I managed to lose the much more substantial comment I wrote, but it boiled down to: a trans person's history is not a lie, a scam, or information the public, or anyone that individual does not choose to disclose to, has a right to know. The conflation of this woman's history with her lies and scams has the potential to affect all trans people by playing into an incredibly prevalent transphobic narrative, as does the conflation of the consequences of her scams being made public with the much more serious potential consequences of her being outed as transgender.

I'd have no qualms about disclosure of a trans person's history being added to codes of journalistic ethics as something an incredibly high bar of relevance has to be met in order to be revealed. The writer of this article, based on the information provided, would not have even been able to see that bar in the distance.
posted by emmtee at 11:17 AM on January 17 [24 favorites]


If in doing the basic background check of "Did this person really attend these universities and work with these people," it comes out that the person not only did not attend get the degrees they claim they did but also was a completely different gender, I think the only really relevant part is the part about the school and work. Just now, I was trying to figure out if it was relevant to note that Dr. V had presented as a male while working as a "vehicle service writer" and as I was trying to finish the sentence, I realized that no, knowing that isn't relevant either because the more important info is that it's just a layperson who invented this putter and not an actual physicist.

I do think it's sad and a statement on society that she couldn't have told McCord and others, "Yes, I used to present as a male, but I'm really a woman. No, I don't have any previous relevant work experience as a physicist or in the golf industry. But, won't you look at my awesome putter?" Any good writer can skim past the "used to be a different gender" biographical material in a story.
posted by TrishaLynn at 11:49 AM on January 17 [3 favorites]


Dr. V's gender history has zero to do with the putter. Anyone who thought that was relevant is mistaken, and to the extent that society justifies such a view, is a negative statement on our society.

I think though, that "I have previous experience designing golf clubs," or "I am a physicist, and I can tell you exactly why today's golf clubs are designed all wrong" is actually a reasonable data point for McCord or other golf people to look at before deciding whether to look at the putter seriously. There are lots of nutbars who have "this great idea you need to see!" You need to have a filter. Which may result in good ideas being excluded, but I don't see that as a negative value statement on anyone involved.
posted by Chrysostom at 12:04 PM on January 17 [2 favorites]


Unreservedly creepy.

All of the gender details are deployed like gotchas.

That was completely unnecessary.
posted by batmonkey at 12:23 PM on January 17 [6 favorites]


The more the day passes and I think about this the more disturbing the whole thing becomes.

So disappointed that Grantland published this piece and that there are people like Hannan wanting to write this way.

What an awful thing to accuse the author of.

Awful indeed. True, too.
posted by dobbs at 12:41 PM on January 17 [11 favorites]


The trans outing is terrible and gross, but more relevant to me: every interaction he describes outlines a deeply and obviously mentally ill person. I'd have serious ethical qualms with pushing things as far as he did with someone that clearly fucked up, especially with past suicide attempts.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 1:31 PM on January 17 [13 favorites]


The trans outing is terrible and gross, but more relevant to me: every interaction he describes outlines a deeply and obviously mentally ill person. I'd have serious ethical qualms with pushing things as far as he did with someone that clearly fucked up, especially with past suicide attempts..

Exactly. And if Hannan is (likely) too inexperience/caught up and too much of a meathead dudebro (speculating) to figure this all out -- if he was so obtuse that he couldn't see the writing on the wall and the need for extreme tact/delicacy in handling interactions with this person, then his editors/Grantland should have known better. I do wonder if this is a story that in old media would have been handled considerably better.

This story has haunted me all day, and like dobbs, the more I reflect, the more I realize that the real story here is the author, and how horribly this piece was handled on a professional and ethical/moral level by him and his superiors.
posted by drpynchon at 2:37 PM on January 17 [7 favorites]


The author's twitter feed contains his response to people who are upset with how he participated in driving V to suicide. Which is basically to block them and laugh about it. Because, you know, fuck responsible journalism and all that. Money money honey.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:37 PM on January 17 [1 favorite]


.
posted by laconic skeuomorph at 2:59 PM on January 17


The trans-outing, and the author's reaction to finding out, stank of tabloid journalism. And I was grossed out by the entire second half of the article.

I do think he should have revealed to the investor that Dr V had changed her name. The gender issue was not relevant at all, but in outing Dr V (as a fraudster, not a trans-person) knowing that she had changed her name, and was not a Vanderbilt, and didn't have her claimed connections to the rich and powerful, is an important part of the story that goes beyond the fact that Dr V faked her academic and employment history.

The gross part was that he didn't have to say what her name was. He didn't have to gleefully reveal that the attractive redhead in a miniskirt was born a man. The lies about being a Vanderbilt was the important bit.
posted by thecjm at 3:08 PM on January 17 [1 favorite]


But if you say, "This person lied about her education, changed her name, and got very hostile when I questioned her credentials," that's misleading because it implies the name change was part of a scheme to lie about her credentials, when in fact the name change and defensiveness about her past likely have a much less sinister explanation.

The author obviously handled this in a terrible way, but I think it would have been hard to write a fair exposé about Dr. V without mentioning any of the legitimate reasons she might have had for covering up her past.
posted by straight at 3:21 PM on January 17


But if you say, "This person lied about her education, changed her name, and got very hostile when I questioned her credentials," that's misleading because it implies the name change was part of a scheme to lie about her credentials, when in fact the name change and defensiveness about her past likely have a much less sinister explanation.

She changed her last name to Vanderbilt, and then lied to investors about being a Vanderbilt. Whether she changed her name to John Vanderbilt or Essay Anne Vanderbilt shouldn't be an issue. But because of the last name she chose, and how she leveraged it when talking to investors, does make it part of the scheme.
posted by thecjm at 3:24 PM on January 17 [3 favorites]


I'll just put this out there. One can contact the editors at Grantland here.
posted by drpynchon at 4:05 PM on January 17 [5 favorites]


I used to golf when I was a teenager. I wasn't that aware back then, but reflecting on it now, it occurs to me it was a really damn conservative culture.

Given that culture, and that golf equipment manufacturing is largely a scam anyway, I'm not at all surprised that the big issue in the article was "Oh my God! That woman was lying- she's really a MAN! How horrifying!"
posted by happyroach at 6:53 PM on January 17


First prose piece on the response to the piece I've seen: Careless, Cruel and Unaccountable by Melissa McEwan.

The writer says on Twitter he hasn't been blocking people today but is reading responses. (a tweet yesterday said "Blocking people feels fantastic.")
posted by larrybob at 7:19 PM on January 17 [7 favorites]


Christ, what an asshole.

Seriously, I would not have published this story once the woman killed herself. Nobody looks good here, but once your story leads someone to kill herself....you know what, you're no longer saving anyone from the horrible scam of a good putter.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:31 PM on January 17 [4 favorites]


The more I think about this, the more I'm concerned that so much twitter focus is on Caleb Hannan and not as much on the editors who approved this piece.
posted by muddgirl at 7:34 PM on January 17 [5 favorites]


I've spent all day shocked that the writer would try to drive someone to death over a golf putter. A putter. And then editors would publish this without comment or concern.

To me this is it for Grantland. It might not shutter tomorrow but it's done. You can't come back from a crowing article about hounding a person to death over a golf putter. I can't imagine the kind of person who thinks its ok to write for this publication anymore - and their active choice to do so will color my perspective of the veracity and thoughtfulness of their work. And not just their work published in Grantland.

If I were a writer who had ever published a piece in Grantland, I'd be calling my attorney now to see what rights I had to demand it be pulled. If I'd contracted away that right - I'd write a piece distancing myself.

But ha ha ha, we're talking about journalists here.

Tomorrow on Buzzfeed: To ten ways to drive people to suicide that only 90s Corgis will understand!
Tomorrow on Jezebel: We'll pay $10,000 for nude pics of Dr V to start a conversation!
Tomorrow on Upworthy: This one article about driving someone to suicide will renew your faith in humanity!
Tomorrow in the NYT: Dr V has WMDs; let's lie about it.
Tomorrow in the New Yorker: Michael Cera's SMSes to Dr V with unnecessary umlauts special double issue featuring The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat mistakes vulnerable human beings for pat narrative subjects about the human condition.

Someone died over a golf putter and a website dedicated to bizarre memories of Larry Bird. And they published it and are profiting from it.
posted by allen.spaulding at 11:08 PM on January 17 [10 favorites]


Mr. Hannan claims to be "reading it all" but has already deleted several tweets from that conversation.

The main investor, who Hannan actually confronted IRL and outed Dr V to, was unphased by both her trans status and her falsified credentials.

I was shocked not just by the callousness of the story, but the vintage feel of it-- the "chills" that went up Hannan's spine when he found out Dr V was transgender, the salacious descriptions of her dressing in a red miniskirt and mingling with men who didn't know her history. It felt like a gossip piece from 1989, and it was 100% clear that the "story," for Hannan, was not petty fraud in the entreprenurial golf community, but the "chill" of a woman who had once lived as a man, and his need to expose her as such.

FWIW, many of his colleages and journo peers are horrified by this hit piece; it violates so many principles of ethical journalism, from the outing to the harm done to the graphic details of her suicide-- that it's shocking it was published. This man is going to have a serious reckoning to do; he has blood on his hands in a very real way.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 1:32 AM on January 18 [13 favorites]


I've been looking for commentary on this in addition to what larrybob linked to, and a twitter search reveals some it: Also, romenesko mentions it and us:
Writing a eulogy for a person who by all accounts despised you” – and killed herself – “is an odd experience.” (grantland.com) | There’s an interesting MetaFilter discussion about this piece and the story subject’s suicide.
I'd like to see something in CJR, especially since at the moment they're linking to the grantland piece among their list of "must-reads from around the web".
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:12 AM on January 18 [6 favorites]


I don't know. I'm exasperated by how many people in the media are coming out on twitter in support of the story as "fascinating" and "tremendous" before learning about the pushback, and having to be walked through why it's horrible and tragic step by step with so much handholding. Where's the humanity, the empathy? For someone in journalism not to be able to catch the profound ethical failings of the article on first pass really says a lot about how far away we are from treating the trans* community with something remotely close to human decency and respect. I'm thankful at least that its lead to a lot of self-reflection about my own prejudice and how much I still have a lot of growing to do.
posted by drpynchon at 11:41 AM on January 18 [7 favorites]


Thank you for those, Ivan. I found the second, third, and fifth pieces especially well-done. In the comments of the third, a trans woman linked her own response that is also worth reading. (TW: Author briefly discusses her own suicide attempt.)

I find it telling that Caleb Hannan spent eight months supposedly looking into a golf club but was stymied by "an equation-heavy document ... [that] looked too confusing for me to follow." Surely a journalist with noble intent would have run that by someone to check. The fact that this one didn't does him and his editors no credit, and gives lie to his overtures of innocence and powerlessness to direct the story. His motivations are sad, obvious, and all too common. Their ultimate result is unsurprising to many of us. Clearly he didn't yet understand that while society taught him that trans women must be made to bear enormous hardship, they can only take so much. Because - and here's the real big reveal - they're human, too. The same as anyone.



