Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Not To Sound Like a Broken Record, But...

…I’m getting really, really, really tired of the Huffington Post and its misleading, hype-drenched headlines.

By “headlines,” I mean the text of links that appear along with a thumbnail photo on HuffPo’s front page, or on one of its main topic pages, and point to the actual story. In many cases, the title that appears above the actual story text is fine, but the “headline” link text implies that the story is bigger, juicier, or more consequential — often much more so — than it really is. The president has even mentioned this tendency in passing in recent weeks.

And speaking of the president, the example that has me griping about this again, even after the Jennifer Carroll story I’ve written about yesterday and earlier today, is this headline on the HuffPost Politics front page: “Obama Booed for Big Fail.”

”Big fail”? What could that mean? A major political gaffe on the campaign trail? Some inadvertent insult to an audience (or perhaps an advertent one, like Mitt Romney’s apparently deliberate diss of the NAACP last week)? An international-incident-provoking diplomatic blunder?

Nope. The president’s “big fail” was failing to realize that the “Kiss Cam” was trained on him and the First Lady while they watched the USA Basketball men’s/women’s Olympic prep doubleheader against Brazil last night at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC. Not realizing the Kiss Cam was showing them (or perhaps not being familiar with the Kiss Cam concept, since I don’t imagine they have time to get to lots of games), the First Couple… didn’t kiss. And the crowd apparently booed… but given that the same crowd had given the president’s entourage (which included the vice president and the president’s personal aide Reggie Love, in addition to the First Lady) “loud cheers” when they first arrived, I’m guessing the boos were more along the lines of good-natured teasing than serious disapproval. After Sasha and Malia Obama clued their parents in at halftime, they got another shot at the public smooch, and this time they apparently stuck the dismount.

It’s a cute little human interest story about the president showing up to support our Olympic teams, but “big fail”? Eh, not so much.

Didn't I Just Say That?

HuffPo has (sorta’) changed its tune about the story I mentioned yesterday regarding Republican Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll: While yesterday the front-page link to the story described the sexual allegations against Carroll as “shocking,” today the link highlights “GOPer’s Strange Response To Sex Scandal Accusation” [emphasis added].

Well, duh! Didn’t I say her giggling, smiling, “folks who look like me don’t do that” response seemed odd? I would expect anger (if the accusations are unequivocally false), or steadfastly Clintonesque evasiveness (if the accusations are unequivocally true), or something… but I would not expect lighthearted non-denial denials. It makes me wonder if the real story is something in between unequivocally false and unequivocally true.

 It would be reckless to speculate about Carroll’s actual case, because all I know about it is what’s in this one news story (and the brief local TV report that was apparently its source), but let’s imagine a parallel, but purely hypothetical case: Imagine a public official who is bisexual but married to an opposite-sex spouse, and who engages in same-sex sexual activity with the spouse’s full knowledge and agreement. That is, imagine that they’re in what Dan Savage would call a “monogamish” relationship.¹ In such a case, facts similar to those contained in the “accusations” leveled at Carroll might not be scandalous at all… except, of course, to moralistic prudes, of which there is likely no shortage among Florida Republicans, nor among conservative, churchgoing southern black folks, either.

Whatever the actual facts are in Carroll’s case, awareness that the truth was potentially embarrassing in a social and political context, but not actually damaging in a legal or ethical sense, might conceivably lead to responses with the tone and tenor she displays in those soundbites.

Regardless of any speculation, though, it seems to me that there are only two questions in this case that are legitimately matters of public concern:
  • Did Carroll commit sexual harassment in a public workplace? This, of course, hinges on questions of consent and coercion and is not certain, even assuming the alleged sexual relationship actually took place.
  • Did Carroll retaliate against an employee who possessed potentially embarrassing information, as her accuser claims is the case.
Everything else — what kind of sex she likes, who she’s had sex with, even whether she’s broken any promises to her husband — is nobody’s business but the individuals directly involved.

 ¹ Notwithstanding the reports we heard during the Republican presidential nomination contest that Newt Gingrich had tried to retroactively legitimize years of marital infidelity by asking his second wife for an after-the-fact “open marriage,” some couples really do negotiate these things honestly, and in advance.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Lesbian Dalliance "Shocking"? SRSLY?

As much as I’m tempted to engage in a certain amount of schadenfreude when it comes to Republican sex scandals, there are several levels of FAIL in this HuffPo story, not least of which is my general observation that, all too often, the main thing that makes sex scandals scandalous in the first place is that our culture still treats sex itself as inherently scandalous.

But leaving that broad sociological question aside, this particular story is a catalog of troubling language and approaches:

 First, it’s yet another case of HuffPo’s habit of using misleading, over-the-top link text on its front page to overhype stories. While the headline of the actual story reads “Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll Denies Lesbian Relationship Claims,” the link text on the Politics front page hyperventilates, “GOP Lt. Gov Denies Shocking Sex Allegations.” Really? With Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell dead and gone, DOMA on its legal deathbed, and increasing numbers of states embracing same-sex marriage, does a whiff of lesbianism really still make a story about sexual behavior “shocking”? I suppose some might think marital infidelity on the part of public officials is inherently shocking, but in this headline, does “Shocking Sex Allegations” really tell us anything that “Sex Allegations” wouldn’t tell us just as well?

But by now, I’m not at all surprised by yellow-journalistic headlines from this particular corner of teh intertoooobz. This would just have been another check in that box, if it weren’t for the quotes from accused Florida Lt. Gov. Carroll herself, including “Black women that look like me don't engage in relationships like that” (delivered with a giggle).

Huh? What does what she looks like have to do with it? I don’t even know what she means by that: Is she suggesting she’s not attractive enough to have a lesbian affair? Too attractive? Too “normal” looking? I can’t help wondering what she thinks people who “engage in relationships like that” are supposed to look like? AFAIK, people who look all kinds of different ways have all kinds of sex, and I’m at a loss as to why Jennifer Carroll might think otherwise. 

I’m also at a loss as to what she thinks her race has to do with it. I totally get that there may be some broad cultural differences in what sorts of sexual behavior folks engage in, and sometimes culture tracks closely with race (to the extent that concept has any meaning), but isn’t applying that sort of broad generalization to individuals the very definition of stereotyping, if not (in this case) racism?

Actually, taken together, “Black folks don’t do that” and “people who look like me don’t do that” sound to me like what Ben Bradlee¹ would’ve called a non-denial denial: Though the HuffPo story (based on a local TV news report) quotes her as referring to the accusations as "blatant lies," what she doesn’t clearly say is “I didn’t do that.”

She does point out that her accuser is single, as if that had anything to do with her veracity, and then says...
The problem is that when you have these accusations that come out, it's not just one person you're attacking. It's an entire family. My husband doesn't want to hear that. He knows the type of woman I am. I mean, my kids know the type of woman I am.
...as if either her husband's discomfort or her family's knowledge of "the type of woman [she is]" would have the power to change the accusations from true to false.

I don't know where the truth lies in this story, which has apparently been going on for some time. There may be genuine scandal here: spousal betrayal, perhaps (though perhaps not, as we have no way of knowing the private parameters of Carroll's relationship with her husband), and maybe workplace sexual harassment, since Carroll's alleged trysting partner was her aide. Or it might all be the vindictive fabrications of a disgruntled former employee, who was fired and is being prosecuted for allegedly leaking confidential materials.

What I do know, though, is that we shouldn't think the sex of Carroll's alleged lover is what would make this a scandal, and we shouldn't imagine we know anything about Carroll's sexuality based on what she looks like.

Both HuffPo and Carroll herself ought to know better.

¹ Or his movie incarnation, in any case.