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January 20, 2014

11:10
A.M.

Tuesdays with Moron: Chatological Humor Update

Total Responses: 0

About the hosts

About the host

Host: Gene Weingarten

Gene Weingarten

Gene Weingarten is the humor writer for The Washington Post. His column, Below the Beltway, has appeared weekly in the Post's Sunday magazine since July 2000 and has been distributed nationwide on The Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service. He was awarded the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing.

Gene's latest columns, chats and more.

About the topic

Gene's next monthly chat is next Tuesday, February 4 at noon. You may submit questions here.

- Want to find out what you're missing? Check out Gene's December live chat to get an idea of how the monthly chat works.

On one Tuesday each month, Gene is online to take your questions and abuse. He will chat about anything. Although this chat is sometimes updated between live shows, it is not and never will be a "blog," even though many persons keep making that mistake. One reason for the confusion is the Underpants Paradox: Blogs, like underpants, contain "threads," whereas this chat contains no "threads" but, like underpants, does sometimes get funky and inexcusable.
Q.

Gene Weingarten :

Greetings, update readers.

Here is a poll for today's update. After you have answered the second question, and looked at the results, you can come back here to see my answers, and my explanation of why I feel that way. No reading ahead.

» THE POLL

Please take the poll before reading further, unless you are the sort of insecure person who needs to be told what to think AND WE KNOW YOU ARE NOT THAT SORT OF PERSON.

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Scroll down to read my thoughts.

 

 

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MY ANSWER

My response to the first question is that he is not morally responsible for the death, but the story should have been handled more sensitively. To the second question, he needed a minor but important tone adjustment.

There are two principal reasons this story is getting hammered online; the first is that it has deeply upset the gay, lesbian and transgender community. The second is that, well, in the light of those objections, the story seems to lead with its chin.

Caleb Hannan is a talented young writer, and he wrote a compelling story; I don't have a problem with it unraveling as a mystery. Sometimes that the most honest and straightforward way to tell a story: The way it unfolded to you. It has some reporting shortcomings, but to suggest, as some have, that it is not a story at all is preposterous. Some stories qualify as stories simply because they are fascinating. But there's more here: The central character here is presumably still seeking investors, still lying about her past; in addition to being fascinating, the story does a public service. The fact of her being transgender is very much part of the story, inextricable from who she is. Had Hannan expressly agreed not to write about her personal life? The story is not clear enough on that, but I would argue the issue (and any agreement between them) became moot when it was clear she had lied about so much of her background; implicit in any such agreement is that the subject be honest with the reporter. And yes, the subject seems emotionally imbalanced, but not to the degree that interviewing her, or subjecting her story to scrutiny, was unethical. There is only so much a journalist can or should do about protecting people from themselves.

Her golf product was out there, and still getting noticed. Moreover, she was not reluctant to cooperate with this story until she decided she didn't like HOW the story would be presented, and how she would look. Subjects don't get to decide that; if they did, few powerful pieces of accountability journalism would ever be published. Toward the end, she appeared to be trying to bully the writer.

The main problem with this story is that it seemed in places curiously cool, even callous. The writer is clearly thrilled and excited by what he is finding (as I would have been) but seems inappropriately undisturbed by the tragedy at the end, one that he likely had a role in. It's like, "Whoops, she offed herself. Okay, time to end this thing now." There are some moral mathematics here, and they should have been addressed. Doing so probably would not have silenced all the critics, but it would have helped, and I think it would have made their criticism sound a little small.

This is mostly a matter of tone; an editor should have helped him there.

Two other things: The writer describes Dr. V. as having grown up a troubled "man." You can probably make a literal. semantic case for that description, but those are fighting words to the gay, lesbian, and transgender community, and understandably so. Gender identity (as I understand it) is not something you "change"; it is something innate that you accept over time, and accommodate. The writer's astonishment and excitement at learning of the transgender fact seems callow and even naive. It all made him sound insensitive. He also calls his story, at the end, a "eulogy," which it certainly is not, and which looks defensive, manipulative, and self-serving.

Add that there are some reporting holes -- couldn't we have discovered scientifically whether this putter really is an engineering breakthrough? -- factor in the power of the central story and the writing skill, and I give it a qualified B. Okay, B-minus. It could have been an A.

I know Hannan a little. He is tough, and smart, and he will learn from it. I predict good things from him.

And no, he is not a "murderer," as some people have viciously and irresponsibly labeled him.

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