Over at The New York Times, Public Editor Margaret Sullivan continues to speak frankly about the decisions of her colleagues and bosses. On Saturday, Sullivan published a sharp criticism of the Times Magazine's bizarre Hillary Clinton cover and questionable Wendy Davis cover. "I did not find the Clinton cover illustration sexist but simply bizarre, lacking the sophisticated execution one expects from The Times Magazine," she wrote, adding that the magazine's Wendy Davis cover managed to "trip over a double standard," to boot.
Last weekend, Sullivan published a lengthy critical assessment of two different cover stories in the Times Magazine, both of which have been accused of sexism or gender bias. The Clinton cover, released in January, featured a bizarre image of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's head in the form of a bloated, flesh-colored planet. And the February Davis cover featured the Texas gubernatorial candidate alongside the heading "Can Wendy Davis Have It All?"
Sullivan wrote that she found the Clinton cover less sexist and more utterly bizarre — finding a person who didn't think it bizarre might be more of a challenge — but that the Davis piece reflected a deeper problem: The ease with which "analyses" of gender bias can, actually, just perpetuate those biases.
For many women, this relentless second-guessing hits hard and cuts deep. We take it personally, for good reason: In our society, there may be no more damaging wound than being found wanting in the good-mother department — and no career achievement can salve it. Beginning the reader’s experience with the outdated “Have It All” headline didn’t help, nor did the subheadline: “A Texas-Size Tale of Ambition, Motherhood and Political Mythmaking,” which comes close to suggesting that Ms. Davis is spinning a big lie. Together, they curdle the piece that follows. A description in the second paragraph of Ms. Davis’s “fitted black dress and high heels” and her omnipresent half smile does little to ease the reader’s suspicions.
Recently, Sullivan was publicly weary towards Nicholas Kristof's publishing Dylan Farrow's open letter accusing Woody Allen of sexual abuse, a decision of Kristof's that Sullivan called "troubling." Kristof, a friend of Mia Farrow, had used his own editorial space to publish the letter, after the Times' higher-ups displayed a reluctance to publish the letter.
And when number-cruncher Nate Silver was poached from the Times by ESPN, after a drawn-out bidding war between the two publications, Sullivan wrote a strongly-worded piece about Silver. While she respected Silver's method of work, she wrote, there were plenty at the Times who felt differently. "I don't think Nate Silver ever really fit into the Times culture," she wrote. "And I think he was aware of that. He was, in a word, disruptive."
So, who's going to be on Sullivan's chopping board next?
Editor's Note: A previous version of this article misunderstood the role of a public editor. We regret this error.
Images: The New York Times Magazine