.
posted by Corinth at 12:22 PM on January 18 [6 favorites]


Crowing over her gender history and suicide as Weird! Plot! Twists! is the icing on the disgusting cake.

Yes. Definitely. I wouldn't pretend to know where the line should be on including discussing a person's trans status as part of a larger investigation into their past. But treating her gender change as just one more disgusting fraud in a conman's past seems way, way, way the fuck on the wrong side of any hypothetical version of such line I can imagine.

And there's something deeply wrong about how nonplussed the author is about the possibility he may have contributed heavily to her desire to commit suicide.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 12:57 PM on January 18 [5 favorites]


Well put, DirtyOldTown.
posted by Chrysostom at 1:11 PM on January 18


This is horrifying. Has there been any response from Grantland, anywhere?
posted by rtha at 1:39 PM on January 18


This post at The Toast gathers some responses.
posted by box at 2:00 PM on January 18


Twitter user jgrebes compares this situation to the suicide of PGAD sufferer Gretchen Mollanen (Previously). The reporter in that case, Laura LaPeter Anton, wrote a soul-searching one year later piece in December 2013.
posted by larrybob at 2:10 PM on January 18


Nine ways journalists can do justice to transgender people’s stories (from last November)

1. Stop writing the same story.
2. Pursue the ordinary.
3. Stop asking for before and after photos.
4. When you’re told someone’s name, use it.
5. Stop asking about someone’s medical transition process.
6. Stop using outdated or dehumanizing language.
7. Learn from your mistakes.
8. If you’re unsure about which pronoun to use, ask the person you’re writing about. If you can’t do that, defer to the style guide.
9. Remember that transgender women are women, transgender men are men, and everyone is human.
posted by triggerfinger at 2:12 PM on January 18 [10 favorites]


But treating her gender change as just one more disgusting fraud in a conman's past seems way, way, way the fuck on the wrong side of any hypothetical version of such line I can imagine.
This is the worst thing for me - I can see how the information fits into the story in terms of explaining a break in the history (ie name change), although even I can see that it could have been omitted altogether and still told the story. But it's the way it was written that got me. It's pretty typical of the golf world to be ultra-conservative and to view anyone that's not in the same mould as suspect, but this was even beyond that. It's as if the writer was trying to present the gender change as somehow the worst of the deception rather than merely an explanation for why there would be a break in the person's recorded history. I suspect the writer feels that he was personally betrayed by being 'tricked'.

Almost all of the 'science' that goes into golf clubs is either total bullshit or actual science applied in a completely irrelevant way anyway, so there's no reason for a seasoned golf journalist to be shocked by the revelation that the inventor wasn't completely honest about her background. It's clear to me that he's pissed off because he's fallen (probably not for the first time) for the perennial con that is the promotion of golf clubs that will miraculously improve your game with no effort. That he is more concerned about his own embarrassment than his contribution to the death of a human being speaks volumes for his own personality.
posted by dg at 2:18 PM on January 18 [1 favorite]


The more I think about the article and the more criticism I read, the more disgusted and angry I become, and the more convinced I am that Caleb Hannan is a cruel, thoughtless, bigot who should be run out of his occupation on a rail, tarred and feathered as an example to future self-styled "journalists".
posted by five fresh fish at 5:01 PM on January 18 [4 favorites]


"The author seems to take some unseemly relish in recounting it, but it doesn't seem out of place otherwise."

Part of the character of being a good journalist is relishing exposing people when they lie to you. Pretty much every single thing she said to him was the equivalent of, "Keep digging."

I do think this was tragic, almost in the literal sense. The journalist creed is to tell the truth, even if it ruins someone's life — Anthony Burgess and Anthony Davian shouldn't be on the journalists' conscience.

I think that Rebecca Schoenkopf above nails it pretty well — the suicide isn't on Hannan's head, but he seems to pretty gleefully play into some pretty terrible narratives about trans* people. I hope that this ends up being a learning experience for him, and that his next story is about a trans* person doing something awesome with none of the hacky noir moral panic about trans* people tied in.
posted by klangklangston at 5:11 PM on January 18 [3 favorites]


klang, that seems to go against the Society of Professional Journalists' code of ethics mentioned in this response, as well as the standards for reporting on living non-public figures touched on in this one. Certainly Hannan should have been aware of the risks that out(ed) trans people face, and that in the (recent) past being outed on its own has proven enough to drive some people to suicide. The eventual outcome of his actions wasn't set in stone as soon as his bullshit detectors started going off. He very deliberately took every step along the way without thinking of anyone other than himself. It's clear that even his interactions with the investor were primarily to fish for a shocked response for his essay and not to warn someone about fraud.
posted by Corinth at 5:26 PM on January 18 [3 favorites]


Not totally, and Autostraddle mistakes a responsibility to minimize harm as the over-riding responsibility. Hannan had a responsibility to, say, not out Dr. V to the investor about being trans when outing her as having invented incoherent credentials would be enough. But minimizing harm doesn't outweigh investigating all claims made by a source.

Maria Davana Headly's piece seems pretty off too, with lines like, "Dr. V is clearly a genius, and the story within the essay regarding the genius invention of the club is downplayed with sentences regarding Dr. V’s gender." Dr. V is not clearly a genius; Dr. V is clearly a trans woman who was mentally ill and peddling a putter backed by her invented credentials and pseudo-scientific claptrap. Headly also seems to not really have any experience with investigative journalism, and that colors her response a lot — the norms and considerations are a lot different if the creative non-fiction you're doing is saying yes to everyone who asks you out on a date.

"The eventual outcome of his actions wasn't set in stone as soon as his bullshit detectors started going off. He very deliberately took every step along the way without thinking of anyone other than himself."

This is an odd read on it, one that I've seen repeated in many places, that pretty entirely misunderstands the experience of doing journalism. Hannan focused on Dr. V to the extent that he couldn't see the harm he was doing to her; calling that only thinking of himself misses how this happens in practice.

"It's clear that even his interactions with the investor were primarily to fish for a shocked response for his essay and not to warn someone about fraud."

He wasn't warning about fraud there, he was doing his due diligence in writing about someone who was misleading consumers and investors in a field full of snake-oil and hokum. If you find out that the principal of an organization is lying about pretty much everything, you have a responsibility to talk to investors and those around them. It's less warning the investor than checking to see if the investor was in on it, if they knew the claims were lies. To that extent, talking about Dr. V being transgender was a mistake because it's a distraction and gives the investor too easy of an out — they were fooled about everything, gosh, even the trans part.

But the story doesn't point to Dr. V killing herself because she was trans; it points to her killing herself because she was mentally ill. It's inarguable that trans issues play into the stress and alienation that turned Dr. V's mental illness into suicide, but (and obviously, I don't have to tell you this) being trans isn't the same as being mentally ill. I think it's worth being critical of counter-Hannan narratives that conflate legitimate issues, like the violence trans people can face from involuntary outing, with the idea that talking about being trans as incidental to a larger story is de facto bullying to suicide. I hate the narrative of the trans* deceiver, but I also recognize the danger in talking about suicide being associated with being trans* to the extent of eliding the treatable mental illness that leads to suicide. Most trans* people aren't sending crazed missives full of bullshit and prone to irrational threats and weird, transparent lies, just like most people aren't. Dr. V was an exception, and Hannan could have defused a lot of the backlash simply by doing a better job of making that clear. More trans* golfers are like Bobbi Lancaster or Lana Lawless.
posted by klangklangston at 6:33 PM on January 18 [5 favorites]


If you find out that the principal of an organization is lying about pretty much everything, you have a responsibility to talk to investors and those around them. It's less warning the investor than checking to see if the investor was in on it, if they knew the claims were lies. To that extent, talking about Dr. V being transgender was a mistake because it's a distraction and gives the investor too easy of an out — they were fooled about everything, gosh, even the trans part.

This is just flat-out wrong both on journalistic ethics and investing. I work in startups and I invest in startups. I work with trans people. I've employed trans people. If a journalist came to me and said that the founder of a company I had backed was secretly trans, or an employee was trans, or whatever, I would immediately call his editor and/or publisher and ask for him to be fired. That's the kind of thing that should get a journalist immediately fired, no further questions asked.

If you are writing a story about a transgender individual and you know so little about the issue that you are outing this person to employers, investors, strangers, whomever, then you're incapable of being good at your job (let alone a good person). And it colors your ability to judge everything else about this person.

Here's the thing. We don't know the truth about Dr V because this article was written by an idiot. Assuming anything in this article is true is a huge mistake given the author's intellectual shortcomings And as an investor, if someone was so stupid as to come to me with this "story" and expect me to trust anything they'd say, I would laugh at them. By the way - anyone who invests in startups and trusts third-rate shit journalists probably has other issues.

I'm sure others have said this, but this article is so indicative of an idiot's struggle with reality I'm going to guess that we'll soon find out that he's fabricated bullshit in past articles too. This guy seems to have a thing for Sriracha and T Boone Pickens (and does not understand shit about life insurance or investing) and I will put money on the line that he's fabricated quotes, made up stories, and is just straight out horrific at his job.
posted by allen.spaulding at 7:55 PM on January 18 [5 favorites]


I don't want journalists not to investigate claims made by sources. I want journalists not to out trans people without their consent without a compelling reason, and I absolutely don't see such a reason in this case. As for being "focused on Dr. V to the extent that he couldn't see the harm he was doing to her," I think you're really letting Hannan off the hook for what to me is some pretty obvious salacious intent.

There is some possibility of mental illness there, but I also feel that you're discounting the fairly predictable effect of completely destroying someone's hard-won established gender identity. The fact that trans women are severely oppressed in our society inherently makes wielding that knowledge "incidentally" a bullying act.
posted by Corinth at 8:26 PM on January 18 [6 favorites]


For all Hannan clearly fucked up here, I'm really troubled by the way this story is mutating as it's retold and hashed over online. A lot of people seem to want Dr. V to be a pure and noble figure. And that's (i) not true, but anyway (ii) totally missing the point.

Unsympathetic people are victimized a lot more than totally sympathetic ones. That's especially true when you look at something like nonconsensual outing, which is basically driven by disrespect and disdain rather than greed or envy or anger. If someone who's seen as basically sympathetic and respectable wants to keep a secret, people usually cooperate. If the person with the secret is seen as a jerk or a weirdo or a loon or an outcast in other ways, suddenly there's going to be a lot fewer people respecting their wishes.

So it's not surprising that the victim here is seriously unsympathetic. But that shouldn't matter, and we shouldn't need to pretty things up. Insisting that Dr. V was really a misunderstood genius, or that Hannan must have been a malicious liar and a hack on top of everything else, actually dilutes the real issue.
posted by this is a thing at 9:07 PM on January 18 [35 favorites]


Thanks, this is a thing, for so clearly articulating something about (some of) the response that's been bothering me.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:36 PM on January 18


I've already seen people on Twitter call the reporter a murderer, so I'm sure we can expect that, as with all internet firestorms, this will go accurately and politely and will in no way become a frenzied shitfest.

