Grantland and the Dr Vanderbilt Story

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Grantland editor-in-chief Bill Simmons has apologised on behalf of himself and the staff of Grantland for the insensitive, poorly thought out and crass piece published on the site last week, written by Caleb Hannan. The original piece can be found here, for those who don’t know what I am talking about. I would also ask everyone to read the fantastic response piece from ESPN writer and GLAAD board member Christina Kahrl (linked here).

What I find staggering, and have done since reading Hannan’s piece for the first time, is the level of ignorance on display during the editorial decision making that led to the piece’s publication. Simmons admits to this level of ignorance in his letter.

As he says, Grantland takes pride in having writers under 40, including the 31-year old Hannan. He also names some of the members of the editorial team, including Rafe Bartholomew, Dan Fierman, Sean Fennessey Megan Creydt and himself as editor-in-chief.

How did not a single one of them think that it might not be a wise move to pursue this line of inquiry? Not one of the Grantland editorial staff, Hannan or the “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” think that the piece was problematic in the extreme – one wonders if the ESPN lawyers saw a copy, or if the piece could be counted as actionable?

“How did it never occur to any of us? How? How could we ALL blow it?”

That is a question that the entire Grantland staff should be asking themselves. Today, and for the rest of their careers, they should ask themselves this question. Surely it is one of the basic tenets of quality journalism (something to which Grantland aspires) to understand your subject matter? If you don’t have a clue about the issues facing trans people – and especially how incredibly cruel it can be to out them, publicly, on the internet and in person – then you find out someone who knows more about it than you do, and you sit your ignorant ass down while they educate you.

Then if you still think that running the piece is a good idea, you’ll have considered the harm you are doing, and are demonstrating you don’t care. But I think Simmons does care, which if anything makes this total lack of perspective even more chilling – they didn’t see anything wrong with the piece, and didn’t make the effort to find out more, and it didn’t occur to anyone there until about six hours ago that this might be a problem?

The level of ignorance on display here was both incredible and not at all surprising. Incredible because I had expected better from a site that aspires “to distinguish ourselves by being thoughtful and entertaining”, but not surprising at all because once again a group who have no understanding of trans issues made no effort to learn, and weren’t even aware that this was a negligent, cowardly and criminal way to behave.

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