Archive for the ‘journalism’ Category

I’m not saying she’s a slut for being a stripper, but…

March 26, 2012

You don’t have to call someone a slut for your words to be considered slut-shaming. Houston Press writer Richard Connelly, who reports about everything from crime to sports, didn’t say the word “slut” in his 600+ expose on Houston Chronicle reporter Sarah Tressler’s moonlighting as a stripper. But his words spoke for themselves, shaming a woman who dared report on the society page by day and strip by night.

So my question is: So what? Is it a scandal that she spent time in high society among the elite, and then took her clothes for the assumed lower class? (I’m sure rich people don’t go to strip clubs or do anything prsumably dirty! NEVER!!!!) I can see that being a surprise to people — it might be more of a cultural shock in Texas, where I think acting “ladylike” is emphasized more than, say, the Midwest.

She’s also an adult who’s got a right to report, teach as a college professor, and strip if she wants to. I like that this reporter — and probably tons of other people — want to make sure her identity stays defined as primarily one of these things. Because once you admit to voluntarily taking your clothes off for money, or having sex on camera for money, etc., then it’s impossible to be anything else. You’ve dropped a rank in societal standards, it’s unthinkable you’d interact with high-class people — but Richard, you’re right, you never said the word “slut.”

You just downgraded her writing as tasteless and highlighted that her co-workers were furious, complaining that she obviously “flaunted” her stripper money by wearing nice clothes and owning designer purses. I know plenty of people at my office who wear nice clothes and have designer bags — should I be mad that they spent their money on these things, or is it only when it’s stripper money that we should be pissed about what people spend with their own cash?

I have a lot of mixed feelings about shaming women who choose to strip, do porn, etc. Especially when they aren’t actively doing those things anymore, but them just being a part of their past limits women’s access to jobs. I remember a while back that a teacher was fired because she had a porn star past; that Sasha Grey was banned from reading books to children as part of a charitable effort. She doesn’t want to have sex in front of a bunch of first graders. She wants to read them a damn book.

Maybe you don’t like Tressler’s writing style — that’s fine. But I think it’s easy to read between the lines of Richard’s piece to see his disdain for her profession — and her — in what to me seems like an attempt at public humiliation (aka slut-shaming) of some sort. From his update — just calling her choices “interesting” — it seems he might’ve ended up more humiliated.


Social context for DSK apologists followed by victim-blaming

May 26, 2011

You know, this Daily Beast article discussing how sexual harassment has historically been downplayed in France had potential. Nina Sutton, a French female journalist about the same age as former IMF director and alleged sexual assailant Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK), described how in the ’70s, a male boss would approaching his female subordinate and “[grab] her breasts with both hands while making some lewd comment or depositing a kiss on her neck.”

It provides a window into why many French men of DSK’s age are dismissing the severity or legitimacy of these sexual assault allegations, writing defenses that simultaneously exemplify rape apologism and victim-blaming. I appreciate the social context, but I don’t appreciate that it takes a turn for the worse and inevitably plays into that same victim-blaming she so blatantly associates with older French men:

And the accusations were so numerous, they seemed so extravagant—I still find it hard to believe that, in 28 minutes, a 62-year-old man weighing some 224 pounds can rape three ways (per the complaint) an unwilling woman of 32, pack his suitcase and (we all know he was naked) get dressed adequately enough to appear composed to a couple of French tourists in the elevator—that it was difficult for many of us to feel sympathy for the woman who was said to have uttered them.

It’s exhausting reading all the DSK-related articles that start reasonably, just to arrive at, “Now I’m not saying she’s a liar, but [insert comment implying she is a liar].” No one should brush off allegations simply because the people involved didn’t have physical appearances that match how we think a rapist or a victim look like, or when the time frame doesn’t fit how long we think a sexual assault would last. In fact, it is mindboggling that someone even suggested that it didn’t last long enough to qualify as plausible.

This mindset runs dangerously close to mimicking the blasé attitude toward sexual harassment and assault that Sutton discussed in her article, so it’s especially concerning that she shares this feeling.

Ben Stein’s defense of DSK: Economists don’t rape people

May 18, 2011

Ben Stein thinks that economists can’t be rapists or sexual assailants because, I mean, have you ever heard of an economist raping someone? I guess since you can’t think of one off the top of your head, it means economists aren’t rapists. This wise piece of evidence is just one of several ridiculous defenses of Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK), who was recently accused of sexually assaulting and attempting to rape a hotel maid in New York City on May 15.