As for the actual article, before it got too weird I was just pleased that it was actual reportage of the confirming sources and checking statements variety - too much modern-day news has made such a thing an unexpected treat. I feel suggesting the author was lying or too stupid to accurately portray a single thing in his article if it doesn't meet with your chosen opinion is the sort of behaviour that builds the frenzied shitfest this sort of thing is destined to be.
posted by gadge emeritus at 10:15 PM on January 18


This is a thing, agreed. I've been thinking about the pathological lying aspect of this all day. A couple of things struck me when I reread the story-- At least one of her backers was actively involved in perpetrating the "a Vanderbilt from MIT" scam: "He had his own peculiar way of verifying this information. McCord said he was on friendly terms with a few retired four-star generals. He told me that they not only knew of Dr. V, but also that one had even called her “one of us.” Dan Quayle was also an acquaintance. Unable to help himself, McCord once put the former vice-president on the phone with Dr. V and watched as they chatted about old Pentagon projects."

Aside from the lulz of McCord and Dr V scamming the probably not difficult to trick Mr Quayle, if that phone call actually happened... Idunno. I've encountered a lot of cranks like this over the years (not while working as a journalist fwiw) and when an eccentric person starts making a bunch of grandiose claims about being from a powerful military family or that their past is classified or whatever, that's usually the sign to treat them with kid gloves, because something is not right upstairs.

But I think the real reason Dr V's lies turned into background noise in the story of this story is that they turn into background noise for Hannan the second he figures out that she is trans. He stops pursuing McCord, who gave him the huge whopper about the 4-star generals, after a single unanswered phone call. He stops writing about how the belief in a fake rocket scientist had a huge placebo effect on his golf game. Hannan seems to think Dr V's trans status is not just the lynchpin of her lies about her academic background, but the real story that he's unearthed while investigating her bogus credentials. The entire rest of the article is full of sordid, pre-Crying-Game, cliched prurience about Dr V and the intimate details of her life-- the rocket scientist/golf story fades into the background.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 10:42 PM on January 18 [25 favorites]


I hope that this ends up being a learning experience for him, and that his next story is about a trans* person doing something awesome with none of the hacky noir moral panic about trans* people tied in.

Honestly, if I were a trans person and Caleb Hannan turned up in my inbox looking to redeem himself by writing about me, I would run a mile right now.

This _is_ hopefully a learning experience - you would have to work very hard not to learn anything from this amount of feedback, although I've seen it happen before - but it isn't just a learning experience.

In Britain, in a not wholly dissimilar case Lucy Meadows, a trans woman and primary school teacher, committed suicide after her trans status - which she was entirely open about, in this case - was picked up by the tabloids. In the inquest into her death, the coroner specifically said "shame on you" to the press - actually those words, which is pretty hardcore - even though press intrusion was not the only thing going on in her life at the time (she also had money troubles, and her parents had recently died).

Hannan wrote this - and wrote it in a way that had her (irrelevant) trans status as the first-act climax and the subject of most of the second act of the article - but at least one editor signed it off, and it would be good for Grantland to reflect on this at a deeper level than either standing by or cutting loose a single freelancer, I think, or by focusing on the "hyperbolic, hurtful" assertions on Twitter that he was solely responsible for her death, or the relatively small number of "frightening, aggressive" threats he has been getting on social media.

(Especially as, from my read of this, it sounds like Dr V was clearly terrified that there would be an actual, measurable consequence if she was outed, or rather outed on a major website rather than to an investor who appears better able to deal with the news than Hannan. Whether that was a rational fear grounded in specifics, who knows, but women - trans and cis - often have reasons for establishing new identities and cutting ties with their past which involve a fear of being found and attacked or killed by former partners or others. The fact that a public official took it upon himself to out her to Hannan, and Hannan felt entitled to do the same to Kinney, the investor, sort of demonstrates how little respect there is for the rights of women and trans people to privacy.)

Leonora LaPeter Anton wrote a really interesting, very deep article on what happens, internally and procedurally, when the subject of your article commits suicide, here. I think what Grantland does from here will be very interesting.
posted by running order squabble fest at 11:52 AM on January 19 [2 favorites]


"This is just flat-out wrong both on journalistic ethics and investing. I work in startups and I invest in startups. I work with trans people. I've employed trans people. If a journalist came to me and said that the founder of a company I had backed was secretly trans, or an employee was trans, or whatever, I would immediately call his editor and/or publisher and ask for him to be fired. That's the kind of thing that should get a journalist immediately fired, no further questions asked."

You misread me in a pretty profound way. I've been very clear that the outing was a mistake, and an entirely unnecessary one.

"And as an investor, if someone was so stupid as to come to me with this "story" and expect me to trust anything they'd say, I would laugh at them. By the way - anyone who invests in startups and trusts third-rate shit journalists probably has other issues."

Really? If a journalist came and said that the principal of the company you were investing in had totally invented her credentials and that the purported science was nonsense, you'd laugh at them? If they told you all of the things outside of the trans stuff, you'd laugh at them? You must be an extremely credulous investor then.
posted by klangklangston at 12:12 PM on January 19


"So it's not surprising that the victim here is seriously unsympathetic. But that shouldn't matter, and we shouldn't need to pretty things up. Insisting that Dr. V was really a misunderstood genius, or that Hannan must have been a malicious liar and a hack on top of everything else, actually dilutes the real issue."

This is a really, really great point.
posted by klangklangston at 12:12 PM on January 19 [1 favorite]


Oh, and as an aside:

klang, that seems to go against the Society of Professional Journalists' code of ethics mentioned in this response, as well as the standards for reporting on living non-public figures touched on in this one.

I think this story might have been written and edited very differently if Dr V had still been alive when it was published. The difficulty being that she was living when the story started, and not living when it ended. That's really tricky ground.

Ironically, her death probably freed the writer up, creatively speaking, in terms of the literal application of the SPJ standards (although it then goes into the 'intruding into grief' section), and certainly on the "will this person sue" consideration, but it probably should have been a fairly significant flag to the editors.
posted by running order squabble fest at 12:40 PM on January 19


It is concerning that some readers are interpreting Vanderbilt as a misunderstood genius. On the other hand, given that Hannan seems to forget the scientific fraud angle once he discovers her trans status, such a misinterpretation of the article is understandable, especially for people who are not familiar with the golf club industry. One of Hannan's job as a journalist is to make Vanderbilt's fraud clear - that the supposed improvement he felt with the club was mental rather than real, that "zero MOI" is a bit of scientific gobledegook, etc. The fact that this wasn't crystal clear is a failure on Hannan's part and on the editors' part.
posted by muddgirl at 12:52 PM on January 19 [3 favorites]


Well, one problem from a reportage point of view is that it isn't at all clear what the club does, or whether it works. There are no quants from Hannan on whether his putting game, or anyone else's, actually improved: it seemed to when he thought V was an MIT physicist, and seemed to stop when he thought she was not, but there are no comparisons to the quality of his usual putting game. He doesn't seem to have persevered with the documentation that came with it, or found an independent physicist to look at it.

There is mention of a pro who used it in scoring a record-matchingly low score on one course, and there is an endorsement from Gary McCord. So, the argument that the product is fraudulent - i.e. that is cannot actually improve one's putting - is never really evidenced, beyond anecdata. It seems to work for some people. Is that effect purely psychological? It's unclear. Hannan sort of loses interest, beyond saying that his putting game is now off, which could of course be psychological in the other direction - his preoccupation with its creator's murky history distracting him from putting straight.

That points to another fairly big question about the story, and one that is sort of skipped over. As it comes to a head Dr V, through an attorney, offers to show Hannan documentary proof of her time at MIT and Pennsylvania (presumably under another name), on condition that he signs an NDA about the other details of her private life. It's not made explicit, but that sounds to me like "do not out me as trans".

Hannan says that, obviously, he cannot take this "deal" - which is true, in the sense that Grantland editorial policy almost certainly would not allow the subject of a story to set terms about what is and is not included. However, it doesn't say whether there was any negotiation. For example, reporting ethics might well have allowed for a deal where Hannan went to Arizona and got corroboration, and would be able to reassure Dr V that he would not report on her trans status, because the "deceit" element was no longer relevant to the story.

Barring the obvious, that's one of the points where I think editorial should probably be explicit about the detail of the discussion and why they did what they did. The other is probably when they found out that Hannan actually had outed V to her investor (at least - there may be other outings not reported). There's no journalistic reason for him to have done that, except to try to get a juicier set of quotes, and that should have been a huge danger sign that he was a) too close to the story to make good judgment calls and b) trying to fit the facts to the narrative rather than the other way around.
posted by running order squabble fest at 1:56 PM on January 19 [3 favorites]


Josh Levin wrote a good analysis in Slate of this story, Digging Too Deep — Grantland’s exposé of a trans con artist privileged fact-finding over compassion. Excerpt:
That’s not how journalism is supposed to work, though. Yes, every reporter strives to uncover the truth. But we’re also supposed to call on our reserves of emotional intelligence to comprehend the people we’re writing about. When someone like the New York Times’ David Carr, who is very much attuned to questions of journalistic ethics, tweets out Hannan’s story approvingly with no hint about the moral dilemmas it raises, it’s clear there’s a cavernous empathy gap between mainstream writers and trans people.
Levin also highlights a tweet from Steve Silberman (MeFi's own Digaman) that, for me, pretty much sums up what went wrong: "Story has structural problems that turned into moral ones."
posted by Kattullus at 2:37 PM on January 19 [2 favorites]


prefpara: Or imagine the author revealing that *gasp* the fraudster was 1/8 BLACK OMG AND WAS HIDING IT AND PASSING FOR WHITE!!!!

Actually, there was a story on the Blue recently that in fact had that, or rather the reverse: the story about Reagan's "welfare queen", when it noted that she was a white woman passing for black. It was a legitimate part of the story, the same way the original identity of a life long con artist constructing a web of lies about her past is a legitimate part of the story.

In fact, I'd say it would have been unethical to hide the original identity, and certainly bad journalism. Not to mention he'd have looked an utter fool when 3 microseconds after the story came out people pointed out from public records the bit the author was keeping secret. As others have said, it's not the journalist's job to keep your secrets for you; if you don't want people to know your original identity, don't con people using fake identities, thus making your past legitimate news.

Now, if he was doing the point and titter thing, instead of noting it plainly, there's plenty of criticism to be had there. But not the fact he revealed her original identity.
posted by tavella at 2:56 PM on January 19


Actually, it's super easy to tell the story without outing her as trans, because, although her claims to be one of the Vanderbilt Vanderbilts was open to question, that was perfectly possible to query without also saying "also, she was assigned male at birth". Cisgender people change their names and claim to know famous people all the time. Likewise the qualifications - cisgender people claim to have qualifications without backing the claim up all the time.

Linda Taylor's race is significant to the story, because the narrative of the Reagan campaign was playing on racial insecurities and prejudices about poor Chicago. Also, she was a career criminal, who had been convicted of fraud and served jail time for it, and she died ten years ago.

Those are the big, Journalism 101 differences between the two stories: we could go into the others, but I think those are sufficient.

