What major media outlet didn't apologize this month? Not many. It's a little troubling when the big news of the week in the media is the media ... offering up yet another mea culpa over something someone said. Count four times in the last couple of weeks -- all linked to a writer, blogger, or television host using a word or words that upset a group of people.
I am not new to the Fourth Estate or the First Amendment. I have been reading, watching, and listening to the media since I was in knee socks and Mickey Mouse shirts. Not a day goes by when I am not personally offended by something said in the media about my beliefs, morals, or societal position. But -- there's that free speech thing again -- I don't regularly go demanding someone's head on a platter for it.
Partly because ... I am the media. I've been saying my share of stupid or offensive things myself for years. People disagree with me all the time. It's just what we're all paid to do!
Secretly, people love it when members of the media make dumb and potentially inflammatory expressions. Imagine how boring life would be if everything you read was in perfect agreement with your views. Bill O'Reilly doesn't have great ratings because everyone agrees with him -- he has great ratings because he irritates the hell out of a good portion of his viewers.
People feel what they feel, whether they air it publicly or not. What's mean, discriminatory, or inappropriate to one person isn't to another. Double standards exist. We can compare anorexic models to Holocaust survivors and everyone laughs, but we say something derogatory about fat people and the Internets come to a halt. We can attack the Catholics (up, down, sideways, in every way possible) but you can't say a thing about Muslims or you're instantly a racist.
The way you say it matters, as does the person saying it. If a liberal like Jon Stewart made a comment about "being afraid of Muslims on planes," or if Drew Carey (in his former fat self) made a comment about being "grossed out" by overweight people kissing, we wouldn't be having this discussion right now. I'm starting to believe that every member of the media be required to take a comedy course before getting a job. Seriousness and personal honesty are quickly becoming the journalistic kiss of death.
All that heavy stuff aside, the point is that public bullying of the media is quickly becoming a national pastime, especially among the politically correct, super-sensitive, partisan sect.
For goodness sakes, when did we all become such a bunch of Marys? (Oops, I apologize for that comment.)
For those who've been too busy paying attention to the elections or economic crisis or something, here's a recap of the biggest grovelers of the past month and how they could have saved some face:
National Public Radio: First, CEO Vivian Schiller fired conservative commentator Juan Williams over the phone following comments he made saying he gets nervous when he sees passengers in Muslim clothing on a plane. When questioned about it, Schiller made the comment that Williams' beliefs should stay between him and "his psychiatrist or his publicist."
The lame apology: "I stand by my decision to end NPR's relationship with Juan, but I deeply regret the way I handled it and explained it."
What she should have said: "I admit once and for all that NPR is a government funded, liberal tool and that Williams' frequent appearances on Fox News were in direct conflict with my own -- and my publicly funded radio station's -- political agenda. So this was a great excuse!"
The View: Co-host Joy Behar referred to defeated Republican Senate candidate from Nevada Sharron Angle as a "bitch" for what she viewed as a racist ad campaign.
The lame apology: "I really shouldn't have called her a bitch," said Behar. "Because, to me, that's a term of endearment. I mean, I reserve that word for people that I know and love. So, that was a mistake and I take it back."
What she should have said: "I'm incapable of acting like a courteous human being to people with opposite political views. But my producers are worried about ratings and forced me to apologize, so this half-assed, insincere joke is the best I could come up with. And Angle is still a 'bitch.'"
Marie Claire Magazine: The magazine's online relationship blogger wrote a piece called "Should 'Fatties' Get a Room (Even on TV)?" in which she said: "I think I'd be grossed out if I had to watch two characters with rolls of fat kissing each other ... just like I'd find it distressing if I saw a very drunk person stumbling across a bar or a heroine addict slumping in a chair."
The lame apology: After a major uproar, Kelly issued a post-script below her post: "I never wanted anyone to feel bullied or ashamed ... and I sorely regret that it upset people so much. A lot of what I said was unnecessary; it wasn't productive, either." But not as lame as a statement that the magazine itself gave to one newspaper: "Maura Kelly is a provocative blogger. She has been extraordinarily moved by the thousands of responses she has received following her post."
What they should have said: Kelly should have saved the apology, which came off even more gratuitous than the post itself ... especially when she starts offering diet tips to all the people she offended [cringe]. Don't say it if you can't take the backlash -- or, get yourself an editor, who on behalf of the magazine should have said: "We apologize greatly for hiring such an insensitive writer and we will either fire her, edit her heavily, and/or buy her a thesaurus and a dictionary so she can learn to spell the word heroin ... or at least tell her how to use spell check."
Shape Magazine: In the most ridiculous, unjustified apology of them all, the health magazine's editor-in-chief Valerie Latona sent a letter to 40 readers (by mass email no less) who complained about putting a self-proclaimed adulteress, country singer LeAnn Rimes, on the cover. And Angelina Jolie doesn't appear on HOW many magazines for the same reason?
The lame apology: "Shape has made a terrible mistake. Please know that our putting her on the cover was not meant to put a husband-stealer on a pedestal -- but to show (through her story) how we all are human ... But it did not come across that way ... And for that I'm terribly sorry."
What she should have said: "Um, did you say 40 readers who might cancel their subscriptions? Pu-leeze."
So, members of the media, unless you maliciously slander, libel, defame, discriminate, break some golden FCC rule, or do something equally unethical or illegal, please stop apologizing. It's not necessary and it makes you look weak. If we don't like one of your writer's or commentator's voice or views, or a picture that you show, we'll let you know. We'll stop reading, watching, and buying. Their ratings will go down the tubes. Then you'll have to get rid of them anyway and have a justified performance-based reason for doing so. We'll respect you for it. And you can thank us later for all of those millions of page-views.
Image via Poldavo (Alex)/Flickr