Thank Heaven For Mainstream Media

The diligent newshounds at CNN have rolled back the curtains of ignorance and misinformation in the Kathy Sierra death threat controversy. I found the link thanks to Dave, who points to Norm Jenson’s blog. Apart from the clip reporting mostly what everyone who read Kathy’s post already knew more than a week ago, it only got a few things wrong. For instance, sensible as Harvard would be to attract David Weinberger as a professor there, he’s a Fellow of the Berkman Center — but they didn’t make do to his words any of the terrible things he feared (I don’t think). And Chris Locke came of relatively benign, making a plausible point about the amount of human energy and cost that it would take to patrol an internet that was insulated from malignant sociopathy (I mean, we aren’t doing so very well in that department in the physical-space world). They didn’t mention Kathy and Chris’s joint statement (on which, good job, friends), but granted the volatility of the topic, CNN successfully avoided playing to hysteria.

On the other hand: I feel sorry for Kathy having been called a “cute kitty” on international news TV. Although she won’t get thousands of messages decrying this form of misogyny, the media digesters did not blaze any new bold paths in egalitarian journalism when they compared an endangered woman to a small, fuzzy, defenseless feline. No, it’s not as bad as a death threat — but if we’re going to open the topic of malignant effects on women, we should speak clearly and directly about androcentric condescension and “protection.”

MArgaret says (Ooh, ooh, Margaret left a comment!):

It seems worth noting here that the “cute kitty” nickname for Kathy Sierra was first given her by fans in comments on her blog. Does this mean that Kathy Sierra is responsible for the ideological belittling of her — and by extension all women — that CNN perpetuated by equating her with a defenseless fluff ball? Or, is she not responsible for her comments? More to the point, if her commenters intended the “cute kitty” nickname affectionately, but the same words function quite differently in a national news story about perceptions of victimization (and reactions to such perceptions), might we have a lovely example of the multiplicity of meaning and the importance of context?

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