3 important questions in the debate over Margaret Sullivan’s criticism of Andrew Goldman
New York Times | BlackBook | The Atlantic Wire | Gawker
New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan is getting publicly edited for her suggestion that Times freelancer Andrew Goldman is lucky to have a job following a Twitter freakout.
Debate over Sullivan's harsh column comes down to three questions:
1) Is Goldman asking appropriate questions in his New York Times Magazine pieces?
This all began because Goldman asked actress Tippi Hedren whether she'd ever considered sleeping with Alfred Hitchcock, whose pursuit of Hedren is a theme in a new autobiographical film about the actress. Novelist Jennifer Weiner tweeted that her Saturday routine now included seeing "which actress Andrew Goldman has accused of sleeping her way to the top." Goldman responded in a moronic way. But Weiner isn't alone in her critique of Goldman; In BlackBook, Jessica Wakeman pointed out that Hedren's previous answer gave him an opportunity to ask about misogyny in Hollywood, but he went to a question about revenge instead.
To be clear, I don't think Tippi Hedren is too precious that she can't answer questions about Alfred Hitchcock's abuse. She's a grown woman and she's speaking out publicly about it. But I do think any woman who comes forward about abuse — and Hedren has clearly suffered greatly by it, not the least of which in her career — deserves to be treated with more respect than the suggestion she's seeking "revenge" by sharing her story. She's not the one who did something wrong here; Hitchcock did. That's sexism.
Kara Bloomgarden-Smoke notes in The New York Observer that before this dustup, Goldman "was asking all sorts of inappropriate questions in Elle." I'm not familiar with his work in that column, but judging by the collection of lines Bloomgarden-Smoke collects -- e.g., "Please speculate on the lovemaking styles of fellow broadcasters Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity" -- Goldman's use of audacious questions seems deliberate, a good way to shake up the otherwise editorially useless form of the Q&A.
In The Atlantic Wire, Jen Doll defends the way Goldman asks questions, and specifically how he questioned Hedren:
[I]f we prevent journalists from asking women, successful or otherwise—or, frankly, people of any gender—whatever questions they want to ask them, we're doing a disservice to journalism and in fact to women. Women can handle these questions—ask us anything. If we don't want to answer, we don't have to. If your question assumes something that's untrue or sexist, all the better; you've given us the opportunity to point that out in our response.
2) Should it matter that Goldman came across as a jerk on Twitter?
More from Jen Doll:
But, goodness, for our Twitter mistakes to be unforgivable: Is that really what we want in the pursuit of achieving good journalism or less sexism and misogyny? I can't count how many times people have said rude, sexist, or nasty things to me, whether on Twitter or just generally online. Sometimes I respond, sometimes I am angry, sometimes I say something I regret. The human-by-way-of-Internet response to criticism is to lash out in return. ...
It's fair to call people out on the Internet and in life for doing the wrong thing. I just hope we can breathe and think and make sure we're doing it for good and not simply for the brief pleasure of engaging in yet another Internet battle, or, possibly worse, in a quest for page views based on a "strong opinion"—because, you know, rage is great for page views, for accruing Twitter followers, for amassing armies.
"That is advice, by the way, I can also take," Gawker reporter John Cook says about Doll's point about Twitspats. He details a back and forth he had with Weiner about Goldman, who he notes is a friend. The argument quickly became "immature and generally unhelpful," he writes.
But basically everything about Twitter is immature and unhelpful. It is a medium suited to insults and witch hunts, not deliberative consensus-building.
We've heard this before. But Twitter disputes also can serve as a gateway to decent conversations, a path neither Goldman nor Cook took. “We expect New York Times journalists to act like New York Times journalists,” Times spokesperson Eileen Murphy told Bloomgarden-Smoke. “It has been communicated to Andrew Goldman that his comments on Twitter were not appropriate and not in keeping with The Times’ long-standing principle that we expect our journalists to behave as thoughtfully on social media as they do in other aspects of their jobs."
3) Is Goldman lucky to have a job?
Everyone employed as a journalist, in good times or bad, is lucky to have a job. Someone employed in a freelance capacity at one of the world's best newspapers especially so. Cook said Sullivan was "smug and unforgiving" when she wrote that Goldman is "highly replaceable." But she was just telling the truth.