Here's a brief test of étiquette. You're a writer accused of asking an inappropriate question to a famous actor in a national magazine. Another writer takes you to task for what she sees as a history of this kind of inappropriateness. Your response?
a.) Ignore the criticism—you can't please everyone, right?
b.) Explain yourself—you really didn't intend to offend.
c.) Promptly imply that the other writer is jealous and unfuckable.
If you answered c.), hey! You must be Andrew Goldman! Step right up here to accept this week's Douchebag Decree.
What happened was this: Goldman compiles the New York Times Magazine's weekly "Talk" section, and on October 7, his subject was Hollywood legend Tippi Hedren, star of The Birds and Marnie and, as revealed in a new HBO movie, the victim of a pattern of harassment by director Alfred Hitchcock that ended up ruining her career. "The worst abuse happened after you rebuffed [Hitchcock's] advances," asked Goldman. "Actors have been known to sleep with less powerful directors for advancement in show business. Did you ever consider it?"
Rolling her eyes at this question was Jennifer Weiner, bestselling author and vocal anti-douchebag activist, who already had a wary eye on Goldman based on some of his previous Talk pieces. "Saturday am. Iced coffee. NYT mag. See which actress Andrew Goldman has accused of sleeping her way to the top. #traditionsicoulddowithout," she tweeted, to which Goldman replied "Little Freud in me thinks you would have liked at least to have had opportunity to sleep way to top."
Here's the thing: The question itself was not out of bounds. The interview with Hedren was occasioned by HBO's The Girl, which tells the true story of an ingenue (Hedren, as played by Sienna Miller) whose burgeoning movie career takes a sinister turn when her director (Hitchcock, essayed by Toby Jones) harasses, threatens, and stalks her when she won't sleep with him. In context, the question, graceless as it was, made sense, though it's clear by the end of the printed interview that Hedren won't be sending Goldman a fruit basket or anything. (Responding to a question she perceives as badly researched, Hedren says, "Sometimes I get so annoyed with you writers." The clear winner in this whole thing is Hedren—seriously, read the whole interview if you haven't.)
Goldman—who used to write the "Cherchez La Femme" column for Elle—has long asked his interviewees, both male and female, about their sex lives, often deploying awkward lines of questioning. (To Will.i.am, in a 2011 interview: "From talking to other men, did you ever consider that you might be less sexual than other guys?") But the entertainment industry's power imbalance is one that notoriously tilts toward misogyny, and Goldman's history of invoking it (his above-linked Q&A with Whitney Cummings accused both Cummings and Chelsea Handler of horizontal leverage) has begun, as Weiner noted, to look very much like a pattern. And even if, ignoring that pattern, his question to Hedren didn't look on its face like a d-bag move—Goldman surely knows better than to step to a woman whose chief passion is raising and training lions, tigers, and other big deadly cats, right?—his response to Weiner's call-out definitely was. The fact that that was his first response? And that he felt no compunction about broadcasting it to Weiner and the rest of the Internet? That speaks volumes about both him and the journalistic culture in which he earns his living.
Goldman later apologized to Weiner via Twitter, writing "Many smart women, including wife, [said] tweet made me seem to be a man I wouldn't want to be and know I'm not. Very sorry." Weiner accepted the apology, and it seemed like the incident was sewn up and filed under "Writers: Don't say stupid shit on Twitter! Exhibit 12,367." But a pleasant twist was that the whole debacle caught the eye of the NYT's public editor, Margaret Sullivan. The Paper of Record has been in the news quite a bit over the last couple of years for the seriously questionable framing of some of its stories—you'll recall, for instance, the coverage of a 2011 Texas gang-rape case that suggested an 11-year-old girl was partly responsible for her horrifying, months-long ordeal. And as its first female ombudsperson, Sullivan took the opportunity to open up a measured can of whoop-ass on a long tradition of sausage-party journalism.
"Is it ever acceptable for a journalist to ask a successful woman if she has slept her way to the top?," Sullivan wrote in yesterday's column, "A Twitter Outburst and Another Chance for Andrew Goldman". "If he does, and a female reader criticizes him for it, is it a forgivable offense for him to suggest that she is complaining only because she wishes that she, too, could have had that opportunity? Can you believe we're talking about this in 2012?"
Sullivan outlined the events and offered Hugo Lindgren, the magazine's editor, a chance to address the debacle and defend Goldman—which Lindgren did in part by invoking the old, "It can't be sexist if another woman says it's not!" defense. (To wit: "For what it's worth, his editor and top editor are both women. They did not object to the question.") But the final word was all hers, and it was pretty righteous: Noting that Weiner, when Sullivan contacted her, said that "[Goldman] is talented, and funny. I would like to see him do his job better," Sullivan wrote, "It sounds as though he's going to get that chance. Given his misbehavior on Twitter and his status as a highly replaceable freelancer, I think his editors are extraordinarily generous to give it to him." (Are you imagining Sullivan blowing the smoke off her finger guns after writing this? I am.)
As you'd expect, quite a few of Goldman's male colleagues have been circling the wagons on Twitter this morning, pointing to Sullivan's letter as a tempest in a teapot and contesting the charges of misogyny. Goldman himself won't be joining the fray—he disabled his Twitter account shortly after apologizing to Weiner—but the dynamic that allowed him to think he could respond to criticism with such blithely douchey dismissal will undoubtedly chug on. Good for keeping us in Douchebag Decrees, not so great for those who can't afford to dismiss instances of obvious sexism as harmless, momentary outbursts.