CNN has built its reputation as a cable network upon its quick-strike response to breaking news. No outlet is faster to cataclysms across the globe than CNN.
It’s apparently a little slower in responding to in-house crises. Though Roland Martin sent out unequivocally homophobic tweets on Super Bowl Sunday, the network waited till this afternoon to suspend him.
Oh well. At least the network made the right statement. In stating that Martin will leave CNN air “for the time being,” the network is issuing its recognition that business as usual isn’t an option. Not after a guy writes these two things:
“If a dude at your Super Bowl party is hyped about David Beckham’s H&M underwear ad, smack the ish out of him! #superbowl”
“Who the hell was that New England Patriot they just showed in a head to toe pink suit? Oh, he needs a visit from #teamwhipdatass”.
Stipulated, then, that CNN has placed itself on the side of the angels here, in refusing to tolerate homophobia.
Next question: Will a suspension accomplish anything aside from making clear that CNN has a good eye for line-crossing?
Our society adores suspensions. When I was a sixth-grader, I and a couple of fellow meatheads set off a fire extinguisher in our school’s hallway. The consequence? Two-day suspension, which I spent eating Concord grapes off the vine of a friend across the meadow. They were tasty.
My boyhood sports idol, Lawrence Taylor, was caught violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. Suspended for four games.
Moving to more contemporary examples, Mark Halperin called President Obama a rude name on MSNBC. What happened to Halperin? MSNBC tells the story:
Mark Halperin’s comments this morning were completely inappropriate and unacceptable. We apologize to the President, The White House and all of our viewers. We strive for a high level of discourse and comments like these have no place on our air. Therefore, Mark will be suspended indefinitely from his role as an analyst.
I completely agree with everything in MSNBC’s statement about my remark. I believe that the step they are taking in response is totally appropriate. Again, I want to offer a heartfelt and profound apology to the President, to my MSNBC colleagues, and to the viewers. My remark was unacceptable, and I deeply regret it.
Halperin’s “totally appropriate” verdict reflects how little we think about the utility of suspensions. Our knee-jerk reliance on this one-size-fits-all punishment crosses all areas of endeavor. A journalist activist is suspended from the National Press Club for asking tough questions of Saudi royalty (later overturned). High school students are suspended for “Tebowing.” Suspension, suspensions, suspensions — it’s as if authority figures across the land had one blunt mallet to handle all cases of misconduct.
There are cases when suspension is the only logical measure. States must suspend driver’s licenses for people who pose a hazard to the public. Licensing boards must use suspensions and revocations to keep doctors and specialists from doing harm.
But moving back to the case of Roland Martin, what good is a suspension going to accomplish? What his tweets reflect is a general prejudice against gays and complete ignorance about the epidemic of violence against them. Attempts to excuse his homophobia with his much-deployed soccer-joke defense cast a brighter light on his lack of sensitivity to the issue.
As if a spell of idle time is now going to cure the situation. The thinking appears to be that barring Martin from CNN’s broadcasts will teach him how he erred. Maybe he’ll take some steps to raise his awareness of the problem that he only deepened with his nasty outbursts. All of which will be inferior to a countermeasure that CNN has at its fingertips: Suspend him not, but rather assign him to do a series of stories on gay-bashing in America.
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