Should journalists be responsible for things they don’t know?

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New York Knicks guard Jeremy Lin celebrates after a play in the second quarter of their NBA game against the Sacramento Kings in New York's Madison Square Garden, Feb. 15, 2012.
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The past week there has been a lot of talk about the ESPN editor that wrote a

headline about Jeremy Lin that included the cliche”chink in the armor.” I sympathize with the editor Anthony Federico and believe that it was an honest mistake.

Before Federico’s headline gained attention I had no idea “chink” was an offensive word.  I had honestly only heard the term “chink” used in the cliche “chink in the armor.” I do not agree Federico should have been fired for not knowing the derogatory meaning of a word.  I agree with the article published on Poynter by Roy Peter Clark.  People do need to be responsible for their words and actions but I do not think people should be punished for ignorance. After reading Federico’s apology, I believe he did not know the derogatory meaning of “chink.” I do not think it was fair that Federico lost his job while anchor Max Bretos, who said the cliche is being suspended for thirty days.

An article published on titled “ESPN Took a Harsh Stand With the Max Bretos One Month Suspension” made some interesting points about words and their meanings. It started with a reference to a line that contained the word “chink” in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. According to the article Shakespeare used the word “chink” 300 years before it became a derogatory word. The article points out that words can have different meanings depending on the context and tone.

This incident has frightened me as a broadcast reporter and producer because I do not know every word that is considered offensive.  I feel like I could easily be in Federico’s situation.  I think there should be some kind of training or list in the news room for terms that are viewed as offensive.  However, there may be so many words with offensive meanings that it may not be practical or possible to create a list.

What do you think can be done to prevent journalists from accidently using offensive words? Do you think Federico’s punishment was justified?

2 Comments on “Should journalists be responsible for things they don’t know?”

  1. Kelsea,

    I think you make an interesting point here – but unfortunately the term “chink” is a pretty identifiable term and since the article was relating to Jeremy Lin the headline was, if nothing else, in poor taste . Fair or not, as journalists (or even in the broader sense, leaders) we are held to a higher standard. And this issue relates back to the cultural sensitivity and awareness that we have discussed in class before. Some one should have caught the mistake before it was published, there is no excuse.

    That said, I think ESPN overreacted and the punishment was not necessarily befitting of the crime. But the organization decided to make the statement that that kind of disrespectful action would not be tolerated.

    The best lesson we can learn from this mistake is to be careful. Though we may not fully understand the implications of our words or actions, we can be certain that we will be held accountable for any missteps.


  2. This whole Jeremy Lin thing has taken off and the puns are literally endless. The whole deal with Lin excelling in the NBA is that he was undrafted, but he is also Asian, and he’s asian in a game where Asians don’t succeed a lot. That’s why the puns are really getting out of control.

    I see how the “chink in the armor” headline, given in this context, could be offensive. But for ESPN to fire one person and suspend another (not give them equal punishment which should have been suspension) is unfair. I believe the ESPN editor and I trust what he says. Sometime people just mess up.

    The Lin-sanity (I almost made it the post without a Lin pun) is starting to calm down, so maybe now people will see him as a good basketball player and not an asian basketball player. Fingers crossed

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