Guardian deletes Emma Keller post about cancer patient

The Guardian has removed a post by Emma Gilbey Keller about Lisa Adams, who blogs and tweets about her cancer.

“Following an investigation by the Guardian’s independent readers’ editor, we have removed the article in question from our website because it is inconsistent with the Guardian editorial code,” Guardian spokesperson Gennady Kolker tells Poynter via email. “This decision was taken with the agreement of Lisa Adams.”

Keller’s story (you can read an archived version here) was followed by an opinion piece by her husband, former New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller, who linked to it. Both posts attracted criticism.

When it first removed the story, the Guardian said “This post has been deleted with the agreement of the subject because it is inconsistent with the Guardian editorial code.” (The Guardian’s Editorial Code says “People should be treated with sensitivity during periods of grief and trauma.”) That language was later changed to “This post has been removed pending investigation.”

Kolker says in a follow-up email the news organization changed the language because its readers’ editor “has informed us that aspects of the investigation are on-going.”

In Salon, Daniel D’Addario wrote that Emma Gilbey Keller “shared private messages she’d exchanged with Adams — ones not intended for publication and ones published without even a warning to Adams.” Boing Boing editor Xeni Jardin said on Twitter the Keller stories were “Shoddy, shitty, heartless, inaccurate grandstanding.”

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  • Mercyneal

    I can’t speak for Mrs. Keller but Bill Keller has been full of himself for a long time. His biggest downfall is that he is unable to admit he’s wrong. I think it’s a San Mateo thing.

  • Leisureguy

    Yeah, the link didn’t make it. Here it is:

    Full disclosure: I carry a grudge against Bill Keller, who held back from publishing the NY Times story on the illegal wiretaps done by George W. Bush until after the election and Bush was safely re-elected. Then the story was published. That, plus his determine advocacy for the invasion of Iraq, has soured my view of him.

  • Ralph

    Thanks for that perspective. Didn’t see your link but the book shows up on Amazon and looks well worth a peek.

    Perhaps I mistook opportunism and insensitivity for objectivity here. Again, not being familiar with the Kellers’ writing, I tend to give someone the benefit of the doubt up front. Agreed, there’s no excuse if she failed to query the hospital’s take on Ms. Adams’ Twitterings. Maybe the bigger question is – did she ever run a draft of the article by Ms. Adams herself to get some feedback or more context before going to print? I didn’t get the impression she did but was not privy to all their communication either. Good journalism, after all, should be about the facts and a compelling story. But regrettably, in this 24/7 news frenzy we live in, it’s Ready, Fire, Aim!

    Anyway, I’m still rather nonplussed and ambivalent about the whole Twitter thing. I can see some of the intrinsic value there, in providing timely and front row seats to world events, natural or human catastrophes for example, as raw and unpolished (or trustworthy) as that is as an unvetted “news” medium. Most of what I see, though, is little more than navel gazing and mud slinging which, if any small measure of our true nature is, beyond the cheap entertainment value, disturbing at best.

    I guess in this new and improved digital universe, context, perspective and objectivity must take a back seat to our need for speed. So perhaps we should not be so shocked when sometimes – oftentimes – things will clash and things will crash.

  • Leisureguy

    I thought both columns were tone-deaf, and Bill Keller’s insistence that people were “misreading” the column (i.e., not taking the meaning he had in mind) is the complaint of an amateur: the chef is not the judge of the meal, after all. The Kellers could (like almost all of us) profit from reading Daniel Goleman’s Vital Lies, Simple Truths: The Psychology of Self-Deception. It’s a fascinating book (link is to secondhand copies) and in the very opening it gives an excellent example of a young woman at a dinner party who communicates more than she realizes:

    “I am very close to my family. They were always very demonstrative and loving. When I disagreed with my mother, she always threw what was nearest at hand at me. Once it happened to be a knife and I needed ten stitches in my leg. A few years later my father tried to choke me when I began dating a boy he didn’t like. They really are very concerned about me.”

    I think the people at the table probably understand much more from the anecdote than the woman realized or was able to recognize. That seems to be what’s up with the Kellers: they cannot recognize that which they have communicated.

    Other journalistic sins were also evident, as when Mrs. Keller writes:

    “Social media has definitely become a part of Adams’ treatment (I wonder what her hospital, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, thinks about that.)”

    The obvious step for a columnist to take when wanting to know the reaction from the hospital would be to call the hospital and get a quote that tells what they think about it. They probably would say, “Anything that helps the patient, costs nothing, and harms no one is all to the good.” Indeed, perhaps she did get that reaction, which doesn’t fit her preconceived agenda, so she fell back to “wondering.”

  • Katherine OBrien

    Another problem is that neither Bill nor Emma Kelller understand metastatic breast cancer. Adams’ treatments are standard of care–hardly the “heroic measures” Bill Keller questions. Both Kellers suggest Adams is on her deathbed–there is a difference between being in the hospital for a common pain management procedure (radiation) and actively dying.

    MBS is incurable but treatable. Adams still has many reasonable treatments to try.

    Both Kellers, having some experience of cancer (the wife’s DCIS and her father’s death from cancer) think they are well informed on cancer, especially the metastatic kind. Well they’re not…just as flying on an airplane hardly makes me a qualified pilot.

    I have covered this here:

    and here:

    and in this video explaining why Bill Keller is cotton-headed ninny-muggins when it comes to metastatic breast cancer:


    Metastatic Breast Cancer Network

  • vprima

    Shorter Bill and Emma Keller: “Why does this cancer lady have so many followers? We had a cancer scare TOO, but everybody likes her more than us. Not FAIR we went to journalism school!!”

  • Ralph

    I’m trying to understand why the Kellers are being slammed for this coverage and why they are being generally seen as “hateful”. Can anyone help me out here? Admittedly, I’m not familiar with their previous writings, but this article by Emma, or the follow-up by her husband, didn’t seem particularly out of line, insensitive, or in any way exploitative, so far as I could see. The gist of the article was to question and explore the appropriateness of someone going very public about the course of their own terminal illness on social media, in this case Twitter. It is of a piece with our current cultural narcissism, as reflected in the funeral selfies the article alludes to. If the Guardian feels this topic in general falls outside their editorial code, then fine. I’m just not seeing the “Shoddy, shitty, heartless, inaccurate grandstanding” some are tagging this article with. What am I missing here?

  • Alex

    I agree with the second part of your statement, but find the first part just as abhorrent as what the Kellers said. What do their family members have to do with this? I have a few awful people in my family myself, but I don’t deserve to die screaming. How can someone with the screenname “hippie” be so violent?

  • Alex

    Shame on both of them. I feel sorry for their (the Kellers’) daughters right now, since they are most likely getting grief for their heartless parents right now, even though it’s not their fault. If I were one of the Kellers I would be trying to explain why everyone (so rightfully) hates Mommy and daddy.

  • hippie1367

    Hopefully every member of the corrupt 1% Keller family dies screaming ….what a hateful pair of scumbags Emma and Bill Keller are

  • Smith_90125

    Is Emma Keller of any relation to Helen Keller? She must be.

    She’s blind and deaf to decency or anyone’s well being except her own.

  • danbloom

    this brouhaha is not good for the Kellers, either one. Ouch