It appears that common sense is not so common.
In recent months, there have been several controversial statements made by media folk, on and off the camera, that were completely inappropriate.
In the "What were you thinking?" category, Kelly Tilghman said in jest during the Mercedes-Benz Golf Championship that young players who wanted to defeat Tiger Woods would need to "lynch him in a back alley." Media mogul and Charlotte Bobcats owner Robert L. Johnson cast aspersions on the character of Senator Barack Obama while campaigning for Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton in South Carolina. Ironically, Mr. Johnson was defending recent comments made by Senator Clinton about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., when Johnson launched into an attack on what many perceived to be Obama's character -- specifically his teen drug use.
Johnson initially said that he was referring to Obama's community organizing and that the media "mischaracterized" his remarks, which were "incorrect" and "irresponsible." He later issued an apology to Obama and his family, much like that of fired Clinton campaign organizer Bill Shaheen, who was forced to resign from the campaign because of similar remarks.
Last month, Philadelphia anchorwoman Alycia Lane was fired after she was arrested for allegedly striking a NYPD police officer and calling her a "dyke bitch." Upon being released from jail, Lane immediately called Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, who stated that she did not ask for any favors. Um hum. This was the last of a number of incidents involving Ms. Lane including sending racy photos of herself to married TV sportscaster Rich Eisen and an affair with a New York anchorman. Her attorneys state that the termination is unfair and unwarranted. Lane was fired for her alleged actions and her words, neither of which is acceptable.
It's mind-boggling to me that accomplished media people have made such huge blunders and poor choices of words.
Initially Tilghman hid under the cloak of friendship, stating that she and Woods have a close off-air friendship, so he understood that she did not mean any harm. Tilghman made comments that were inappropriate and hurtful to the sport, its fans and the network. I don't know how many times that I have stated in my column and in my classrooms, where we train people to work on the air, that lynching is not funny; and even if it is to you, your bosses will probably not agree -- unless you work for a white supremacist organization.
Part of being a professional is knowing when to err on the side of good judgment. If you work as an anchor, where you are delivering commentary, it is always best to stick to the subject -- and lynching and back alleys have nothing to do with golf. I'm not talking about political correctness; I am talking about common sense and decency. Those who carelessly toss around words have gotten the critique of political correctness and the right of free speech confused with common decency and boundaries. If one chooses to use questionable language and words, then he should certainly do it in his space and not in mine, which is what Tilghman did.
Johnson, on the other hand, threw down the gauntlet by making public comments about the private affairs of a man who did these things years ago. I am a Clinton supporter and did not appreciate the comments about Obama because there is no need to make disparaging remarks about him or any other candidate for that matter. To reach back to his teen years and to condemn him for doing what most teens do -- experiment with many different things -- is wrong. He turned out quite well in my opinion, as most people do, and should be judged for his actions in recent years, not what he did as a child.
It was Johnson who was irresponsible with his words, and he should have known better, especially since he made his fortune in the media. He knows how this game works and what we do -- which is manipulate words and meaning all day long.
Unlike Johnson and Tilghman, Lane on the other hand refuses to admit wrongdoing. Media contracts, particularly for on-air personalities, usually include morality and decency clauses. Even if the station could forgive her for allegedly striking a police officer, they could not forgive her use of a sexual slur because she makes her living with her words. Broadcast journalists must remain credible at all times and that cannot happen when you are spewing venom at the same time. Lane fails to recognize the blurred boundaries between her personal and private life and how they impact each other, whether she likes it or not.
Professional responsibilities and boundaries exist for a reason, and we all need to be mindful of that. Freedom of speech ain't always free, and there are consequences for every word that we utter, particularly when one works in media. Enough is enough. People need to employ common sense and be mindful of what they say if they plan on staying employed.