Melanie Ehrenkranz and Apple’s Response to Her Criticism Over the Paucity of Women Onstage at Last Week’s Event

Melanie Ehrenkranz, writing at Mic, “Apple Responds to Diversity Criticism: ‘We Had a Canadian’ Onstage at iPhone 7 Event”:

On Friday, I published an article about the gender divide in Apple’s last two iPhone events. I pointed out that while Apple has been vocal about its commitment to diversity, this commitment is not evident in the company’s choice of keynote speakers and their stage time. On Wednesday, when Apple introduced the iPhone 7, women spoke for approximately eight minutes; men spoke for 99. Furthermore, most of the women and people of color who appeared onstage weren’t Apple representatives.

A 99-to-8 difference in stage time certainly isn’t something to be proud of, and it’s worth pointing out (and keeping track of). But last week’s ratio was so disparate not because the company didn’t pick enough women for speaking slots. Rather, it’s because the executives in charge of most of the products announced last week were men. Whoever is in charge is generally who presents. Jeff Williams runs Apple Watch. Phil Schiller, as head of product marketing, is going to present the iPhones. Jony Ive runs design.

Susan Prescott wasn’t chosen to present iWork collaboration because she’s a woman; she was chosen because she runs product marketing for iWork. Bozoma Saint John presented the Apple Music segment at the WWDC keynote because she runs marketing for Music and iTunes. Lisa Jackson was on stage in March to talk about Apple’s environmental efforts because she’s the vice president of environment, policy, and social initiatives. The people who present at Apple’s events have a real relationship/responsibility with the material they present.

So the problem is not that women are underrepresented as on stage speakers. The problem is that they are underrepresented in leadership positions. I would argue that it’s better — more honest — for Apple to allow its onstage diversity to accurately reflect its actual leadership diversity. If Apple simply put more women and people of color on stage, it would be a token gesture. If Apple puts more women and people of color on this page, more of them will appear on stage as a result.

Ahead of publication, I emailed Apple for comment twice, with no reply. After the story was published, an Apple public relations spokesperson sent me an email, saying “we may have different interpretations of diversity.” As evidence of this diversity, he pointed to “two African-Americans” who spoke at the keynote, neither of whom are actually employed by Apple. He also mentioned “a Canadian, and a British woman.”

The Apple spokesperson began the email with the words “off the record,” a condition Mic did not agree to before the statement was delivered. Apple’s PR team should be advised that off-the-record statements are “prearranged agreements” whose conditions are decided on beforehand — a longstanding rule of ethical journalism. A source’s request to speak off the record must be approved by the reporter before the off-the-record information is shared. (This is spelled out in detail in the Ethics, Law & Good Practice section of the NYU Journalism Handbook for Students, which notes that “it is essential that the reporter and source agree on a definition before beginning an ‘off the record’ portion of an interview.”)

Abiding by standard journalism practice as well as Mic’s editorial standards, the email is, in fact, on the record. We’ve published it below.

Publishing this email may well be technically within the letter of the accepted rules of journalism. But it strikes me as a dick move, unless the email contains something newsworthy enough to warrant it — and this email did not. Sending the email beginning with “Off the record” and then including the message is based on an assumption of courtesy and trust. What this Apple PR rep1 could have done is first email with “Off the record?”, wait for Ehrenkranz to reply, and if she agreed, send the actual message.

But here’s the thing: I think the email from Apple is quite reasonable. It’s not great, and should have been much better, but publishing the full email makes Ehrenkranz look like a sensationalist jerk far more than it makes Apple look indifferent to the company’s diversity issues.

Apple’s rep wrote:

“There was a lot of diversity on that stage that you don’t recognize. Unrecognized by you was the fact that we had a gay man, two African-Americans (Instagram and Nike), a Canadian, and a British woman, Hannah Catmur.”

From that, Ehrenkranz and chose to run the headline: “Apple Responds to Diversity Criticism: ‘We Had a Canadian’ Onstage at iPhone 7 Event”. As I’ve written recently, headlines matter. This headline is egregious.

No reasonable person could say that Mic’s headline is an accurate categorization of Apple’s response. Even worse, the quoted text in the headline — “We Had a Canadian” — is not an actual quote from the email.2 Even if you disagree with Apple’s response — it should have been handled much better than it was — it’s clickbait journalism at its worst to imply that Apple’s response to criticism that there weren’t enough women on stage was, quote, “We had a Canadian”. It’s not merely grossly inaccurate, it’s implying utter callousness regarding a serious issue.

The first thing Apple’s rep actually said after “We had a” was “gay man”. The paucity of women and people of color in Apple’s leadership are real problems. But it’s like it doesn’t even count that Tim Cook, proudly and openly gay, is the primary face of the company.

  1. It’s completely unclear to me why Ehrenkranz felt free to publish the entire email but omitted the rep’s name. ↩︎

  2. They could have gone with “We had … a Canadian” and technically argued that it was a legitimate edited quote, but it still would have been a grossly inaccurate truncation of the response. And given all of Ehrenkranz’s insistence that NYU’s Journalism Handbook for Students allows for the publication of the email, despite the request that it be “off the record”, that same rulebook makes clear that diddling with a quotation is verboten↩︎︎