We’ve gotten a lot of different responses to this piece – which we wrote in response to a piece by Cat Marnell–health and beauty director at XOJane–in which she describes using Plan B as her primary form of birth control. To make a long story short, we called Cat Marnell a reckless idiot and implied XO Jane was some sort of experimental part of the infinite monkey theorem. We apologize to anyone who interpreted this to mean that immortality drugs have finally been developed for literary monkeys, especially when funding for such a program is still so far off. Our coverage has been called hateful, sometimes more rationally than others. To which I think we’ve all agreed – at TheGloss, we may be jerks, but we are never ambivalent.
Finally, after much debate, XOJane EIC Jane Pratt deigned to respond (I know about this piece because her publicist keeps writing to make sure I saw it). It goes like this:
At xoJane, we’re into bias. We like dissent. We’re down with conflicting opinions. We dig on people who have different positions and different politics and who own them. We want folks to tell their stories and explain how those experiences have shaped them. And we also want you to make up your own minds about stuff.
We want all this to happen even at the expense of having a predictable, identifiable, unchallenging “voice” that we all attempt to share, because that’s all it can ever be: an attempt. It’s impossible to ever be truly free of the little details that make us who we are, and at xoJane we believe that these differences are valuable, and we want to see them.
At TheGloss, we’re into bias. We like dissent. And we’re down with conflicting opinions (as long as they’re not opinions from people who don’t like our articles, those people are haters). We also dig on people who have different positions and politics and who own them.
Insofar as that is reasonable and responsible.
Because we do not believe that every opinion is equally valid.
That’s why, when, each week our culture editor pitches me an article entitled “Jews: The Inferior Race” I always say “Leni, you’ve got to cool it with that. Because 70 years later you still have no medical evidence, and this article is just you saying ‘get it together’ and talking about how you think seeing Jews makes you fat. And that you only need condoms if you have sex a lot. It’s really irresponsible.”
I do that because as an editor it would be incredibly immoral for me to let that sort of unsubstantiated nonsense run on a site under the guise of someone being a health editor. I don’t care if Leni is “spunky” and “has a great voice” and “makes awesome video content.” If a site influences the opinion of even one person, you have a social responsibility to try not to tell people things that are factually inaccurate (like, for instance, the pill will make you fat, or suggesting that condoms are only necessary if you have sex really often). On a more selfish note, I do it because it would be personally embarrassing to run that article if that site bore my name on the masthead.
Now, I realize that no one on the Internet has the fact checking team that exists at the NY Times. I wish we did. I have no doubt that, at TheGloss, we’ve inadvertently published things that are in error. But any kind of journalism – whether it’s on the Internet or in print – necessitates some sense of responsibility to your readers.
When Jane Pratt writes, before talking about how they love unique voices:
“Real” journalism — although what does that even mean these days? — demands a voice that attempts to be free of bias in the interest of bringing you the bare facts and letting you make up your mind about them.
No, it doesn’t. Op/Ed sections are standard. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever written for a print publication that hasn’t let me use my own voice to a reasonable extent. That’s generally why they hire you – because they like your voice. Much though they seem to like to believe so, XOJane is not doing something new and edgy in allowing writers to have a voice, because plenty of publications do that.
However, actively and knowingly lying to readers – as you do when you let an article run that says birth control makes you fat – is the reason people doubt that “real journalism exists on the Internet.”
Once you do that, you should expect every other publication online to attack you. Because you gave someone a title of health editor and then allowed her to publish egregious misinformation. People are not hating on the staff at XOJane because they want to hurt them or because they’re haters or because they hate feminism, choice, voices, individuality, etc. People are hating on the piece – and yes, the site – because the editors at XOJane did something stupid. That is okay. We all mess up sometimes. If that happens, you apologize, and you try to do better tomorrow.
Or not. Or you could take no responsibility for what you’ve published and instead congratulate yourself for “giving each woman the agency of her own story, and the freedom to be whatever kind of woman she wants to be. We don’t ask our writers to change themselves to fit any mold.”
God. Sound and fury.
If you’re an editor, you don’t have to get your writers to fit a mold, but many of us do feel some sense of responsibility to our writers. I can’t speak to every editor, but I like everyone who writes for TheGloss. That is to say, I want them to have happy lives and promising futures. I think we’ve run some pieces that have been pretty controversial, for instance, Jamie’s piece about being sexually harassed by Terry Richardson (which I realize the people at XOJane think is LOLFUNNY!) and, before we’ve done so, we’ve talked about possible outcomes, considered publishing them anonymously (in Jamie’s piece it seemed important not to do so as there were already copious anonymous allegations) and, at the very least, edited them to make sure they presented the writer in a fair and rational light.
We did it because it’s our job, and because the Internet never forgets. Any time Cat Marnell applies for a job in the future, someone will Google her, and this will be the first thing that comes up. Sure, she might be able to get a job writing someplace else. Crazier people have done it (hi, Liz Jones!) but she will only be encouraged to write more and more incendiary posts wherein people will laugh at her. That will be her value. Writing a post like this and publishing it is the kind of thing that every editor should know has the potential to destroy a writer’s career, and certainly the potential to keep them from being taken seriously ever again. Sometimes, an editor’s job is… is like being a catcher in the rye!
God, that was awful. Sorry. But the fact that Jane Pratt saw a post from a girl half her age talking about habitual drug use and multiple abortions and didn’t at least think to edit it into some semblance of coherence, well, that is flat-out evil. Publishing a response accompanied by an incredibly manipulative photo of yourself clutching a child does not change that. Because making some attempt to look out for people they’ve employed is not just what a good editor does, it’s what a good person does.
But then Jane claims:
Even feminists live in the real world, and sometimes feel bad about our bodies or make irresponsible choices. We are products of the same society we may not always agree with. We are ambivalent. We don’t want to censor that ambivalence out of writers’ lives or work.
I know that when you grow up your heart dies and seemingly gets replaced by Michael Stipe’s phone number, but really? For all the crowing they’ve done about standing behind Cat Marnell, XOJane has never once addressed the astonishing inaccuracies and blithe irresponsibility in her post. For all they’ve done to deflect this controversy with a load of sanctimonious bullshit about encouraging “different opinions,” they’ve sure been hostile to ours. And in all of this, the justification has been… “At XOJane, we’re ambivalent?”
Well, at TheGloss, we’re not.
And now, that really is all.
P.S. Remember this?