Adam Rapoport, the Bon Appétit editor-in-chief who resigned Monday after a photograph of him dressed as “boricua” for Halloween surfaced, spurring multiple employees to publicly detail a climate of racism in their workplace, has emailed Jezebel to let us know that he was not wearing “brown face.” In a series of emails to Jezebel pop culture reporter Hazel Cills, who with staff writer Joan Summers wrote this piece about Bon Appétit, Rapoport disputed the characterization that his cosplaying as a stereotypical idea of a particular nationality was “brown face.”
On Monday, June 8, Cills wrote Rapoport an email asking for a comment for Jezebel’s story, which had not yet been published:
On Mon, Jun 8, 2020 at 3:51 PM Hazel Cills wrote:
I hope you are well. I’m a reporter for Jezebel looking to see if you are free to comment on former and current staffers speaking publicly about the treatment of writers of color at Bon Appetit, including the allegation that video personalities of color do not get paid for video work.
Are you available for an interview to talk about Bon Appetit’s approach to diversity and to respond to the comments from staffers and freelancers about how writers of color are treated at the brand? Thank you for your time.
Rapoport did not respond until Wednesday morning:
On Wed, Jun 10, 2020 at 9:33 AM Rapoport, Adam wrote:
Sorry I was unable to provide quotes for this piece. I was basically on lockdown as the brand and company and brand were trying to deal with all that is going on.
Lots of nuance throughout your piece that could be addressed, but the gist is the gist, and I can’t argue with the feelings of employees and others.
One thing I would ask, if I may. You refer to my being in brown face in that photo. As inexcusable and terrible as that photograph is, I was not wearing any makeup or face coloring in it. I have gone on record with both the New York Times and Business Insider to clarify this.
I would appreciate if Jezebel would correct this phrasing, in that it is factually incorrect.
Please let me know you and your editor’s response.
It is true that Jezebel should have excised the space between “brown” and “face,” simply writing “brownface.” This was a copy error and as the Mexican-American editor-in-chief of this website I take full responsibility for that; it should have read “brownface” instead of “brown face.” We have corrected this spatial mistake. And while Rapoport may have not been wearing brown makeup on his face while dressing up as “boricua,” a.k.a. Puerto Rican, for Halloween, it seems he needs a lesson on what “brownface” materially refers to: The act of impersonating a stereotypical idea of a person racially typed as “brown” in order to parody an entire race or nation. In this context, “brownface” is the proper term to refer to Rapoport’s deeply offensive stereotyping of Puerto Ricans and additionally, it is somewhat galling that he is doing anything right now but reflecting on how his actions have affected his staff at Bon Appétit, much less splitting hairs with outside journalists about the characterization of his costume.
In a report published Wednesday in Business Insider, for instance, his assistant Ryan Walker-Hartshorn, the only Black woman staffer at Bon Appétit, says she asked for a raise and was told in response, “Well, maybe you should consider that this is not the right job for you.” She told Business Insider that Rapoport “treats me like the help.”
On the issue of “brownface,” Business Insider wrote:
The anger stemmed in part from a photo of Rapoport that circulated on Twitter on Monday, showing him dressed in a Halloween costume intended to be stereotypically Puerto Rican. Many called his costume “brownface,” which Rapoport denies. In text messages to Business Insider, he said: “On the record: I was not wearing makeup or face coloring of any sort in that photograph.” (Rapoport keeps a framed copy of this photo in his desk, according to Walker-Hartshorn.)
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On Wednesday morning, Cills updated Jezebel’s story with Rapoport’s response, and wrote:
On Wed, Jun 10, 2020 at 9:58 AM Hazel Cills wrote:
Thank you for your response. My editors and I do not think the classification of that photo as “brown face” is inaccurate and we will not be correcting, but I will add your comments in an update to this piece.
In response, Rapoport asked Cills to tell him how his comment would read, as though he—a longtime editor—was unaware that emails responding to a reporter asking for comment are on the record, unless specifically noted and agreed to by the reporter that such comments are off the record:
On Wed, Jun 10, 2020 at 10:00 AM Rapoport, Adam wrote:
Okay, two questions:
Can you please let me know how the comment will read.
And given that brown face suggests coloring one’s face, why do you and your editors feel it is not inaccurate?
The comment is attached to the story and reads: “In an email to Jezebel, Rapoport denied that he was wearing brown face, writing that he was “not wearing any makeup or face coloring” in the photograph that circulated on social media. He added that in response to the allegations about the culture at BA, he can’t “argue with the feelings of employees and others.” That is quoted directly from your email.
I’ve CC’d my Editor-in-Chief Julianne Escobedo Shepherd to speak more to the brown face correction question.
In response to this email, Rapoport wrote to myself and Cills, inferring that our refusal to remove the term “brown face” reflected poorly on Jezebel, and offering to explain the journalistic merits of what we are doing to me, a Chicana in her 40s who has been a writer and editor since 1999:
Okay, I guess I’m confused. Before adding my email between and you and me to your piece, why would you not ask if that was an on-the-record comment that you could use? And why would you excise part of my other quote, while not using the entire thing?
I’m happy to provide a proper quote if I knew I was being quoted.
And on the brown face issue, I get the usage of the phrase. But Jezebel never fact checked the accusation nor asked me for verification. It only repeated something that other people on the internet were saying. Which strikes me as questionable journalism.
Julianne, happy to discuss the journalistic details of this if you are free.
And to be clear, because perhaps I wasn’t before, this email is off the record.
Thank you very much,
Again, Jezebel asked Rapoport for comment well before we published our story, because we are experienced and professional journalists. And being “off the record,” as someone with Rapoport’s profoundly impressive, tony pedigree should know, is not something that one can simply retroactively claim, without making an agreement between journalist and source. Jezebel would accept that a source who doesn’t work in media might not know this and we would direct our reporting accordingly.
But in this case, we are choosing to publish this email both because of Rapoport’s (former) position as a revered editor at a globally renowned brand and because I spent my entire morning processing its tone—a tone that seemed to reflect precisely the type of entitled microaggression that Bon Appétit staff has bravely risen up against, despite the clear power differentials between lower-tier staffers and a big-name Condé Nast editor-in-chief. My time is better spent running this website, which is my job, rather than doing the emotional work of explaining racism to a man whose staff has been explaining it to him all goddamn week.
For Mr. Rapoport’s convenience, here is what NYU journalism school says in its ethics handbook about being “off the record”:
ON THE RECORD, ON BACKGROUND, NOT FOR ATTRIBUTION, OFF THE RECORD , AND ON GUIDANCE
These are prearranged agreements between a reporter and a source, which govern how specific information can be used. These deals must be agreed to beforehand, never after. A source can’t say something then claim it was “off the record.” That’s too late. When dealing with individuals who are not experienced in talking with reporters, journalists should make sure ground rules and potential consequences are clear, and then perhaps offer leeway. Of course, if the information isn’t integral to the story, a reporter can agree not to use it. If you talk to five journalists, you’ll likely get five different definitions for these terms. That’s why it’s important that a reporter clarify the use of these terms with a source before making any agreements.
Feel free to read Jezebel’s piece about Bon Appétit here.