Friday, Mar 28, 2014, 6:16 pm · By Lindsay Beyerstein
Stephen Colbert is not a blowhard right-wing cable news host, but he plays one on The Colbert Report. The Stephen Colbert of The Colbert Report is a sexist, racist, egomaniacal jingoist, whom Stephen Colbert the comic describes as a willfully ignorant idiot.
A recent episode of the Report included a bit mocking Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins football team, for setting up a bogus “Original Americans Foundation” in attempt to distract the public from the fact that his team’s name is a racial slur against the aforementioned original Americans. Despite widespread public revulsion, Snyder has refused to change his team’s name. Apparently, he’s okay with the fact that some high-profile sports reporters pointedly refuse to use the R-word in their coverage of the team.
To ridicule Snyder, Colbert revived the character of Ching Chong Ding Dong, a yellowface caricature. Ching Chong debuted on The Colbert Report in 2005 in a sketch in which Stephen the Conservative Talk Show Host got “caught” doing his racist Ching Chong impression on a live satellite feed:
Friday, Mar 21, 2014, 12:41 pm · By Lindsay Beyerstein
Last week, Christine Fox (Twitter handle: @SteenFox) asked her 13,000 Twitter followers to describe what they were wearing when they were sexually assaulted. Answers poured in from women raped in their pajamas, in their work clothes, and in outfits they wore as little girls. “White jeans, yellow shirt. Roller skates for the 1st part of the night - I was 15 & it was my first date,” was one reply.
BuzzFeed reporter Jessica Testa noticed the outpouring of tweets and wrote a post about the “What Were You Wearing” conversation.
Testa’s write-up included several tweets from survivors, which she used with their permission. This is in keeping with the longstanding journalistic tradition of protecting the identities of rape victims when a story identifies them as such. Testa did not, however, get permission from Fox to write a story about the “What Were You Wearing?” phenomenon. In the post, BuzzFeed reproduced the photo that Fox used on her public twitter profile. Fox demanded that her photo be removed and BuzzFeed ultimately relented.
A firestorm of criticism and a debate on journalistic ethics ensued. Supporters of Fox asked BuzzFeed and Poynter’s Kelly McBride—who wrote a piece defending Testa’s actions—to take down their articles. Critics contrasted BuzzFeed’s article to a similar piece run by The Root's Jenée Desmond Harris, who talked with Fox before publishing her tweets.
Tuesday, Feb 25, 2014, 2:03 pm · By Lindsay Beyerstein
One morning in 2012, a man snuck up behind Erika Anderson on a busy sidewalk in Crown Heights and shoved his hand between her legs. When Anderson went to the 77th Precinct station to report the attack, she was surprised to learn the crime rate in her new neighborhood. She wrote about the experience for the New York Times in a piece entitled, “On Being Both the Wolf and the Lamb.”
Anderson believes that her assault had something to do with her being a white woman in a predominantly Caribbean neighborhood. This is a dubious assumption to say the least. The latest NYPD crime statistics map puts the 77th Precinct in the same risk bracket as many precincts containing many much whiter neighborhoods including tony Brooklyn Heights and much of Manhattan below Central Park.
Anderson writes about Crown Heights as if its crime rate is inextricably tied to its racial makeup. “Contributing to the crime map was the first and only sign that I belonged,” she says, as if being victimized on the street is part and parcel of belonging in Crown Heights. Whereas, when someone gets groped in Brooklyn Heights, we don’t reflexively reach for racial explanations.
And then there’s the issue of race — like most gentrifiers, I am white, and the largely Caribbean neighborhood is not. I had been riding the sea foam of the latest wave of gentrification on a blow-up dolphin from Disney World.
Sunday, Jan 26, 2014, 11:39 am · By Lindsay Beyerstein
The good news is that, in Texas, women’s second-class citizenship lasts only as long as they live. The bad news is that pregnant women who refuse life-sustaining treatment by advance directive must still be kept alive against their wishes.
A judge ruled Friday that a Tarrant County hospital must disconnect the ventilator from Marlise Muňoz’s dead body by 5pm on Monday, a ruling the hospital may still appeal.
Monday, Jan 13, 2014, 12:19 pm · By Lindsay Beyerstein
Lisa Bonchek Adams blogs and Tweets about the nitty gritty details of life with Stage IV breast cancer, and Emma Keller thinks that’s incredibly tacky. In a piece last week for the Guardian, Keller implied that Adams’ Tweeting is worse than a “funeral selfie,” which is blueblood code for the tackiest thing one could possibly do.
A funeral selfie is social death, which as we all know, counts far more than physical death in the eyes of the people who matter. These are the people who refer to cancer as “the Big C” and dread colonoscopies because it’s awkward to let a golfing buddy put a camera up one’s derriere, even if he did go to Harvard Medical School.
