Months ago, Politico reporter Joe Williams got into trouble after saying on MSNBC that Mitt Romney was comfortable only among white people. He was hammered, suspended and ended up leaving Politico.
Weeks ago, ABC News’s Brian Ross got in trouble for jumping to the conclusion that a Tea Party activist may have been the guy who was arrested for the Aurora, Colo., massacre. He was hammered but kept his job.
A week and a half ago, Politico’s Dave Catanese got in trouble for tweeting a thought experiment in defense of Todd Akin’s miserable remarks about rape and pregnancy. He was hammered and took a little break from reporting but kept his job.
Today, Yahoo Washington Bureau Chief David Chalian got into trouble when he said on mic that Romney and the Republicans “are happy to have a party with black people drowning,” an outburst first reported by NewsBusters. He was hammered and is now out of a job.
Of all these consequences, the ones befalling Chalian appear the most appropriate.
Yahoo responded by doing what organizations do. Issuing a statement, that is:
David Chalian’s statement was inappropriate and does not represent the views of Yahoo!. He has been terminated effective immediately. We have already reached out to the Romney campaign, and we apologize to Mitt Romney, his staff, their supporters and anyone who was offended.
Chalian then attempted to use the old “joke” line in an apology:
I am profoundly sorry for making an inappropriate and thoughtless joke. I was commenting on the challenge of staging a convention during a hurricane and about campaign optics. I have apologized to the Romney campaign, and I want to take this opportunity to publicly apologize to Gov. and Mrs. Romney. I also regret causing any distraction from the exceptional coverage of the Republican convention by Yahoo News and ABC News.
Bold text added to highlight idiocy. “Optics,” huh? How about the optics of this guy’s assessment of Mitt Romney and the Republican Party? What do those optics look like? Political jargon and posterior covering make for an ugly mashup.
If you're a journo and you've ever said anything as "inappropriate" as— Jack Shafer (@jackshafer) August 29, 2012
@davidchalian (which you have!) please step up to be fired now.
That’s the media critic for Reuters, who poses a compelling question. But here’s another one: If you don’t unload a guy like Chalian, what do you do with him? Let him continue directing coverage of a convention that he clearly believes is morally bankrupt? Promote him?
Surely a look at the record could yield some insights. Did the work that Chalian presided over carry any slant or bias? It’s worth a long look.
That said, Chalian’s “joke” wasn’t a joke, which is to say it wasn’t harmless. It indicated that he had reached the conclusion, even if it was couched in jest, that Republicans don’t care if black people drown in a tragic storm. It’s a sentiment suggesting that, no matter the circumstances, Chalian would have some difficulty giving Republicans a fair shot in coverage.
And that’s precisely what distinguishes it from the previous stupidities inventoried above. Williams’s observation about Romney’s racial comfort level was clearly edgy but didn’t come even close to alleging evil in the soul of Republicanism. Ross screwed up big-time under deadline, placing excessive credence in a Web page kicking up allegations — debatable ones, for sure — that he was biased against Tea Party folks. Catanese showed ignorance about women’s issues, not the sort of sneering contempt that Chalian mouthed into the mic.
Attempts to get a bit deeper on this question aren’t working out too well just yet. A high-ranking Yahoo official declined to chat. A former colleague didn’t have much to say aside from endorsing Chalian as a “really really terrific guy and a top-notch journalist.”
This top-notch journalist, I hope, finds a place to practice his craft again. Titles like Travel + Leisure, Outside, Maritime Executive and Lego Magazine would be good landing pads. An outlet majoring in evenhanded political coverage, however, doesn’t appear to be the right landing spot for Chalian.
Then again, journalism is a big place. There are plenty of outlets at which he could stand up and take a bow for such a “joke,” not apologize for it.
Update 8/30, 9:40: Piece updated to credit NewsBusters for having broken the story of the audio. Apologies to that organization for this omission.