Home / journalism / ‘Who is Daniel Holtzclaw?’ a postmortem

‘Who is Daniel Holtzclaw?’ a postmortem


Lemieux has already shared Deadspin’s take down of SB Nation’s 12K word paean to a serial rapist, but Deadspin’s pm is equally worth a read.

Not only is it a fine piece of writing that provides insight into how journalism happens, it answers such questions as was the story actually edited before it saw daylight? (A lot). Was anyone canned for this massive clusterfuck? (Yes.) And what SB Nation editorial director Spencer Hall meant when he called the story’s publishing a “complete break down of the editorial process.” (See the Tweet and read on.)

To review, here’s what reporter Jeff Arnold said he set out to do:

I hoped to present a more fully-rounded portrait of Mr. Holtzclaw than had appeared in the press. I hoped to explore the question of what had happened to this once-promising young man.

Where promising = played college football, apparently.

I and my editor at SB Nation hoped to find possible answers as to what could have led to him to become a convicted rapist and sexual predator.

Actually, the sexual predator part came before the conviction. But at any rate, if one sets one’s expectations to “Beneficiary of patriarchal society enabling and protecting same,” then that’s exactly what Arnold did.

Of course Arnold’s statement came a few days after the story ran. On Feb. 15, two days before it ran, the finished piece reached senior editor Elena Bergeron. Bergeron is neither white, nor a man, but she is a journalist and also a professional who took time from her busy day to try to save these cretins from themselves. Or at least SB Nation Longform from the cretins.

… Bergeron held a conference call with Floyd and Stout. Bergeron said the tone was, from the very beginning, off. She repeated that there hadn’t been enough journalistic due diligence, and that the stark reality of the situation—that the subject of the story was a man who had recently been convicted of using his station to rape and prey on 13 black women—was never met head on. If nothing else, given SB Nation’s partnership with the national anti-sexual assault organization It’s On Us, the very language used regarding the sexual assault was inconsistent with their new editorial standards. Stout, though, disregarded Bergeron’s objections, and the intense conversation devolved into an argument over the phone. When the three hung up, the problem was unresolved, and it was still unresolved on Wednesday morning.

Incidentally, SB Nation Longform editor Glenn Stout sent the final story out on Feb. 11, but for reasons one can speculate upon, did not include Bergeron in that email. She received it from another editor two days before it ran. So “complete breakdown of the editorial process” isn’t strictly correct, since one editor did stand athwart the train wreck and cry “Stop!” Once she saw the story.

Do I think this sort of thing will happen again? Of course I do, because even people who “get it” still don’t get it.

Among other things, this story serves as an example of why diversity in the newsroom is so important. It isn’t because diversity is charity, or because giving opportunities to people other than white men is a Christlike thing to do, but because everyone has blind spots, and everyone fucks up.

Except the “blind spots” that resulted in WDH? form the basis for this society, so sprinkling diversity angels around the newsroom to keep the fellas from “fucking up” is like squirting hydrogen peroxide into a stage 3 bedsore.

Bergeron was there, and the best-suited to work on the story alongside Arnold and Stout—not just because she’s the only person of color and the only woman among SBNation.com’s top layer of editors, but because she’s capable and experienced.
Not only did Stout never enlist her to cover his and Arnold’s blindspots, though, but when she did so anyway, he disregarded her, and was empowered to do so.

The idea that Bergeron ought to have been called in to help Arnold write this piece is equal parts aggravating and ick-making.

If one acknowledges that a reporter has blindspots so huge that he forgets Reporting 101, that reporter doesn’t need a nanny, that reporter needs to not write the story.

And in retrospect we see that his blindspots (and apparently Stout’s) would have meant that a black woman would have had to work with a couple of creepy clods – one of them her supervisor – who had difficulty seeing the black women and girls Holtzclaw attacked as victims, or even humans.

Um. Even though I’m going to assume that her normal job duties include close supervision of freelancers, I don’t know what to say to this other than NO. That’s a rotten, bad, no good idea that reeks of misogynoir.

However, I do agree that Bergeron is capable and experienced.

She is so capable and experienced that in less that 24 hours she was able to detect, collate and explain the flaws in Arnold’s reporting that everyone else, including Stout, missed during an intensive two month writing and editing process.

The thing to do with someone like Bergeron is not to have her work alongside anyone, especially anyone like Arnold. It is to put her in charge of the shop.

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