I admit, I have a certain fondness for Slate. I like several of its writers (what up, Dahlia Lithwick), I like their sometimes cheesy headlines, I like the Explainer, I like reading the terrible answers and even more terrible questions in Dear Prudence. As Jon Stewart has taught all of us, irreverence is an essential stance toward the news of the day. Irreverence toward the powerful, however, is fundamentally different from mockery of the powerless, and part of today’s Human Nature column illustrates the difference.
Human Nature is basically a quick-hits column (penned by Lord Saletan) that somewhat snarkily offers “both sides” of a current science or health issue. Here is a heartbreaking story from today’s column, reproduced in entirety (minus the links to a related Slate article):
A fat man had his digestive tract surgically altered so he can adopt a baby. Circumstances: The man and his wife have been married for 15 years, are licensed as foster parents, have cared successfully for another adopted child, are the baby’s cousins, and have had the baby in their home from age 1 week to age 4 months. However, the man weighs about 500 pounds. A judge rejected their petition to adopt the baby; the man says it’s because of his weight. The court says that it can’t legally comment but that applicants’ health is always a factor. Rationale: “permanency for the child.” Weight has become a common factor in evaluating adoption applicants in the U.S. and China. The surgery in this case was a gastric bypass so the man can lose enough weight to qualify for adoption. Wife’s take: The fact that my husband had to go under the knife to keep our baby tells you how screwed-up the system is. Adoption advocate’s take: The fact that he went under the knife to keep the baby tells you what a great dad he is.
Apart from its demonstration of the institutionalization of fatphobia, please note that both “sides” here focus on the individual man in question, and neither of them particularly demonizes him for his fat. (We’ll ignore the WLS praise for the moment.) By all accounts, it’s a sad scenario involving a man who sincerely wants to raise this child. (You can read about it in more detail here.)
So why on earth do I have to click on THIS to get to this story from Slate’s front page?
This is not irreverence or speaking a bold truth. This is twisting a story to take a cheap shot at a man who, if you look at it from an FA perspective, is being discriminated against by the justice system, or, if you look at it from an “obesity epidemic” perspective, is MORTALLY ILL and needs life-altering surgery to save his life. But hey, who needs a sympathetic headline if you can stick yet another headless fatty on your front page?
Similarly, the headline on the column page makes fun of the subject of a different story: Brazilians who can now get sex reassignment surgery paid for by their national health care system. The headline? Taxpayer-funded genital mutilation.
Attention, Slate editors: when you make fun of hypocritical politicians like Larry Craig? That’s funny. When you make fun of fatties, trannies, and victims of genital mutilation (in one column!!): NOT SO FUNNY. If you can’t figure out why, start here. And stick to Larry Craig in the meantime.