Conveniently, S.I Rosenbaum has created an edited version of the story that tells it without mentioning the trans stuff. It's a little thin on the fine detail, but I think that's part of the point...
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:10 PM on January 19 [6 favorites]


I have skimmed this thread, but haven't been keeping a close eye on it, so I am sorry if it's been posted already--ctrl+f brought up nothing--but Paris Lees' writeup for Vice, "Is it Okay for a Journalist to Reveal the Birth Gender of a Trans Person?" is very good and deserves to be mentioned here.
posted by byanyothername at 5:18 PM on January 19 [6 favorites]


I have no idea what The Big Lead is, but they published this interesting piece today, which includes this from ESPN:

"We understand and appreciate the wide range of thoughtful reaction this story has generated and to the family and friends of Essay Anne Vanderbilt, we express our deepest condolences. We will use the constructive feedback to continue our ongoing dialogue on these important and sensitive topics. Ours is a company that values the LGBT community internally and in our storytelling, and we will all learn from this."

And apparently Grantland will be addressing this in coming days.
posted by rtha at 5:31 PM on January 19 [1 favorite]


tavella: "As others have said, it's not the journalist's job to keep your secrets for you; if you don't want people to know your original identity, don't con people using fake identities, thus making your past legitimate news. "

I'm uneasy with setting up outing as something deserved for bad behavior, as this is a thing discussed yesterday. It's worth keeping in mind that trans people who don't con people using fake identities also get outed salaciously. If our identities are fair game when we're caught doing bad things, then the stakes are much higher than they are for cis people. For it to be sporting there'd need to be some actual way for us to hide the incorrect names and associated details we've discarded, but as far as I'm aware (at least in my state) there's no way to do that. I don't want all that hanging over my head the rest of my life to be used by someone else against me, but I can't do anything about it. It seems pointless to say it's not the journalist's job to keep my secrets for me when I'm actually not afforded any chance to keep my secrets for myself anyway.
posted by Corinth at 5:37 PM on January 19 [4 favorites]


Really? If a journalist came and said that the principal of the company you were investing in had totally invented her credentials and that the purported science was nonsense, you'd laugh at them? If they told you all of the things outside of the trans stuff, you'd laugh at them?

Absolutely. As I would if someone breathlessly called to tell me that a journalist had lied about their credentials and was *dun dun dun* secretly a Jew. Or was 1/8 Black.

And this guy is hardly a top-tier journalist - he's some hack who was at the time of the writing being sued for libel. I've got better things to do than deal with people like that - I do my own diligence and rely on meaningful sources. And anyone who thinks it's ok to out an trans person is not a meaningful source.

In full disclosure, every time I've talked to a journalist about anything related to startups I walk away wondering if they had mastered object permanence. I put these discussions in the same category as my uncle's neighbor's best-friend's landlord's idea about instagram for video for dogs for the enterprise who wants to talk about raising money.
posted by allen.spaulding at 6:51 PM on January 19 [5 favorites]




"I don't want all that hanging over my head the rest of my life to be used by someone else against me, but I can't do anything about it. "

Unfortunately, the answer is probably pretty close to what lesbian, gay and bisexual people have had to do: Come out in large numbers so that the reason being trans* isn't used against someone is because being trans* isn't seen as a bad thing.
posted by klangklangston at 10:27 PM on January 19


... it's not the journalist's job to keep your secrets for you; if you don't want people to know your original identity, don't con people using fake identities, thus making your past legitimate news. "
We're talking about a professional writer. I can barely string a coherent comment together here and even I could figure out a way to write about the issues related to supposedly fake qualifications (something which was not fully verified, BTW) without mentioning Vanderbilt's gender.
posted by dg at 11:14 PM on January 19 [1 favorite]




But this is not really about him per se; he is not the first journalist to do something like this and we ought not reduce this to an activist quest to see one man fired before going on with our lives. The true problem lies with the editors who thought this was okay, and with the society that enables this slaughter of women via printing press.

Dr. V joins Chloe Sagal and Lucy Meadows in having been harassed by a male journalist pursuing what they thought was a “good story” that amounted to precious little in the end. In every case, legions of these men’s defenders were quick to blame the victims, asserting that they brought it on themselves either through some deceit or simply by dint of being transgender and thus inherently “in the public interest.”
Katherine Cross is in pretty blistering form at feministing: Nobody Knows My Life But Me.
posted by running order squabble fest at 9:49 AM on January 20 [2 favorites]


It looks to me like Mr. Hannan has been silent for a few days now.

I hope that means he's taking the time to to try to gain a deep understanding of what he's done, the wrong he's committed. I hope he's taking a look at himself and trying to learn how to be a better person.

I worry that it means nothing more than that lawyers are involved now.
posted by reprise the theme song and roll the credits at 10:30 AM on January 20 [2 favorites]


More new responses.

Cyd Zeigler at Outsports (who also includes his personal "Christine Daniels rules" for writing about trans people:
No one was served by Grantland's article except themselves. Trans people were not helped by seeing yet another one of them portrayed as a demented lunatic trickster (hell, we're going to give Jared Leto an Oscar for doing the same thing). Golfers were not served by learning the woman behind an effective tool in their sport was once a man.

Yet with reckless abandon, Grantland and the writer chose to turn a woman's life upside down so they could get some page views and so the writer's name (which I will continue to avoid here) would get some pub.
Marc Tracy at New Republic:
“This is the kind of story, though, that breeds cynicism about journalists,” Levin writes, hitting upon an essential point. My initial reaction before reading and digesting the piece was that of many journalists on Twitter: to defend it in order to defend the writing of such stories. Ultimately, though, I hesitate even to cite this article as a deeply flawed instance of a valuable kind of story. The bathwater is dirty enough that I’m willing to lose the baby, too.

Alyssa Rosenberg at ThinkProgress: "10 Questions Bill Simmons And ESPN Should Answer About ‘Dr. V’s Magical Putter’"
posted by Corinth at 10:36 AM on January 20 [3 favorites]


Golfers were not served by learning the woman behind an effective tool in their sport was once a man.

I don't think that the putter has been proven to be an "effective tool." A few guys endorsed it, which proves zilch (athletes endorse those ridiculous titanium bracelets, too).
posted by Chrysostom at 11:32 AM on January 20


That feels like it may not be the central issue in this story.
posted by running order squabble fest at 11:57 AM on January 20


I don't think so, either. But it seems like there are plenty of established issues with it, without introducing ones that don't exist.
posted by Chrysostom at 12:35 PM on January 20


How about "golfers were not served about a piece of equipment that may or may not be effective." Better?
posted by rtha at 12:43 PM on January 20


Well... Like I said above, we don't actually know anything very much about the club. We know that a pro golfer used it but stopped using it at some point after that. We know a golfer using it played a record round, and apparently credited that to the putter. We know that a former pro and golfing celebrity endorsed it, but not much more about why - the loss of interest in McCord is noted in a lot of the critiques.

We know that it seemed to make the writer's putting game better, and then seemed not to make it better any more after he got the trans* yips. We know that it came with a sheaf of documentation, but the writer appears not to have tried to read it, and certainly did not follow it. We know that at least one investor thinks it is a great product, although not the product of a well-run business. We are told by that investor that a larger club-maker might have been interested in buying that business, but was rebuffed. That's about it, I think, and once Hannan sees the more exciting story the club is forgotten about. Kinney (the investor) is clearly happy to talk to him about it, but he chooses to tell Kinney that its inventor is, he believes, a trans person, rather than get more detail about the club.

If you're looking for an actual discussion of a golf club, you are very definitely not in the right place. The absence of detail about the club is a symptom, however, of a bigger structural issue with the piece.
posted by running order squabble fest at 12:55 PM on January 20 [4 favorites]


A letter from the editor of Grantland. Worth reading in full, but the key quotation for me is:
We made one massive mistake. I have thought about it for nearly three solid days, and I’ve run out of ways to kick myself about it. How did it never occur to any of us? How? How could we ALL blow it?

That mistake: Someone familiar with the transgender community should have read Caleb’s final draft. This never occurred to us.
posted by this is a thing at 2:57 PM on January 20 [4 favorites]


I have to wonder whether Bill Simmons got someone familiar with the transgender community to read the apology...
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:00 PM on January 20 [5 favorites]


Grantland is also running:
What Grantland Got Wrong: Understanding the serious errors in "Dr. V's Magical Putter" by Christina Kahrl, an ESPN writer and trans woman.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 3:01 PM on January 20 [5 favorites]


The timeline that Bill Simmons presents for the contact with Dr. V and the time of her suicide doesn't jive with the timeline Hannan presents in his article, in a pretty misleading way.

Also Simmons says:
Then again, Caleb had spent the piece presenting himself as a curious reporter, nothing more. Had he shoehorned his own perspective/feelings/emotions into the ending, it could have been perceived as unnecessarily contrived.
Are we talking about different drafts? Hannan's perspective/feelings/emotions were all over that article! It's the lynchpin of this form of "investigative" journalism. The fact that Simmons doesn't recognize this at all... I have no words.
posted by muddgirl at 3:11 PM on January 20


The other important claim in Bill Simmons's letter is that Hannan "never, at any time, threatened to out her on Grantland... There was no hounding. There was no badgering."

I'm not actually sure how to read this. The crucial question here is about the draft article that Dr. V saw while she was still alive. Did that draft say anything about her transition or her original legal name? Because if it did, then Simmons is being disingenuous here — showing her a draft like that would constitute a clear implicit threat, even if Hannan didn't do anything overtly threatening.

Hannan's published article struck me as suggesting that the draft did mention Dr. V's transition, though it doesn't say so explicitly. Simmons's letter could be read as suggesting that the draft didn't mention it — though again, he doesn't make that explicit. So that's frustrating, and I hope we get a clearer statement from them at some point, just for the sake of understanding what the hell happened.
posted by this is a thing at 3:21 PM on January 20 [5 favorites]


The other important claim in Bill Simmons's letter is that Hannan "never, at any time, threatened to out her on Grantland... There was no hounding. There was no badgering."

I'm really bothered by this claim, and it certainly warrants a whole lot more clarification with facts. The actual article to me is strongly suggestive: how can being warned he "was about to commit a hate crime" be interpreted any other way than the woman feared precisely this. If her fears were unfounded, was it in any way communicated to her? If they had no intention of outing her in life and had already thought about and made that determination from an editorial standpoint, being oblivious to the meaning of her warning and outing her in death certainly weren't consistent with that agenda.
posted by drpynchon at 3:32 PM on January 20 [2 favorites]


Well. The problem Simmons has is that if Hannan did "threaten to out her on Grantland", that is a serious breach of ethics, and one he oversaw. So, if this is not going to go any further, that has to not have happened. And, clearly, this is intended to be the "drawing a line and moving forward together" editorial piece.

However, it can be read a number of different ways. If it means "Caleb Hannan did not tell her that he planned to out her on Grantland", then fine. That is probably accurate.

However, Hannan clearly sent her a list of assertions to respond to:
Neither of them had contacted me in months, since I had sent an email trying to confirm what I had discovered, and Jordan wrote back to deny everything.
It is possible that this list of assertions did not reference her assigned gender at birth - although given the acknowledge failure to acknowledge the sensitivities of dealing with trans issues, from the writer up to the editor in chief, I think it's a possibility one has, in the absence of hard facts, to make one's own decision about.

