Mass shootings more about men than mental health; male editors don’t buy it

If you say the word bias as applied to journalism, most people will automatically frame it in politics. But a journalist’s piece on Medium this week reveals a bipartisan reality: gender bias.

Laura Kiesel, a freelance journalist in Boston, describes the trouble she had getting an editor to approve her story, since published on Politico, that challenges the assertion that mental illness is at the heart of mass shootings. “If that’s true,” she wondered. “Then where are the women mass shooters?”

The problem? While women have made gains in the nation’s newsrooms, editors are still predominantly male and they didn’t want to hear that it’s a gender that needs to be blamed, not mental illness.

Her female editorial contacts would commission the story, but the male leaders up the chain would kill it, she said.

But the most distressing part was when he began making grand — and factually incorrect — assertions. For instance, he said that women didn’t commit mass shootings because “women don’t own guns.” Additionally, he wrote that men often begin to become violent with women when they try to leave the relationship.

Though women on the whole own less guns than men, 22% of adult women still do — far from none. And while men with a history of domestic abuse are more likely to try to murder their female partners when they attempt to leave or succeed at leaving the relationship, the first instances of violence often begin far earlier than that.

I found this editor’s comments jarring, even offensive. Nonetheless, I wanted to try to maintain a working relationship with the publication, so while I gently pushed back on some of his false claims, I assured the female editor I would try to address some of his concerns as best I could.

I took a few days to revise it and then re-filed. But my piece was killed because the male publisher believed that “… making the claim that gender is a stronger [predictor] of violence than mental illness counters our editorial priority at the moment.”

She was told to portray toxic masculinity as a mental illness, thus making the long-standing assertion fit. Just one problem: it’s not classified as a mental illness.

The same problem happened when she next pitched it to Politico. A female editor approved, a male peer spiked it — only this time Kiesel appealed to the female editor that bias was at play. The editor overruled her colleague.

Kiesel also writes that a male editor told a woman with a personal essay about domestic abuse to “lighten up” the piece.

In the post-#MeToo era, we know the power of female voices when they are not being censored. Unfortunately, while women and femme writers have been making strides in media and publishing, it seems we’re still often subject to the whims of male editors. And until we have much more control over the narrative — especially on issues that disproportionately impact us — we still have a long way to go.

But by learning to trust women (as well as others who have been historically oppressed) to tell our stories the way we want, we will not just have more equity and inclusion in journalism and publishing, but a more richly diverse landscape of storytelling and reporting — and ultimately, a better society.

(h/t: Paul Tosto)