More Headline Ethics: Was This Apology Really Perfect? Or Even Necessary? No.

United States' Simone Manuel leaves the pool after winning a women's 100-meter freestyle semifinal during the swimming competitions at the 2016 Summer Olympics, Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2016, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

Salon is hailing what it calls a “10” apology (that would be a Category One apology on the Ethics Alarms Apology Scale) from the San Jose Mercury News. My tireless ethics story scout sent the Salon account to me for a reaction, and here it is.

To be fair to Salon, though the headline is “An Olympic-sized gaffe: This newspaper’s apology, at least, gets a perfect 10,” the story doesn’t match the headline. (There’s a lot of that going around lately.) What the post said was,

“So let’s give a modest round of applause this week to San Jose’s The Mercury News, for at least hitting the bar of appropriate responsiveness after screwing up its initial coverage of Thursday’s historic night for the U.S. Olympic swim team.”

I find nothing incorrect about that assessment, if I accept the premise that the paper screwed up, which I only do mildly, if at all.  Salon’s angle is that there is generally a reluctance to apologize, so the San Jose Mercury News being willing to apologize is newsworthy all by itself. Actually, newspapers apologize all the time; not enough, but frequently.

So why is this apology so important? This is Salon, remember. It’s an apology for perceived racial insensitivity, which in Salon’s politically correct world is about the worst crime there is.

Last week,  31-year-old Michael Phelps scored his 22nd career gold medal in the 200-meter individual medley. The same night, Simone Manuel, 20, tied with Canada’s Penny Oleksiak in the 100-meter freestyle to win an individual gold medal in swimming, and set a new Olympic record. The Mercury News headlined the night “Olympics: Michael Phelps shares historic night with African-American.” 

The Horror.

To Salon, this headline demanded an apology, and the paper received some complaints. Why was it apology worthy? Here’s Salon, which first took offense that Manuel wasn’t named in the headline:

[Manuel became] the first African-American woman to win an individual gold medal in swimming — and break a new Olympic record…As the BBC and others have noted, the presence of African-American swimmers in the sport is especially meaningful, coming from a cultural history in which black swimmers were often refused admittance to public pools, and a current climate in which as many as 70 percent of African-American children still aren’t being taught how to swim….As the BBC and others have noted, the presence of African-American swimmers in the sport is especially meaningful, coming from a cultural history in which black swimmers were often refused admittance to public pools, and a current climate in which as many as 70 percent of African-American children still aren’t being taught how to swim….Coming in the midst of a slew of really subpar reporting on the victories of women in the Olympics in general, and riding on the heels of the traditional lack of respect for African-American women in sports in particular, the headline was unsurprising — if still incredibly thoughtless.

Wow. That’s a lot of social justice warrior baggage to pack into one half of a an 8 word headline, especially in a critique that itself has a misleading headline. Let’s see:

1. To normal people, to whom everything isn’t about race, which of the two gold medals is more newsworthy? Phelps’s, of course. He is the biggest star of the U.S. Olympic team. He was its flag-bearer. Everyone knows his name. Few know Manuel’s name. Would “Olympics: Michael Phelps shares historic night with Simone Manuel” have been satisfactory to Salon? I suppose: that’s close to what it was changed to. But why?  After all, what made her gold medal especially noteworthy in Salon’s worldview was that she was an African-American. And her name doesn’t mean anything to most readers. I agree, it would have been better to work her name into the headline, or perhaps devote a story just to her. It appears that NPR’s original headline was “First African-American Woman In History Wins Olympic Swimming Event,”  and someone at the left-wing taxpayer-funded network changed it and its URL code toSimone Manuel Wins Olympic Gold. That’s A Really Big Deal.” It didn’t feel the need to apologize, however.

NPR also ignored Michael Phelps, but that’s OK, because White Swimmers Don”t Matter As Much To NPR Listeners.

2. So was the sensitive headline supposed to be “Olympics: Michael Phelps shares historic night with Simone Manuel, Who Is Black” ? Who knows: I can’t think like these people. Why should an athlete’s race even be mentioned in a headline? How about White Michael Phelps shares historic night with Simone Manuel, Who Is Black”? Sounds a bit race-obsessed to me. You? No, that wouldn’t be right.

3. Is it the fact that the Mercury News didn’t mention gender? Olympics: Michael Phelps shares historic night with African American Woman…would that be something to apologize for? How much information does Salon think should be in a headline? The main information in any story is supposed to be in what’s under the headline. An unethical headline is a false one, a misleading one (like, say, Salon’s headline), or a headline that misrepresents the story. The offending headline did none of these things. Its “offense” was not following a political narrative.

