That's what happened last week, when I tweeted this after reading an essay in the New Yorker:
At this point, you are perhaps thinking: Does anybody care whether I tweeted or if I felt disgusted with the essay? Hey, it is no different from when I blog, right? ;)As a long-time @NewYorker subscriber, I am disgusted that the magazine chose to publish the #GayTalese essay :(https://t.co/xE9Q909lcS— sriram khe (@congoboy) April 9, 2016
Why was I pissed off? First, what is the essay about? It is:
about a strange man named Gerald Foos, who owned and operated a motel in Colorado. With the help and knowledge of his wife, he modified many of the motel’s rooms in such a way that he could watch his guests from above the ceiling. Although he admits to being sexually aroused by his spying, he is also intellectually curious: He fastidiously records details about the occupants (especially about their sex lives), and believes himself to be gleaning a great deal of sociological insight into them. As the story moves from the 1960s through the 1990s, he witnesses and catalogs various societal changes, such as an increase in interracial couples, that are compelling but ultimately unsurprising and never revelatory. The real interest of Talese’s piece, in other words, is Foos himself.How did Talese get to know this?
Foos wrote to Talese in 1980, hoping someone would tell his story without revealing his name or blowing his cover. It’s here that things get murky. Talese traveled to Colorado to meet Foos and see the motel for himself. Immediately upon arrival in the state, the journalist also signed a document promising that, in his words, “I would not identify him by name, or publicly associate his motel with whatever information he shared with me, until he had granted me a waiver.”Yes, journalists want to maintain the confidentiality of their sources. But, that is when there is a greater good that the report is about. What is the greater good here? How does protecting the privacy of the voyeur who was observing people in their most intimate moments contribute to a greater good?
There’s no greater good here; Talese has captured a strange and (briefly) compelling story of one man’s obsession and the extremes to which he will go to satisfy it.Exactly! The reporter is as much involved in this crime as the perv/perp was.
Talese was complicit in Gerald Foos' violation of his guests’ privacy, and not only because in the initial reporting of the story, he climbed into the motel attic with its owner and watched a young couple having sex. By failing to report Foos’ actions – either in an immediate story or to authorities – Talese enabled Foos' unethical and, indeed, illegal action to continue unabated for at least 15 years longer.How did the editor of the New Yorker respond to people like me?
In addition, through his continued correspondence, Talese provided affirmation of Foos’ activity, helping him maintain the myth that his actions served some higher purpose, some noble societal goal, rather than simply gratifying his own sexual desire.
While the scene is certainly disturbing (Talese writes that he was ‘shocked, and surprised’ to read the account in the journal), the New Yorker does not believe that Talese or it violated any legal or ethical boundaries in presenting Foos’s account of it to the reader.It was a bad, bad, bad editorial call.
But, it does not mean that I am going to cancel my subscription. I recognize the blemish. Nobody's perfect!