Darkness at Dawn

dawneden.jpgThe New York Observer this week ran a major cover story on l’affaire Eden, the firing of headline gal and copyeditor Dawn Eden by the New York Post for her pro-life edits of a piece on in-vitro fertilization.

The Post brass do not come out terribly well in this story. I mean when this — “Some people already think the Post is conservative, and we don’t need New York readers also thinking it’s a Christian paper and that there are Christians working there” — is a quote from a sympathetic voice at the Post, well, you just know we’re in for the management-as-weasels treatment.

Eden explains why she made the edits to the story about women diagnosed with terminal cancer who turn to IVF to have babies:

“I got choked up,” Ms. Eden said. “How are people going to ever understand the complex issues involved here, if the story they’re reading reduces it to ‘Oh, isn’t this nice? We can just make lots of embryos and not worry about whether they live or die.’”

So she changed things. To the sentence “Experts have ethical qualms about this ‘Russian roulette’ path to parenthood,” Eden added, “which, when in-vitro fertilization is involved, routinely results in the destruction of embryos.” Where the author had written about the implantation of three embryos in which “two took,” Eden amended to, “One died. Two took.”

At the time, the Observer reports, Eden thought “she was performing a service for the reader, since she believed that the Post had been ‘notoriously oblivious’ to the nuances involving embryonic life.” Since the incident, she has decided that “my first loyalty should have been to my employer.”

The author of the Post article in question, Susan Edelman, reportedly responded to Eden’s apology thus: “Dawn You are the most unprofessional journalist I have ever encountered in all my years in this business. A disgrace. Sue Edelman.”

On her own website, Eden maintains that she did not work her own pro-life views into the article she edited: “To say that I was working my own views into the piece implies that the information I added was untrue.” I know what she’s getting at, but, given the thrust of the whole profile, I don’t think that’s the conclusion readers would be inclined to draw.

I would get into my own fun-with-copyeditors experiences here, but Mattingly has promised to do so later in the day. So I’ll hold a few stories for the comments threads.

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  • James Freeman

    Jeremy Lott misses the point, I think.

    Listen, I’ve been a newspaper reporter, and I’ve been a newspaper copy editor. At almost any newspaper in this country, what Dawn Eden did would be, at worst, a talking-to offense.

    NOT a firing one.

    In fact, what Ms. Eden did to Sue Edelman’s story is, at most newspapers, pretty routine for a copy editor. More than once, when presented with an amorphous piece of goo on deadline, I’ve rewritten large chunks of reporters’ sacred copy.

    More often than not, my supervisor’s response was “Nice job cleaning up that piece of crap.”

    The difference here was the story to which Ms. Eden chose to add balance and clarity involved the third rail of American culture and politics. Not to mention NEWSROOM culture and politics.

    Given that, if I had been in Ms. Eden’s position, I likely, instead of rewriting, would have just gone to a supervising editor and thrown a fit about the piece’s utter lack of balance and tone of unseriousness. (Which, at the New York Post, might have gotten me fired on completely different “cultural” grounds — thinking unseriousness was a *bad* thing.)

    Dawn Eden’s only sin was one of etiquette, not of journalism.

    I think it’s pretty clear that the New York Post fired Ms. Eden because she is a Christian who actually posseses the courage of her convictions, then has the gall to exercise her First Amendment right to blog about them.

    What Dawn Eden is is a “white martyr.” She was persecuted for the sake of Christ crucified.

    And what Col Allan (the Post’s editor) did was eerily reminiscent of what Communist Party functionaries routinely did to Soviet Jews. Is the same fate now in store for American Christians — at least the ones who act like their faith *means* something?

    Either we fight what led to Dawn Eden’s “white” martyrdom at the Post, or we’re going to have “red martyrs” soon enough.

  • http://god-of-small-things.blogspot.com Bob Smietana

    I just read the piece from the Post, and thought the reference to “the destruction of embryos”–in the sentence about the “Russian roulette path to parenthood”–was out of place. That went far beyond adding nuance, and injected the ethics of IVF into a piece about a separate ethical dilema about cancer patients who want to become parent.

    There is something very life affirming in the decision that Marta Johnson, the subject of the article, made. She delayed a hysterectomy for uterine cancer in order to have a baby, putting her own life and health at risk–which was the point of the article. “It was really Russian roulette,” she told the Post, and which then added this comment from Johnson, “who now has a rambunctious, red-haired son, Sawyer, 2.”

    “I was given an amazing gift a kid that no one believed would happen for me,” she said. (btw, Dawn did miss a typo, or missing word in that sentence. something a copywriter ought to catch)

    Was there really room in this six hundred word piece to start the conversation about the ethics of IVF? Perhaps Dawn would have done better to propose a piece about the ethics of IVF–something very few publications, secular or religious, are talking these days.

  • http://www.nhreligion.com Stephen A.

    In many liberal papers, even the smallest story becomes the *perfect* venue to insert loaded and biased phrases into news stories.

    In my view, making a story about IVF offer some balance, rather than pretending that it’s totally non-controversial or ignoring the facts that are inconvenient to one side, is simply striving for fairness.

    But if upon reflection we do decide she was in the wrong here, then the lady is only guilty of doing just what her more liberal colleagues do constantly – inserting bias into a story.

    That would be bad, but not uncommon, and all that would be left for us to do is to point out the HUGE double standard in journalism for making such hay over one side’s transgressions and not the other’s.

  • http://kellneronline.blogspot.com Mark A. Kellner

    Dawn wasn’t sacked for a mere copy editing transgression, but also for blogging, and blogging conservatively. If this had happened to a New York Times employee, Col Allan and the POST would, properly, have been all over this. It’s the height of idiocy that the NYPost, which I love dearly, couldn’t have handled this better. They blew it, big time. (Full disclosure: Dawn is an e-mail buddy and one of my favorite headline writers.)