Monday, Jan 6, 2014, 12:51 pm · By Lindsay Beyerstein
The family of 13-year-old Jahi McMath removed her dead body, still attached to a ventilator, from the hospital on Sunday. A court order gave the family the power to remove their daughter’s body as long as her mother accepted full responsibility of the consequences. The family claims that an undisclosed medical facility will take over the case, but so far, no facility has publicly said they are willing to do so. News broke last week that the Life and Hope Foundation, a “prolife” group founded by Terri Schiavo’s family, has been working behind the scene on the McMath court case.
McMath was declared brain dead on Dec 12. She lost a lot of blood after a complex tonsillectomy at a children’s hospital in Oakland, California, and then her heart stopped. The resulting oxygen deprivation completely destroyed her brain, including her brain stem, and she died. Six doctors have confirmed that she is brain dead. Whole-brain death is legal death in the state of California and it has been since 1982.
Monday, Dec 16, 2013, 6:00 pm · By Lindsay Beyerstein
Slate pundit Matthew Yglesias drew feminist ire last week for an off-color tweet promoting a post about Paul Ryan’s hypocrisy on the budget deal. “Here’s how Paul Ryan is like a girl doing oral and anal to keep her promise ring,” the business and liberal economics blogger tweeted.
Yglesias’ language was crass, but his underlying analogy is sound. The budget deal allows Ryan to preserve his fiscal purity by not technically raising taxes. Instead, taxpayers will simply pay more in user fees.
Tuesday, Dec 3, 2013, 8:34 pm · By Lindsay Beyerstein
The U.S. press is buzzing about an Italian woman who was forced to undergo a Cesarean section while she was hospitalized for a mental breakdown in the United Kingdom. The child was placed in foster care after the local social service agency determined that she was too sick to return to Italy with her baby. In February, a judge decided that the child should be put up for adoption.
This sad case raises a number of ethical and legal issues, and shoddy journalism has muddied all of them. Last week, The Telegraph broke the news under the sensational headline, 'Operate on this mother so that we can take her baby." The headline was set off with quotation marks, giving the misleading impression that anyone (besides the editors of the Telegraph) said anything of the kind.
The Telegraph reporter, Christopher Booker, claimed that the woman was hospitalized after she suffered "something of a panic attack" on a business trip to London, which makes her affliction sound like the psychiatric equivalent of the sniffles. In fact, the woman was committed under Section 3 of the Mental Health Act, a process reserved for very sick patients. Two doctors would have had to certify that her mental illness was so severe that she had to be hospitalized to protect herself or others. The woman’s name is being withheld to protect her privacy. In fact, very few details been made public about the woman’s medical history or the evidence presented to the courts regarding her fitness to parent.
Thursday, Nov 28, 2013, 3:03 pm · By Lindsay Beyerstein
This week, the Supreme Court announced that it would hear a pair of cases challenging large employers’ obligation to provide comprehensive health insurance for their employees, including birth control. The owners of Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp insist that Obamacare violates their companies’ religious freedom by requiring them to pay part of the cost of minimally acceptable insurance for their workers. Why? Because, according to Hobby Lobby’s lawyers, the emergency contraceptive known as Plan B causes abortions, which a devout corporation (?!) like Hobby Lobby shouldn’t have to pay for.
Hobby Lobby’s owners aren’t arguing that birth control violates their faith per se, they’re just nursing a crackpot theory that certain forms of birth control cause abortions.
We’re all entitled to our own religious beliefs, but we’re not entitled to our own set of facts. Someone should have taken Hobby Lobby aside a long time ago and said, “Relax, these forms of birth control don’t cause abortions. Go back to selling silk flowers and glue guns, secure in the knowledge that you are not underwriting any form of abortion.” Don’t they have lower courts for that?
Wednesday, Nov 20, 2013, 7:44 pm · By Lindsay Beyerstein
By now, you may have heard that women who took birth control pills for at least three years were twice as likely to develop glaucoma later in life. The germ of this story was a press release by the American Academy of Ophthalmology touting a paper that was presented this week at the Academy’s annual meeting in New Orleans. The study made headlines on ABC News, TIME, CNN and other major outlets. Mainstream outlets ran with headlines like, “Long-Term Pill Use May Double Glaucoma Risk.” The headlines got more sensational as the news diffused outwards to less prestigious outlets. The SheKnows blog ran with the headline, “Could Birth Control Make You Go Blind?”
As Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux explains in The American Prospect, the significance of this study has been wildly overblown. No single study ever settles a scientific question. You always have to look at how a study fits with the evidence as a whole. So far, other studies have not found a a strong link between birth control pills and glaucoma.
Remember that a press release represents the puffery of the salesperson, even when the source is a respected medical society. The AAO wants to make this research sound as newsworthy as possible, so the press release stresses the doubling of the risk, and the burden of glaucoma (60 million sufferers worldwide, a major cause of blindness). It’s the reporter’s responsibility to ask the tough questions that might make the study seem less newsworthy. Unfortunately, in this case, the media set aside the tough questions and played along.