On "Dr. V's Magical Putter"

Friday, January 24, 2014

Transcript

Last week, ESPN’s  Grantland ran a remarkable story titled “Dr. V’s Magical Putter,” a journalistic odyssey that began with curiosity about a supposedly revolutionary golf club, and ended by focusing on the chaotic life of its inventor, a woman named Essay Anne Vanderbilt.  The reporter, Caleb Hannan, discovered that Vanderbilt was transgender, and he revealed his knowledge of this fact to Vanderbilt. Shortly after, Vanderbilt committed suicide. Bob speaks with ESPN.com writer and transgender activist, Christina Kahrl, to understand the errors in “Dr. V’s Magical Putter.” 

Chez le photographe du motel

 

Guests:

Christina Kahrl

Hosted by:

Bob Garfield

Comments [11]

Will Caxton

"... when I originally greeted you, I called you 'he.'" Did I miss the part where Mr Garfield apologized for this mistake?

Jan. 31 2014 11:11 AM
sabina walker from seattle.

i'm always amazed that the hostility people--- especially men show towards transwomen. nevermind that dr. v INSISTED SEVERAL TIMES that the story of the putter NOT be about her, but about the actual putter itself. never mind that that was something the writer of the original piece AGREED TO. never mind that even the investors and the author thought the putter actually improved their game. never mind that the investors DID NOT think that Dr. V was a con artist, since, as the story went, she took the money and *actually made a great putter.* never mind all of that, let's frame her story as one of a con artist--- a stereotype as common about transwomen that one of the slang terms for a transexual is "a trap." never mind that changing one's life story for transexuals isn't just a matter of reinvention, but a matter of survival, since transwomen are killed quite frequently, and more often than not, the killer gets off scott free, using the 'con artist' defense. never mind alllll of that.

mr. greenwald never bothers to give dr. v. a fair shake. instead he follows the exact same trajectory as Hannan, doing little more than a second hatchet job, carving up the same corpse, using ESPN'S Kahrl to justify everything that Hannan did--- especially the dehumanization of Dr. V. she is repeatedly vilified, and any attempts at contextualizing her life, or any transexual is cursory--- if that. instead of having an real, vocal activist, who's loyalty wouldn't be divided between her profession and her personal life, we get Kahrl. a slanted interview if there ever was one. Kahrl's defense of V,--- or any transexual could barely be described as luke warm, if one was being extra generous. if greenwald's transphobic hostility was barely contained during the interview, it freed itself in the last few questions. forgetting that the target was supposedly Dr V, he felt the need to personally disrespect and insult not only the person he was interviewing, but transexuals in general with this little bon mot: "aren't you fighting an uphill battle?"

for years i've enjoyed listening to on the media, but i think that is at an end. considering the contempt greewald has for people like me, i doubt he'll lose any sleep over it, but then, i wouldn't expect someone who can't overlook his transphobia to, anyways.

Jan. 29 2014 09:15 PM
Ryan Anys from Los Angeles

I firmly believe in the credo of "live and let live."

People are people and the should have the freedom to live however they see fit. Period. And We the People (society as a whole) are lucky to live in time where general attitudes, medical science and technology afford individuals the opportunity to have their physiology surgically and chemically altered to match their internal being and spirit.

All of that being said, however, no one has the right to "rewrite" their personal history. People "reinvent" themselves all the time. Born on the "wrong side of the tracks" but made good as a wildly successful whatever. Hit rock bottom as an alcoholic or addict but ascended from the ashes to live a wonderful, rich life. In those scenarios, you don't get to erase the wrong side of the tracks or alcoholic bottom-out.

Similarly, if you were born, physiologically speaking, a man and take advantage of surgical and chemical means to "transform" your body and become, physiologically speaking, a women, you don't get to erase the first half of your personal history.

There are things in my past I'm not happy about. If someone were to investigate me, those issues would come to light. I can't hide from the facts. And I don't deserve as special pass to do so. No one does.