I’ve heard a lot of different defenses against these allegations. That he fell victim to a “honey trap,” an attempt to sabotage him both as the powerful head of the IMF and the strongest challenger to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, is the most popular conspiracy theory, as it was with Julian Assange’s sexual assault allegations in the wake of Wikileaks’ growing prominence in the media. But Ben Stein’s take the cake — either they are typical victim-blaming/ignorant claims, or they are simply non-sensical. Let’s take a look, shall we?

1. If he is such a womanizer and violent guy with women, why didn’t he ever get charged until now?

I don’t have a law degree, but I’m going to say that “he didn’t get caught before” isn’t a solid explanation for why someone is innocent of all charges. Someone should tell Ben Stein that people do, in fact, get away with crimes. Sometimes, they get away with a lot of crimes and aren’t caught until much later. Sometimes they are never caught. My mom has been driving for nearly 40 years and hasn’t gotten a speeding ticket — but that doesn’t mean she never speeds (she rarely isn’t speeding, actually …).

But what I think Ben is trying to imply is that if he had a long history of violence toward women, surely something would have come out before now. A journalist claims she wanted to come forward about being sexually assaulted but was convinced not to for political reasons. While being powerful might lead one to more public scrutiny, it also leads one to being able to hide a lot of information. Whether it be through cash, other bribes, or intimidation, people with power and money can keep things swept under the rug for a long time.

Oh, and there’s also a huge stigma around sexual assault that influences underreporting — in fact, about 60 percent of rapes and sexual assaults aren’t reported to police. The trauma of sexual assault, any threats the sexual assailant might have made if the victim reports the crime, the self-blaming, the victim-blaming, and the re-opening of trauma that would happen in a courtroom, lead people to shy away from reporting sexual assaults. So, many people get away with it.

2. In life, events tend to follow patterns. People who commit crimes tend to be criminals, for example. Can anyone tell me any economists who have been convicted of violent sex crimes?

Oh shit, Ben Stein! You’re so right! People who commit crimes tend to be employed as “criminals,” and they don’t usually hold any other jobs. People’s jobs are values-based, with economists being on the morally superior scale of the spectrum, and those other people being “criminals.” Because, again, all criminals are duly accused of crimes and never get away with it, and criminals do not assume identities as people with non-criminal jobs.

Did you know, Ben Stein, that people suspect an economist from Zimbabwe (also a noted “womanizer”) raped an 11-year-old girl? Or that CEO of American Apparel, Dov Charney, has been accused of sexual assault? Did you know that in the Catholic church there’s a lot of controversy about some priests molesting children? Did you know that people can be successful financially and professionally but still be really terrible and violent?

Also, did you know that “undetected rapists” are prevalent in society? These are people who have raped other people but haven’t been caught or convicted. In fact, nearly two-thirds of undetected rapists are serial rapists (is that the same as “womanizer”?). So there definitely could be a pattern here, if you accept that people who don’t look like criminals might actually be criminals, and that someone’s personal characteristics — whether it be gender, race, class, job, etc. — don’t automatically exclude them from criminal activity, in the same way they don’t guarantee criminal activity.

3. The prosecutors say that Mr. Strauss-Kahn “forced” the complainant to have oral and other sex with him. How? Did he have a gun? Did he have a knife? He’s a short fat old man. They were in a hotel with people passing by the room constantly, if it’s anything like the many hotels I am in. How did he intimidate her in that situation? And if he was so intimidating, why did she immediately feel un-intimidated enough to alert the authorities as to her story?

I just had to include the entire question here. Oddly enough, undetected rapists “use psychological weapons – power, control, manipulation, and threats – backed up by physical force, and almost never resort to weapons such as knives or guns,” but that’s just food for thought. And yeah Ben Stein, maybe he did have a weapon. Or maybe he threatened her. Or maybe she was so scared since he had allegedly already physically attacked her that she was terrified what would happen otherwise.

Him being a short, fat man doesn’t mean anything. So if he did sexually assault her, it’s her fault because he looks non-threatening to another old man? Of course you don’t think DSK is threatening Ben Stein, because you aren’t worried he might attack you and sexually assault you. So good for you for thinking he is not intimidating, but you’re also not a likely target of this alleged “womanizer.”

