Maoist China or…Maoist American newsroom?

On March 7 Susy Schultz, president of Public Narrative, a Chicago-based, liberal-leaning nonprofit designed to help journalists report urban stories, published a glowing online profile of veteran Chicago investigative reporter Sarah Karp. Karp, a longtime former colleague of Schultz's at the Chicago Reporter, is a 2016 recipient of one of  Public Narrative's Studs Terkel Community Media Awards.

Karp's reporting, according to Public Narrative, had "led directly to the indictment of former Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett for her role in a $23 million bribery scheme." (Sounds like Chicago, doesn't it?)

Here is what Schultz (by her own account) wrote:

Sarah Karp is a petite woman with a brown-bob hair cut and a smile that doesn’t end. But just try to stand in the way of Karp and a document, or a database, or a report or anything she may need for the story she is covering.

Um, what could possibly be offensive about that?

Ah, my pretties, you have vastly underestimated the wrath of the feminist Erinyes, especially in the media. Don't you know that it's a no-no to write one single thing about a woman's personal appearance?

So here's what happened next, according to Schultz:

I received one note telling me how Sarah’s award was diminished by the “sexism” in my writing. I was then told that several people had complained to this editor and one even called my lede “disgusting.”


The editor who wrote to me, a respected colleague, then gave me this rule:

When writing about anyone in a professional context, everyone should avoid referring to the person’s appearance except in rare circumstances. It is irrelevant and, for a woman, usually demeaning or patronizing. What does being petite or having a cute haircut have to do with her journalistic chops? Should we expect a tough reporter to look a different way?

But as Schultz explained, that was exactly her point:

People do expect a tough reporter to look different.

Not good enough, apparently. Here's the next development in the Karp saga:

…I took my question to the listserv of JAWS, Journalism and Women’s Symposium, a national group of women journalists and some of the finest wordsmiths I know.

We had an excellent discussion in which I was called out for a very bad opener in the profile. Agreed. My apologies.

So now, if you click to Schultz's profile of Karp, you'll discover that Schultz's original lead has been entirely erased–by Schultz herself.

Here is Wikipedia's description of the infamous "struggle sessions" that marked the Chinese Cultural Revolution of 1966-1974:

In general, the victim of a struggle session was forced to admit to various crimes before a crowd of people who would verbally and physically abuse the victim until he or she confessed. Struggle sessions were often held at the workplace of the accused, but were sometimes conducted in sports stadiums where large crowds would gather if the target was famous enough.[1]

Just sayin'.