Moreover, this isn't a story about "outing" anyone. It's a story about a person (regardless of their gender identity) perpetrating a SERIOUS FRAUD. But their gender identity is relevant to the story because this person was able to perpetrate so seamless and far reaching a fraud because they literally crafted a FAKE identity, right down to their sex.

It's one thing to say: "I know that I'm a woman, but I have a man's body." That's an understandable scenario that we're all familiar with, and an issue many people have great sympathy for (myself included). However, saying: "I know that I'm a woman, but I have a man's body and I've concocted a completely false story to establish my female identity," is not OK or a defensible position. And any negative repercussions resulting from that lie are certainly not deserving of sympathy.

And Christina Kahrl comment that: "I don't know why Dr. V didn't disclose her true identity..." is totally disingenuous. She knows full well Dr. V invented her identity to sell putters. She deserved to be "outed" because she, in part, used her gender reassignment as a vehicle to perpetrated a fraud.

Jan. 28 2014 02:57 PM
John

The closet was the worst thing for advancing gay rights. The transgender community should consider that if they want to make progress.

Jan. 28 2014 02:51 PM
Ryan Anys from Los Angeles

I firmly believe in the credo of "live and let live."

People are people and the should have the freedom to live however they see fit. Period. And We the People (society as a whole) are lucky to live in time where general attitudes, medical science and technology afford individuals the opportunity to have their physiology surgically and chemically altered to match their internal being and spirit.

All of that being said, however, no one has the right to "rewrite" their personal history. People "reinvent" themselves all the time. Born on the "wrong side of the tracks" but made good as a wildly successful whatever. Hit rock bottom as an alcoholic or addict but ascended from the ashes to live a wonderful, rich life. In those scenarios, you don't get to erase the wrong side of the tracks or alcoholic bottom-out.

Similarly, if you were born, physiologically speaking, a man and take advantage of surgical and chemical means to "transform" your body and become, physiologically speaking, a women, you don't get to erase the first half of your personal history.

There are things in my past I'm not happy about. If someone were to investigate me, those issues would come to light. I can't hide from the facts. And I don't deserve as special pass to do so. No one does.

Moreover, this isn't a story about "outing" anyone. It's a story about a person (regardless of their gender identity) perpetrating a SERIOUS FRAUD. But their gender identity is relevant to the story because this person was able to perpetrate so seamless and far reaching a fraud because they literally crafted a FAKE identity, right down to their sex.

It's one thing to say: "I know that I'm a woman, but I have a man's body." That's an understandable scenario that we're all familiar with, and an issue many people have great sympathy for (myself included). However, saying: "I know that I'm a woman, but I have a man's body and I've concocted a completely false story to establish my female identity," is not OK or a defensible position. And any negative repercussions resulting from that lie are certainly not deserving of sympathy.

And Christina Kahrl comment that: "I don't know why Dr. V didn't disclose her true identity..." is totally disingenuous. She knows full well Dr. V invented her identity to sell putters. She deserved to be "outed" because she, in part, used her gender reassignment as a vehicle to perpetrated a fraud.

Jan. 28 2014 01:48 PM
Adreana Langston from Long Beach, CA

The activist said that "you do not get to ask people about their genitals". So this activist is now a woman and used to be man. I am going to take it that as a woman this person does not spend a lot of time with other women. I am a gym member and in the women's locker room I have heard women talk out loud, casually with other women that they do not know outside of the gym, about childbirth stories, hysterectomy stories, breast enhancement stories, ect. Women do, frequently, ask other women about the breasts, ovaries, uterus's and other personal body parts that have to do with reproduction. Those question DO get asked in "polite society". People are not required to answer but to pretend that the question do not get asked is to show one's ignorance about the conversations women truly have among themselves.