Even still, he had by then, if I understand the timeline, already outed her, although not "on Grantland" - he had told Phil Kinney that she was trans. It seems credible to suppose that she had found this out, and thus knew that a young man working for a major website had no problem disclosing her trans status. If a series of questions involving her past then turned up by email, then, while it is still true that he had not threatened to out her on Grantland, it would not be unreasonable for her to conclude that her privacy was under threat.
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:41 PM on January 20 [5 favorites]


Finally read the article and it's obviously way too far in the "transgender people are weird" sort of reporting. Twist a few expletives in there and you could have had a Vice piece. It's too bad, I thought parts of the article were great. You could even imagine an article like this that does disclose Dr. V as transgender but in a way that didn't make it sound like some Shocking Exposé. Something written with compassion and nuance. I'm not saying that'd be a good idea, but just imagining what a more sympathetic piece would be like helped me understand how transphobic the published article is.

I do appreciate the Grantland editor admitting their ignorance of transgender matters. We went through kind of a similar thing with gay rights in the 80s and 90s; a lot of people, even reporters, could claim to not know any gay or lesbian people and would write stories with no compassion towards the gay/lesbian community. We're well past that now with gays and lesbians.

I imagine the sort of coming out that makes things better is asking a lot more of transgender people. I'm grateful we have a writer like Christina Kahrl putting herself out there.
posted by Nelson at 3:46 PM on January 20 [1 favorite]


I was going to pop in to post the Grantland links, but I'm not surprised that people already have.

Also, maybe now is a good time to say that I posted that Dan Quayle remark when I was... approximately halfway through reading the article. Suffice it to say that it took some turns I wasn't expecting, and I greatly appreciate the discussion here.
posted by box at 4:00 PM on January 20


Grantland is also running:
What Grantland Got Wrong: Understanding the serious errors in "Dr. V's Magical Putter" by Christina Kahrl, an ESPN writer and trans woman.


FWIW, this gives a really nice (though short) summary of what "deep stealth" means and why there are people trying to live that way — and now that I've read it, I realize it's a crucial piece of background for the whole story that some readers here might find interesting.

Basically, a lot of trans women of Dr. V's generation were told that they wouldn't be allowed to transition at all unless they maintained complete secrecy about it. You were supposed to sever most or all of your ties with cis people, get a divorce if you were married, ideally move to a new city, start over with a blank slate, and never admit to anyone except your doctor what had happened. If you wouldn't agree to those conditions, a lot of doctors would refuse you access to surgery or hormones.

This probably isn't the whole story about Dr. V. She might have chosen stealth even if she'd been permitted to choose freely. (It sounds like she had a weird relationship with the truth all around. And as Kahrl points out, she also made some big tactical errors: if you're trying to maintain stealth, then doing things to attract scrutiny is a mistake.) But if nothing else it paints a more vivid picture of the era she'd transitioned in.

And from an activist point of view, it's really smart of Kahrl to bring this up, because it's really closely linked to the stereotype evoked in the original article, of trans women as inherently deceptive. I suspect that one reason for that stereotype is that people are familiar with deep stealth as a practice, but they imagine that it's a necessary part of being a trans woman — as if "wanting to abandon our friends and lie about our history" was up there with "wanting breasts" and "wanting a female name" on our list of reasons to transition. (I've been told "You can't really be serious about being a woman if you're transitioning openly. Real trans people don't want anyone to know.") Pointing out that deep stealth was often involuntary — and that as soon as it was feasible to transition openly, a lot of people started choosing to do so — is a really efficient way of breaking down that stereotype.
posted by this is a thing at 4:20 PM on January 20 [14 favorites]


I'm going to go through Simmons's entire apology and explain the ways in which it comes up short to me personally. But I need to cool off first. Because holy shit, he still does not get it.
posted by Corinth at 4:28 PM on January 20 [6 favorites]


Kahrl's piece is really, really good.
posted by rtha at 5:13 PM on January 20 [1 favorite]


"I'm going to go through Simmons's entire apology and explain the ways in which it comes up short to me personally. But I need to cool off first. Because holy shit, he still does not get it."

There were some things that bothered me, most of which this is a thing discusses above, but I was surprised that it was quite a bit better than I expected. I expected much less self-awareness and self-criticism, and much less of a sincere apology than that. There certainly were some qualifiers that bother me, but it's pretty rare for anyone, anywhere, to apologize and explain themselves without including things that seem like an avoidance of responsibility.

I guess I'm heartened and disheartened at the same time. I'm disheartened in that their whole cluelessness in being unconsciously transphobic through their whole editorial process (and which, correctly, was underscored by Simmons's point that they never once thought to consult a member of the trans* community) and how their audience initially responded to it, all show how utterly ignorant most people still are. I'm heartened in that given this level of ignorance and unexamined transphobia, I would have expected a defensive and hostile reaction from Simmons and the site. I'm especially heartened in they're publishing of Christina Kahr's piece and linking to it in Simmons's.

MeFi is notoriously (to some) a progressive and tolerant general interest community but only a few years ago I think that the reaction to this piece would have been unanimously or nearly unanimously favorable, as was the initial reaction generally. Instead, after only a few years of increased awareness, the reaction in this thread was almost uniformly negative to the piece.

I mention that because what I feel I see in Grantland and this piece and Simmons's response and the internet's reaction is something surprisingly similar to the kind of awakening awareness that we on MeFi have been doing for a while. I'm not predicting some rapid overall change, but I really do feel that only a few years ago the criticism of the piece wouldn't have been widespread and the response by Grantland would have been to dismiss it.

None of that is intended to excuse what they did wrong or what they've failed to understand what they've done wrong. It just seems like a mixed-message to me, there are good things there mixed in with the bad.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:28 PM on January 20 [2 favorites]


Because holy shit, he still does not get it.

Most surprising to me (after reading both of the new pieces) is how much he admits he knew nothing about all of these gaffes they made. As if saying "But we didn't know...!" is somehow rubbing up against "... and how could you expect us to, really?" Kahrl's piece is really the necessary one to even contextualize how Simmons thinks his own piece is at all adequate. I was hoping for a bit more of "This is how we're going to change things up" but I was heartened to read the things he did say, even if only because it means other Grantland readers will read it, and learn.

Was hoping for a bit more nuance to "He never antagonized or badgered anyone. Any mistakes happened because of his inexperience, and ours, too." because the truth of the matter is that you can set out to not do harm and "just" make some mistakes but that's still on you (Caleb, Grantland, Simmons). Wrapping it up with "Oh poor Caleb" (my gut feeling, not what he said) misses a sort of important point.
posted by jessamyn at 5:33 PM on January 20 [8 favorites]


He needs to focus way more on the transgender part and way less on the Caleb part:

"As for Caleb, I continue to be disappointed that we failed him."

Yeah, well, the person you actually failed is dead.
posted by Annika Cicada at 5:36 PM on January 20 [11 favorites]


On the flipside, Christina Kahrl nails it:

"For as much progress as seems to have been made, it has been a mixed bag of gains and setbacks. In sports, Bobbi Lancaster should get a shot to join the LPGA tour in 2014, but MMA fighter Fallon Fox has to compete in front of some of the most ferociously hateful audiences in any sport. In entertainment, we can revel in Laverne Cox’s breakthrough performance on Orange Is the New Black, but we also have to sit through watching Jared Leto make an unsympathetic ass of himself while taking bows for his caricature of a trans woman in Dallas Buyers Club."
posted by Annika Cicada at 5:43 PM on January 20 [2 favorites]


Tomorrow on Buzzfeed: To ten ways to drive people to suicide that only 90s Corgis will understand!

Slightly better actually: Transgender People Are Paying The Price For The Media’s Willful Ignorance. From the article's writer, Saaed Jones, BuzzFeed's LGBT editor
Recently, my editor-in-chief — arguing that I should try to be be a bit more understanding of people who don’t really “get it” — said, “Saeed, you’re three years ahead of most people when it comes to thinking about transgender issues.” But I’m not ahead. I’m late. We are all so late. And while we, as readers, writers, and citizens, either attempt to play catch up or come up with more excuses as to why respecting the lives and realities of transgender people is just so hard, transgender people themselves are paying the price for our tardiness.
posted by jessamyn at 6:26 PM on January 20 [9 favorites]


"Yeah, well, the person you actually failed is dead."

Yeah, the stuff about failing Hannan rubbed me the wrong way. I think, though, that what's happening is that Simmons is aware that this may very well adversely affect Hannan's career and also that Hannan has received and will continue to receive a lot of hate and Simmons is acutely aware that in addition to his and Grantland's responsibilities to Vanderbilt, their most proximate responsibility was to be editors to their writer and they failed badly at that and Hannan has and will continue to pay for that failure.

But that's not really of any concern of Grantland's readers or of those who are rightly outraged by the piece.

I feel like I see this a lot in journalists and the media. Whenever they screw up or when the focus is turned on their behavior, they reveal themselves to be pretty narcissistic, to expect everyone else to see things through their eyes, to accept that their very weird relationship to the real people and events they cover is somehow the normative experience of these things when, in fact, it's perverse (if somewhat necessary). So they always explain themselves according to their own cultural standards and methods and experiences and they don't understand that we don't give a shit.

You can see this with klang's comments above. We don't give a shit that there's this journalistic ethos to follow the story to the truth no matter the cost. That's the myth that journalists tell themselves about their role in society. Lawyers and politicians and doctors and scientists all have their respective mythos, too, and they all have a tendency to justify the questionable things they do on the basis of their credulous emotional investment in that mythos while the rest of us are simply saying, you really fucked up and people were hurt and you're going into great detail about your subcultural values?

We don't give a shit. You fucked up, you hurt people, don't do it again.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:33 PM on January 20 [5 favorites]


Wrapping it up with "Oh poor Caleb" (my gut feeling, not what he said) misses a sort of important point.
That was my read, too. He doesn't quite seem to have grasped that it's not the journalist that is the one having been failed, it's Vanderbilt. People in the media often seem to reduce people to 'subjects' or 'topics' and lose sight of the fact that they are actual people. Also, while I guess it's sort of admirable of the publication to step up and take the blame (kind of), I think the blame needs to remain first and foremost with the writer - if he hadn't written the article the way he wrote it, he wouldn't need to be saved in the first place.
posted by dg at 6:44 PM on January 20


Do we think this is actually going to do meaningful damage to Hannnan's career? I'm genuinely uncertain, and the times may be a-changing, but generally as a journalist you can treat trans people pretty badly and not have it be a career-killer...

(Inspired by a rather melancholy tweet in my stream asking who is more likely to be hired first by Grantland: Hannan or an editor who would have immediately spotted the problems in the article.)
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:47 PM on January 20 [4 favorites]


Apologies in advance, I didn't really succeed at staying cooled off once I started.

As the great John Wooden once said, “If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not doing anything.”

I don't know why you'd ever bring this up in a situation where the mistakes you made contributed to someone's death. Making mistakes that kill people shouldn't be part of the learning process for a sports journalism website. If the risks you "want to keep taking" are with other people's lives, instead of any of your own anything, you're already doing something horribly wrong. Deploying an aggressive, bravado-soaked aphorism in the wake of this tragedy is pathetic and trivializing.

