darts and laurels

Darts & Laurels [Updated]

Is it okay to use the N-word for effect? Um, no.
July 7, 2014

DART to the Westview News, a Greenwich Village monthly, for poor judgment in using the N-word, spelled out with all the subtly of a sledge hammer crunching a cinder block, in a print op-ed headline: “Th N—-er in the White House.” No, it actually doesn’t matter that the op-ed, by James Lincoln Collier, was sympathetic to President Obama and criticized what it describes as the racism of some of his opponents. And, no, it doesn’t matter that it was accompanied by a thoughtful column by Alvin Hall on why running the headline was a bad idea. A rule of thumb might be that if you run a headline that requires a whole second column with the headline, “The Headline Offends Me,” chances are the first headline was a bad idea. Occasionally, editors are forced to grapple with the term when it comes up as a quote in a news context, and the AP stylebook offers useful guidance: “…[use] only in direct quotes when essential to the story.” But this was just an unforced error of taste. (ADDING: h/t The New York Post.)

DART to MSNBC’s Way Too Early for its ludicrously insensitive Cinco de Mayo segment, which featured a producer staggering about in a sombrero and chugging tequila straight from a bottle as part of the program’s “Mexican heritage celebration.” Classy, MSNBC.

DART to news editor Marie-Louise Gumuchian, late of CNN, for serial plagiarism. CNN fired her from her job–reporting international news for its London bureau–after a spot check on one of her stories during editing led to the discovery of plagiarized material in not just that piece, but also roughly 50 of her published stories. The network removed the plagiarized material from Gumuchian’s work, deleting whole articles in some cases, and published an “Editor’s Note” explaining its decision. Gumuchian’s previous employer, Reuters, has also launched an investigation into her work.

DART to the BBC for its muted response to Top Gear presenter and journalist Jeremy Clarkson’s use of the n-word in outtakes for the motoring show. Footage was leaked to the Daily Mirror in May of Clarkson mumbling the n-word during the rhyme “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe,” while filming a February 2013 episode. The offensive term was subsequently cut from the broadcast. Clarkson issued a video apology–stating that he “did everything in my power to not use that word” and “begging [the public’s] forgiveness for the fact that obviously my efforts weren’t quite good enough”–then publicly attacked the BBC for demanding that he apologize in the first place. Despite calls for the presenter’s sacking, BBC director general Tony Hall merely issued him a “final warning.” Clarkson is also being investigated for using the word “slope” (possibly in reference to an Asian man) in another Top Gear episode filmed in Burma.

DART to the Newnan Times-Herald in Georgia for reproducing an article reporter Dan Whisenhunt wrote for Atlanta news site Decaturish, without his consent. The paper removed Whisenhunt’s article from its site after he complained, but when he objected to it also offering the article for sale in its archive, Times-Herald general manager John Winters replied that Whisenhunt’s work wasn’t protected by copyright. “All facts, even comments by persons quoted in an article, are in the public domain,” Winters wrote. An imaginative interpretation of journalistic ethics.

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LAUREL to the Chicago Tribune for revealing that CNN allowed Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office to stage-manage how Emanuel was portrayed in the network’s documentary series, Chicagoland. The Tribune obtained over 700 emails sent between CNN and Chicago’s City Hall, including one in which Chicagoland‘s creator and executive producer Marc Levin highlighted a vote on school closures as “a real opportunity to highlight the Mayors [sic] leadership,” and wrote that the show needed “the mayor on the phone in his SUV, in city hall with key advisers and his kitchen cabinet,” and meeting with police and public school officials. These exact scenes appeared in the show’s first episode. [Update, July 2, 3:12pm] The Tribune reported that CNN also shared drafts of its news releases about Chicagoland with City Hall before they were published. However, a CNN spokeswoman told the paper that “the mayor’s office was never granted editorial control over the content or the press communications for Chicagoland, and no agency was ever granted authority to offer the mayor’s office editorial approval for the content or the promotional materials for the series.” Despite this attempt to clarify, the Tribune didn’t add a formal correction to its piece.

DART to Bloomberg Businessweek for its cringeworthy Thomas Piketty cover, which presented the celebrated economist as the tween idol focus of “Pikettymania,” surrounded by stars, kisses, broken hearts, and inset photos of Justin Bieber and Karl Marx. At last, the rival to Time‘s Chris Christie “The Elephant in the Room” cover that no one was looking for.

DART to CNN for comparing Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl to Nicholas Brody, a character in Showtime’s Homeland. Anchor Don Lemon–last seen in these parts wondering if Flight 370 had disappeared down a black hole–asked Homeland‘s executive producer Gideon Raff if he saw any similarities between the two. One is a real American soldier recently released from imprisonment in Afghanistan; another is a fictional American soldier (and suspected terrorist) released from Afghanistan and hunted by an unstable CIA agent. Of course they’re alike!

LAUREL to The New York Times for capturing the ecstatic joy of dozens of Brazilians as they saw their national soccer team score its first goal in the 2014 FIFA World Cup. The Times sent videographers to an army barracks, apartment security desk, and Copacabana Beach in Rio, to a retirement home in Porto Alegre, and to a street party in Salvador, and recorded Brazilians watching the host nation play the Cup’s opening match against Croatia. Brazil ended up winning the match 3-1.

Edirin Oputu is a former assistant editor at CJR. Follow her on Twitter @EdirinOputu