So which is it? Are we stupid? Or too full of ourselves?
August 23, 2014 9:00 PM   Subscribe

There's nothing exclusive about those two alternatives. Most stupid people I've known were quite full of themselves. And that's not only among those still in office.
posted by carping demon at 9:48 PM on August 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

It is somehow ironic, and sad, that in an essay about empathy the writing misgenders Dr. V - trans women are women, not men. A huge part of the problem of outing Dr. V was that she was also misgendered, that it was played as a "gotcha" and she was "really a man".

I agree with the larger points - that transparency and compassion are more important in journalism than they are currently treated - but that message is soured in one of his examples, and I wish he'd taken more care. Dr. V and other trans women deserve it.
posted by Deoridhe at 11:05 PM on August 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

Yeah, the misgendering seemed really different from the "should we have more compassion toward our subjects?" theme. Journalists should report what they find, so agreeing to show someone in a positive light is a foolish route to an ethical problem, but deliberately drawing someone's self-identity into a story that does not require it is a different ethical and professional question. And the ham-handed, ignorant, and fatal methods? That's something else again.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:22 AM on August 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

While the misgendering of Dr. V was a mistake which wouldn't be made by someone more aware of gender issues, it was really just one part, and not the most important even if the most salacious, of the larger story of Dr. V's entire curriculum vitae turning out to be a fabrication.

And I don't get the angsting over the "betrayal" of Jeffrey MscDonald at all. Anyone interacting with a journalist has to understand that journalists are the eyes and ears of society, and their first duty to the rest of us should be to accurately report for us.

So when you invite a journalist into your life, you may do so hoping for the exposure they can provide but you should never expect any particular result. Or more to the point, if you don't want to be exposed as a thoroughly loathesome human being maybe you should make an effort not to be loathesome, and if you don't want to be exposed as a fraud maybe you shouldn't dangle your fraudulent credentials in front of someone whose job it is to investigate things.
posted by localroger at 6:17 AM on August 24, 2014

An example with a different emotional loading: The Bare-Faced Messiagh probably would not have been possible without the help of Gerry Armstrong, who was assigned by the Church of Scientology itself to assemble materials for a biography of L. Ron Hubbard. Apparently it didn't occur to anyone, including Armstrong, that what he would find would be so damning.
posted by localroger at 6:27 AM on August 24, 2014

and by “him” I mean both “her and “him”

That's when Lee murmured something about empathy. I had to ask her to repeat the word.

[Re: having empathy for another person:] There are learned people who will argue that this is impossible, and they may be right. How can we ever fully know another person? But the impossibility does not erase the obligation to try.

It's great that the author is trying. It's great that he's gotten far enough along in his efforts that he can recognize other journalists who successfully write with empathy. It does give me hope that he will get far enough along in developing his own empathy that he will look back on this piece with a bit of embarassment, and we can all gently forgive him his arrogance born of ignorance ('cause yeah, "both" is often the answer to that question), sexism in describing and evaluating his colleagues, and trans bashing in equating the non-deception of a trans woman presenting as a woman with the deception of made-up professional credentials and equating both with the deception of a violent narcissist trying to pass themself off as a good person and get away with murder. The author is at least on a good path, if still closer to the beginning than he realizes.
posted by eviemath at 6:31 AM on August 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

posted by Fizz at 10:50 AM on August 24, 2014

if you don't want to be exposed as a thoroughly loathesome human being maybe you should make an effort not to be loathesome

"Not being loathsome" does not necessarily protect against a story exposing you as loathsome. Lot of news is just plain bullshit.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 11:02 AM on August 24, 2014

That's true, santb, but the point of the article isn't about bullshit journalism but journalism that tells a little more truth than maybe its subject would want. I pointed out Bare Faced Messiah because it's a better example of the other side of the coin.

You can make a case that Dr. V's grifting does not justify outing her trans status, but she had the attention of some of the most influential people in sports at the time and it's very difficult to explain that she isn't who she claims without revealing who she really is and was. As for MacDonald I don't think anybody believes McGinniss was lying about his loathesomeness; he just thought he had an expectation that it wouldn't be mentioned. And of course L. Ron Hubbard was safely dead when BFM was written, although not when Armstrong lammed it with his research materials. Is there really any sense where we would be better off as non-Scientologists if that story had never been told?
posted by localroger at 12:08 PM on August 24, 2014

The Dr. V and Jeffrey MacDonald situations are completely different. In the former situation, the author added a rather irrelevant detail to his story, while in the other, the author failed to write a hagiography.
posted by learnsome at 3:56 PM on August 24, 2014

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