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Readers Lash Out About Bill Keller’s Column on Woman With Cancer (NYT / Public Editor’s Journal)
Bill Keller’s column in The New York Times on Monday about Lisa Bonchek Adams has generated a great deal of negative response. Xeni Jardin, the well-known writer who blogs on Boing Boing, sometimes about her own experience with cancer, was outraged, calling it bullying. Adams herself responded this way on Twitter: “I don’t know why I, a person dedicated to education and personal choice by cancer patients, have been so mischaracterized.” CJR / Behind The News Before last Wednesday you probably hadn’t heard of Adams, a Connecticut mother of three who has been tweeting and blogging about her experience living with, and being treated for, stage IV breast cancer. Adams’ moderate following occupies a niche realm, consisting largely of cancer activists and those afflicted with the disease, and there would’ve been little way for her frequent updates to make their way onto the press radar — aside from a short feature on Adams in USA Today published in 2011 (the piece didn’t mention her Internet presence). Then Bill and Emma Keller took it upon themselves to chaperone her feeds to a new breed of Internet fame, in a husband wife one-two punch: Emma published a controversial piece on Adams in The Guardian Wednesday and Bill wrote an editorial on the same subject for Monday’s Times. HuffPost In a piece in the Times entitled “Heroic Measures,” Bill compared her “fierce” approach to that of his father-in-law, who he said died a “calm” death in a British hospital that emphasized palliative care. “His death seemed to me a humane and honorable alternative to the frantic medical trench warfare that often makes an expensive misery of death in America,” he wrote. NYT In The Guardian, Emma questioned Adams’ documenting her illness in a public forum. “Are her tweets a grim equivalent of deathbed selfies, one step further than funeral selfies?” Emma wrote, referring to self-taken images. A wave of online criticism developed from Adams’ followers and others, accusing Emma of mischaracterizing her. Emma was also criticized for publishing private correspondence with Adams as part of her column. Poynter / MediaWire The Guardian has removed the post. “Following an investigation by the Guardian’s independent readers’ editor, we have removed the article in question from our website because it is inconsistent with the Guardian editorial code,” spokesperson Gennady Kolker tells Poynter via email. On The Media / TLDR It’s unclear to me why Emma picked on Adams. Before Emma’s piece, Adams’ follower count was in the 7,000 range. That’s not a huge audience. I don’t know what the larger scene of writers who discuss illness online is, but I assume that there’s a lot more people than Adams, and that many people are more prominent. Medium / Zeynep Tufekci Both Kellers get the basic facts wrong. That’s quite an astonishing event in and of itself — and exactly why Adams is providing such an important educational service.