BY BOB BUTLER, NABJ PRESIDENT
Here we go again.
Another media company is apologizing for publishing or broadcasting racially insensitive comments, then going right back to business as usual.
It’s happened with television stations, radio stations and newspapers, but this latest case of poor journalism is by The New York Times, long regarded as one the United States’ newspapers of record.
During Wimbledon, The Times ran a story by Ben Rothenberg that explored whether other women tennis players wanted to have bodies like Serena Williams.
The National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ)believes journalists are supposed to be accurate but the article implied that Williams does not look feminine because she has a muscular body. The article has been pilloried on the Internet.
There is more than one standard of beauty and to even broach this subject in this manner is at best disingenuous and insulting.
Throughout her career Williams has been described in any number of unflattering ways, including being called “manly.”
Rothenberg did NOT do that, but he should know that writing about Williams’ body invites the haters – or racists – to call her anything but a championship tennis player who arguably is the best athlete in the world – male or female.NABJ, African Americans and women are tired of it.
In an apology of sorts, Times public editor Margaret Sullivan wrote that Rothenberg “…. sees some of the ways that the article could have been approached differently.”
Whether it’s television anchors using the long-outdated term “colored” or other racially offensive terms, a meteorologist messing up the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s name or a newspaper referring to an African-American hockey player as the “dark guy,” this can’t keep happening.
It is not OK to make these kinds of mistakes and then think issuing an apology or disciplining the guilty party makes everything alright.
Longtime media critic – and NABJ member – Eric Deggans says many news outlets seem to forget that, because it’s 2015, they can’t possibly have the same problems with race and gender coverage that they had 10 or 15 years ago.
“The other thing we know at NABJ is that covering race and gender well is a constant process,” he said.
“In the same way you can never stop striving to be accurate, you can never stop working hard to fairly cover race and gender issues – which includes maintaining a diverse newsroom and paying particular attention to stories touching on these themes,” Deggans added.
You can kind of understand slips of the tongue on live television or radio. But The Times admits four editors signed off on the story. It’s hard to believe that not one of them saw this as being offensive to African Americans and women. Were any of these editors people of color?
That might be the problem and it’s only a matter of time before something else offensive is broadcast or published.
An advocacy group established in 1975 in Washington, D.C., NABJ is the largest organization for journalists of color in the nation, and provides career development as well as educational and other support to its members worldwide. For additional information, please visit, http://www.nabj.org.