At what point does constructive criticism fail to be constructive?
What got me thinking about this was the recent dust up over a story, which happened earlier this month. See, what happened was, two weeks ago, Ebony Digital featured an article called, “Notorious to Glorious: Genarlow Wilson is No Child Molester and Never Was.”
The story, which was written by Chandra Thomas Whitfield, sought to highlight the current happenings of Genarlow Wilson, a man, who along with five other men were convicted of aggravated child molestation against a 17-year-old girl, and a 15-year-old girl. Wilson, who was 17 years old at the time, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the crime. However, he was released after serving nearly three years in a Georgia prison when a judge ruled that his sentence was ‘cruel and unusual’ punishment. The online story highlighted what Wilson had been up to since his conviction; including being a college student a few credits short from graduating, and discussed how the label of sexual offender had negatively impacted his life.
The story itself was very sympathetic, showing how Wilson had been railroaded by an overzealous justice system, which seeks to give out the harshest punishment to folks with dark skin. However, there were a few problems with the story: For one, Whitfield had incorrectly wrote that Wilson’s conviction was overturned, when in fact, his conviction still stands, although his time in prison was reduced. It also said that the sexual contact between Wilson and the teenage girls was consensual, which is also not true considering that a teenager is legally incapable of consenting to sex. There were also issues with the title itself, particularly the inclusion of the word, “glorious” to describe a man convicted of sexual assault.
Of course, this didn’t sit well with some of the online magazine’s readers, including Gina McCauley, writer and founder of What About Our Daughters, a website dedicated to combating negative portrayals of African American women in the media, who would be one of the first to ring the alarm. After vowing that her “online tactical team” was on the case, McCauley and her supporters unleashed a full fledge campaign not only against Ebony magazine and its advertisers, but also the mostly woman-led editorial staff, who would come to be christened by McCauley as the Ebony 4. In one particular blog post called, “Ebony Magazine Editors Don’t “Condone Rape” – Except When They Do!,” McCauley writes, “If they were honorable and decent, they would present a different perspective from rape and sexual assault survivors, but this isn’t about the truth, this is about a group of Black women who work at Ebony.com needing to be fulfilled by playing Mommy to a FULLY. GROWN. BLACK MAN.. in order to feel important.”
However, McCauley’s sentiment seemed to resonate with many readers of both WOAD and Ebony. The pressure from WAOD resulted in severe backlash prompting Ebony to respond. As of today, the story is gone and so is an editorial response the magazine had release to explain its decision to run the piece. In a statement called Moving Forward Together, the editorial board said the following:
“Your response to our story has further illuminated for us the importance of engaging around issues of sexual violence, of supporting victims, and of empowering our community with relevant knowledge and resources. We deeply regret that the perception of the article about Wilson (published on EBONY.com on July 9, 2012) led some readers to believe that we are less than sensitive to the plight of young women in sexual assault cases.”