What scares me about the Better Homes and Gardens commandment debacle

Late last week Better Homes and Gardens blogger Heather W. posted The 10 commandments of dining with little kids. If you clicked that link, you will have noticed that the headline now reads 9 commandments.

They changed it. Quietly. Over the weekend when online activity is generally decreased.

Is it just me, or doesn’t it bug anyone else that this magazine didn’t acknowledge that the content was changed until the original version was being smeared all over the internet?

The editor’s note that is now in place on the post was placed on top of the post on Monday, May 24. The article was posted on Wednesday, May 19.

I don’t know when they changed the post, but I read it around 9 a.m. Monday morning after seeing in on Twitter, and that editor’s note wasn’t there. It was just the post, with the changed headline and the missing commandment.

A brief synopsis of what happened.

Some blogger who apparently doesn’t like hanging out in restaurants where children are shrieking, throwing food on the floor, and running rampant wrote some dumb list for parents giving them the commandments for how to behave in restaurants.

What BHG took out was this commandment:

Yes, I have seen table-side breast feeding at a four-star restaurant. If at all possible, take it to the ladies room. (Note: most upscale restaurants have really nice restrooms!)”

Unfortunately for BHG, enough people had already noticed the offensive proposition and copied it and pasted it all over a bunch of other sites, a Facebook page calling for a boycott was set up. BHG’s very own FB page was littered with angry comments.

The magazine even posted a heartfelt apology.

So, on to what bugs me the most about this.

I don’t give a shit that they have ignorant, uneducated and inconsiderate bloggers working for them. I don’t even mind that they scapegoated her out, saying that nobody else had read the post before it went on the website. I don’t believe that. I worked for a small community newspaper and my university newspaper and nothing got posted in print or online without at least one other person looking at it.

The magazine says that the post was “not vetted by our editors.” What a load of horseshit.

But what really bugs me the most is that they did not post ANYTHING remotely close to an apology or a retraction. They simply removed the offensive part of the article and went about their business as if it never happened.

Until they got called out by thousands of pissed off moms.

A lot of people are saying that BHG has acted honorably and ethically by apologizing and removing the offending content.

That is SO WRONG.

It is highly highly unethical for a media outlet to ignore a mistake, and change content without reflecting that somewhere in the piece.

One example of an ethical media outlet, is the New York Times. Whenever they change something, typically a factual error, it is always noted.

In this time period, when online information is transmitted so quickly and easily, it is important to support media outlets that are honorable, ethical and honest. They must own up to mistakes. They must respect the sanctity of the transmission of information.

I know that some editorialized blog post on kids in restaurants is not exactly Watergate. But if the line gets blurred, there, where does it end?


  1. says:

    May 25, 2010 at 7:47 am

    I don't know. Yeah, the editor or someone should have looked at the piece and approved it, but at the same time, are we saying that bloggers/writers don't have the right to any opinions? Would it have been cut? Better yet, SHOULD it have been cut? Don't get me wrong… I nursed my last kid until she was 28 months old. I nursed in public, in restaurants, where ever I needed/wanted.

    Sounds like the magazine is just over-reacting. Yeah, they should have said something like "we have removed #10 due to blah blah blah" but due to what? Due to most people not agreeing with the author? Was the piece a definitive how-to or was it an opinion piece?

    Like I said, I'm not saying I agree with the author at all – you don't like it, you go eat your dinner in the bathroom – but I find it interesting that the BFing community was upset about it, so they removed it and apologized and now they are upset it was removed… maybe I'm not understanding fully, but…

    • Martha says:

      May 25, 2010 at 8:24 am

      You make an excellent point Candy. I agree with you. Right. If she's writing an editorial piece and it was (or should have been) approved by an editor, then why did they even cut it at all?

      I've been discussing this with a follower on Twitter who says she does this kind of thing for a living and apparently there really are widely read magazines that are letting bloggers post pieces without any oversight.

      That in itself is just another thing that's wrong with this whole scenario. If they aren't going to edit it, and it's an opinion, then they should have just let it ride, maybe adding a note that it was only the blogger's opinion and not the opinion of the magazine at large.

