Sports Illustrated is reporting that ESPN reporter Britt McHenry returns to work this weekend after a one-week suspension for gross misanthropy in a videotaped lashing of an employee at an Arlington towing outfit. “I’m on television and you’re in a f[—]ing trailer, honey,” McHenry told the attendant, in an episode that very nearly drew the Erik Wemple Blog from our mid-April vacation. “Lose some weight, baby girl.” Those were just two of the insults.
McHenry is based in Washington and has covered NFL games for the network, among other assignments. Her role for the upcoming season will be much the same as last season, ESPN senior coordinating producer Seth Markman told Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch. She’ll be in St. Louis on Thursday to cover the Rams in the league’s draft.
In his chat with Sports Illustrated, Markman riffed about the transition back to work for McHenry:
We had a conversation where we both talked about that it would take time and it will be hard. She knows that, and especially at the beginning. She realizes she will have to do her job really well and hopefully win back some of the trust of our viewers. We expect that from her, and I expect that from her. She did a great job for us on the NFL last year in some difficult situations and I have seen nothing that doesn’t make me think she will rebound from this. But she knows the first couple of assignments out of the box will not be easy.
Nor would Markman rule out a negative public reaction: “My head hasn’t been buried in the sand,” he told Deitsch.
It’s clear what the suspension has accomplished for ESPN. Last week, in the aftermath of the video’s release, social media lit up with typically harsh commentary on McHenry’s inexplicable attacks on someone who was just doing her job. Blog posts were flying. Cable talkers were gabbing. A good, old-fashioned suspension served as a way to stanch the media and look as if you’re meting out some discipline.
After a week of quiet, McHenry can slide back onto the air.
As The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi noted last week, this is policy at the sports behemoth:
[Bill] Simmons, for example, was ordered to sit out for three weeks in September when he said on a podcast that National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell was “a liar” for his statements about the Rice incident. But [Stephen A.] Smith got just one week for comments that many — including a fellow ESPN personality, Michelle Beadle — said insulted women. [Tony] Kornheiser got two weeks for criticizing [colleague Hannah] Storm, while anchor Max Bretos got 30 days off in 2012 for uttering a racial slur on the air about then-New York Knicks star Jeremy Lin.
An ESPN spokesman told Farhi, “If and when a mistake is made, our goal in each individual situation is to determine a fair and appropriate reaction, even if that may result in additional public attention.”
“Reaction” is a well-chosen word. Because suspensions, whether dealt out by ESPN or by NBC News or by CNN, are precisely and no more than that: reactions. They resolve absolutely nothing. They prepare people for absolutely nothing. They reform the organization and the disciplined party in no way whatsoever. The mere act of sitting on the sidelines, for instance, doesn’t make McHenry — poof! — a better, more sympathetic person.
Nor does suspending Brian Williams, the truth-challenged anchor of “NBC Nightly News,” turn him into a more reliable newsman. Au contraire, it has turned him into a pot of angst. As CNN’s Brian Stelter reported earlier this week, Williams, who’s about halfway through his six-month icebox tour, has “grown increasingly frustrated” with his situation; is “getting fed up,” according to a Stelter source; and wants NBC to send signals that he’s on his way back.
The ravages of our national suspension-loving culture continue piling up. News organizations dealing with employee misconduct have two good choices: Dismissal or internal remedies and reforms. Suspensions entail a throwing up of hands when the solution is more work.