Five days after SB Nation published and then yanked a widely derided profile of Daniel Holtzclaw, a disgraced cop who was convicted of multiple counts of rape, sports writer Jeff Arnold apologized for his failings in a message posted to Twitter.
“Now that I have some distance on the piece, I see that it presented a lopsided account that failed to acknowledge the suffering of Mr. Holtzclaw’s victims,” Arnold wrote. “For that, I apologize.”
He noted that while his story was reviewed and signed off on by at least four editors prior to its publication, he still “produced a piece that had massive shortcomings.”
“By not spending more time reaching out to victims or their families as a way of accounting for the horrific abuse they suffered, I made a grave mistake. I accept responsibility for that,” Arnold wrote.
The nearly 12,000-word freelance piece focused on Holtzclaw’s past as a high school and college football player, and painted a sympathetic portrait of the former police officer by relying on accounts from his former teammates and family.
The piece notably lacked a deep examination of any of the victims of Holtzclaw’s abuse.
Thirteen women told police that Holtzclaw sexually assaulted them while he was on duty. All of them were black. Prosecutors said he systematically targeted poor women, often with prior criminal records or substance abuse issues, as he knew they were unlikely to go to the police. He’d search them for drugs and run criminal background checks to see if they had a record, or were wanted on a warrant. Then, they said, he would force them into sex, threatening them with arrest if they didn’t comply.
Holtzclaw was convicted on 18 charges, including four counts of first-degree rape, and additional counts of forcible oral sodomy, sexual battery, procuring lewd exhibition and second-degree rape. He was sentenced to 263 years behind bars.
After the piece was pulled offline, SB Nation editorial director Spencer Hall wrote an editorial note stating that the story was the result of a “complete breakdown” of the editorial process.
“There were objections by senior editorial staff that went unheeded. It was tone-deaf, insensitive to the victims of sexual assault and rape, and wrongheaded in approach and execution,” he wrote. “There is no qualification: it was a complete failure.”
The story can still be viewed here.
According to a memo obtained by Deadspin, the SB Nation long-form program is on “temporary hiatus” while a team reviews exactly how the flawed story got published in the first place.
Read Arnold’s entire message below:
As reporters, we strive never to become part of the story. Last week, I didn’t measure up to that expectation and wanted to offer this statement to account for my failings.
In recent days, I have had a chance to reflect on the profile of convicted rapist Daniel Holtzclaw I worked on for two months in collaboration with the editors at SB Nation. Now that I have some distance on the piece, I see that it presented a lopsided account that failed to acknowledge the suffering of Mr. Holtzclaw’s victims. For that, I apologize.
Throughout an arduous reporting and editing process, my editor and I were mindful that we could never lose sight of those victims or the horrific treatment each of them experienced. But we also felt there was an untold story to be told, which led us to focus on Mr. Holtzclaw, starting with his past as a football player at Eastern Michigan and his pursuit to play in the NFL.
In writing this piece – which was reviewed and signed off on by at least four editors prior to its publication – I hoped to present a more fully-rounded portrait of Mr. Holtzclaw than had appeared in the press. I hoped to explore the question of what had happened to this once-promising young man. I and my editor at SB Nation hoped to find possible answers as to what could have led to him to become a convicted rapist and sexual predator. In the end, though, I produced a piece that had massive shortcomings.
By not spending more time reaching out to victims or their families as a way of accounting for the horrific abuse they suffered, I made a grave mistake. I accept responsibility for that.
While I believe some of the personal attacks on my journalistic integrity and personal character were unfair and unfounded, I take personal and professional responsibility for my work and must, and have, accepted the consequences that have come because of mistakes that occurred – mistakes that I have learned from and will strive not to repeat in the future.
I believe my friends and those who have reached out to offer support over the past several days understand I am not the person I have been made out to be on social media. I know I won’t change the minds of some, but sincerely hope my words here help to express the remorse I feel for the damage this story has caused.
Melissa Jeltsen covers domestic violence and other issues related to women’s health, safety and security. Tips? Feedback? Send an email or follow her on Twitter.