NYT Public Editor Responds to Keller Column

[Content Note: Choice policing; terminal illness; disablism; privilege.]

Yesterday, I wrote about Bill Keller's column in the New York Times, in which he trolled Lisa Bonchek Adams' choice to blog her life with cancer, getting a bunch of facts wrong and using language LBA finds deeply objectionable in the process.

The Times' public editor, Margaret Sullivan, has now responded to the widespread criticism, under the terrific headline: "Readers Lash Out About Bill Keller's Column on a Woman With Cancer."

I just can't decide what I like most about that headline. Is it (mis)characterizing criticism as "lashing out," or is it naming Bill Keller while failing to name his target, Lisa Bonchek Adams? Let's call it a tie!

Sullivan's response is pretty weak sauce, which is par for the public editor's course, but there are a couple things worth comment in the quotes from Keller she chose to share:
Some of the reaction (especially on Twitter, which as a medium encourages reflexes rather than reflection) has been raw, and some (especially in comments posted to the article online, where there is space for nuance) has been thoughtful and valuable.
It used to be that bloggers got all the guff from public commentators who didn't like criticism. And bloggers still get a lot, though it's increasingly more difficult to universally malign bloggers when so many Important People get paid to write blogs now. But Twitter has replaced "blogs" as THE WORST EVER.

It's funny, isn't it, that the most visible medium that costs exactly nothing to use and maintain, provided one has at minimum a phone with a data plan, is terrible. Reactionary. Reflexive. Coarse. Leave it Keller and his cohorts to be dismissive of and hostile toward a medium that is not only an equalizer in many ways (though privilege plays out on Twitter, too), but also values many voices without fancy credentials and mainstream media access above the likes of Bill Keller.

Every time I hear some blowhard being criticized talk about how s/he needn't bother listening to the rabble on Twitter, all I can think is: Well, I'd be happy to respond to you in the New York Times, if they want to give me the space.

Then, having dismissed many of his critics, Keller defends the nature of the piece while addressing the dueling pieces he penned with his wife:
I don't think either of the Keller pieces was a "slam" of Lisa Adams or her choices.
Of course not. This is the same defense we hear from everyone who takes to the pages of a major media outlet to police other people's choices. I wasn't slamming anyone, oh heavens no! I was just musing about their choices. After all, they invited us to muse about their choices by making them publicly!

And this garbage defense will keep getting trotted out like clockwork until we stop tolerating the misrepresentation of auditing other people's personal choices in public forums as "debate," and the bullshit narrative that visibility is an invitation for scrutiny and judgment.

Shakesville is run as a safe space. First-time commenters: Please read Shakesville's Commenting Policy and Feminism 101 Section before commenting. We also do lots of in-thread moderation, so we ask that everyone read the entirety of any thread before commenting, to ensure compliance with any in-thread moderation. Thank you.

blog comments powered by Disqus