Martins and NYCB: How Extreme Journalism Blunts the Value of Important Stories

 Preface

The following article was written early in 2018 as a response to the loud, poorly sourced and sensational stream of reporting surrounding Martins’ departure from New York City Ballet. A subsequent arbitration undertaken by a legal firm retained by NYCB cleared Martins of any findings of sexual harassment. It seems worth posting this addition to the story as NYCB begins its search for a replacement Artistic Director. The terms of the posting indicate that the new Artistic Director should be a “humane” leader.  It’s language that reignites old criticisms of Martins’ sometimes abusive and capricious style of running the company. The New York Times chief reviewer Macaulay noted this spring that the company was “in bloom” in spite of the Martins departure and the bad news surrounding it. Martins, who ran the company for 35 years following Balanchine’s death, was widely expected to fail. Instead, the company has continued to grow and mature. Any successes for the company this season I think remain a tribute to his leadership and overshadow the negative aspects of his term as director and subsequent departure. As late as May, Dance Magazine reported that Martins would be a consulting advisor in the search for his replacement. It’s a simple reminder that NYCB continues to be in his debt, and that a company this consistently good, for this long, can’t reasonably fault systemic problems with Martins.  My criticisms from the beginning had more to do with the failure of journalism from both large and small platforms to fairly report the story. That reporting largely damaged Martins, and to some extent those who felt they were victims.  They were left finally with no real conclusion that supported their claims. Better reporting could have made a difference for all concerned.

 

 

Martins and NYCB: How Vengeful Journalism Blunts the Value of Important Stories

This photo of Martins originally ran with the New York Times story

 

A couple of weeks ago when New York City Ballet was in the middle of rehearsals for the Peter Martins production of Romeo + Juliet  the company called him to approve changes in the choreography. Because Martins still retains control of his choreography for the company he offered suggestions about how to deal with a moment in which Juliet’s father strikes her by changing the staging to a threatening, raised hand. The exchange between the company and its former artistic director was handled with the same professional restraint and absence of acrimony that has characterized all of Matins’ responses to the ongoing allegations of sexual misconduct at NYCB and at the School of American Ballet.

 

His case has been under investigation by an outside independent counsel who interviewed 77 individuals connected with the company and school during the weeks following his resignation. The New York Times reported last week that the two month investigation has concluded that the allegations  were unsupported leaving both Martins  and the company in a position to move forward. The findings were not embraced by all those concerned. Megan Fairchild, a current principal with the company noted that for her the outcome was not unexpected. She noted that it reflected her personal experience with Martins at New York City Ballet. Others, like City Ballet soloist Kelly Cass Boal, remain undeterred in their criticisms of the former director and what she sees as the failed outcome of the investigation.

 

From the beginning, the Martins story brought forward a rash of bloggers and online reporting who relied on largely anecdotal, self-generated content, and who reported allegations unsubstantiated by first-hand accounts, references to major reporting sources, actual investigation, or any real journalistic effort. The flood of indiscriminate reporting matched the indiscriminate reading which largely devolved into standards-free tabloid journalism and readerships hoping for the worst.

 

Thus far there have been few who have followed up on the brutal, early reporting, including some respected major publications such as the Washington Post who reported early and at length on the Martins story. In the wake of the release of the investigation by New York City Ballet’s investigating counsel the Washington Post ran an unembellished 100 word wire service story on February 16th on the counsel’s findings. The New York Times, which has presented far less sensational reporting, published a more detailed account of the counsel’s conclusions which came out on February 15th.

 

This may not mark the end of the Martins story. He may still face legal challenges though it seems unlikely at this point. It’s a conclusion without much of a silver lining for Martins, who, following the announcement of the investigation, agreed to resign his position as artistic director. But the real loser here was journalism itself which in abdicating its basic responsibilities, made more of a mess of the reporting than necessary and added Martins himself to the pile up of wronged victims. I’m sure it wasn’t at all an outcome that any of the original complainants had in mind.

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