The fallout at ESPN from their racially insensitive mobile headline was swift, decisive, and steep. On Sunday, the network announced it was taking action in two instances and made public a third where a similar reference was made on ESPN Radio in New York. The most drastic action was taken against the author of the mobile headline, who lost his job. This morning, the New York Daily News talked to the editor, 28 year old Anthony Federico, who said the headline was an innocent lapse in judgment.
ESPN also stated that an ESPNEWS anchor had been suspended 30 days for their use of the phrase. We know from video evidence and his Twitter page that it was Max Bretos, formerly of Fox Soccer Channel. Action wasn't taken against the third person because they weren't an ESPN employee. Here's the full ESPN statement about their response to the comments…
"At ESPN we are aware of three offensive and inappropriate comments made on ESPN outlets during our coverage of Jeremy Lin.
Saturday we apologized for two references here. We have since learned of a similar reference Friday on ESPN Radio New York. The incidents were separate and different. We have engaged in a thorough review of all three and have taken the following action:
- The ESPN employee responsible for our Mobile headline has been dismissed.
- The ESPNEWS anchor has been suspended for 30 days.
- The radio commentator is not an ESPN employee.
We again apologize, especially to Mr. Lin. His accomplishments are a source of great pride to the Asian-American community, including the Asian-American employees at ESPN. Through self-examination, improved editorial practices and controls, and response to constructive criticism, we will be better in the future."
Give credit to ESPN in this regard – after some mishaps in the past where they have seemed stubborn and out of touch handling controversy, Bristol HQ did everything necessary and more in this case…
ESPN's apologies have been straightforward and conciliatory. The discipline handed down on Sunday can in no way be considered light. If anything, you could make the case these penalties were pretty harsh. A formerly anonymous 28 year old editor lost his job over that headline being published. An anchor suffered a 30 day suspension for a spur of the moment question on live television.
Perhaps there wasn't any malice or intent in either case as both men have said, but considering the firestorm, these are moves ESPN felt like they had to make. Bretos apologized on Twitter, citing his Asian wife and having no intention to use an offensive choice of words and other employees have backed him. Federcio has also apologized and said he used the phrase 100 times in headlines and thought nothing of it when attaching it to the Lin story. The mobile headline author told the Daily News he was "devastated" over what happened.
If ESPN can do more though in a transparent initiative handling this fallout, it would be to explain the editorial process as to how the mobile headline got published. How many desks did it pass by without getting stopped? Who all had access to that headline and didn't catch the potential controversy? Did Federico have to take all the blame and fall on his sword for the company? Those are questions we don't have the answer to, and it looks like we won't… unless Poynter steps in to give us the full story as ESPN Ombudsman.
Reflect for a moment and compare this course of action from ESPN to that of Fox, who never said anything publicly regarding Jason Whitlock's racist tweet, which definitely had the intent to attack, marginalize, and stereotype an entire group of people. Whitlock was never disciplined and only apologized himself for what transpired. In light of ESPN's immediate and impactful response, the silence from Fox was and is defeaning.
ESPN acted in a professional manner to turn the page on this story and hopefully all media companies learn from this episode and we can turn our full attention back on the court, where Linsanity continues.