Lisa Adams Remembered By Emma And Bill Keller
EMMA Gilbey Keller’s story on Stage 4 cancer sufferer Lisa Adams has been removed from the Guardian’s website. A message said: “This post has been deleted with the agreement of the subject because it is inconsistent with the Guardian editorial code”. But it’s been updated. It is “pending investigation“.
Keller’s husband, former New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller, wrote a follow up in. He titled it “Heroic Measures”. The effect is like listening to a dinner party chat between two entitled, narcissistic members of the liberal intelligentsia.
Guardian spokesperson Gennady Kolker tells Poynter:
“Following an investigation by the Guardian’s independent readers’ editor, we have removed the article in question from our website because it is inconsistent with the Guardian editorial code. This decision was taken with the agreement of Lisa Adams.”
But, as we said, that comment is now under review. It might be okay to question the motives and vanity of a woman who tweet about her cancer. The investigation is being investigated.
The story remains online. Xeni Jardin calls it “Shoddy, shitty, heartless, inaccurate grandstanding”.
Zeynep Tufekci wrote that both Kellers failed to research their subject:
…both Kellers miss every point Lisa Adams makes—and write articles unrelated to her actual experience, or the community around her. Emma Keller seems to treat Lisa Adams’ social media presence like a car accident and ponders if it is ethical to look. That’s Emma Keller’s problem—and the piece could have been written as a first-person reflection of her own issues without bringing up a particular patient, as the piece is clearly not about this particular patient, Lisa Adams, but is about Emma G. Keller’s existential anxieties.
Bill Keller, on the other hand, has something he wants to say about how end of life is perhaps unwisely prolonged in small, painful increments with massive technological intervention in this country, so he projects this situation to Lisa Adams—except that is not applicable in this case. Lisa Adams is not prolonging her last few weeks of life with a cascade of interventions. She’s getting treatment for pain in her bones—the type of tumors that won’t kill her till they spread elsewhere, which may be soon, or may be years away.
I can understand, in a certain sense, how each Keller was jolted into contemplation of Adams’s public persona. I am Facebook friends with Adams—she must have sent me a request a while ago—and before the Guardian column appeared, in late December, I had been similarly struck when I opened my Facebook feed (usually an assortment of puppies, babies, and complaints about signing up for Obamacare) and found posts by Adams detailing what it’s like to be in the hospital unable to control her pain, or the indignity of having visitors drop by without notice. I didn’t know her personally, and these posts felt highly personal, and different in kind from the buoyant mundanity of the rest of my feed. But there is something useful about the disjunctiveness of posts like hers, which pop the bubble of the social-media surfaces that we slide along, as if our time here were a never-ending river rather than a journey that has a distinct end. I also welcome debates about what the ends of our lives might look like.
While many of the questions addressed in each column could have led to a worthwhile discussion, their approaches were ad hominem and, at best, insensitive to the lived realities of Adams’s life. She may be allowing us to overhear her decisions, but she is not asking us to callously debate them as if she were not still here.
Here’s how it begins:
Lisa Bonchek Adams is dying. She has Stage IV breast cancer and now it’s metastasized to her bones, joints, hips, spine, liver and lungs. She’s in terrible pain. She knows there is no cure, and she wants you to know all about what she is going through. Adams is dying out loud. On her blog and, especially, on Twitter.
Keller ploughed on:
As her condition declined, her tweets amped up both in frequency and intensity. I couldn’t stop reading – I even set up a dedicated @adamslisa column in Tweetdeck – but I felt embarrassed at my voyeurism. Should there be boundaries in this kind of experience? Is there such a thing as TMI? Are her tweets a grim equivalent of deathbed selfies, one step further than funeral selfies? Why am I so obsessed?
And on it went.
In some ways she has invited us all in. She could argue that she is presenting a specific picture – the one she wants us to remember. “I do feel there will be lasting memories about me. That matters,” she wrote to me in a direct message on Twitter.
As Daniel D’Addario notes:
Keller shared private messages she’d exchanged with Adams — ones not intended for publication and ones published without even a warning to Adams. This is a breach of ethics of a high order in addition to just being evidence that Ms. Keller has not a leg to stand on in her vague insinuation that Adams is giving “TMI” by blogging about cancer — if her case were sturdy, would she need to bolster it by leaking private correspondence?
The Guardian, which would live blog a head cold if an intern could be found to write it, ends with:
The ethical questions abound. Make your own judgement.
Always good to be invited to judge a desperately ill, innocent mum-of-three young children.
Are those of us who’ve been drawn into her story going to remember a dying woman’s courage, or are we hooked on a narrative where the stakes are the highest?
It’s a moral maze, eh, readers. Can the Kellers chair the debate?
Will our memories be the ones she wants? What is the appeal of watching someone trying to stay alive? Is this the new way of death? You can put a “no visitors sign” on the door of your hospital room, but you welcome the world into your orbit and describe every last Fentanyl patch. Would we, the readers, be more dignified if we turned away? Or is this part of the human experience?
Bill Keller then saw his chance in the NY Times. He compared Adams to his father-in-law:
“His death seemed to me a humane and honorable alternative to the frantic medical trench warfare that often makes an expensive misery of death in America…Her digital presence is no doubt a comfort to many of her followers. On the other hand, as cancer experts I consulted pointed out, Adams is the standard-bearer for an approach to cancer that honors the warrior, that may raise false hopes, and that, implicitly, seems to peg patients like my father-in-law as failures.”
Keller notes his wife’s “brush with cancer”. This establishes his moral authority. He has suffered pain and loss. He and his wife are virtuous. It is perfectly understandable that Adams wants to carry on with her treatment and prolong her life. The Kellers should enjoy the appreciate Adams’ words and not launch a moralistic crusade.
@nytkeller The main thing is that I am alive. Do not write me off and make statements about how my life ends TIL IT DOES, SIR.
— Lisa Bonchek Adams (@AdamsLisa) January 13, 2014
At least should things not pan out well, Adams’ loved ones can opens their newspapers and read “Adams Remembered By Emma And Bill Keller…”