For us, 31-year-old Caleb Hannan had (and has) a chance to be one of those writers. That’s why it hurts so much that we failed him.

This repeated concern for Caleb reminds me of all the people bemoaning high school football players' diminished prospects in the wake of horrible small town rapes. (Not that anyone is kidding themselves into thinking this is going to hurt him, because the only casualty was a trans woman.) You may have failed Caleb, but Caleb failed too.

Our decision: Sorry, Caleb, you need to keep reporting this one. It’s not there.

I find this really chilling given that what made it "there" was the subject of the article committing suicide.

He never, at any time, threatened to out her on Grantland. He was reporting a story and verifying discrepancy issues with her background. That’s it. Just finding out facts and asking questions. This is what reporters do.

This is straight up deflecting bullshit. It's a fact that I'm trans. You can find that out, but if you run it on a website it doesn't make you not an asshole because all you were doing was reporting a fact. Fuck that. You know who else uses this defense? Biological essentialist shitheads in forums across the internet who insist on calling me male because "it's a fact." People who tell me that I have a penis, and that I can't be tired of people telling me this because "it's a fact." For any LGBT person, being LGBT is a fact - but you don't have free reign to run around outing anybody you want simply because it's "what reporters do." Quit being fucking intellectually lazy.

There was no hounding. There was no badgering. It just didn’t happen that way.

This is one side of the story, which you're reporting as "fact." We'll never hear Dr. V's perspective, because she's fucking dead, but I imagine she'd disagree with you. A lot of other people disagree with you, too - many of us because we're trans and we know exactly how we'd feel if a reporter wanted to confirm that we were "born a boy" for a story about a goddamned golf club. You do not decide what's hounding or badgering. Dr. V did. Some of the rest of us can, to an extent. A straight cis person depending on his own straight cis gut and nothing else? Get the fuck out.

Caleb was obviously shaken up.

The poor dear.

For us, this had become a story about a writer falling into, for lack of a better phrase, a reporting abyss. The writer originally asked a simple question — So what’s up with this putter? — that evolved into something else entirely.

He didn't fall into anything. There was no irresistible force pulling him down down down. He took every step of this shitty journey under his own power. The only thing the putter question evolved into was "So what's up with trans people?"

When anyone criticizes the Dr. V feature for lacking empathy in the final few paragraphs, they’re right. Had we pushed Caleb to include a deeper perspective about his own feelings, and his own fears of culpability, that would have softened those criticisms.

No it wouldn't have. If he didn't want to show empathy himself, let that be in the record. But for an article that had already become The Caleb Hannan Show, I really doubt that what it needed was more of his own feelings.

Then again, Caleb had spent the piece presenting himself as a curious reporter, nothing more.

This is what he was attempting to present himself as, but it's not what he was. The "I am but an innocent babe stumbled into strange lands" schtick is some of the worst shit in the article, all the way from the wholesome midnight golf youtube videos to the detached "eulogy" nonsense at the end.

First, we didn’t know about any of the legal ramifications. That’s why we had multiple lawyers read it.

Of course your lawyers cleared it. The legal system eats trans women for breakfast. Were you expecting a lawyer to be the one to tell you it's not cool to out people?

Second, we were extremely worried — obviously — about running a piece about a subject who took her own life during the tail end of the reporting process. How would that be received externally? Was the story too dark? Was it exploitative? Would we be blamed for what happened to her?

Badly. What does it matter? Yes. Yes. If you got the answers to each of those questions wrong you're not really fit to be editor-in-chief of a high school paper.

And third, we worried about NOT running the piece when Caleb’s reporting had become so intertwined with the last year of Dr. V’s life. Didn’t we have a responsibility to run it?

No. That's fucking insane bizarro-world logic.

The fourth issue, and this almost goes without saying: Not only did we feel terrible about what happened to Dr. V, we could never really know why it happened. Nor was there any way to find out.

I'm pretty sure the rest of us - at least those of us who are trans - know why it happened. Self-serving hand-waving isn't going to get the damned spot out.

But even now, it’s hard for me to accept that Dr. V’s transgender status wasn’t part of this story.

It is fucking hilarious that you would say this. Above, you admitted you should have asked what trans people thought about this. You asked one, and she straight up told you "[Grantland] really should have ... dropped the element of her gender identity." So, now you fucking know, and you still think you know better? Fuck. What the fuck is the point if you're going to ask us what we think and still do your own goddamned privileged-as-fuck thing anyway?

Caleb couldn’t find out anything about her pre-2001 background for a very specific reason.

Apparently he couldn't find much out about her pre-2001 background even after he found out she was trans anyway, so what the fuck does it even matter? The only reason is the same as it would be for a cis person - there just wasn't much to find.

Let’s say we omitted that reason or wrote around it, then that reason emerged after we posted the piece. What then?

This is a better argument for not running the piece than for being forced to reveal she was trans before somebody else did. Jesus Christ.

Somewhere between 13 and 15 people read the piece in all, including every senior editor but one, our two lead copy desk editors, our publisher and even ESPN.com’s editor-in-chief. All of them were blown away by the piece. Everyone thought we should run it. Ultimately, it was my call. So if you want to rip anyone involved in this process, please, direct your anger and your invective at me. Don’t blame Caleb or anyone that works for me. It’s my site and anything this significant is my call. Blame me. I didn’t ask the biggest and most important question before we ran it — that’s my fault and only my fault.

No. Every single person in your office who gave it a thumbs up made a mistake. Every single person in your office who was blown away needs to (I don't even give a fuck if you hate this phrase:) check their privilege. And if your office is composed in such a way as to have absolutely nobody out "13-15" people object to something like this, maybe another thing you need to look at is your hiring practices - or at the very least your ethics and diversity training.

Suddenly, a line like “a chill ran down my spine” — which I had always interpreted as “Jesus, this story is getting stranger?” (Caleb’s intent, by the way) — now read like, “Ew, gross, she used to be a man?”

That reading is just as fucking terrible and if you haven't realized that by now you're a fucking dipshit. We aren't fucking strange. It's not strange that we exist. It's not strange when you're forced to realize that we exist. What's strange is that we live in a world where more people think like you than like me.

The lack of empathy in the last few paragraphs — our collective intent, and only because we believed that Caleb suddenly becoming introspective and emotional would have rung hollow — now made it appear as if we didn’t care about someone’s life.

Waxing emotional at the end is emphatically not the thing would would make it appear as if you did care about Dr. V's life.

We made one massive mistake. ... Someone familiar with the transgender community should have read Caleb’s final draft.

Stop externalizing the mistake. The mistake is not that you didn't have the right person read it first. The mistake is that you're in charge of this shit and you don't know anything about this shit. The mistake is that apparently nobody on your roster has any empathy at all for trans people. The mistake is Caleb is a narcissistic asshole and the mistake is that everybody else loved the shit that came out of it. The mistake is inside you.

Had we asked someone, they probably would have told us the following things …

I'm going to tell you right now that your simulated trans person is going to be fucking wrong. Luckily for you, I'm an actual trans person, so I can help.

1. You never mentioned that the transgender community has an abnormally high suicide rate. That’s a crucial piece — something that actually could have evolved into the third act and an entirely different ending. But you missed it completely.

The fact that 41% of us attempt suicide is not the only "crucial piece." The reasons why we do are important. The oppression is important. The violence is important. The unemployment and incarceration and HIV and homelessness and medical gatekeeping is important. Our history is important. Our context is important. The fact that we are not simply devices for cis people to trot out in their sitcoms and crime dramas and, yes, their essays about stupid fucking golf clubs is important.

2. You need to make it more clear within the piece that Caleb never, at any point, threatened to out her as he was doing his reporting.

I don't think you can make this clear because I don't think it's true. He actually did out her. It sounds like he actually did confront her about or ask her to confirm her being trans. These things happened - a trans person wouldn't tell you to pretend they didn't. They'd tell you that they're fucking shitty things to do.

3. You need to make it more clear that, before her death, you never internally discussed the possibility of outing her (and we didn’t).

Your internal trans person is a joke. The fact that you didn't talk about it is horrible. If you had talked about it and still did it, that would also have been horrible.

4. You botched your pronoun structure in a couple of spots, which could easily be fixed by using GLAAD’s style guide for handling transgender language.

Pronouns aren't the only misgendering fuckups. "Born a boy" is a fuckup. "Troubled man" is a fuckup.

5. The phrase “chill ran down my spine” reads wrong. Either cut it or make it more clear what Caleb meant.

It doesn't read wrong. It reads exactly as intended. What Caleb meant is clear. It's just fucking terrible. You're not going to convince anyone that Caleb could write everything else in this piece and mean anything good with that phrase. It's plain bullshit.

6. Caleb never should have outed Dr. V to one of her investors; you need to address that mistake either within the piece, as a footnote, or in a separate piece entirely.

Caleb should never have outed Dr. V at all.

7. There’s a chance that Caleb’s reporting, even if it wasn’t threatening or malicious in any way, invariably affected Dr. V in ways that you never anticipated or understood. (Read Christina Kahrl’s thoughtful piece about Dr. V and our errors in judgment for more on that angle.)

Your imaginary trans person is telling you there's a chance that this reporting would affect Dr. V poorly? Your imaginary trans person is a fucking joke. Your imaginary trans person is a cis person in whatever the equivalent of blackface is. Your imaginary trans person is insultingly ignorant. Because your imaginary trans person is cis. Never use this construction again.

To our dismay, a few outlets pushed some version of the Grantland writer bullies someone into committing suicide! narrative, either because they wanted to sensationalize the story, or they simply didn’t read the piece carefully. It’s a false conclusion that doubles as being recklessly unfair.

Poor Grantland. I read the piece carefully. I have no incentive to sensationalize. I absolutely think that your writer essentially bullied someone into committing suicide.

Caleb reported a story about a public figure that slowly spun out of control.

It's a huge stretch to call Dr. V a public figure and I'm calling you on it. The story didn't spin out of control. Caleb spun it out of control.

Any mistakes happened because of his inexperience, and ours, too.

Ignorance and privilege. Not inexperience. "Any" mistakes is fucking weak shit, too.

Also, was that worth tormenting him on Twitter, sending him death threats, posting his personal information online and even urging him to kill himself like Dr. V did? Unbelievably, for some people, the answer was “yes.” I found that behavior to be sobering at best and unconscionable at worst. You can’t excoriate a writer for being insensitive while also being willfully insensitive to an increasingly dangerous situation.

That sucks. Hopefully his cisness and straightness are enough to help him weather the kind of abuse that drives LGBT people to dark places. If it helps inspire, this is the kind of thing Dr. V would be getting from the internet, too, if she were still alive.

(I admit I'm unsure what the "dangerous situation" is, though. Are people out there comitting hate crimes against people like Caleb?)

Seeing so many people direct their outrage at one of our writers, and not our website as a whole, was profoundly upsetting for us.

Don't worry, I think all of you fucked up horribly. But Caleb fucked up horribly the most.

Moving forward, we appreciated the dialogue, we fully support everyone who expressed displeasure with the story, and we understand why some people mistakenly focused their criticisms on the writer instead of Grantland as a whole.

