darts and laurels

Lousy judgment, unlikely hero

Darts for Columbia Daily Tribune, The Economist, and SportsCenter with laurels for TMZ and The New York Times
October 30, 2014

A DART to the Columbia Daily Tribune for running a cartoon of Ferguson protesters holding signs with statements such as, “Steal to honor Michael,” and “No 60″ Plasma TV No Peace!” next to a column about lootings in the town. After numerous complaints, mainly voiced on Twitter, the publication’s managing editor Jim Robertson responded to the criticism, asking readers to consider the context (it was just one out of the paper’s many cartoons depicting the unrest), and stating: “Provocative? Yes. Racist? Certainly not in intent.”

The Economist may not have intended to appear racist, either, with its review of a book on the history of slavery and American capitalism by Edward Baptist. But it still earns a DART for stating: “Almost all the blacks in his book are victims, almost all the whites villains. This is not history; it is advocacy.” The review was widely blasted and has since been withdrawn with an apology. In a response to the apology, Baptist himself said that the whole review missed the point, not just the above quote. By rejecting the book’s slave testimonies as valid proof of how slaves were mistreated, the review reflected a racist attitude beyond its last two sentences, Baptist said.

LAUREL to TMZ for uncovering footage of former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice knocking his then-fiancée, now-wife, Janay Palmer Rice, unconscious in an Atlantic City casino elevator, months after it released a video of him dragging her limp body out of the elevator. The first video helped spark public debate about domestic violence, which eventually forced the NFL to update its policy on the issue. The second video had direct consequences for Rice, who was released from the Ravens and suspended indefinitely from the NFL.

But the world of sports reporting hasn’t been all about positive impact, and a DART goes to ESPN’s SportsCenter for investigating Michael Sam’s showering habits. Reporter Josina Anderson took such an interest in how Sam, the NFL’s first openly gay player, was getting along with his new teammates at the St. Louis Rams that she didn’t stop short of asking some of the players about Sam’s behavior in the communal showers. The idea was to find out if Sam was waiting to shower so “as not to make his teammates feel uncomfortable,” as one unnamed player allegedly told Anderson. Another two (named) players, however, answered the ridiculous question by saying they “weren’t tracking” how Sam went about showering.

Not least, a LAUREL to The New York Times for finally acknowledging that torture inflicted by the CIA on terrorism suspects is still torture.

Lene Bech Sillesen is a CJR Delacorte Fellow. Follow her on Twitter at @LeneBechS.