Jann Wenner, the former publisher of Rolling Stone, talked his way into trouble in an interview with The New York Times last Friday.
In attempting to explain why there were no women or people of color in ‘The Masters,’ a new collection of interviews he has done with rock icons, Wenner made comments that were called sexist and racist and and on Saturday was dropped from the board of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. He has apologized for the comments.
Speaking of women, Wenner said, “Just none of them were as articulate enough on this intellectual level” (to be included with the all-boys interview roster, which includes Bono, Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia, Mick Jagger, John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen and Pete Townshend).
Wenner continued, “It’s not that they’re not creative geniuses. It’s not that they’re inarticulate, although, go have a deep conversation with Grace Slick or Janis Joplin. Please, be my guest.”
He added that Joni Mitchell was “not a philosopher of rock ’n’ roll. She didn’t, in my mind, meet that test. Not by her work, not by other interviews she did.”
Regarding artists of color, Wenner said, “Of Black artists — you know, Stevie Wonder, genius, right? I suppose when you use a word as broad as ‘masters,’ the fault is using that word. Maybe Marvin Gaye, or Curtis Mayfield? I mean, they just didn’t articulate at that level.”
Asked how he could know that if he didn’t give them a chance, Wenner said, “Because I read interviews with them. I listen to their music. I mean, look at what Pete Townshend was writing about, or Jagger, or any of them.”
Wenner issued an apology through Little Brown Company, publisher of ‘The Masters.’
“In my interview with The New York Times I made comments that diminished the contributions, genius and impact of Black and women artists and I apologize wholeheartedly for those remarks.”
Readers concerned with journalistic ethics might also debate Wenner’s practice of allowing interview subjects to read and edit their interviews prior to publication.
Wenner answered, “these are not meant to be confrontational interviews." He described it as “looking for grammatical stuff, usage stuff; changing a word here and there, if he’d (Bono) want to use a different word that’s more precise; maybe something was too intimate and he decides he doesn’t want to put it on the public record. I’m happy to do that with these subjects.”
The long-time publisher also defended Rolling Stone’s controversial story, featuring a fake account of a rape at the University of Virginia.
“The University of Virginia story was not a failure of intent, or an attempt to be loose with the facts,” he said. “You get beyond the factual errors that sank that story, and it was really about the issue of rape and how it affects women on campus, their lack of rights. Other than this one key fact that the rape described actually was a fabrication of this woman, the rest of the story was bulletproof.”
Wenner co-founded the publication with critic Ralph Gleason in 1967.
The New York Times coverage of the controversy can be accessed here.