Golfweek Makes the Right Call in Firing Editor

By Leonard Shapiro
Special to
Tuesday, January 22, 2008; 3:43 PM

A good man lost his job last week, and it's difficult -- no, actually, it's virtually impossible -- to defend the decision he made that ultimately led to his firing.

Dave Seanor, the editor of Golfweek Magazine, was dismissed a few days after his publication ran a picture of a noose on its cover, ostensibly to illustrate several stories on the inside devoted to the controversy surrounding on-air comments made by Golf Channel play-by-play broadcaster Kelly Tilghman.

Tilghman, the first woman to anchor the play-by-play desk in men's professional golf, properly received a two-week suspension from her superiors for her flippant comment about Tiger Woods -- she said that young players trying to get to his level should "lynch him in a back alley." As we wrote in this space last week, it was a dumb thing to say for all the obvious reasons, but surely not uttered maliciously by a bright, engaging and highly educated woman who considers Woods a friend, and vice versa.

Tilghman returns to the Golf Channel air this week for the Thursday telecast of the Buick Invitational, the PGA tour stop in San Diego. Other then her on-air apology two days after the fact, she still has not addressed the issue publicly, and as of Monday, there were no plans for her to meet with reporters covering the San Diego tournament to answer questions about the controversy her initial comment created.

I put in a request last Friday to interview her over the phone and was told by a Golf Channel spokesman that she was not speaking with reporters. When I called back Monday, it was more of the same stonewall from a cable network that keeps insisting it produces solid, professional journalism on its Golf Central nightly news show, and is constantly putting its microphones in the faces of a wide variety of other newsmakers in the sport.

In this case, apparently they're going to keep their newsmaker to themselves, perhaps in the misguided hope that the story might just fade away. Memo to the Golf Channel: It won't, at least not until Tilghman, a pioneering broadcaster who surely can handle herself with a media crowd she's very much a part of, at least answers some questions in a public setting.

Seanor, meanwhile, has said he put the noose, a horrific symbol of racial hatred to countless of Americans, on the magazine cover in order to draw more attention to the Tilghman controversy and perhaps begin a dialogue on issues of race in the mostly lily white world of golf. Editors are paid to be creative, to think outside the box, to go where others fear to tread. But a noose outlined against a purple sky is one place Golfweek didn't have to visit.

Seanor said he and other editors discussed the ramifications of such a cover, and even queried some African American employees of the Orlando-based publication, though none of them were on the editorial side of the magazine. As editor in chief, Seanor apparently made the final call, and he has said the publisher who fired him did not know what was on the cover before it came off the presses.

That was another major miscalculation on his part. At The Washington Post, every editor in the building tells people working on his or her staff "no surprises." I'll bet it's a new rule at Golfweek this week.

Quite frankly, I also find it hard to believe that anyone with an ounce of sense -- a writer assigned the Tilghman story, a sub-editor, the magazine's African-American employees, the art director who produced the image -- wouldn't have raised strong objections to something they had to know would be inflammatory one way or another.

I happened to see several Golfweek editorial employees late last week at the PGA merchandise show in Orlando, and when I brought up the controversial cover, they insisted the decision had been made far over their heads. They also made it very obvious that there had been some internal debate, but that only one vote counted.

Seanor told USA Today last week that he and his editors simply did not want to put a picture of Tilghman on the cover. The noose, he said, was emblematic of the rope tightening around her and the Golf Channel and surely would spark legitimate discussion on the issue of race and golf.

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