  • James Freeman

    Mark writes:

    “Dawn wasn’t sacked for a mere copy editing transgression, but also for blogging, and blogging conservatively. If this had happened to a New York Times employee, Col Allan and the POST would, properly, have been all over this.”

    Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

    Ironic, isn’t it, that the First Amendment — both the freedom of speech and the freedom of religion aspects — is treated so cavalierly at, of all places, a newspaper?

    It’s obvious Dawn was fired for being a Christian who didn’t know her place. That’s martyrdom in the true sense of the word, and it’s about damn time we started calling it what it is.

    It’s also illegal discrimination, and it’s about damn time we started calling THAT what it is, too.

    I hope Dawn gets in contact with the ACLJ or the Rutherford Institute, just to make sure all her bases are covered.

  • http://www.dawneden.com/blogger.html Dawn Eden

    Mr. Smietana, say what you will about my news judgment, but don’t you dare malign my copyediting skills. As a working journalist, you should know that LexisNexis does not always translate punctuation accurately. That sentence had an em-dash in print between the words “gift” and “a,” which did not appear in the electronic version you read.

  • Rod Dreher

    I’m a (Catholic) Christian who used to work for the Post as a film reviewer and then a news columnist. I only worked for a couple of months under Col Allan, but I never felt pressure on me because of my faith. Then again, I was an opinion columnist. I got along with most people at the Post, and remember the place fondly. That said, my impression was that most people had no idea what to make of my faith, and to the extent they liked me, it was in spite of it. I used to laugh at how every piece of mail addressed to the “religion editor” would be delivered to my mailbox, because, I guess, I was the only openly religious person people knew.

    I don’t know how things may have changed after I left — again, I departed not long after Col arrived — but I think there was more ignorance of religion in my day there than outright malice. I remember the (then) city editor shooting down a column I’d proposed to write about Evangelicals doing something in the city. He told me that I needed to understand that NYC is not a religious town. Mind you, this editor (who no longer works at the Post) lived in a neighborhood full of churches, synagogues and even, a short distance away, a rather notorious mosque. But you don’t see those things if you’re not looking for them.

  • http://www.culture-makers.com/ Andy Crouch

    Is it just me, or is there _way_ too much George Gurley in this piece? I’m not by any stretch of the imagination an advocate of the “disembodied objectivity” school of reporting, but if I were to develop a crush on a person I was writing a story about, I would definitely try to edit it out. Then again, maybe Mr. Gurley developed the crush, then pitched the story?

    (I know, this comment has nothing to do with religion. But it’s alarming to see what page 1, even of the New York Observer, can sink to. The GQ/Vanity Fair “profile”–in which the reporter’s own feelings about the celebrity bid fair to become the main subject–is spreading far and wide…)

  • http://god-of-small-things.blogspot.com Bob Smietana

    Dear Dawn,

    My apologies for questioning your copyediting and the tone of my comment. No maligning was intented, but the comment was snide, and as you note, unfair. I did not read the piece in question on Lexis-Nexis, and have not run into the problem with “em” dashes before. I stand corrected.

    Having done a great deal of reporting about IVF, I am constantly amazed by how little is made of the ethical dilemas involved and how little regulation there is of ART’s in general. My question was whether this particular piece was the right place to raise those issues. Your firing over this seems very unfair, and I hope you land on your feet.

  • http://clientandserver.com dw

    The web guy butts in here…

    There is a NOTORIOUS problem with em dashes on the web, due to the primary character set of the American English web — ISO-8859-1 — not having an em dash. (It also, BTW, doesn’t have an en dash, “smart” quotes, or a true apostrophe.) The character set that’s slowly taking hold (thanks to XML), UTF-8, does have these characters, as does the primary character set of MS Word, Windows-1252. Problem is, the codes don’t match between the two (which is why you’ll occasionally see gobbledygook when someone tries to dump text straight out of Word into a web page).

    I typically replace em dashes with two hyphens. A few of our writers have sent me really nasty e-mails for doing it, but after some education they calm down.

    All this to say that yes, there is a big problem with typographical characters on the web, and it doesn’t surprise me that Lexis-Nexis filtered it out.

  • AH

    I’m absolutely with you, Dawn, on your prolife position, but would like to add in defense of the editor, the hysteria especially in NYC against “those Christians,” and how important it is that a conservative free-ranging newspaper not get that reputation in the industry and among its consitutency (regardless of how many publications have permission to be clearly “liberal”).

    It’s the perfect PR storm. The in-your-face blog, the copy tampering (as I would feel as a writer), the failure of CYA measures with the editor(s). Any one of these would not have been a firing offense. Ask for help Girl! “This is imbalanced and flippant, I propose adding [this], whaddya think?” It’s basic survival as well as courtesy, don’t embarrass your senior officers except to save your or their lives.

    I know the cause is righteous. All the more serpentine wisdom required. Now be honest, weren’t you blinded by allowing yourself to be ticked off at the writer? Remember, the battle is not against flesh and blood, and a timely deep breath may keep us on the field…

  • http://www.youngandcatholic.com Tim Drake

    Keep in mind that most editors would have absolutely no qualms about altering a pro-life (strike that – make it anti-abortion) piece with no fear of losing their jobs. Much has already been written on this topic on this blog’s online pages.

    Last year, after being interviewed by National Public Radio, and being unapologetically pro-life, my entire interview was cut. “It didn’t fit the tone of our program,” I was later told. No bias there I’m afraid!

    As for having errors edited in, I’m all too familiar with this practice. Too few editors are willing to go the extra mile to make sure that the edits they’ve made haven’t altered a story in a negative way. A good editor is worth his or her weight in gold.