4. Salon’s recitation of the significance of Manuel’s win is pretty silly. This is hardly Jackie Robinson redux. And what the heck is the “current climate in which as many as 70 percent of African-American children still aren’t being taught how to swim”? Is this some kind of new alleged subtle racism? My father taught me to swim. Swimming wasn’t mentioned or taught in any level of schooling I had. What’s stopping an African American from learning how to swim? Take your kid, find a pond or a lake, and throw him in. Yup, most competitive swimmers come from country club families, but that’s class, not race.

Bias makes you stupid, and being obsessed with bias makes you seem stupid—like Salon.

5. The supposed “10” apology? Here it is, on Twitter:

“We apologize for an insensitive headline earlier on a story about Simone Manuel and Michael Phelps’ medal wins.”

The paper changed the headline of the story  to read “Olympics: Stanford’s Simone Manuel and Michael Phelps make history.  The SJW’s like that because it puts the black woman ahead of the biggest star of the Olympics, which is ridiculous pandering.  The paper added an editor’s note to say, “The original headline on this story was insensitive and has been updated to acknowledge the historic gold medal wins by both Simone Manuel and Michael Phelps. We apologize for the original headline. The story has also been updated.”

Wait, what was insensitive about the headline? Why is this new one obviously better? By omitting Manuel’s race, it no longer notes what Salon says is the reason her gold medal was historic. Why is the fact that she’s a Stanford student headline worthy, if her race isn’t?

6. I don’t think the Mercury News believes its headline was insensitive, and it certainly wasn’t unethical. The paper is just knuckling under to progressive bullying, that all, and apologizing for a manufactured “gotcha!” to make the political correctness Furies go away. On the Ethics Alarms Apology Scale, that apology is a #7:

7. A forced or compelled version of 1-4, in which the individual (or organization) apologizing may not sincerely believe that an apology is appropriate, but chooses to show the victim or victims of the act inspiring it that the individual responsible is humbling himself and being forced to admit wrongdoing by the society, the culture, legal authority, or an organization or group that the individual’s actions reflect upon or represent .

 

___________________

Pointer: Fred

 

13 Comments

Filed under Journalism & Media, Race, Social Media

13 responses to “More Headline Ethics: Was This Apology Really Perfect? Or Even Necessary? No.

  1. That first headline of NPR’s was far better. It described something that was self-evidently significant (as a headline should), instead of literally telling us “this is important, take our word for it.”

    The second headline is… well, let’s just say life is starting to imitate Top Secret. http://falkvinge.net/files/2013/06/Screenshot-Top-Secret.avi-11.png

  2. deery

    I don’t know. I’m sure “Jew Wins Gold”, “White Wins Gold” or even “Caucasian Wins Gold” wouldn’t pass muster either. I think you need an additional word or two in there. I think NPR’s original headline was fine.

  3. joed68

    I’ll bet the woman would prefer to be recognized simply for winning the medal, and resents her win, and all the hard work that went into it, being hijacked by these cretins.

    • deery

      “It means a lot, especially with what is going on in the world today, some of the issues of police brutality,” Manuel said of her win, via USA Today. “This win hopefully brings hope and change to some of the issues that are going on. My color just comes with the territory.”

      The significance was not lost on many viewers, some of whom recalled racist Segregation-era policies that kept black Americans out of swimming pools.

      Manuel said to BBC News that her win was for the “African-Americans who have been before me and been inspirations,” and “the people who come behind me and get into the sport.”

      http://www.etonline.com/news/195585_us_swimmer_simone_manuel_talks_racism_after_historic_gold_medal/

  4. Schmendrick

    Yeah, the original Mercury News headline kinda sucked. It smacks of really unfortunate racial essentialism – Michael Phelps gets to be an individual, but Simone Manuel is only important because she is black. The best headline would have been “Phelps, Manuel Win Gold for U.S. Swim Team” or something. The article could then wax rhapsodic all it wanted to about the significance of a black female swimmer not only winning gold for the U.S. but breaking an olympic record while doing it (which, to be honest, is pretty awesome). The whole “black people can’t swim” trope is definitely real, and while I’m skeptical that it causes a ton of damage, I don’t see any harm in celebrating an athlete who defies it. I’m Jewish, and loved seeing Shawn Green swatting 40 home runs for the Dodgers and breaking the stereotype that us heebs are all soft, weak, nebbishes.

  5. The paper changed the headline of the story to read “Olympics: Stanford’s Simone Manuel and Michael Phelps make history.”

    Wait. I didn’t know Michael Phelps attended Stanford.

  6. GC

    “Michael Phelps shares historic night with African-American.”

    Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!

  7. Culturally, we’re at the point of making the most petty the most significant:
    “Headline Makes Historic Impact – All Readers Pleased With It”

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