With all due respect to Jeff Chang and Wayne Marshall, their argument about the impure motives of Ben Scheffer, the journalist-cum-attorney who wrote that Slate piece exposing the Roxanne Shanté thing as a sham, is kind of a reach.
But what of her education? Sheffner makes a big point of alleging Shante did not receive her Ph.D. and is not listed as a practicing doctor. Gotcha again! (Sheffner seems to fetishize this “Doctor” thing. Maybe he’s sharpening his knives for Dr. Dre next?) But according to her, Shante has received her BA and MA degrees. Her passionate message in her talks to hip-hop youths across the country is about the importance of education. Clearly much more of the story here is begging to be told.
Most importantly, Shante said she attended college under another assumed name — not even her birth name — because of a domestic violence situation. Sheffner didn’t follow up on, we think, a reasonable, relevant, and obvious lead here. If she was right, he must have known at that point the story might have required real investigative reporting. Yet Slate’s editors didn’t put the brakes on the story even at this point. Instead, the piece ran with Sheffner’s slander that she failed to “substantiate such claims.”
So what did we learn here? One, Warner Brothers didn’t, but perhaps someone in the industry did fund Shante’s education. Two, Shante may not have a Ph.D.
We think that’s all pretty thin for a so-called exposé.
“Thin”? Those two nuggets that Sheffner pretty thoroughly debunked constitute the whole damn story that she’s responsible for propagating. From what I’ve gathered from my coterie of friends who’ve written (or are writing) their dissertations, it’s the kind of grueling, hurl-shit-at-the-wall-in-anger experience about which you’re not going to flub pretty basic facts — like where the hell you got your Ph.D. from or if you even received one in the first place. The weirdest argument Marshall and Chang make is that it’s possible that she did attain those degrees at some college on some label’s dime under an assumed name. Again, that doesn’t explain why she wouldn’t have simply named those institutions in the original Daily News story.
Again, Sheffner’s past as a contracts lawyer on copyright issues for big record companies is the crux of their argument against the validity of the Slate piece. (He weighed in the comments over at Alyssa’s spot, saying that he’s far removed from anything involving this case.) But even if you buy their argument that he’s a suit with an agenda, that’s not really an argument for the validity of her story.