Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Jim Wallis and the Legacy of Political Correctness

In a recent blog post Jim Wallis decried what he perceived as reporters claiming that Sarah Palin could not be a mother and run for Vice-President. He claimed this was a "blatant double standard that would not be applied to a male candidate".

If this was in fact happening, then he is right that it is a double standard and would be completely out of bounds. The problem with Wallis' statement is that there is no evidence that reporters are in fact doing this! I listen/watch the news all the time, and I have never seen or heard a reporter claim Sarah Palin cold not be a mother and a politician both. In fact, I maintain that in this era of political correctness, any reporter who did this would be out of a job within days.

This got me to thinking about other situations in which reporters have lost their jobs because of politically incorrect statements. The situation which comes immediately to mind is the famous faux pas Rush Limbaugh made when he was a commentator on ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown for the 2003 season. On the 4th show he claimed that the media bent over backwards to build up Black quarterbacks. He had absolutely no evidence for this and was just making it up, just as Wallis was making up his so-called "observation" about the media and Palin. In talking about Donovan McNabb, Limbaugh's exact comments, according to Wikipedia, were:

"Sorry to say this, I don't think he's been that good from the get-go. I think what we've had here is a little social concern in the NFL. The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well. There is a little hope invested in McNabb, and he got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he didn't deserve. The defense carried this team."

There was a firestorm of protest to this, and Limbaugh resigned only 3 days later.

Now, media people make silly and unsubstantiated comments every day, and these comments normally go virtually unnoticed and un-commented upon. However, when the comments are considered politically incorrect, i.e., they involve race, gender, ethnic group, or religion, then the thought police are out in full force and the politically correct folks jump on it with all guns blazing. Another example is Jimmy the Greek. He was a commentator for CBS on its NFL Today program for 12 years, and survived many controversies, including an incident in which he punched fellow CBS commentator Brent Musberger in a restaurant. However, on 1/16/88 he got fired after making this comment:

"The black is a better athlete to begin with because he's been bred to be that way — because of his high thighs and big thighs that goes up into his back, and they can jump higher and run faster because of their bigger thighs. This goes back all the way to the Civil War when during the slave trading, the owner — the slave owner would breed his big black to his big woman so that he could have a big black kid."

Again, certainly a totally silly and unsubstantiated comment, but because it involves race, the thought police jump on it and he has to be fired because of it, even though he wasn't fired for physically attacking his colleague Musberger, nor for many other silly comments Jimmy the Greek made over the years.

A particularly pathetic example is that of John Rocker. Poor John Rocker was a 25-year-old pitcher for the Atlanta Braves when he had the unfortunate experience of running his mouth to a Sports Illustrated reporter who was riding with him to a speaking engagement in January of 2000. Rocker, a Georgia native, allegedly said, speaking of New York City:

"It's the most hectic, nerve-racking city. Imagine having to take the 7 Train to the ballpark, looking like you're riding through Beirut next to some kid with purple hair, next to some queer with AIDS, right next to some dude who just got out of jail for the fourth time, right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids. It's depressing."

Lest you are under the illusion that this is still America and free speech sitll exists, let the record show that Rocker was suspended without pay for Spring Training and the first 28 games of the season.

I still recall the hurt in Ken Caminiti's voice while being interviewed by Dan Patrick on ESPN radio, after the SI article quoting him as saying half the players in the majors are on steroids. This article caused a huge uproar, and Caminiti was in the eye of quite a storm. (He soon died of a drug overdose at the age of only 41.) Caminiti explained that an SI reporter called and said he wanted to talk with Caminiti about life after baseball. The reporter flew down to visit Caminiti and they chatted over a long period of time. In a weak moment, Caminiti made the offhand remark which caused all the fuss. Steroid use was *not* the subject of the interview, and Caminiti never intended to make a controversial statement, unlike Jose Canseco who wrote a book accusing players of rampant steroid use.

And finally we come to Andy Rooney. Andy has been the resident curmudgeon on "60 Minutes for many years. His incisive observations on American life, and life in general, have made him a viewer favorite. Here is how Wikipedia described his 1990 suspension:

"In 1990 Rooney was suspended without pay for three months. This punishment was for saying that "too much alcohol, too much food, drugs, homosexual unions, cigarettes [are] all known to lead ... to premature death." Also, he wrote an explanatory letter to a gay organization after being ordered not to do so. This may have contributed to the severity of the action. After only four weeks without Andy Rooney 60 Minutes lost 20 percent of its audience. CBS management then decided that it was in the best interest of the network to have Rooney return immediately."

I think I have demonstrated what happens to reporters (and others) who comment on taboo subjects. Sarah Palin has been roundly criticized for her Neanderthal views, and rightly so, but nobody suggests she can't be a mother and a candidate both. Wallis is all wet when he says otherwise.

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