Media Gossip/Musings

Bill Simmons Apologizes for Heavily Criticized Grantland Story

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After going radio silent since Friday night, Bill Simmons has addressed the process behind publishing Caleb Hannan’s Grantland story, which faced harsh scrutiny for its lack of empathy and its outing of its subject, a transgender woman who committed suicide before the piece ran:

Caleb pitched the idea to Rafe Bartholomew, our talented features editor and an original Grantlander. Rafe reports to Dan Fierman (our editorial director) and me (I’m the editor-in-chief). Ultimately, the three of us decided to green-light Caleb’s piece. When a feature reaches the point when we want to run it, we include input from Sean Fennessey (our deputy editor) and Megan Creydt (our copy chief).  We have a system. Everyone weighs in. I delegate as much as humanly possible and intervene only on the bigger decisions. Rarely, if ever, have we disagreed on actually posting a piece. You always just kind of know. One way or the other.

Simmons notes that the final story was read by multiple lawyers and almost all of the site’s editors, and he acknowledges that the biggest issue with the story was outing Dr. V. as transgender to one of her investors while she was still alive, an error that he attributed to collective ignorance. His biggest regret, he writes, was not reaching out to someone in the trans community for input about how to most tactfully present the story. Still, he wonders how they could have possibly excluded Dr. V’s previous identity from the piece — what if it had been later discovered?

Simmons and his editors had felt that if Hannan had “shoehorned” his personal feelings into the story towards the end, which now reads as cold and detached, that it would have lacked authenticity. It’s pretty hard to just accept this explanation at face value, but Simmons takes the burden on himself and says the buck stops with him:

Ultimately, it was my call. So if you want to rip anyone involved in this process, please, direct your anger and your invective at me. Don’t blame Caleb or anyone that works for me. It’s my site and anything this significant is my call. Blame me. I didn’t ask the biggest and most important question before we ran it — that’s my fault and only my fault.

Concurrently, Grantland has run a piece by Christina Kahrl, an ESPN.com columnist and member of GLAAD’s board of directors, about how the site should have run the story:

What should Grantland have done instead? It really should have simply stuck with debunking those claims to education and professional expertise relevant to the putter itself, dropped the element of her gender identity if she didn’t want that to be public information — as she very clearly did not — and left it at that. “That would have been responsible,” transgender activist Antonia Elle d’Orsay suggested when I asked for her thoughts on this road not taken. It’s certainly the path I would have chosen as a writer making this sort of accidental discovery, or would have insisted upon as an editor.

Simmons’ apology is candid and demonstrates humility and self-awareness, but it’s still difficult to understand how the story’s glaring editorial flaws slipped through the cracks.

RELATED: With Grantland Under Fire, Bill Simmons Has Yet To Respond
RELATED: The Rise and Fall of Caleb Hannan’s Grantland Story
RELATED: Grantland at Two: What Has Bill Simmons Built? 

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