Bill Doskoch: Media, BPS*, Film, Minutiae

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It’s 2012. Racist wordplay doesn’t fly

From the Associated Press Google News:

ESPN says it fired an employee responsible for an offensive headline referring to Knicks sensation Jeremy Lin.

The headline “Chink in the Armor” was used Friday on ESPN’s mobile website after Lin had nine turnovers in New York’s loss to New Orleans.

In a statement Sunday, ESPN apologizes for that headline and also says it is also aware of two other “offensive and inappropriate” comments on ESPN outlets.

Note this from an NYT story published Feb. 18 on TheStar.com:

ESPN apologized for the use of a Chinese slur early Saturday in reference to Jeremy Lin after the New York Knicks’ loss to the New Orleans Hornets the night before.

The network ran the headline “Chink in the Armor” after Lin had nine turnovers in New York’s loss to New Orleans on Friday night. The headline appeared on espn.com’s mobile website from 2:30 to 3:05 a.m., and could be seen on phones and tablet computers before being removed.

In its statement, ESPN said: “We are conducting a complete review of our cross-platform editorial procedures and are determining appropriate disciplinary action to ensure this does not happen again. We regret and apologize for this mistake.”

Rob King, ESPN’s senior vice president for editorial, print and digital media, said on Twitter: “There’s no defence for the indefensible. All we can offer are our apologies, sincere though incalculably inadequate.”

The same offensive phrase was used on ESPNews on Wednesday night when an anchor, Max Bretos, was interviewing Walt Frazier, the Knicks’ analyst on the MSG Network. It preceded a question about how Lin can improve in the future.

An on-air statement delivered by Jorge Andres, another ESPN anchor, said an “anchor used an inappropriate word in asking a question about Jeremy Lin.” The statement continued: “ESPN apologizes for the incident and is taking steps to avoid this in the future.”

My guess is that at 2:30 a.m., someone sleep-deprived, possibly junior in rank, is working without much oversight.

They thought they were being funny instead of being deeply offensive.

As a result, ESPN has egg on its face.

But it’s interesting to note that there’s no talk as of this posting about giving the boot to the on-air ESPN commentators who said much the same thing on TV.

Can you say ‘double standard’?

Update

The anchor has been suspended for 30 days. From the New York Daily News:

Anchor Max Bretos was suspended for 30 days for an incident Wednesday when he asked Knicks legend Walt “Clyde” Frazier on air about Lin.

“If there is a chink in the armor, where can he improve his game?” Bretos asked.

The question’s wording went almost entirely unnoticed at the time. In video of the moment, Bretos did not appear to be attempting to make a pun.

He tweeted his apologies Saturday, saying he meant no racial reference but would try hard to avoid making the mistake again.

“My wife is Asian, would never intentionally say anything to disrespect her and that community,” Bretos said.

“Despite intention, phrase was inappropriate in this context.”

Ah, live television. :(

Bretos probably didn’t mean it to come out the way it did. I think a 30-day suspension is harsh. But I also think news organizations have to show they take these types of lapses seriously.

Addendum

NYT media columnist David Carr opined on the Jeremy Lin story in an article posted Feb. 19 on the Web:

Since cracking the starting lineup because of an injury and other unusual circumstances, Lin, a 23-year-old, undrafted, unheralded, twice-cut player, has torn up the league, setting records for a first-time starter.

Unfortunately for Lin and the rest of us, the over-the-top coverage that followed ended over the line, exposing underlying racist tropes that still lurk in the id of American sports journalism, and by extension, the rest of us. …

The combination of Lin’s ethnicity and accomplishments created some excess, but no one could have predicted how low it might go. On Saturday, an article on ESPN’s mobile site recycled an ancient and blatantly offensive ethnic slur, and in the process suggested that some corners of sports journalism remained a backwater in the culture, a place untouched by a history of civil rights struggle and decades of progress. ESPN quickly changed the headline and has fired the person who wrote it, but not before all but ruining a sweet sporting story.

Addendum 2

John Federico, ex of ESPN, issued a lengthy mea culpa. From Gothamist, posted Feb. 22:

I wrote the headline in reference to the tone of the column and not to Jeremy Lin’s race. It was a lapse in judgment and not a racist pun. It was an awful editorial omission and it cost me my job.

I owe an apology to Jeremy Lin and all people offended. I am truly sorry.

Sun, February 19 2012 » Main Page, Media