On our June 7, 2019 roundtable episode of the Longreads Podcast, Essays Editor Sari Botton, Contributing Editor Aaron Gilbreath, and Senior Editor Kelly Stout share what they’ve been reading and nominate stories for the Weekly Top 5 Longreads.
This week, the editors discuss stories in The Cut, The New Yorker, and The California Sunday Magazine.
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“It’s so important to push through your discomfort and watch these things and read these stories. It’s important for us to have episodes like this where we’re paying attention to heavy stories about other people’s difficulties that we don’t have.” —Sari Botton
The Cut revisits the story of The Central Park Five with a look at the experiences of the nine women who were raped, assaulted, and one, murdered, by Matias Reyes. Reyes only admitted to the crime years after Manhattan District Attorney Linda Fairstein had, in 1989, charged five innocent young boys with the crimes.
The team discusses the complicity of Fairstein, the police, and the press in vilifying the wrong people, and the way that the womens’ stories, central to everything, were never properly told. They also talk about Ava Duvernet’s When They See Us Netflix series and how it humanizes the boys from a similarly overdue angle. They address the responsibility we have to engage with tough stories, and how a story like this, about racism and misogyny, has reach far beyond New York City.
“To read these two pieces side by side disturbed me further, because on the one hand, you have somebody who’s being falsely accused of rape, and on the other hand, you have somebody saying I was raped, and not being believed.” —Kelly Stout
The editors respond to Jim DeRogatis’s memoir of reporting on R. Kelly’s alleged victims, as well as his acknowledgement of his failures, prejudices, and the perspective that he lacked as a white member of the press.
The team discusses the blind spots of whiteness, and how white people fail to see what is directly in front of us when it comes to realities non-white communities have long dealt with. Additionally, they look at how in this particular case, information about R. Kelly’s actions was available for years and ignored by reporters. They also address the way members of privileged communities create scapegoats to recalibrate a sense of security after horrible incidents, including hanging on to the idea that the justice system provides protection more than it exacerbates harm.
25:28 The Billboard (Kathy Dobie, May 30, 2019, The California Sunday Magazine)
“Shorthand isn’t enough… victims don’t get the privilege of shorthand.” —Aaron Gilbreath
Artist Stephanie Montgomery was working in a club in Los Angeles, dancing and trying to get her career started, when one of the customers raped her. She told management and the police, but no one did anything. This is a story about the aftermath of that rape, and how Montgomery went on to tell her story by painting a billboard on the I-10 Freeway.
The team continues their conversation about the shortcomings of law enforcement and the media, as well as the meaning and weight of the word victim. They touch on the importance of permitting people who have suffered a trauma to forge their own path to healing. They reiterate the need for details and going beyond shorthand terms like ‘sexual assault’ in these stories. Readers may not want to read or hear these details, but they need to learn them if anything is going to change.
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