I'm not the one who's mistaken here, so kindly go fuck yourself.

We will remember what Wooden said — “If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not doing anything” — and we’re going to keep trying to get better.

Stop saying this. Dead trans women are not the fuel for your self-improvement engine. We are not the acceptable collateral damage for your relentless privileged progress.

So yeah. I don't think he gets it. I think he's an asshole trying to cover his ass. As of yet there is no note or footnote on the original page. That needs to happen, immediately. They should link to outside responses to the essay. Caleb Hannan himself also needs to apologize. Grantland should commit to supporting and running a positive story about a trans person in sports from a trans writer. They should commit to looking at their staff and enacting policies to encourage diversity and educate existing people. They should never run another story from Caleb Hannan and they should do it without whining making things harder for a promising writer. They should personally apologize to Vanderbilt's close friends. Maybe they should even tap some ESPN money to establish an Essay Anne Vanderbilt golf scholarship or donate to organizations devoted to fighting for trans people's right to participate in professional sports.

This is not enough.
posted by Corinth at 7:31 PM on January 20 [32 favorites]


I typically like to see myself as being a progressive and liberal person who is accepting of many things. When it comes to people who were born a different gender, however, I still think I have a lot to learn because my initial reading of Simmons' apology is more generous than running order squabble fest's above. At least I'd be a little bit ahead of Simmons because three people I've personally met and are at least acquaintances with are trans, so I kinda know what to say and how to act around them and I definitely would have done better in dealing with Dr. V.

On preview: Damn, corinth, now I have tons more reading to do!
posted by TrishaLynn at 7:37 PM on January 20 [2 favorites]


You have no need to apologise, Corinth. Thank you for writing all that - not that it's an important outcome, but it helped me to understand the ways in which both the article and the apology were wrong.
posted by dg at 8:15 PM on January 20 [1 favorite]


It definitely helped me feel a little better to yell it out, but the way I did it - with the going line-by-line and the cursing - is not the most coherent or mature way to go about it.
posted by Corinth at 8:21 PM on January 20 [2 favorites]


That is an excellent and well-deserved rant, Corinth, but one minor point: As of yet there is no note or footnote on the original page. That needs to happen, immediately.

There is, actually. At the very beginning. They link to the two followup pieces, not outside criticism, but still.
posted by Shmuel510 at 9:37 PM on January 20


...and Corinth knocks it outta the ballpark. Bravo, girl. Tell it.
posted by Annika Cicada at 9:56 PM on January 20


Okay. That's good. I refreshed before I wrote that point but I guess I had the page cached. Thanks for showing me.
posted by Corinth at 9:58 PM on January 20


I am upgrading my opinion to include a hate-on for Grantland, ESPN, Simmons, Hannan, and the other dozen or so privileged fuck-ups involved in this, all of whom have astonishingly little empathy, common sense, or good taste. Fuck all y'all, Grantland/ESPN.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:33 PM on January 20 [1 favorite]


Deadspin update: This weekend, Gerri Jordan, proprietor of Yar Golf, agreed to speak with me about the chain of events that led to the October suicide of her partner, Essay Anne Vanderbilt. Today, she declined to carry through. "I have spoken with an attorney," she wrote in an email, "and we are gathering information for potential legal action."
posted by Chrysostom at 2:29 AM on January 21 [2 favorites]


Corinth, that write-up was incredible. I didn't catch so many of those things when I first read the apology.

I have so far to go, before I can contribute like the trans people here I look up to so much. You're all teaching me to defend myself against so many horrible subtle linguistic daggers, by indentifying, deconstructing, and condemning them with justified levels emotion.

Thank you so much. I'd be so much more vulnerable without you.
posted by probu at 3:55 AM on January 21 [3 favorites]


It read as totally coherent to me, Corinth. And there is nothing immature about expressing anger when that is the totally appropriate emotion to express. Thank you so much for that response.
posted by rtha at 5:41 AM on January 21 [2 favorites]


Yeah, seconding - that was very useful for me, Corinth. It also helped me to see something which I had skipped over previously, which is incredibly important.

Simmons says that they absolutely should have consulted a person with knowledge of the trans community at some point in the editorial process. Christina Kahrl specifically says that Essay Vanderbilt's trans status should never have been part of the story. And Simmons, having read that, says that he is still having trouble accepting that the trans element should not have been part of the story.

So, when a transgender sports writer and a board member of GLAAD - someone perhaps uniquely qualified to inform that judgement - does exactly what he wishes somebody had done - tells him how he should have approached this - it really isn't appropriate to start making up reasons why she's wrong and why actually, the specific thing she says Grantland shouldn't have done should have been done. Especially when the hypothetical is:
Let’s say we omitted that reason or wrote around it, then that reason emerged after we posted the piece. What then?
To which the answer is, surely, "then someone else would have committed an ethical breach, and you would be able to explain, in terms of your professional ethics, why you had not done so". The problem here is that Simmons pretty clearly still thinks that discussing Vanderbilt's trans status in the article was the right thing to do - that it was getting the scoop, and if Grantland did not do it, they would be open to criticism for not including that information when somebody else _did_. And, the next time a story like this happens, it is very possible that he is going to think it's the right thing to do again. Hopefully, he will remember these feelings and think to consult more broadly before publishing, but there is no guarantee of that.

This is further complicated, I think, by something that has not really been addressed, which is that the information only arrived with Hannan because of an ethical lapse by Gilbert's risk manager, who effectively outed Vanderbilt, a former employee of the town of Gilbert. That makes it fruit of a poisoned tree, ethically speaking, and raises the public interest bar for disclosure. Nobody seems to be acknowledging that, which I think demonstrates the extent to which casually revealing people's trans status as an intriguing tidbit of gossip (or a way of punishing them for bringing a case against your town) is normalized.

Also, this went to the editor-in-chief of ESPN, and he didn't think "wait, don't we have a trans woman on our staff, who is also on the board of GLAAD? I wonder what she might think about this?". That's amazing...
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:25 AM on January 21 [3 favorites]


This thread has been a fantastic and welcome education for me. I thought the article was ghoulish and mean-spirited when I read it, but I couldn't really identify why that was so aside from the obvious misgendering in the latter parts of it. The discussion and links posted here have been really eye-opening, and I will point to this incident in years to come as where I turned a corner in understanding some key trans* issues. Thanks!
posted by norm at 6:32 AM on January 21 [2 favorites]


To which the answer is, surely, "then someone else would have committed an ethical breach, and you would be able to explain, in terms of your professional ethics, why you had not done so".

Yes, this. He is so concerned about getting scooped that he can't tell or see that getting scooped on something irrelevant to the story is not actually getting scooped. Like, if another publication "dug up" the fact that once upon a time the subject had been a state spelling bee champ - well, so what? What does that have to do with possibly running a con? And, of course, "disclosing" that someone was once a spelling bee champ is not actually an ethical breach, as far as I know.
posted by rtha at 7:19 AM on January 21 [1 favorite]


And, the next time a story like this happens, it is very possible that he is going to think it's the right thing to do again. Hopefully, he will remember these feelings and think to consult more broadly before publishing, but there is no guarantee of that.

I know it's a bad thing to think, but possibly the pending legal action from Gerri Jordan may help them see reason. The weird "clicks at all cost" state of online journalism where even bad publicity still makes you money makes things like these (questionable choices followed up by lengthy apologies and not-quite-apologies) even more tawdry-seeming. For me a real apology at this point in online discourse would have a rel=nofollow attached to it and no ads so that it was not "enhancing your brand" at the expense of ripping apart someone's life.
posted by jessamyn at 7:47 AM on January 21 [12 favorites]


That's a really good point: in the UK, where parts of this conversation recurred last year, The Observer took down a startlingly transphobic piece by Julie Burchill, which its entire editorial team had passed, about trans women once the backlash hit. It was then put up by the right-wing Telegraph, of course, but The Observer could at least say that it was not getting any revenues from it, even if it had commissioned it in the first place...
posted by running order squabble fest at 8:04 AM on January 21


Also, this went to the editor-in-chief of ESPN, and he didn't think "wait, don't we have a trans woman on our staff, who is also on the board of GLAAD? I wonder what she might think about this?". That's amazing...

No, that's privilege. Everyone in the editing chain thought they knew enough about trans people that they didn't need to ask. Simmons' apology flat-out says that they just didn't even think the story was problematic.
posted by Etrigan at 8:50 AM on January 21 [2 favorites]


I'm late to this conversation and appreciate reading a lot of the thoughtful responses here, and I'm kind of sorry I missed 'em when I was ranting to friends and family about the Grantland article over the weekend.

I think Bill Simmons' apology was better than I had expected it to be. The very clear declarations, "we screwed up" and that Grantland made an "indefensible mistake" are better and more definitive than a lot of other high-profile (non) apologies. And given Grantland's audience, and the shitstorm over the article, I think Simmons' apology will have a positive effect.

Does Simmons still have blind spots? Hell, yeah. I agree that his ultimate focus on Caleb Hannan's perspective and the protest that Caleb "never antagonized or badgered anyone" indicates that Simmons Still Does Not Get It.

Before this morning, I didn't realize that Christina Kahrl was on the ESPN.com staff and is on GLAAD' board. ESPN.com's access to Kahrl makes this whole situation so much more egregious. I agree that Kahrl hits it out of the park with her response. And reading Simmons' apology contemporaneously with Kahrl's lends context and further reenforces that Simmons has a long way to go.

Bottom line, I didn't expect that Caleb Hannon or Bill Simmons would overnight become a great trans ally. "Exceeding low expectations" is perhaps damning with faint praise, but it is a huge step forward, and hopefully an eye-opener for more than just the Grantland/ESPN.com editorial staff.

I ranted on Facebook about the Katie Couric thing and also about the Grantland article. Over the weekend, one of my friends, who just came out to me as trans, wrote to me, "All those posts you've been making about trans coverage in the media is rather disconcerting." She's scared about the professional (and social) consequences of transitioning, and media missteps don't help. This stuff matters, and has real-life consequences outside of the media bubble.
posted by QuantumMeruit at 9:43 AM on January 21 [5 favorites]


"'Exceeding low expectations' is perhaps damning with faint praise, but it is a huge step forward, and hopefully an eye-opener for more than just the Grantland/ESPN.com editorial staff."

It's easy for me and other cisgendered folk to see the glass half-full, and I feel badly about that. I also paradoxically don't feel badly about it, as I am certain down to my bones that only a few years ago the Grantland response would have been much, much worse. I am certain I'm seeing a big cultural change for the better happening represented in the things that Simmons and Grantland got right in its response. Of course, the Kahrl piece being part of its response is a huge portion of that.

But trans* folk have every reason to be angry about Simmons's response, there's just so many things that Simmons still doesn't understand and doesn't accept responsibility for. And things aren't going to get better by patting Simmons and Grantland on the back for exceeding low expectations. They should be hammered for their egregious mistakes, period.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:58 AM on January 21 [3 favorites]


I don't think hammering them is going do anything except leave a few dents that in the future will recall only a bad memory.

To learn a lesson would be to face a civil lawsuit.

