NBA star Jeremy Lin of the New York Knicks has hit the big time, and we know it because companies are falling all over themselves to jump on the bandwagon of his success… and a few are falling flat on their corporate faces in the process. At least two companies have issued Lin-related apologies in the past week. (Read my blog post from February 28 about Ben & Jerry’s.)
ESPN, which reports on sports stars from many ethnic backgrounds (and so should know much better) published a racially insensitive headline about Lin early the morning of Saturday, February 25. To make matters worse, an ESPN anchor used the same insensitive/offensive phrase while conducting an interview about possible weak spots in Lin’s game.
ESPN issued an apology for the website snafu, which included the statement:
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.
The anchor, Anthony Federico, also apologized, and seemed sincerely shocked at his thoughtlessness. I kind of felt sorry for him – I mean, we’re all moving so fast through our work days, news media pros have to process and deliver so much information so very quickly – they’re bound to slip up now and then. These days, with reputations made or broken at the speed of social media, those slip ups can ruin you. Extra, painstaking, timely, sensitive care has to be taken to avoid doing something that could take years to recover from.
Slip ups can’t occur if the expressions and thoughts are erased from our minds altogether, even if those took our lifetimes to form, they can be expunged. And they should – or we could get ourselves in trouble.
Asian-American groups have expressed concern about the growing use of racial stereotypes in media coverage about Lin. The issue is bigger than this situation, of course. For all the progress the media has made regarding diversity and inclusion, it’s troubling that groups still have to express concern. How can this get better? The Asian American Journalists Association said, “Is there a compelling reason to draw a connection between Lin and fortune cookies, takeout boxes or similar imagery?” “In the majority of news coverage, the answer will be no.” Of course the answer is no. Unless a fact is relevant to the story, it doesn’t belong IN the story – an important rule of journalism. Is Lin’s ethnic heritage a relevant fact when reporting on his performance on the court?
Even if we agree that it isn’t, there are habits of speech, joking and conversing that come out when we’re stressed, busy or otherwise letting down our guard. How to change these and their subtext is the work we all share – as communicators and as influencers and as consumers who can influence the media and hold them accountable.