How NOT to report on science or scholars

I admit it, I’ve blogged about this before. Now I am going to blog about it again. I can’t help myself. Media distortion of science and/or scholarship doesn’t just drive me bananas … it drives me banana split because the whole thing is topped with nuts.  That’s why it is called yellow-journalism; all the bananas.

The latest ‘victim’ of media malarkey was Dr. Susan Bordo. Last Sunday a quasi-newspaper wrote an article about her book that was simply heinous and patently done to stir up as much controversy as possible. The sentence the made me metaphorically fist my hands in my hair was this one:

She concludes that the BBC drama The Tudors, in which Natalie Dormer played Anne, is a more accurate portrayal of the queen than all the books and television shows produced by Dr Starkey, whom she describes as “an all-purpose media tart”.

Never, anywhere in the book did she every call the BBC drama The Tudors more accurate than the books or shows produced by Dr. Starkey. That makes her look like an idiot, instead of one of the most renown leading theorists of our times. Yes, she rightly criticized him for unheedingly presenting his opinion in places where they could be easily misconstrued as historical fact and yes, she nailed him for his sexism, but she did NOT denigrate his research or qualifications. Moreover, the article makes it sound like Bordo’s book is a monologue on the evils of David Starkey, when in reality he is one of MANY historians critiqued and was only discussed a handful of times.

It’s not like she accused him of sexism without backup, either. Bordo pointed out in her book (p.149) that Starkey has publically complained on the record about “feminized history” because it turns “proper history” into a “soap opera”. When “feminized” is used as a pejorative term about perceived feminine-and-thus-deviant scholarship then that is obviously equating women with something worse or lesser than the ‘norm’ of masculinity –  and that is practically a textbook example of sexism. He also paints Anne of culpable for her own death, since he gives her the “credit” for “having turned” the Sweet Henry VIII into a Monster Tyrant. That is basically an extended dance mix of a Jezebel ‘making’ a good man go bad. Yeah, blaming ‘bad’ women for a ‘nice’ guy’s bad deeds doesn’t have any overtones of misogyny, does it? 

Furthermore, the quote about him being “an all purpose media tart” is not from the book yet the article does not make it clear where exactly the quote came from. Later in the article the reporter says that Dr. Bordo told “The Independent on Sunday: “His approach is sexist. He takes female historians to task for their focus on love affairs and not military history, but his work is just as soap opera-ish”, but other quotes presenting an ‘attack’ on Dr. Starkey are not sourced. 

Dr. Starkey is a famous historian in the UK. I’ll bet dimes to little green apples that this was an attempt to create a ‘feud’ between two big-name scholars about Anne Boleyn in order to provide more sensationalistic press. Good thing they didn’t care they presented a ludicrous review of Dr. Bordo’s book.


4 thoughts on “How NOT to report on science or scholars

  1. Hey Kyra, here’s the really ironic thing. The phrase “all purpose media tart” is STARKEY describing himself. It IS in the book, but it’s a quote from Starkey!!!

  2. Just as annoying as the article are some of the pointed responses from people believe that a Pulitzer Prize nominated expert in modern feminist philosophy well known for her contributions to the field of contemporary cultural studies is incapable of researching a topic involving feminist historical cultural studies and form an educated opinion on it. In fact, I would argue that a woman of such expertise is far more qualified to digest and articulate how societies through history viewed Queen Anne Boleyn than any historian. And oh yes, the fact that she is not British was also raised and is not relevant. As rich and fascinating as English history is, it is not “rocket science”. The average educated person fluent in English can certainly understand it.

  3. I think “THE TUDORS” was the most inaccurate series I have ever seen. Surely you didn’t say it was more accurate than…..anything at all!!
    The costumes were WRONG, the head dresses were RIDICULOUS and some of it was HISTORICALLY INCORRECT. wee dark Spanish-looking Henry was a joke. Accurate? I don’t think so!!!!!

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