For anyone wagering on how long it would take for NEW MOBILITY to be in the hotseat under my tenure as editor, all bets are now off: It only took one month. August’s News Analysis, “The Curious Case of Charles Krauthammer,” ignited a lively debate both in the online comments section and in my inbox. From “cowardly” and “offensive” to “wonderfully written and balanced,” responses to Seth McBride’s article ran the gamut, all the way up to one reader suggesting we had anti-Semitic intentions (despite no reference to religion or ethnicity anywhere in the article).
In light of the passionate response, I thought it might be helpful to pull back the curtain on how the article came to be and what our nefarious — or really-not-so-nefarious — intentions were.
It all started with a simple email I sent to our staff on June 8, sharing a New York Times article reporting Krauthammer’s announcement that he only had a few weeks to live as he battled cancer:
It’s interesting reading the initial coverage of Charles Krauthammer’s passing how little mention there is of his SCI. This NYT piece has no mention. Could make for a news analysis piece …
As a fellow C5 quad, a history major and a journalist, I had followed Krauthammer’s career with a great deal of respect. I often used him as an example of what was possible, both for myself and in discussions with others.
We started the news analysis column to look at how the mainstream media covers disability. I knew that Krauthammer didn’t go out of his way to publicize his disability, but what I found interesting was the Times article’s lack of any mention of his quadriplegia or use of a wheelchair. How often have the accomplishments of a prominent wheelchair user been trivialized in media coverage that plays up the inspiring, against-all-odds clichés so often attached to disability? Those trends are even more prominent when the person with a disability is near death or dying.
But here we had a story that presented Krauthammer’s accomplishments without any wheelchair-related trivialization, and it didn’t even mention his disability. Why didn’t it? Was this an anomaly? How were other outlets covering this? I had many questions, but honestly, more than having a single, brilliant idea for a column, I saw a topic that seemed ripe for analysis.
When Krauthammer passed less than two weeks later, McBride took on the assignment. He eloquently addressed many of the questions I had in his drafts, while also raising new questions. He and I worked together on revisions. We discussed the article on our weekly editorial calls and debated whether to run a photo of Krauthammer in his wheelchair. We knew some might object to portraying him in a light he worked to avoid, but eventually agreed it was appropriate since his legacy is secured and his disability is, and will be, a part of it.
While some of the vitriol in the response caught us off guard, we expected a healthy back and forth. In these polarized political times, it is imperative that we have discussions like this, and I am proud that NEW MOBILITY is one of the venues where we can do that.