And how many people do you think pass by a $3,000 a night suite in a hotel? I doubt it’s like the Holiday Inn where rooms are cramped together. But even so, maybe people did hear and just walked past. People do this all the time. And even if it was a populated place, does that mean that rape can’t happen in populated places? People are sexually assaulted on subways and trains all the time, with plenty of people watching. And being intimidated while a guy is attacking you is different than when you’ve escaped and the guy isn’t around anymore. (And maybe you’re terrified he’ll find you again if you don’t get him arrested?)

4. Did the prosecutors really convince a judge that he was a flight risk when he was getting on a flight he had booked long beforehand?

It doesn’t make a difference when he booked the flight — it makes a difference that the alleged sexual assault occurred right before he knew he was about the board a flight, that he was heading back to a country that wouldn’t extradite him, and that he is a powerful, rich man who has the means to skip town if awarded bail.

5. Did he really have to be put in Riker’s Island? Couldn’t he have been given home detention with a guard? This is a man with a lifetime of public service, on a distinguished level, to put it mildly.

Sorry, but you don’t get to trade good deeds for bad ones. Being a distinguished guy doesn’t mean you should get special treatment when charged with sexual assault and attempted rape. Though I’ll admit that everything I know about Riker’s Island I learned from Law & Order: SVU.

6. What do we know about the complainant besides that she is a hotel maid? I love and admire hotel maids. They have incredibly hard jobs and they do them uncomplainingly. I am sure she is a fine woman. On the other hand, I have had hotel maids that were complete lunatics, stealing airline tickets from me, stealing money from me, throwing away important papers, stealing medications from me.

I see why Ben Stein is so confused — he’s never known an economist who was violent toward women so they don’t exist, and he knew a hotel maid who was a thief (aka criminal) so they all must be criminals. My little brother stole my Pokemon cards when I was 12, and I’ve been suspicious of all other little brothers I encounter ever since. Also, under this mode of thinking, can I assume all former presidential speech writers and game show hosts are ridiculous and ignorant when it comes to sexual assault?

7. Right off the bat [Diane Sawyer] leads the Monday news by saying that Mr. Strauss-Kahn is in Riker’s… “because one woman stood her ground…” That assumes she’s telling the truth and he’s guilty. No such thing has been proved and it’s unfortunate for ABC to simply assume that an accusation is the same as a conviction.

OK Ben, I’ll agree with you on this one. Charges and convictions are not the same thing, so people — especially journalists — should be careful to note that DSK is an alleged sexual assailant.

8. In what possible way is the price of the hotel room relevant except in every way: this is a case about the hatred of the have-nots for the haves, and that’s what it’s all about. A man pays $3,000 a night for a hotel room? He’s got to be guilty of something. Bring out the guillotine.

Boo hoo. I think the price of the hotel room is important because it illustrates that DSK is a wealthy man, and likely a powerful man, too. His wealth is a talking point for people who think he’s guilty because it makes him a flight risk, and his wealth points to his power, and his power might be involved in this alleged sexually assault; his wealth is a talking point for people who think he’s innocent, and that he is a target for sabotage because of his wealth and power. It’s important.

But poor people do always revolt against rich people who have been committing crimes and misdeeds. That’s why Charlie Sheen — who has an extensive history of violence against women, drug use, etc. — is on the guillotine right now. Oh wait — he’s selling out concert venues on his tour and is really popular right now. I guess just being rich doesn’t automatically make people hate you? (I really wish this were true Ben, in the case of Charlie.)


I don’t know if Ben Stein was trying to be satirical, but I am afraid he is genuinely serious here. (And even if he isn’t, there are a lot of people who likely believe these defenses are solid.) The ideas that the only criminals who exist have a documented criminal history, that victims of crimes aren’t silenced or intimidated into silence, that a woman can’t be forced to perform oral sex, that a powerful man isn’t a flight risk — I just can’t help but staring at my computer screen and thinking, “WTF? People used to compete against your intelligence to win money and they often lost?”

Female columnist promotes rape, slut-shaming, lies about PP

March 4, 2011

Victim-blaming, slut-shaming, and feminist-bashing are abhorrent coming from men, but they are exponentially worse coming from women. This column from The Daily Collegian, the college newspaper for the University of Massachusetts, was actually briefly taken offline because it was so offensive. (I’ll throw out a trigger warning right now.) The author is a young woman who believes that sometimes women deserve rape, contraception doesn’t affect abortion rates, and “feminist liberation” has turned everyone into nymphomaniacs. Shall we chronologically take a look at some of the claims?