Jan. 27 2014 01:29 AM
ER from JC

I find it strange how whenever a story about someone who is transgender and also pretty crazy (see 'Kryzie King') emerges, people are required to (at least pretend to) believe that their claiming to feel like the opposite sex is somehow their one reasonable rational thought.

Jan. 26 2014 10:30 AM
Amy B

Bob, you are one the best interviewers around. I like how you don't allow your interviewee to redirect. And you always stay on fact and polite. When this activict said the story was "about a putter," I found that a bit ingenious. The story was about fraud and deception. I feel the reporter was filling gaps, as you said, and was totally in bounds.
Thanks for your work. Your show helps me think and that's always a good thing.

Jan. 26 2014 07:37 AM
whatever

Bob, I think your take on this is the most reasonable I've seen. I don't understand why media (eg Jay Rosen) is falling over themselves to distances themselves from Hannan's reporting on Dr. V (or even apologize for it.)

Once Hannan discovered that there were elements of criminal fraud involved (lying about being a Vanderbilt, being good friends with the Hilton family with access to the Hiltons golf courses and customers, having a Wharton MBA, having an MIT physics degree) to obtain investors, or even defraud customers, then I think her entire history became germane.

The story is framed by the transgender community and now the media as how one reporter or website outed a transgender individual, and we are told that her being transgender had nothing to do with the article. But while being a transgender individual is not fraudulent behavior by itself, the public does have an interest in the entire history of a con artist to determine if there has been prior fraudulent activities.

So this isn't the story of how one reporter outed a transgender individual, but the story of how one reporter outed fraud.

We are told to ignore this fraud because the golf industry is rife with hype and bogus claims of technology but much of Dr. V's fraud wasn't about the physics of the putter but about claims she made about herself that to persuade investors as well as customers about the product and the company behind it.

We are told Dr. V's being transgender is not relevant to the story, but when Dr. V chose to lie about her past to boost sales and gain investments, Dr. V made her past relevant to the story.

I think the media analysis I've heard of this case has been very shallow and seems driven by political correctness.

Jan. 25 2014 11:49 AM
Jesse Wright from Clarksdale, Mississippi

Hi, Bob,
I, too, read the Grantland piece and was immediately obsessed with it (and I waited all week for your show, to see what you'd have to say about it.)

Now, having listened to your show, I must say that I don't believe you gave Dr. V or the story's author their due. In the article, Dr. V comes off as nothing short of a narcissistic psychopath (based on her emails to the authors, and on the way her former family and former business associates say she used them). Given that, plus the fact that she made up a past to sell a putter possibly based on junk physics that she invented show that clearly, something was mentally wrong with Dr. V (and I don't mean anything to do with her gender identity).
I think it's wrong and hurtful to the Grantland reporter to insinuate that his story somehow pushed Dr. V over the edge and that he is somehow culpable for her suicide. She was an adult, albeit (apparently) an emotionally and mentally unstable one. We should give her the agency and the control over her life that she deserves and conclude that her suicide was, ultimately, her own tragic choice. So was her decision to fabricate a past, design a putter based on junk science and become something of a celebrity in the golf world.
Anyway, thanks. I love your program and listen every week.

Jan. 25 2014 09:14 AM
Terry McKenna from dover nj

It was useful to hear the point of view of the activist, but there is a bit of unreality here. News media often take a story to a different place than where it started. In this case, the reporter thought he had a piece about a golf club but something else emerged. Yes there might have been a better way to report this, but it is unrealistic to expect that reporters will be able to anticipate all the ways in which someone might react badly to a story, especially when the job or a reporter is to ferret out the unusual and the striking. and the upsetting.

And let's also admit that most of us (as pointed out in the story) have no experience with a trans gender person. (Even if we do, we may not know it).

It is terrible that the person who was exposed felt that suicide was the only option, and in the future, the reporter will treat a trans gender person differently. but... who knows what else may occur in some future story that the writer, in the excitement over news, does not realize will freak someone out.

Jan. 25 2014 08:09 AM

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