In new Lolo Jones news, New York Times public editor Arthur S. Brisbane released an apologetic letter this afternoon for Jere Longman‘s hotly-debated article about the U.S. hurdler, published in last Sunday’s paper. His apology, for what it’s worth, sounds sincere. But unfortunately, his explanation misses the most important points that have been made about Longman’s piece.
Posted this afternoon at the Times’ Public Editor’s Journal blog, Brisbane essentially issued the same letter that he’s been sending to outraged readers, as follows:
Thanks for your message. I have received several complaints about this. The article by Jere Longman appeared under the Olympics-coverage “In the Rings” signature, which The Times uses to signify that the article is a point-of-view piece and not straight news coverage. This means, in The Times’s style, that the writer has some latitude to insert his own perspective.
I have written in the past about problems that arise with this approach, which sometimes translates into too much opinion appearing in the news columns. In this particular case, I think the writer was particularly harsh, even unnecessarily so.
I queried the sports editor about it, and his response was that “One person’s harsh is another person’s tough minded,” and that the writer, “while acknowledging Jones’s accomplishment and qualities of perseverance and candor, thinks this female athlete fell short.”
I believe writers like Jere Longman, who does have a long and worthy track record at The Times, should have some room to express their hard-earned perspective. But this piece struck me as quite harsh and left me, along with others, wondering why the tone was so strong.
Thanks for expressing your view. The sports desk is certainly aware at this point that a number of readers were unhappy about the piece.
As an editor who often deals with angry emails and comments from readers about the opinions expressed on Blisstree, I understand Brisbane’s defense of the difference between opinion and fact, and appreciate his willingness to defend, as he puts it, a writer’s “room to express their hard-earned perspective.” But the article wasn’t just “too harsh,” and it wasn’t just just the tone that was upsetting. It was the implicit racism and sexism that made it hard for so many people to swallow, especially coming from a veteran sports reporter, and a source like the New York Times.
Longman blamed Jones for the media’s sexism, faulting her for sharing her personal story and posing nude for ESPN three years ago. Several commenters agreed that his own implicit sexism was upsetting, and many took issue with the racism implicit in his description of her “exotic beauty.” (Remember: She’s a U.S. Olympic athlete who grew up in Iowa.)
One reader even took the time to email, calling attention to Longman’s choice of descriptors:
Why did they have to use the word “exotic” to describe the beauty of a biracial person? I’m soooo tired of that nonsense.
My wife and I are an interracial couple, and we’ve faced that same kind of rubbish for 33 years now. At some time you have to grow a thick skin, and realize some people are just stupid, jealous, losers.
Whatever you might say about Longman’s tone, or his editor’s choice to run the piece two days before Jones’ event in the Olympics, I think the sexism and racism deserves a sincere apology–from Brisbane, but especially from Jere Longman and his editor at the sports desk.