Here's the real thing, Golf is like Fashion, selling you pseudo-scientific bullshit in an attempt to make you feel better about your game. Whether that game is on the pretend pro level fairway or the pretend model runway, the idea is to sell you on the idea that you got something special in your bag. People are gonna sell sunshine up your ass all day long to make that sale and we all play along.

If she's a con, then everyone who sells you an oversized putter or "100% more pretty microbeads" face cream is a con as well.

In this respect "V" was not a fraud. She was doing the same damn thing every other golf huckster does. IMO, her being outed as trans is the lynchpin of the con angle in the story, and to me that just sucks.
posted by Annika Cicada at 10:09 AM on January 21 [5 favorites]


No, that's privilege. Everyone in the editing chain thought they knew enough about trans people that they didn't need to ask. Simmons' apology flat-out says that they just didn't even think the story was problematic.

Oh, absolutely. It's just such a parodically perfect example of privilege. It reminds me of the guy at the party telling Rebecca Solnit about Muybridge, except in this case the guy had hired Rebecca Solnit and works with Rebecca Solnit, and when faced with a tough question about Eadward Muybridge doesn't even think about calling her up and asking her for her read, despite knowing nothing about Eadward Muybridge.

It's like a brain surgeon with a patient with chest pains thinking "you know, I have a feeling we have a heart surgeon kicking around here somewhere in this hospital, who is also on the board of the Heart Surgeons Association of America. But what the hell, I got this. Hearts and brains can't be that different, can they?"
posted by running order squabble fest at 10:11 AM on January 21 [3 favorites]


Oh, bleh. I was just looking at Grantland's fb page and I read some of the comments on their post linking to Kahrl's "what grantland got wrong" piece and now I mostly feel dirty and discouraged.
posted by rtha at 10:28 AM on January 21


Max Potter on the Bill Simmons Grantland response letter

All of the benefit of the doubt I had for the senior Grantland team that worked on this Dr. V piece is pretty much gone. And by “pretty much” I mean totally. The editor’s letter reads like a canned script for an ESPN post-game presser we’ve seen a million times

“Hey, look, we played a good first half. I mean, people in the stands were clapping. Am I right? So that’s something. But, look, there’s no way around it: In the end, we really blew that game. If you’re gonna blame anyone, blame me. Kids make bad plays. But the buck stops with the head coach. And that’s me. Listen, we’ve learned from our mistakes. So now let’s get back on the field, our same great team, and play better next time.”

Except this wasn’t a game.

posted by larrybob at 3:08 PM on January 21 [3 favorites]


The New Republic has an article on Simmons' apology that includes a brief interview with Christine Kahrl. Here's the bit that quotes Kahrl:
“Bill’s apology did a great job of pointing out that this is an editorial failure,” Kahrl said. When asked if she thought part of the problem is that Grantland’s staff is homogeneous in its outlook, she replied, “I think that’s a valid concern.”

Though Simmons’s conversations with Kahrl informed his letter, it is worth highlighting a crucial place where she and Simmons do not see eye-to-eye. As she wrote Monday and confirmed to me Tuesday, Kahrl believes that any piece about Vanderbilt should not have mentioned Vanderbilt’s gender identity at all. By contrast, Simmons, who declined to comment for this story, wrote, “Even now, it’s hard for me to accept that Dr. V’s transgender status wasn’t part of this story.”

Kahrl explained to me that outing Vanderbilt “would be unconscionable if she were alive.” Of outing Vanderbilt once she is dead, she told me, “I don't see the necessity. This is intrinsic to who she was. This was a part of herself she did not want to talk about or revisit.”

Kahrl revealed that she is also advising Caleb Hannan, the author of the article, on a forthcoming apology of sorts. “Caleb owns this error as well,” she said. “He is intent on doing the honorable thing, in terms of, ‘I screwed up. I want to talk to the right people, put my failure in front of LGBT people.’ He’s not hiding from this. That’s a really admirable quality.”
posted by Kattullus at 3:38 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


Simmons apparently said on his podcast that his editorial addresses the issue and that Grantland would be moving on from there. (Ugh.)
posted by Corinth at 8:20 PM on January 21






Thanks for that Gawker piece. It's good.
posted by Corinth at 3:04 PM on January 22






Well, it might be more "grown up", but I think I prefer your response. It might not be as polished, but it is honest talk from the heart.
posted by dg at 11:31 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]


She hit on some things I didn't, which is embarrassing because she's not even trans!

I didn't read the youth thing the same way she did - I thought he was using it to try to bolster his office's progressive cred and hint that if his batch of twentysomethings didn't have a problem, how could anybody have a problem?

Perspective: This is how Simmons felt after a weekend of criticism which exposed failures in his editorial process. And still he imagines that Dr. V did not feel hounded or badgered, when facing publication of an article that would expose her trans identity.

That's a really good point. She also did a lot more of the general tone critique that needed to be done but doesn't fit with line-by-line frothing.
posted by Corinth at 12:06 AM on January 23




The Wrong Way To Write About Trans People by Fallon Fox

Much like my black ancestors who were of mixed race and could pass as white, I hid my trans status (unless confronted on it). Much like my ancestors I’ve had to deal with society telling me what restroom I could or could not use or what spaces I could not occupy. Much like my ancestors I lived in fear for my life or being physically harmed by people who hate on other humans for being slightly different. History consistently repeats itself because people consistently drop the ball–because of greed.

Hat-tip to gingerbeer, who showed me this last night as we were on an airplane
posted by rtha at 6:14 AM on January 23 [4 favorites]


This part from Fox's letter made me tear up:

And yes, I’ve been close to suicide myself over this. Fortunately, I had a support network in place, teammates and loved ones around me who actually care about me existing. They supported me, and it helped me stay here. But, what helps keeps me going the most is the opportunity to put a dent in all of this nonsense directed at trans people.
posted by Corinth at 8:44 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


Apparently All Things Considered covered this two days ago. It's meh. Don't read the comments.
posted by Corinth at 12:59 PM on January 23


Kye Allums, the first openly transgender Division I athlete - who also had a bad experience with ESPN - writes about the Grantland piece.
In 2010, after I came out publicly, I found out that ESPN would be airing a segment about me, including private information about my past. After hearing about the segment, I wrote to the reporter. “It has just been brought to my attention that ESPN…will be using old pictures and videos of me from when I was younger. I am not okay with this. Reason being, we live in a world that does not understand what it means to be transgender,” I wrote. “Every time I see a transgender person in the media, their stories are always centered around their appearance/physical transition. Being transgender is more than a physical appearance. Being transgender is being all of who I am, and that includes keeping certain things from my life private. Please remove the personal information before it airs.”

Like Dr. V, my request was denied. There was nothing I could do.
posted by Corinth at 10:01 AM on January 24 [3 favorites]


Megan Finnerty interviews Gerri Jordan, Essay Anne Vanderbilt's partner and now CEO of Yar.

It's hard not to read this as an implicit and explicit critique of the original story - in the sense that it broadly follows journalistic ethics on intruding into grief; I'm not sure the method of suicide had to be described in the narrative lede, but it had already been described in more detail by Grantland, so that's probably a wash, and I found the last paras a little emotionally charged, but not particularly intrusive.

It also makes the point that Vanderbilt's credentials have yet to be verified - it's not a ridiculous assumption to believe that they are fraudulent, but it is an assumption, since the initial story lost interest in her academic credentials. It cites statistics on the harassment trans people live with, and it makes clear that Vanderbilt was indeed convinced that the story was going to "out" her. And, crucially, it speaks to an external expert on journalism - at Poynter - about the ethics of the interaction.
posted by running order squabble fest at 7:58 AM on January 25 [5 favorites]




I just watched it so you wouldn't have to. It was okay. The host got away with the "once a man" thing, but at least he didn't have a dissenting view on the show for "balance" or whatever. Christina Kharl and the guy from GLAAD did well, although I was disappointed when Kharl expressed satisfaction with Simmons's apology.
posted by Corinth at 8:29 AM on January 26 [1 favorite]


ESPN ombudsman (apparently ESPN has an ombudsman) Robert Lipsyte.

I don't know how you can acknowledge this:
As many members of the trans community have said on social media, 'My life is not your teachable moment.'"
And still say stuff like this:
But, if it is to grow and flourish, Grantland has to keep in mind what it learned from “Dr. V’s Magic Putter” without allowing the lessons to hold it back from edgy, risky journalism.

“We are not in the business to be safe,” said Lovinger, summing up the role of journalists at ESPN and elsewhere. “We are here to make a difference and open up lines of inquiry. You have to question what you do, but you also have to go where the story takes you.”
posted by Corinth at 6:08 PM on January 27


I think that was the omsbudsman's main point. That there is edgy journalism which can be seen as a good thing, and that this wasn't it.

This was bad journalism, and even if Hannan is a capable writer, the editors made some terrible choices which they are still not totally, it seems, even cognizant of. The headline to the piece was "Understandable but Inexcuseable". My take on it, and I'd be interested in other people's reads on it, was that Simmons was trying to hide behind saying they were trying to be edgy and risky, but really they were just being shitty and bad at their jobs. He takes a few potshots at Simmons calling him "a talented, overextended 44-year-old with less traditional, hard-core journalism experience but considerable vision and celebrity" which is basically saying, to me, that he's not a journalist, not really, and that this experience didn't make him more of one though maybe it will make him better at knowing when he's out of his league in the future.
posted by jessamyn at 6:17 PM on January 27 [2 favorites]


I just don't understand the focus "edgy, risky journalism." What does that mean? Straight cis people writing about LGBT people? Emulating Vice? Risking what? Their reputation? It seems like they're really overplaying the drama of internet sports essays and underplaying the drama of Vanderbilt's suicide. The piece is mostly just a summary of events and opinions, and Lipsyte doesn't really take a position.
posted by Corinth at 6:39 PM on January 27


something the CJR piece I linked above started this train of thought:

The story wasn't the putter and its development, or Dr. V and fraud, or even the apparent fucking magic that is "positive contagion" (I would have loved a story that ran with that one) - the story is Caleb Hannan writing and researching the story.

It's the "my first novel is about a struggling novelist" of journalism.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:44 PM on January 27 [11 favorites]


The Dr. V story is covered in this week's Slate sports podcast, Hang Up and Listen.
posted by Chrysostom at 11:02 AM on February 3


My take on it, and I'd be interested in other people's reads on it, was that Simmons was trying to hide behind saying they were trying to be edgy and risky, but really they were just being shitty and bad at their jobs.
I agree absolutely. This kind of excuse is fear too common because people that don't know what they're doing don't know what they don't know and, while they may think that any writing that provokes a strong reaction is 'edgy', they don't understand the difference between bravery and stupidity.
posted by dg at 12:19 PM on February 7


Nothing currently on their front page is "edgy, risky journalism" in any sense of the words. I really doubt it was intended to mean anything.

Also still not on their front page: Caleb Hannan's apology.
posted by Corinth at 10:33 AM on February 10


Oh, I thought you meant that Hannan had issued an apology but it wasn't on the front page. Apparently he hasn't. Maybe that will take, like the story, eight months.
posted by larrybob at 12:19 PM on February 10


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