1a. Planned Parenthood isn’t a charity

Author Yevgeniya Lomakina jumps right in, making blatantly wrong claims about Planned Parenthood and its services:

It is a business. It is not, however, a charitable organization, as it is portrayed by its many supporters. Their services are not free, although they may be cheaper than regular hospitals.

Actually, it is a charitable organization. A section 501(c)(3) organization that files tax forms in accordance with its tax-exempt, charitable status. I can see how this information would be difficult to find, considering it’s on the Planned Parenthood website, alongside the actual tax forms they file.

Also, did you know that “charitable organization” doesn’t mean that you just give stuff away for free? You see, it’s charitable because it offers low-cost services to people who otherwise couldn’t afford them. It’s actually really helpful, because low-income women can get cancer screenings, prenatal care, pap tests, and contraception at reduced prices. I’m pretty sure the condoms are free, though.

1b. Planned Parenthood posts misleading/false information on its website

After proving that Planned Parenthood is in fact a business because it doesn’t do everything for free, the author next points out a glaring error in the numbers on the Planned Parenthood website:

According to the American Life League, Planned Parenthood performed 289,750 abortions in 2006. The number rose to 324,008 in 2008. However, the organization’s website misleads in reporting that abortions constitute only 3 percent of its services. In reality, it performs about 23 percent of all abortions performed each year in the U.S.

Now the numbers here are right (see the 2006-2007 annual report and this 2008 fact sheet), but they aren’t misleading or contradicting each other. The difference is that the 23 percent is Planned Parenthood’s abortion services compared with other abortion providers’ — the 3 percent is Planned Parenthood’s abortion services compared with other services within itself.

2. Sex is now shameless

The author writes:

Sex has become a service, like any other, but without fiscal exchange or shame.  It is no longer associated with love, marriage or a committed relationship.

Really? Because I’m pretty sure that sentence is 100 percent slut-shaming, as is the entire column.

3. If you wear a short skirt, you deserve to get raped

By far, this assertion makes my blood boil more than anything:

If a young woman wears a promiscuous outfit to a party, then proceeds to drink and flirt excessively, she should not blame men for her downfall. She made a decision to dress a certain way, to consume alcohol and should be prepared to deal with the consequences. Far from being a victim of rape, she is a victim of her own choices.

Pardon my French, but that is fucking ridiculous. There is NO scenario in which a woman deserves to be raped. There is no time when a man has the right to force a woman to have sex with him against her will. There is no skirt length, alcohol level, or flirtation level — nothing. And it’s this kind of bullshit that blames women for wearing the wrong thing or saying the wrong thing or drinking the wrong amount instead of pointing the finger at the rapist.

But our author is not the cold-hearted person she seems, as she does think rape is bad:

This is not to say that rape is inexistent. Sexual crimes should be punished to the fullest extent of the law.

Rape exists, just not if you’re sexually active or flirtatious or wearing clothes that show too much skin. It’s only a crime when it happens to someone who has made good, moral choices, and then the rapist is a criminal. This makes me want to slam my head into my desk about 348 times.

4. Having sex with men is giving them the “upper hand”

The author writes:

With the easy accessibility of noncommittal sex, men have gained or recaptured the upper hand in relationships. Women, instead of acclaiming “sexual liberation” have received, at the least, a bad reputation.

Read my recent post about this idea of men having an “upper hand” because women will have casual sex with them. Also, let’s note the additional slut-shaming. You know, the “bad reputation” only comes because people associate women having casual sex as bad, and men having casual sex as good — they have the “upper hand” when they get it.

And why is women trading commitment for sex any better than women trading sex for sex? Why are people so attached to the notion that men won’t commit unless you withhold sex from them? Why is this entire article blaming women for wanting to have sex and giving men a pass for wanting to having sex?

5. Abortion and the morning-after pill are the same thing

An often-used political ploy is juxtaposing two things in hopes that the reader or listener begins to associate them with each other, without the speaker ever directly linking them:

Abortion is also viewed in a different way. For many, it is no longer a last resort for victims of rape or in other emergencies. It is simply regarded as “Plan B.” In a Planned Parenthood YouTube advertisement for the “morning after” pill, a woman states the scenarios in which the product may be useful.

Note the transition from abortion as a “Plan B” to the morning-after pill, commonly called “Plan B.” This is likely an attempt to lump together morning-after pills with abortion, but the morning-after pill is not the abortion pill. They are completely separate, and the morning-after pill doesn’t terminate pregnancies. The morning-after pill is over-the-counter; the abortion pill is not.

