Late Saturday morning, a brief, unbylined Associated Press item ("ESPN sorry for offensive headline on Lin story") reported that "ESPN has apologized for using a racial slur in a headline for a story on Knicks sensation Jeremy Lin."
The racial slur in question involves using "Chink in the Armor" to headline a story posted on the network's mobile website after the Knicks lost Friday night to the lowly New Orleans Hornets, ending a seven-game winning streak. The text of ESPN's apology and discussion of the AP's protective oversights follow the jump:
Last night, ESPN.com’s mobile web site posted an offensive headline referencing Jeremy Lin at 2:30 am ET. The headline was removed at 3:05 am ET. We are conducting a complete review of our cross-platform editorial procedures and are determining appropriate disciplinary action to ensure this does not happen again. We regret and apologize for this mistake.
That's nice, says Greg Neal at Forbes, but he points out that the apology is way too passive, and avoids noting that this wasn't even the first time in the past 24 hours that the "chink in the armor" slur was (perhaps inadvertently) used (bolds are mine):
ESPN Uses "Chink in the Armor" Line Twice-- Did Linsanity Just Go Racist?
Linsanity just jumped the shark with the ESPN mobile website using the headline a “Chink in the Armor” to refer to the Knick’s loss to the Hornets. This came on the heels of an ESPN commentator making the same comment on-air Friday night.
McNeal's item has an 8-second video from an ESPN segment broadcast sometime before Friday night's game wherein the unidentified announcer (perhaps readers know who he is) directly references Lin's abilities in stating, and then asking: "He's handled everything very well as you said, unflappable. But if there's a chink in the armor where can Lin improve?"
What I sense is that the phrase became a "cute" and intensely insensitive widespread phenomenon inside the network. As a result (emphasizing that this is plausible but still speculative), because of frequent internal conversational use, an inadvertent slur went on the air and a possibly intentional one went briefly into a mobile website headline.
I'm suggesting that the mobile website headline might have been intentional because at the time it went up the game had ended at least three hours earlier. In other words, someone had to proactively decide to change whatever headline had been there to the offensive one in question. That seems like an insensitive attempt -- again, plausibly fed by frequent internal use -- to be "cute" while being ignorant of the fact that the word "is considered a racist term by Asian people."
McNeal at Forbes, as noted earlier, is unimpressed with the apology:
Note the avoidance in the language used by ESPN— ESPN.com’s “mobile web site” apparently did the posting, not a writer or editor. There is also no admission of wrong-doing or acknowledgement that this may have been an intentionally offensive posting, just some regret and an apology for “this mistake.” How about a statement that this was insensitive or could be perceived as insensitive? How about some acknowledgement that this is not consistent with the values of the company?
Maybe there's no acknowledgment because, at least in terms of the values seen on a daily basis in the company's internal culture, what we saw and heard really isn't inconsistent.
The AP's report predictably let ESPN off the hook, both in failing to mention the existence of the inadvertent on-air use of the slur, and in missing the significance of the revised headline's timing.
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.