The online magazine Slate makes its name by taking up the unconventional viewpoint, such as when one of its writers urged us all to take a Trump presidential candidacy seriously.
But at some point, decency needs to enter the formula. If you decide to highlight a topic such as cyber bullying, then the usual "hey let's be the devil's advocate to get attention" routine might not be the best approach. Alas, you would be wrong if you credited Slate magazine with any such analysis.
Emily Bazelon recently was featured on a Slate podcast talking about her research into the Phoebe Prince story. Credited with a more "nuanced" look at the issue, the podcast focused on the perspective of one of the girls who targeted Phoebe Prince, Flannery Mullins.
I want to say, first of all, that my biology partner in high school committed suicide. She was being molested by her stepfather and when he killed her dog, she decided to blow her brains out. I had extended a hand to her, seeing that she was upset, but was brushed aside sharply. So when I went on my band trip, she killed herself.
I carried that guilt for a few decades. Nothing in the situation could have been attributed to me or my actions, and I even tried to help her as best I could. Still, I worried for years that there was something I should have seen or done to stop her from killing herself.
Let's contrast that with Flannery Mullins. "I'm not ashamed of myself at all," she said. When told of Phoebe Prince's suicide, her main reaction was "confusion." Huh? "I have no issue in defending myself. I have no issue with it." Flannery Mullins insists. Where is the introspection? The empathy? No where to be found.
Flannery Mullins apparently saw Phoebe Prince as a rival, not as a vulnerable girl. And how does that connect to how she acted? Nowhere in the interview does Flannery Mullins admit that what she did was wrong. The one thing she said she would do differently is talk to Phoebe directly about what was going on with some boy. And the name-calling, threats, online harassment? Nary a word. "It wasn't bullying to me because I don't think someone was meaner to someone else." Really? You can't tell the difference between Phoebe getting close to your alleged boyfriend and threatening someone with violence, calling them names, getting other people to call them names, and harassing them online? Emily Bazelon just takes the word of Flannery Mullins for everything.
The podcast features an interview of a Slate editor with Emily Bazelon. So rather than an interview where we get to hear Flannery Mullins speak for herself, we get to hear Emily Bazelon minimize their bullying and its effects. Bazelon cites Phoebe Prince's romances with high school boys as the source of conflict with the bullying girls. Left unaddressed is what difference that makes. Their actions were still wrong and led this new girl in school to kill herself. None of that enters into Bazelon's analysis. The entire focus of her "reporting" is minimizing the role of the bullies and laying as much blame as possible at Phoebe Prince's feet.
Emily Bazelon knows she is skewing the facts as she reports them to create an alternative story and get her book deal. Flannery Mullins will be in the news again one day, I fear.