The NYT’s Hugging Story Looks a Lot Like the Inky’s

A column by Henry Alford about men hugging cited a South Philadelphia high school teacher — that had been quoted about hugging in the Inquirer months earlier.

The Inquirer seems to be ahead of the Times.

Last Friday, The New York Times ran a column titled “The Bro Hug: Embracing a Change in Custom,” this month’s installment of Henry Alford’s “Circa Now.” It’s about the evolutions in how men greet each other, and the perceived uptick in hugging among men.

A fun story. But less fun if you’d happen to read “More young men friends embracing — which has the amazing URL slug “younger-men-older-men-more-men” in the archives — that ran in The Philadelphia Inquirer in June.

The piece, by the Inky’s Samantha Melamed, was not the first piece about men hugging. But both it and the Times story months later cited several of the same sources.

Both pieces cite a study by British sociologists Mark McCormack and Eric Anderson that says 93 percent of straight, college-age, male British athletes had spooned or cuddled with a male friend. Both interview McCormack about he and his colleague’s findings. Which is fine. It’s not surprising two different stories on hugging would each report on the latest in hugging science. The study was reported by Huffington Post earlier this year, which means it made the rounds a bit.

But check out this second quote from Alford’s Times piece:

Klint Kanopka, who teaches physics to 11th graders at Academy at Palumbo, a public school in South Philadelphia, said: “I don’t like hugging people I don’t know well. It makes me really uncomfortable.” Mr. Kanopka’s school does not, like others, ban or restrict hugging.

Mr. Kanopka said that when his students try to hug him, “I stand there and don’t move so that it makes the whole thing feel very alien to them. Or I say, ‘Please don’t touch me.’ ”

A random South Philadelphia schoolteacher in the Times! By now you should have guessed who also quoted Kanopka.

Klint Kanopka, 31, an 11th-grade science teacher at Academy at Palumbo, a South Philadelphia public school, has noticed a trend among students: “They really like to hug each other a lot, and they also try to hug me.” It’s happened frequently enough that he has developed a defensive stance: “I usually just leave my arms at my sides and say, ‘Please don’t touch me’ or ‘I don’t like being hugged.’ I just try to make the experience as awkward as possible for them, so they’re not compelled to do it in the future.”

Kanopka thinks increasingly informal American culture has made hugging more acceptable, but he’s just not a hugger. Keeping peers at arms’ length is also an ongoing project. “I’ll try to preempt [a hug] with a very formal handshake,” he said. “If you’re firm enough, you can lock your arm to force that distance. When they try to pull you in [for a hug], you can push.”

Alford didn’t return an email asking for comment, but Konpoka forwarded me the original email Alford sent him. “I’m writing about the etiquette of hugging,” Alford emailed to the teacher, “and I saw your great quotes in that Philadelphia Inquirer article.”

This journalistic sin is small, but still a bit tacky. Just because it’s a story about hugging doesn’t mitigate it. It’s not that both stories cited the same study. Melamed did the legwork to find a South Philadelphia teacher to talk about hugging. Alford came in, saw Melamed’s work, and decided to turn that source his own, he should certainly have cited the origin of it in some way. Alford didn’t have any problem linking a completely tangential Buzzfeed story, after all.

It appears to be a case of bad manners. Which could be excused, of course, except Alford’s the author of a book called Would It Kill You to Stop Doing That? A Modern Guide to Manners. Would it have killed him to cite the Inquirer?

Update: Alford responded to my email.

I’d read about Mark McCormack and his study back in February in Salon.

Yes, I found Klint Kanopka from that Inquirer piece, but that’s no reason to cite the piece. (Similarly, I found Dr. Peggy Drexler from a piece she wrote on about not being a hugger, but I didn’t mention that piece.)

[NYT | Inquirer]