6. Birth control doesn’t prevent abortions

The author says it plain and simple:

More contraception does not translate to fewer abortions.

If you look in the aforementioned Planned Parenthood data (1b), there could be a correlation between less contraception and more abortions — in 2008, more abortions were performed but less contraception was given out at Planned Parenthood. Also, I can guarantee that less contraception will not translate to fewer abortions.

And actually, the abortion rate generally has been going down in recent years:

1980: 1,297,606
1985: 1,333,521
1990: 1,429,577
1995: 1,210,883
2000: 857,475
2005: 820,151
2006: 846,181
2007: 827,609

And considering contraceptive use has increased over this time frame, I’d say more contraception does translate to fewer abortions.


I’m glad the newspaper apologized for the article, and I’m also glad they put it back online. Even though their apology covered that it was reprehensible to suggest women are responsible for being raped and that other claims were inaccurate, I couldn’t help but expand on that further. Because despite the editors’ apology, it still somehow managed to get published, so we can’t gloss over the content that was originally deemed passable, and we have to look at it a little more critically.

Harassment of female reporter brings 3 problems to mind

September 15, 2010

Many, many people have written about how difficult it is for female reporters in the sports world — and the recent harassment of a female reporter during a Jets practice has reignited the discussion. Jets players were cat-calling, oogling, and harassing reporter Inez Sainz in other ways, too:

Well, from what I can gather, and I spoke with various people who were at the practice, at the beginning of practice, reporters are allowed to watch from the sidelines. And one of the assistant coaches decided – as his players who are defensive backs were running these receiving routes that he would throw the ball deliberately in Inez’s direction – thus setting up this potential collision with the players and her.

Three things (aside from the harassment itself) bother me about this incident: (1) Sainz, who originally Tweeted that she was embarrassed about the incident, is now being ambiguous about whether the comments bothered her or made her feel uncomfortable; (2) whether Sainz being a former Miss Universe contestant will be used as a qualification of the harassment; and (3) some people are forgetting that though these guys play a sport for a living, it’s still their job and deserves professionalism.

The first speaks to how desensitized women can become to harassment — Sainz said that harassment in general, though never as strong as what she experienced at the Jets practice, was something she had experienced in the past. So despite her initial admission on Twitter that the event was embarrassing, it seems she might’ve succombed to the social pressure to shrug it off — especially in the sports arena that breeds the “boys will be boys” mentality.

But she also needed to fight off the behavior for her work’s sake. Though Sainz told ABC, “I am not the one who made the charge and who says I feel uncomfortable,” she admitted she was trying to block out the harassment for professional reasons too, as “it’s not easy to be in a locker room and hear and notice that everybody is speaking about you and probably making some jokes.” Sainz was forced to make a choice: ignore the harassment and get the interview, or possibly ruin her chances at the interview by protesting the harassment — an unfair predicament considering a male reporter likely wouldn’t have to make such a career choice.

Second, I hope her stint as a Miss Universe contestant isn’t used as ammunition against her — obviously it isn’t warranted, but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear people qualifying the harassment because of her past. It’s a common theme — woman does XYZ behavior in the past that showcases her body and is meant to attract male attention, and that one choice then becomes an invitation for oogling for the rest of that woman’s life.

Oh, she was a stripper/prostitute/pagaent queen/model/insert job where you take your clothes off/wear revealing clothing/do something sexual — so that must mean you (1) love and always seek attention and (2) invite/deserve harassment. This path of “logic” is used way too frequently, and it’s ridiculous to say that what someone did at one point in time characterizes them and what they want for the rest of their lives.

Some have questioned her outfit for the practice (because they’ve got to find at least ONE reason to blame her), but sports columnist Tara Sullivan says:

I mean, even if people have an issue with what this woman was wearing, it does not condone that reaction.

The reaction is to go to your PR person and say, hey, listen: Why did you let this woman come into the locker room? She shouldn’t be credentialed. That’s the professional way to handle that, not to start hooting and hollering at her in the locker room.

Which brings up the final point — professionalism. Not only was Sainz trying to do her job, but these football players are also at work when they are cat-calling and shouting verbal harassment. Redskins’ running back Clinton Portis justifies the harassment by saying it’s OK because female reporters obviously are going to be attracted to someone in the locker room (that makes sense how?).

