Media have lost their minds with this ‘Lin-sanity’ business

Justice B. Hill

Not sure what to make of the public’s reaction to guard Jeremy Lin. In the post-racial world of President Barack Obama, Americans have become “racial” on some many fronts, which once looked as if it might be a good thing. “Lin-sanity,” however, has shown us otherwise

In fact, the media’s love affair with Lin, an undrafted player from Harvard, has demonstrated it’s best to discard “racial” and substitute the word “racist.” For surely a racist mindset has trumped common sense when it comes to how the media — or some in the public — view Lin, a 23-year-old Asian-American who has made a splash in the NBA.

Lin’s spectacular play for the New York Knicks has led to an insensitive tweet by Jason Whitlock, the empty-headed, race-baiting sports columnist for Fox Sports, and to a headline for ESPN that defies common sense. Whitlock has cultivated his stupidity. The man’s made a handsome living speaking out of his rear-end and disrespecting a legion of minorities, sports figures and public personalities. Whitlock is what he is — a court jester.

Yet as indefensible as Whitlock’s tweet was, it pales in comparison to a headline that slipped through the editing process at ESPN. Someone, and ESPN has refused to name the someone, wrote this headline: “Chink in the Armor.” To some, the expression might seem harmless. But to think it does is to be so removed from the reality of race as to be someone from another planet. The word “chink” has long been a derogatory term for Asians, and any adult with a college education should know as much.

So the headline cost one ESPN employee his (or her?) job. But what about the editing process that got the headline posted in the first place? Shouldn’t ESPN have had a safeguard in place, a system of checks-and-balances that should have prevented this from happening? If it did, how did the headline see light? Not one person erred; two erred, unless ESPN had no one to read a headline before it went live.

Richard Prince, who writes media column for the Maynard Institute, quoted Rebecca Carroll, a former managing editor at HuffPost Black Voices, as posting on her Facebook page: “How this headline was able to post in the first place is among the most poignant examples of the click-driven, exploitative and editor-less direction in which ‘web journalism’ has taken us. Sigh.”

Carroll was right. Ever since speed became the currency of online journalism, copy editors and producers have been under increasing pressure to be first and be provocative. Cleverness and speed matter more than anything else. No one wants to be second; no one wants to be boring either.

Sadly, this isn’t the first time ESPN, for all the good it does, has stepped outside the lines. It won’t be the last time either. In fact, in dealing with Lin, the network committed three acts of callous, inappropriate journalism. As Rob King, ESPN.com editor-in-chief, said in a tweet: “There’s no defense for the indefensible.” King, too, is right.

But to be overly critical of King and his ESPN editing staff wouldn’t be altogether fair. For the problem of immediacy at all cost isn’t unique to his ESPN staff; the problem is common to digital journalism. The safeguards that often marked sports journalism of yesteryear have vanished, given way to posting stories now and fixing ‘em later. Sloppiness, insensitivity, inaccuracy and incompleteness are the calling cards of sports journalism today.

Dewey Defeats Truman” in The Chicago Tribune, well … this error is worst. Although less historical, the Lin headline shows a mindset lacking a perspective; it also shows the danger of pushing hard for cleverness and for speed over all else.

Such errors in judgment are inexcusable. More heads should go. One firing and a suspension simply aren’t enough. ESPN should also put an editing strategy in place that, while pushing for speed, doesn’t give short-shrift to accuracy.

At bottom, sports journalism is the truth business. But sports journalism is also about showing class and taste, and no one can find much class in putting a tasteless slur on public display.

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