Slate’s Criticism of AP Article As Implying She “Deserved It” Is Way Off Mark

I like Slate.  I like feminist stuff.  But sometimes, critiques can go too far.

Such was the case this afternoon when Slate’s XX Factor Blog posted an article entitled “Woman Falls 17 Stories to Her Death; AP Implies She Deserved It.”

The article critiqued the lede of the AP article regarding the tragic NYC incident Thursday morning where a woman fell to her death from her balcony.  Here is the original story:

A 35-year-old media executive on a first date plunged to her death Thursday after the railing on her 17th-floor New York City balcony gave way, police said.

Jennifer Rosoff went outside for a cigarette around 12:50 a.m. when she either sat on the railing or leaned on it. Her date told her that she probably shouldn’t do it, and then moments later, she apparently fell backward and landed on construction scaffolding at the first floor, authorities said. Police spoke to the man and no foul play was suspected.

Slate, however, read the “subtext” of that same paragraph as follows:

The implication being that this smoking slut totally had it coming. A reader is left with the distinct impression that if Rosoff hadn’t invited her date inside, hadn’t gone outside to smoke a cigarette, and hadn’t defied the advice of the wise and logical man she was with, she would still be alive. According to the AP story’s subtext, the problem wasn’t that Rosoff’s balcony railing was shoddy and unsafe—it was that Rosoff defied gender norms by being unmarried at 35, by being sexually liberal, and by insisting on making her own decisions instead of deferring to men’s logic.

Yeah, I don’t think so.  Although everyone should be vigilant about the subtle, unconscious normative way in which we frame things, I don’t think that this piece is perpetuating “oppressive gender norms.”

Listen, nobody wants the Associated Press to become the New York Post and load up every page with bikini pictures of Simon Cowell’s baby-mama or report on Weiner’s… thing every day.  But the author of the AP article (incidentally, a female journalist) was not far off base by including the details that she did.

Perhaps I would have taken Slate’s critique more seriously had they not been so heavy-handed about it.  Perhaps there is something to be said about the details that were included in the article — although I don’t believe that if genders were reversed, the lede would be any different:

“A 35-year-old media executive on a first date plunged to his death Thursday after the railing on his 17th-floor New York City balcony gave way, police said… His date told him that he probably shouldn’t do it, and then moments later, he apparently fell backward and landed on construction scaffolding at the first floor, authorities said. Police spoke to the woman and no foul play was suspected.” still reads fine.

Let’s make it two dudes!  How about three people, a man, a blonde, and a brunette?  How about the entire New York Knicks?  It doesn’t matter — it’s not a gender issue.  If someone falls from a railing in the middle of the night, it’s relevant why they were out there, and it’s relevant if someone was with them.  Foul play would be the first thing any reader would suspect, I know I did.

Maybe LV Anderson, the Slate writer, doesn’t like the general goofy, salacious, sensational direction in which journalism is headed.  She may be right not to like it.  But this particular AP article is not worth going to war over.

*                       *                       *

Brian Mangan is an attorney in New York City, and he … oh god what have I done?

*                       *                       *