TUESDAY, MAY 18, 2021
Elementary blocking and tackling: Exactly as we were at one time, Sofia Andrade is a sophomore in college (Harvard, class of 2023).
For whatever reason, Slate assigned Andrade to provide a news report on the Gates/French Gates divorce. Andrade is listed an intern at the devolving and occasionally comical site.
Stating the obvious, there's nothing wrong with being young, or even youngish, until such time as there may be. That said, we were struck by the way Andrade (and her unnamed editors) handled the basic blocking and tackling of her news report.
First, a bit of disclosure. We don't know anything about the marriage in question, nor are we hugely interested. But just as a matter of basic theory, if a news org is going to list the things we've learned about some topic, they probably ought to list various things we have actually learned.
That seems to be the promise that's made at the start of Andrade's report. Here it is, headline included:
The Key Details That Have Emerged About Bill Gates’ “Irretrievably Broken” Marriage
The announcement of Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates’ split after 27 years of marriage has left many shocked, in part due to their finely crafted image of marital stability and Gates’ image as a “nerdy do-gooder.” But since then, media outlets have turned the spotlight on Gates, opening up a slew of questions surrounding the Microsoft co-founder’s behavior during what French Gates, in her petition for divorce, called an “irretrievably broken” marriage. In case you haven’t yet had time to dig through the details of the reporting that emerged this past weekend, here are the highlights of what we’ve learned so far.
Here are the highlights of what we’ve learned, Slate says; these are "the key details." Immediately, though—continuing directly—Slate proceeds to tell us this.
Shortly after the announcement, People and the Daily Beast published reports on the yearslong relationship between Gates and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. The two men were first connected in 2011, three years after Epstein had been convicted for soliciting a minor for prostitution. According to the Daily Beast, Gates made dozens of visits to Epstein’s New York mansion, where they allegedly discussed how the Microsoft co-founder could end what he called a “toxic” marriage, as well as Epstein’s potential involvement in the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. “Going to Jeffrey’s was a respite from his marriage. It was a way of getting away from Melinda,” one source told the Daily Beast, a characterization that a representative for Gates disputed as “inaccurate.”
Are those among the things we've actually "learned?" According to that passage, we've "learned" that something allegedly was discussed, according to the Daily Beast. Also, we've learned that one (1) source told the Daily Beast something—something which was then disputed by a rep for Gates.
Does Slate understand the difference between things we've learned and things which have been alleged? We ask because this is extremely basic conceptual blocking and tackling, journalism-wise.
The general problem doesn't necessarily stop at Slate. As we've read about this topic in the New York Times, we've been struck by the flimsy way the paper has sourced the various elements of its reporting.
It isn't just that the Times isn't naming its sources, who seem to be fairly small in number. The Times seems to be making very little or no effort to indicate their affiliations in any way at all.
This brings us to the sentence with which Andrade closes her Slate report:
ANDRADE: French Gates allegedly opposed the relationship between Gates and Epstein from the beginning. That relationship, the Wall Street Journal reported, ultimately led French Gates to seek out divorce lawyers as early as October 2019, when the ties between Gates and Epstein became public. In the end, as Bill Gates’ reputation reels in the wake of this reporting, one takeaway feels undeniable: French Gates has handled the fallout impressively. As journalist Sarah Jones tweeted, “nothing but respect for Melinda Gates’s PR team.”
One takeaway feels undeniable, we're now reliably told. Except hmmm. Was Jones perhaps casting some shade with her possibly snarky reference to "[French] Gates's PR team?"
Inquiring minds have no idea. That said, quite a few of Jones' commenters seemed to perhaps and possibly maybe take it that way. Tweets about gossip can be like that in the streets of everyone's towns.
Why not stick with what Slate does best?: Why not stick with what Slate does best—the eye-catching "advice" column which makes readers wonder if the personal problem being addressed is actually a confection?
As we've noted in the past, Slate columnists sometimes wonder whether they're getting played by their advice-seeking correspondents. Dan Kois didn't do so in this report, so we had to wonder for him:
Help! My Daughter Is Determined to Move Out Even if She Ends Up Homeless
BY DAN KOIS / MAY 17, 2021 / 3:07 PM
The communication to which Kois was responding sounded perhaps a bit phony to us. That of course is part of the fun of what's left of Slate.