  2. Martha says:

    May 25, 2010 at 8:27 am

    Oh, one more thing. No, no one in the breastfeeding community is upset that it was removed. That's just MY opinion. I don't care one way or the other if they removed the offending opinion or not. What I didn't like was that they didn't notate the change.

    Once something has been published IMO, it shouldn't be edited. Maybe to remove a typo or fix punctuation, but that's it. And if they do edit the piece, they should note what was changed.

  3. says:

    May 25, 2010 at 9:32 am

    Ah! I thought the BFing community was up an uproar (they are easy to piss off – hey, I'm one of those people that STILL won't go to 620 Cafe *laughing*). But yeah, they shouldn't have edited, but that's the power of the internet right and blogging? Anything can be deleted/edited, etc?

  4. Martha says:

    May 25, 2010 at 10:52 am

    Well, the bf-ing community is/was in an uproar, just over the content of the offensive post. Not that it was edited. (Just to clarify.)

    I wrote this post because it just felt slightly Orewellian to me. I didn't put that in the post because it's not quite the same thing and I didn't want to be alarmist.

    The power of the internet is not about changing what we don't like, but sharing information, spreading communication and contact with others, making life more interesting, making life more convenient, etc.

    In theory anyway.

    The unethical behavior stands out to me more since I have worked behind the scenes. I think most people (not necessarily you) don't understand that the media DOES have ethical standards. Bloggers aren't held to the same standards as full-on media outlets – unless they work for them – because most people understand that bloggers are just one person.

    I know you weren't looking for a full-on debate on the topic. Just sharing my thoughts. Of course, if you have any more thoughts on the topic, feel free to share. 🙂

    Also, I don't know about the 620 Cafe thing, but I can only imagine! LOL

  5. Karen Adamo says:

    May 25, 2010 at 3:53 pm

    I love your incisive post. Your point about media ethics was interesting, something from a world I don't know. I'm glad we have such bright people in our AP club.

    Oh, and total boo to the moron who posted the commandment in the first place. Well, I'm sure the person is not a moron, but rather is someone who has not breastfed, and definitely has not had trouble breastfeeding while staring down postpartum depression. People who dis public breastfeeding do not know what it is like to 1) value breastfeeding and 2) try to breastfeed despite a challenge such as latch issues, supply problems, etc. and 3) battle the isolation inherent to mothering an infant. If most people valued breastfeeding, understood the psychology and physiology of it (specifically the infant's need for the breast on demand at unpredictable intervals both for comfort and nutrition), and understood how deeply harmful isolation is to a mother of young children, they would deal with their conditioned discomfort with an exposed breast and honor the needs of the infant and mother. It's not that difficult! It's not like dangling sex organs around. It's just a breast!

    • Martha says:

      May 25, 2010 at 7:54 pm

      Karen, you make a very valid point. I wonder if more women talked about, not just normalizing bf-ing, but WHY!

      A new mother is already going through some pretty intense emotions, ppd or not. Then to be shunned for choosing to nurse your child adds injury to an already sensitive time.

      And yeah, it's just a boob. Nothing we don't see enough of already in the media. I think what truly offends those people is the reminder that breasts have a more important purpose than the pleasure of man (and woman).

  6. says:

    May 25, 2010 at 7:36 pm

    (A) I'm far more creeped out by people who sexualize breast feeding than I am by mothers who pop one out to feed their kids.

    (B) Better Homes & Gardens is a HUGE publication. Online or off, they've got a responsibility to their readers. They should have placed a short retraction and explanation at the top of the post the second it was changes. I don't necessarily expect such formality from Miss All American Mommy Blogger (though it is nice), but from BH&G? You bet I do.

  7. Martha says:

    May 25, 2010 at 7:47 pm

    Yes, yes Margaret.

    A. Right there with you. The longer I nurse my daughter (2 years and counting) the less sexual my breasts feel. People who are grossed out by it think it's sexual have problems in my book.

    B. Obviously I agree with you ok this and I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one who is bothered by the secret editing.

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