Sorry Portis, but you and all those other football players are at work — the locker room is different than the water cooler, but you’re still getting a ridiculously gigantic paycheck and should act professionally in return. (Also, check out the link above because writer Dan Wetzel makes a good point about peers in the locker room needing to decry the harassment to really get it to stop.)

‘She’s too big, now she’s too thin’

September 3, 2010

There’s a line from Britney Spears’s song “Piece of Me” — “I’m Mrs. She’s Too Big, Now She’s Too Thin” — that is frustratingly true about how the media treat celebrities’ bodies. The media bounces between calling them fat and then ridiculing them as underweight, or between reporting on how miserable they are because they are starving themselves and extreme-dieting to stay thin — on the same pages that praise their “perfect” bodies.

Kelly Osbourne is the latest celebrity to get this treatment — Osbourne recently lost more than 40 pounds:

Osbourne told US Weekly, “I’m f—ing starving right now!” in regard to her new figure, though a few months earlier the magazine did a feature on her weight loss and an US Weekly bureau chief remarked that Osbourne “looked incredible and so slim.” And now, other media outlets are questioning whether Osbourne is too thin.

These comments promote the notion of “your body will never be good enough.” First you’re too big, then everyone is awed by your weight loss, and then everyone is disturbed by your weight loss. But then you’re afraid to put on weight, confused because the initial reaction was so positive and garnered so much attention.

The media shouldn’t be an arbiter of what acceptable weight gain is. They see what they want to see — they find pictures of women from unflattering angles or after they’ve eaten dinner (Eva Longoria has talked about pictures taken of her after she “ate pasta and Italian and [her] pants were too tight,” leaving her with a slight blip in her slender figure that led to rumors it was a baby bump) and shame women for being a little bloated, wearing a baggy shirt, or just not being the same as those women in the magazines — even those women in the magazines don’t look like that, as they are always digitally retouched, unless purposely doing a shoot promoting not being airbrushed.

This type of thinking — you can’t be too fat, but you can’t be too thin, but you also have to be sure you don’t eat so much that a ripple forms in your stomach that could be perceived as a baby bump, but you also can’t wear loose clothing to hide the ripple because that means you look pregnant and fat too — is damaging. It’s stressful. It’s unnecessary.

I’m not saying Osbourne’s weight loss is totally bad — she admits she was an emotional eater and would “eat [her] emotions away,” and she was likely clinically overweight, so healthy eating habits (instead of her previous regimes, such as diet pills, starvation, fad diets) and regular exercise bode well for her health and energy levels.

I am saying, however, that the scrutiny and pressure could take those healthy habits and quickly turn them unhealthy (overexercising, under-eating, binging, etc.). Basically, I despise that media outlets try to show concern over these “too thin” celebrities — the media outlets whose criticism likely drove them to thinness — despite the fact they’d splash their cover with pictures of them with a minor stomach bump if they had the opportunity. Ugh.

Can you spot the problem with this gulf oil spill article?

August 13, 2010

Can you see the problem with the following sentence from this Associated Press article about the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico?

The decision to proceed with the so-called “bottom kill” operation means a key milestone in the crisis that wreaked havoc on the Gulf Coast’s economy and ecosystem remains days off.

If you guessed that the verb used — wreaked havoc — is in the past tense, then you are correct! It might seem nit-picky to point out a verb tense problem, but these small choices in language reflect how we perceive things on a larger scale.

This one, for instance, is indicative of a larger mentality that the oil spill only “wreaked havoc” on the economy and ecosystems in the gulf while the oil was gushing, despite the fact that this environmental disaster is currently having and will have lasting effects on the gulf’s economy and ecosystems — for years to come.

Word choice matters, especially in the news.

I’ll take ‘Hodge Podge’ for $1200, Alex

May 7, 2010

Some of today’s news: drug busts on the Deadliest Catch, a typo and the stock market drop, journalism and anonymous sources, adopted children who are rejected, Sarah Jessica Parker’s hands, and someone who wants to argue that feminism and family are mutually exclusive.

1. Deadliest Catch Employee Trapped in Giant Drug Sting, per Gawker

A production manager on the Discovery channel show The Deadliest Catch who was arrested in part of a larger drug bust concerning a fishing center in Alaska. So tragic — I thought they just wanted to get some Alaskan king crab but apparently smuggling marijuana, cocaine, Oxycontin, and methamphetemines is another lucrative trade in which they partake.

