Ben Margot, File/Associated Press

News organizations hate to say sorry. They’re staffed, after all, by people who spend their days telling other people what to think. If they’re not right all the time, then why do they have their jobs?

That’s why apologies tend to come only under pressure, as Ebony magazine today demonstrated. The magazine’s mea culpa went out to Raffi Williams, the deputy press secretary for the Republican National Committee, as well as to the “Black Republican community.”

Just what could have triggered such a statement of regret? You’ll find it outlined right here. Like so many things that necessitate apologies, this situation developed on Twitter. Jamilah Lemieux, senior editor at Ebony.com, issued a tweet noting that black conservatives Ben Carson and Armstrong Williams were launching a new magazine. When someone replied that they were interested in more information, Lemieux expressed an interest in “less!”

That comment prompted Williams to get into the discussion:

 

Lemieux came back:

 

Problem there was factual: Williams isn’t white; he is black. Faced with that fact, Lemieux backtracked for a second….

 

…and then continued blasting away:

 

RNC Chairman Reince Priebus wasn’t going to let such nastiness go unanswered. So he shipped off a letter to Ebony, which includes these three paragraphs:

Attacking someone for his or her race, heritage or political views is the very thing EBONY has worked to discourage, and actions like those of Ms. Lemieux are far below the basic standards of journalism. She did not even attempt to show journalistic objectivity. And I’m sure you’ll agree with me that it’s unacceptable to refer to those who disagree with you as “roaches.”

Raffi deserves an apology from Ms. Lemieux and from EBONY—not just for making assumptions about his race but more importantly for dismissing black Republicans and the validity of their opinions in public discourse.

In their Twitter exchange, Ms. Lemieux said she had “no interest” in a conversation about encouraging diversity of thought. I’m hopeful, however, that she does not speak for the entire magazine and that we can use this unfortunate episode as a catalyst for greater engagement and understanding between the Republican Party and the black community.

Ebony responded with appropriate shame: “EBONY acknowledges Senior Editor Jamilah Lemieux’s lack of judgment on her personal Twitter account and apologizes to Raffi Williams and the Black Republican community.” The Erik Wemple Blog would amplify the list of offenses from merely “lack of judgment” to downright unpleasantness, closedmindedness and a trigger finger for racial affront.

It’s tempting to cite a media winning streak for the RNC stretching back to last summer, when Priebus objected to specials on Hillary Rodham Clinton in the works for CNN Films and NBC Entertainment. The networks ended up bailing on those projects. Earlier this year, MSNBC issued a tweet declaring that the “rightwing” will “hate” a Cheerios ad featuring a biracial family. Even though the tweet didn’t single out the RNC, Priebus managed to lobby himself into an official apology from MSNBC President Phil Griffin:

The tweet last night was outrageous and unacceptable. We immediately acknowledged that it was offensive and wrong, apologized, and deleted it. We have dismissed the person responsible for the tweet.
I personally apologize to Mr. Priebus and to everyone offended.
At MSNBC, we believe in passionate, strong debate about the issues and we invite voices from all sides to participate. That will never change.

And now the Ebony thing. It’s unclear whether the magazine would have apologized absent the letter from Priebus. It’s nice to think it would have.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.