NY Times Public Editor Calls Godawful Serena Williams’ Article A “Missed Opportunity”

Remember that New York Times’ piece about Serena Williams’ body? The one published on Friday that got my knickers all in a twist? By Saturday morning, as Williams was destroying the court at Wimbledon and winning her second Grand Slam, the outrage had spread to Twitter, with many calling out the Grey Lady and sports journalist Ben Rothenberg for their offensive and, frankly, racist approach to discussing body image in women’s tennis.

As I hinted at in my own critique, by centering Serena Williams, already an outlier in a sport dominated by white women,as the big, muscular, masculine OTHER in his piece, Rothenberg plays on, but still skirts around, some really squicky racial stereotypes of Black women. Not to mention, the story was structured in a manner  that even the “compliments” about her physique were positioned as somehow “surprising,” and did nothing to question traditional standards of beauty. It was, in short, a total shitshow.

The Times and Rothenberg were inundated with criticism, prompting the Times’ Public Editor, Margaret Sullivan, to publish an update of sorts today. First, she allowed Rothenberg and his editor Jason Stallman the opportunity to each offer their own half-hearted apologies and/or excuses, with Rothenberg saying he regrets a late term decision to rewrite the story’s lead to focus on Williams, and Stallman being all, “We’re not here to, like, offer our opinions.” But Sullivan herself seems to mostly agree with the criticism of the piece, calling it a “missed opportunity.” She concluded:

Most of all, it’s unfortunate that this piece didn’t find a way to challenge the views expressed, instead of simply mirroring them.

Including the perspectives of those who could have unpacked the underlying issues, while also considering the article’s timing and staying away from reductive social-media techniques – all of this could have made for a more productive conversation. And that conversation is still worth having.

Indeed. But can someone else — preferably not Ben Rothenberg, or any other white male for that matter — be tasked with the job?

[NY Times]