The production manager is implying that the show parties hard:

Schneider is accused of selling $300 worth of cocaine to an undercover cop but was recorded saying that his boss on the Discovery show imports staggering quantities of blow for Deadliest Catch parties up north.

2.  How a Typo Crashed the Market, per The Daily Beast

Everyone is blaming Greece’s fragile economy on the record plummet of the Dow yesterday, but another possibility — that someone accidentally hit the wrong computer key — is growing more likely as the reason for the fall:

No, that responsibility falls on the fat finger, or more likely, a series of fat fingers, including one trader—believed to be from Citigroup—who apparently tried to sell $15 billion worth of stock futures, rather than $15 million.

This blip caused a domino effect which, to be honest, I don’t understand because I don’t know a lot about the stock market, but as a copy editor and someone who knows simple math I can tell you that there is a big difference between million and billion.

3. U.S. Subpoenas Times Reporter Over Book on C.I.A., per The New York Times

This happened last week, but the journalist in me has to bring it up. James Risen, a Times reporter, has been subpeonaed to give up his sources about a chapter about the C.I.A. and Iran from his book about the C.I.A. during the Bush administration. Of course, if he doesn’t tell, then he goes to jail, which is Judith Miller all over again and brings up the issue again of reporters not naming anonymous sources.

4. Who Adopts a Rejected Kid?, per The Daily Beast

In response to the U.S. woman who shipped her Russian-born adopted child back to Russia because he was too much to handle, this article details what happens when people can’t handle their adopted children. More importantly, it addresses the romantic notion of adoption versus the reality:

Sterkel’s manner is blunt, which allows her to really help the families that reach out to her. She says, for example, that one problem leading to disrupted adoptions is that “many times, parents have stars in their eyes. They believe that love will heal and overcome all. We believe when we adopt a child that love heals. But you cannot love away a child’s genetic foundation, his pre-verbal memories or his intrauterine exposure to alcohol. These are facts. You have to stop being silly about this. You can’t love that stuff away.”

5. Photoshop of Horrors: Sarah Jessica Parker’s New Hands, per Jezebel

Sarah Jessica Parker, like Madonna, is known for having some old, wrinkly hands. On the cover of Marie Claire, her hands are photoshopped to the youth and smoothness of, as the original author put it, a “babydoll.” It takes photoshop to the extreme:


Image from Jezebel: Magazine cover, plus a side-by-side of the photoshopped hand with her actual hand.

6. The Worst Article on Feminism, Ever?, from Feministing

Jessica Valenti points out an article that, in essence, claims that feminist concerns (abortion, equal pay, sexual assault) have been replaced with family concerns such as nutrition, birthing, and school systems. Valenti not only addresses the author’s assumption that you either have abortions or have children, but also that the entire article frames feminism in the scope of issues that really only affect affluent white women:

You know, if you want to write an article about the cult of celebrity mommyhood in the press, fine, go for it. But write that article. Don’t make stuff up and pretend that you know shit about feminism so that you can pat yourself on the back for writing a ridiculous “trend” piece – especially when it’s something that only serves to hurt, not help, women.

College taught me the wrong way to write a cover letter

January 29, 2010

College students/recent grads beware: after writing many cover letters in the format I learned in college, I’m realizing that employers want quite the opposite when they are sifting through cover letters of prospective employees.

In magazine feature writing at OU, I learned that a cover letter should squish as much information as humanly possible into a one-page Microsoft Word document. “You have this one page to convince the employer why you’re best for the job,” my professor said. “So you need to utilize all the space you have.” WRONG.

My professor also preached an intro that catches the employer’s eye. We were taught that intro should be unique and interesting. WRONG.

Instead of a long, detailed, action-packed cover letter, I am finding that most employers actually want short, concise, and to the point. Keep the cover letter to half a page instead of trying to cram your life story into an entire page. I like to make the margins half an inch so it can look wide and short rather than long and thin.

I changed my first sentence from an attempt to be clever to the simple “As a copy editor/writer with more than four years of experience …” so that the employer immediately gets a hint at my qualifications. I listed every skill I have instead of talking about each individual job because I attach a resume that lists this exact same information. So I say, “I have experience with copy editing, news reporting, training employees, etc.”

A cover letter is a first impression, and it can illustrate the skills you have — as a journalism student/graduate, a concise and to-the-point cover letter itself is a testament to your ability to edit, write, and be clear. College taught me a lot, but it taught me a pretty backward way to write a cover letter.