On Wednesday, The Daily Beast published an article describing a reporter’s attempts to use several dating apps, such as Tinder and Grindr, near the Olympic Village in the Rio de Janeiro suburb of Barra da Tijuca. The piece, which was written by London correspondent Nico Hines, was widely condemned after readers realized that it was possible to identify a number of closeted gay Olympic athletes with whom Hines, who is straight, had communicated. After substantially editing the text, and appending an apologetic editors’ note, the site completely removed it on Thursday night:
We initially thought swift removal of any identifying characteristics and better clarification of our intent was the adequate way to address this. Our initial reaction was that the entire removal of the piece was not necessary. We were wrong.
Today we did not uphold a deep set of The Daily Beast’s values. These values—which include standing up to bullies and bigots, and specifically being a proudly, steadfastly supportive voice for LGBT people all over the world—are core to our commitment to journalism and to our commitment to serving our readers.
The same note, which replaced the article, says the article’s removal was “unprecedented but necessary” and described it as “a failure on The Daily Beast as a whole, not a single individual.”
The takedown came after nearly universal condemnation from other outlets, including Fusion, Yahoo! Sports, and Outsports, among others. Slate alone devoted three different articles to criticizing the piece, which the site branded as “homophobic,” “dangerous,” “sleazy,” “poisonous,” and a work of “mendacious deception.”
A more charitable reading of Hines’ piece suggests that he wanted to write a fun—but by no means malicious—trend piece about horny Olympic athletes, a conceit that heavily depended on self-deprecation. One athlete, he wrote, “asked for ‘a sex foto,’ but I’m a bit of a prude like that, so I sent a selfie from the fencing earlier this week. Strangely, that didn’t deter him, and he sent me the name of his building.” There is no evidence that Hines actually harbors hatred of gay people, which is usually considered the defining feature of homophobia, or otherwise intended to place gay people in harm’s way.
“In a twisted way, I could see how the Daily Beast might have thought this story was in fact pro-gay,” the gay columnist John Aravosis wrote today. “In the old days, you’d avoid a story like this, in part because ‘civilized’ people didn’t talk about [homosexuality].”
As Aravosis and others pointed out, however, the finished article certainly veered into dangerous territory, due largely to The Daily Beast’s inclusion of the height, weight, nationality, and competitive event of several (unnamed) Olympic athletes who were supposedly using Grindr to arrange dates with Hines. One such athlete, Hines noted, was competing for a country in central Asia whose government is hostile to homosexuality. The identifying details were quickly excised, but not before many readers were able to cross-reference them with at least five athlete biographies.
Removing an entire article because it is controversial, rather than inaccurate or defamatory, is exceedingly rare in the journalism industry. But the practice is becoming more and more common. (Last year, Gawker Media’s managing partnership voted to remove an article that was criticized for reasons not entirely unlike the ones cited by readers and outlets criticizing The Daily Beast.)
At the moment, it remains unclear who, exactly, decided that the article needed to be removed in its entirety. We’ve asked the The Daily Beast for comment and will update this post if we hear back.