Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Nico Hines’ Apology: Not Enough

By Brad Oremland

At last year's Summer Games, Daily Beast writer Nico Hines roamed the Olympic village, using dating apps to find athletes who like sex. It was the worst kind of journalistic voyeurism, a story with no benefit for its audience other than satisfying a sick desire to intrude upon the personal lives of strangers.

Hines, who identifies as straight and cisgender, posed as a man looking for dates on the gay dating app Grindr so he could post information about gay and bisexual Olympians. Hines' article included information which could be used to identify athletes from countries where homosexuality is prohibited, putting people at risk of losing their careers, their freedom, and in some cases, their lives. It was petty and unnecessary, disrespectful and intrusive, profoundly bigoted and homophobic, and criminally, dangerously reckless.

Athlete Ally Executive Director Hudson Taylor told NBC OUT, "Nico Hines' article is as unethical as it is dangerous. There are over 200 athletes competing in the Olympics from countries for which being gay is punishable by death. His failure to comprehend the impact of outing closeted athletes is both unacceptable and offensive." Mark Joseph Stern at Slate called Hines' article "uniquely disgusting and irresponsible." The premier gay sports site, Outsports, named Nico Hines and The Daily Beast editors as their Assholes of the Year.

Both writer and publisher displayed appalling homophobia and carelessness, combined with extreme poor judgement. The article immediately sparked international outrage, to which The Daily Beast responded by editing the article, before finally removing it. Hines disappeared from the site for seven months. He resurfaced last Monday, in a combination apology and announcement that he was resuming his old job.

I read Hines' apology, although members and allies of the LGBTQ community may prefer to enable an ad-blocker before visiting the Daily Beast site. The second paragraph is the critical one:

Private individuals' sex lives are only legitimate topics when they're addressed with their consent or contribute to the public good. The story about athletes using dating apps in the Olympic village did not ask consent and did not advance the public good. The article intruded into the lives of people who had a right to be left alone. For some readers it brought up old, ugly LGBTQ stereotypes. And I didn't accurately represent myself during the reporting of the piece. These were all profound failures, and I'm sorry for them.

All of that is accurate. That part of the apology is very good, and plausibly sincere. But Hines' article wasn't just insensitive and intrusive — it put people's safety in jeopardy, and Hines' latest post glosses over that problem. He acknowledges "the fears that constantly grip some people's lives" and that he "contributed to that fear." But I have read and re-read this section of Hines' apology, and at no point does he acknowledge those fears to be valid. People weren't afraid because they are paranoid. People were afraid because state-sanctioned homophobia and homophobic violence are real.

Hines' apology makes it sound like anyone who was afraid overreacted. This is the "I'm sorry if anyone was offended" version of apology: "I'm sorry if anyone was frightened." It reads — to me, anyway — as not only inauthentic, but as a failure to recognize what most upset people about the original story. This is the most glaringly insufficient part of the apology. You don't say, "I'm sorry people were afraid." You say, "I'm sorry I put people in danger." For an eight-paragraph apology not to recognize that can't be mere oversight. Hines either doesn't want to acknowledge that he put people in danger, or he doesn't care. Either way, it's a pretty ugly shade of homophobia.

While the rest of Hines' apology hit a lot of the right notes, he paints the situation as if he was guilty of little more than insensitivity. Speaking of insensitivity, combining the apology with the notice that Hines "returns full-time to his position as senior editor and London-based reporter with The Beast" does not exactly reek of sincerity. Packaging those two items together comes off as apology + apology accepted. Hines apologized, so he's coming back to his old job. It doesn't work that way. Apologies are accepted (or not) by the wronged party, not by the accomplice to the crime. The Daily Beast has misunderstood its role in this situation: they're part of the problem. Combining the apology and announcement was, at best, an unseemly miscalculation.

Many people were outraged that Hines didn't apologize immediately, and now that he has, no one seems sure why it took seven months. Hines and his employers seem to be betting that enough time has passed for this not to be a big deal any more. They obviously feel that last week's announcement — acknowledging and apologizing for the piece that Hines now says "never should have been conceived, written, or published" — sets things right. But the article was so hurtful and reckless, its removal so reluctant, and the apology so late in coming, that a 390-word apology is not sufficient to set things right, especially combined with a crass announcement that detracts from its sincerity.

In recent years, we've seen athletes seek out sensitivity training to educate themselves about the LGBT community and its struggles. We've seen athletes participate in outreach programs and gay rights advocacy. Has Hines done any of those things? That's for something as simple as an offhand slur or an ignorant comment, not a premeditated article that saw the writer mislead his subjects, mock gay Olympians, betray their desire for privacy, and ignore the risks his story might present for them. I think Hines has learned that he needs to be more careful about publishing homophobic pieces, but it's not at all clear that he's learned anything about his own homophobia.

On the publisher's side, we've yet to hear how this story appeared in the first place. Outsports asked pertinent questions:

Whose idea was it for the story? How many editors read it before it was published? Who made the final decision to hit "publish"? Who OK'd the headline? Were any LGBT Daily Beast staffers consulted on the merits of the story prior to publication? Why did it take all day to delete the story? Was Hines or any other staffer punished? What safeguards are in place to ensure this doesn't happen again?

The Daily Beast seems to believe that saying they're not homophobic gives them a license to print homophobic material without facing criticism or answering questions.

I'm glad that Hines has finally acknowledged his story to be misguided, but he still doesn't seem to grasp the seriousness of what he did, and The Daily Beast clearly does not. It's a middling apology, good in parts but disappointing overall. It's not enough, and Hines' return to The Daily Beast is a slap in the face by that organization to the LGBT community, and to everyone who cares about gay athletes and their safety.

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