Tuesday, June 17, 2008

ESPN Actually Fesses Up to a "Breakdown" in its Editorial Judgment in Jemele Hill "Hitler" Column

Why Blame Just the Writers When They Write Dumb Things?

ESPN.com columnist Jemele Hill is either the beneficiary of a double standard. Or, she's just a dodo with clueless editors of like mind. Maybe both.
Jessica Heslam in The Boston Herald reports how Hill originally wrote in a column Saturday night that “Rooting for the Celtics is like saying Hitler was a victim. It’s like hoping Gorbachev would get to the blinking red button before Reagan.”
Suffice to say, the column was taken down a few hours later and now reads somewhat differently, even if she is no less reticent about her hatred of the Boston Celtics, one win away from an NBA title.
Hill isn't talking, but an abashed ESPN said she and the Web site were sorry and that "we are thoroughly reviewing the entire situation.”
And in a surprising moment of candor ESPN flack Paul Melvin told the Herald there was a "breakdown in the system of editorial checks and balances. “We’re normally quite proud of the editorial judgment exercised here, but this was clearly an exception to that.”
Kudos for at least stating the obvious, which thin-skinned media organizations, devoid of any hubris, often refuse to do.
What's left unsaid is what to do about Hill. You could argue this is not a black version of Imus' "nappy-headed ho" routine. True, she didn't come right out and insult an ethnic group, but inserting any mention of Hitler in a sports story that's not about the 1936 Olympics shows gross insensitivity at the very least -- and a level of ignorance that's startling for a high-profile columnist on the leading sports Web site.
Imus was hung out to dry because CBS chief Les Moonves lost his spine and caved into the Al Sharptons and Jemele Hills (she called for Imus' ouster in a 2007 column) of this world and over-reacted by firing Imus -- for doing what he's paid to do -- instead of merely suspending him for a remark, that even for him, was out of character.
So far, ESPN's given Hill the mildest of wrist slaps. Is it because she's a woman, a black woman no less? There's no excuse for something this, so a mere apology cannot suffice.
But let's work from the assumption that she's genuinely sorry. My vote is to let Hill keep her column, but only after a healthy suspension so she can properly reflect on the hurt she inflicted. And put her editor on the shelf too.
While they're gone, make them read a few history books during their exile. They might come back as better journalists as a result. They might also return as better human beings.

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