If you’re reading this, Caleb Hannan, when did you last beat your partner?
What do you mean, no answer? (as i suspect might be the response, since so far, that has been the man’s response to pretty much every legitimate question asked about his role in the death of Essay Anne Vanderbilt).
Were i a certain sort of journalist – which thankfully for him, i’m not – i’d even now be penning a piece that leads on the mucky irresponsible assertion that “Sports writer Caleb Hannan today refused to deny that he was still beating his partner”.
Unfair? Absolutely. Dishonest? Also.
But, to apply a metaphor not altogether inappropriate in this instance, its par for the course: the hallmark of a certain low sort of journalism that cares less for the truth than the story. Its a trope we see time and time again in trans stories, although, unfortunately, the moment the argument enters the public domain it is all too easy to lose sight of the essentials.
Reading, yesterday, a real eulogy to Essay, by those close to her – and the piece i would have LIKED to have written – i was reminded that we can get side-tracked by those with an interest in denying their complicity in trans hatred. So focussed do we become on cutting down the individual trees, we lose sight of the wood as a whole.
And in the end, the whole is pretty straightforward. Forget neat abstract debates about ethics. The entire saga, from publication of the original vile piece of journalistic egotism, through to pathetic non-apology by the magazine editors, boils down to three things: bigotry, inadequate journalism, and privilege.
Hating trans people
The bigotry has been well-covered. The “chill” that afflicted the writer on discovering his subject was a woman who may, in his world view, have been trans. Oh my!
About the only thing missing from that is the bit where he adds. “I shook hands with her: i felt dirty”.
And to understand the depths of hatred permeating every stage of this tale, one has only to substitute any other minority for “trans: would the author – or editor – have dared write a piece as dripping with racism or homophobia as this is with transphobia?
Absence of ethics
The journalistic thing also offends. The argument made in defence of this cowardly exposure by far too many people is roughly this: the guy’s a journalist, its his job to hunt down the truth.
He discovered untruths. Once that happened, he had no alternative but to expose them.
That, though, is very limited and, in its own way, partial explanation of what a journalist does. I have a couple of stories on file about how the CIA planned the whole of 9/11 as part of some convoluted plot to increase their influence.
Wow! Such exclusive!!! Except, i don’t run with such stories – will never run with them because there are certain other aspects of what i do that are important. Those include checking sources: not building a mountain on a sea of green ink.
As a journalist, you don’t just take any quote, any information without weighing it: looking to understand the nature of personal bias – as there always is – involved in supplying it to you.
You weigh carefully the official “no comment”, to make darn sure it means something, as opposed to being no more than what officials MUST say to you.
How journalism works
Above all, you make sure you know the difference between “absence of evidence” and evidence of absence.
As this latest contribution to the story makes clear:
To this day, it is unknown whether she fabricated her credentials or whether they simply could not be verified.
That’s right: Hannan could not find particular evidence. This he therefore translated into evidence of lies which, in turn, has been transmuted, in public understanding, into positive evidence of fraud.
The problem is, there’s no evidence at all provided for the latter. Nor does Hannan actually make that direct allegation: although as an intelligent journalist, he must have expected that leap to be made.
As Gerri Jordan, the person who maybe knew Essay better than anyone else stated:
nothing in the story was untrue except that Vanderbilt was 6 feet 1, not 6 feet 3
But that’s always the game when it comes to yellow journalism. There are so many parallels between this story and that of Lucy Meadow and the press coverage that followed.
Very little of what was written was ever strictly untrue. Disrespectful. Intrusive. Partial – even down to citing parental concern in the school in which she worked. All true. Just very, very selected.
And the latest revelations show how Hannan’s journalism was either inadequate or deliberately omitted detail that failed to suit his purpose.
Vanderbilt resigned as CEO of Yar Golf because of Hannan’s inquiries.
“She believed the story would die if she was no longer involved with the company,” Jordan said.
That’s significant detail. Yet – i’ve re-read the original – and it doesn’t seem to be there. Have i missed it? Did Hannan not know this? Or did he deliberately omit it?
The there’s the basis on which Hannan dealt with the target of his investigation. In his piece, he wrote:
“she insisted that our discussion and any subsequent article about her putter focus on the science and not the scientist.”
This assertion emerges in a par that also locates this demand in some subtly derogatory stuff about Essay’s writing style. He doesn’t say as much, but the impression Hannan seems to want us to take is that it was all too confusing. Essay did not make herself clear.
So: poor him if he didn’t quite understand the importance of confidentiality to her!
As opposed to what this latest piece alleges:
But in an early email to Vanderbilt provided by Jordan, Hannan wrote: “I’m happy to keep my conversation with you to the science, not the scientist. When can you talk?”
Confused? Unclear? Nope. If that’s accurate, then the basis for subsequent conversation was 100% clear. And odd that he would not mention his email to her. Its not exactly a lie…but it is a deliberate obscuring of the truth of what happened.
It also, incidentally, raises questions about Hannan’s subsequent refusal to view material that Essay said would substantiate claims as to her credentials.
If, for public interest reasons, he felt himself justified in breaking such a clear undertaking, then i doubt he’d have any difficulty in breaking any subsequent undertakings if he felt the story merited it.
Indeed, i don’t know about the US, but such a view would be perfectly OK in the UK. In general, journalists are not supposed to misrepresent themselves except… except where a story is in the public interest and there is no other way to expose wrongdoing than, say, by going undercover.
Evidence, too, from the latest revelations, that not only did Hannan knowingly abuse Essay’s memory, by publically mis-gendering her but, in asserting that she was “once a man”, he again either deliberately misled or had missed an important detail. For as the latest piece adds:
“She would never even say that to me, that she was a trans person,” said Jordan. “She would say she was intersex, and that’s different. To her, that was different”.
Intriguingly, Hannan never asserts she was trans, either – though in his case, one wonders if that is simply because he does not recognise trans as a valid category at all. In his world, it seems, you’re a man, a woman or a man pretending to be a woman. End of.
But again, why the omission? Essay did not identify as trans – may actually have been intersex. Did Hannan know this and withhold that detail? Or again, did his investigation just not dig any deeper than was adequate to HIS story.
Enough! As i suspected, the moment the fuller story starts to emerge, Hannan’s credibility as detached investigative reporter starts to fall apart.
Boys with privilege
Last up, though is the awful privileged refusal to engage. On twitter, he’s joked about the abuse he has received, joked about blocking people.
Others – journalists, his own editor – have entered the fold to defend his reputation. But from Hannan, nothing. And now we know why:
Hannan responded to an Arizona Republic request for comment Tuesday. In a telephone conversation, he said he couldn’t go on the record because he was working on a fuller response to be published when he is ready. But he wanted to know what Jordan had to say.
Oh, my. Do not disturb! The grand man of letters is at work and cannot possibly pronounce on this issue – has not the decency to provide comment, as he demanded his victim do, on pain of outing and abuse – until he has crafted his own careful response.
As for humility? None whatsoever. Alongside not being prepared to respond, he is also continuing to dig…seeking to discover more about the woman he has abused already, no doubt in order to add it to his work of self-justification.
Sadly, i suspect we can guess where this story is headed next. A high profile “apologia” which, in the classic sense of that term is little more than carefully crafted self-justification, mixing in neatly judged proportion his personal “mea culpa”, with just the right amount of dirt thrown in the direction of Essay to keep his own chorus of good ole boys on side.
For an enormous fee, of course.
In the end, the true story here is very simple. The guy hates and is hateful. He’s an average journalist who has nonetheless found a clever way to make money off the back of a dead woman and nothing – in his actions, in what he has said – suggests he has any intention at all of changing his ways.