Thursday, February 23, 2012

Jeremy Lin Scores

October 15, 1993.  The New York Daily News.  From the article, "NBC big gaffes out loud:  Aidid remark causes a furor" --

" NBC producer called a Somali warlord 'an educated jungle bunny' during a news meeting."

I'll not reprint the producer's name but the story continued "___ said of Aidid: 'He's an educated jungle bunny and the rest of the jungle bunnies are not like this at all.  They're illiterates."  The executive producer admitted what he said, stating that he was "using a phrase that exists in many people's minds in the United States."  The newspaper report, written by Corky Siemaszko and A.J. Benza, added that black NBC employees "exploded with indignation" after learning of the NBC Nightly News producer's remarks about Mohamed Farrah Aidid.  I thought of that story when I read online that ESPN sports coverage of Knicks star, Jeremy Lin, a sensational Chinese-American athlete...
...included this graphic on the sports network.  What the heck were they thinking?!?!  This is just so wrong.
When I saw that, my jaw dropped down to the top of my sneakers.  I thought the same thing I did when I read that Daily News article in the paper -- how can you be in the news profession and say or write that?  How can you, as a journalist, say or write something so racially offensive like that and then expect me to trust the images and views of people you present in your reports?  Another thing really bothered me.  I'm not a hardcore journalist but I am a veteran of local TV news programs.  To put something like that ignorant sports news graphic on the air is not the result of two guys doing a Wayne's World show out of their basement.  That has to be written, typed into a control room machine and a producer gives a cue as to when to put it up on the TV screen.  If the sports anchor reads that copy on the air, it's been typed into a TelePrompTer.  In other words, a supervisor had to have seen it.  If I was the producer of that sportscast and saw the "Chink in the armor" copy, I'd have deleted it and immediately called the person who wrote it into my office.  It never would've been seen on the air.

Today, I read a great and accurate column by Leonard Pitts Jr.  It was on The National Memo website (
The article is called "Attn. Young Blacks:  There's A Message For You In This 'Lin-Sanity.'"  I wanted to cheer after I read it...cheer like I was watching Jeremy Lin burn up a basketball court.  Pitts writes "There is a word for expecting things from people based on the racial, religious, gender or cultural box you have put them into.  The word is 'stereotyping,' a form of mental laziness in which people believe they can know who and what you are simply by seeing you.'  He adds that, just as Asians are "supposed" to excel in engineering and chemistry versus sports, we black men are "supposed" to be gangsta thugs who are promiscuous and athletic -- not men who did well in school and know something about the fine arts.  That made me think of my own career.  When I worked in the programming entertainment environment in the 1980s -- like on the old PM Magazine show and VH1 -- my knowledge of film and other entertainment was utilized, promoted and rewarded.  Oddly, not so much when I worked in news.  Full disclosure:  I worked on WNBC in the early 90s.  I quit because I felt it hadn't quite embraced racial diversity.  That NBC news article came out during my time there at 30 Rock.  After fighting for the chance to be a movie critic, I did do a few film review segments on WNBC's local weekend morning news program.  Under contract, I was usually assigned a lot of "wacky" outdoor remote segments.  The producer said she didn't think I had "the skills" to do film reviews.  It was then I realized she'd never read my resumé.  The first four years of my TV career were spent as a weekly film critic.  In fact, I was contacted by Chicago PBS to audition to replace either Siskel or Ebert when they left WTTW for Disney syndication.  My boss didn't know about that.  She didn't know about my VH1 celebrity talk show.  She worked in news yet she had not done her homework.  She just assumed I lacked fine arts knowledge.

The producer of the next local news show I worked for hadn't read my resumé or watched my demo reel either.  I didn't get to do film reviews there but the overall situation was more enjoyable than my WNBC one.  I did get to do weekly film reviews for one of my favorite gigs ever.  I was the entertainment editor on a joint ABC News/Lifetime Television network production, a live afternoon magazine show called Lifetime Live.  I loved that job.  However, it took a noted TV columnist to help me get considered for the job.  The producers knew me from local TV but questioned whether or not I knew anything about movies.  Again, execs had not read my resumé or looked at my demo reel.  I told the ABC News producer that I spent the first four years of my TV career as a weekly film critic.  On WISN, the ABC TV affiliate in Milwaukee.  That work got me hired in New York.  Then I asked how I'm perceived by network news folks who kept saying "I know your work" but really didn't.  She honestly replied, "You're seen as the funny guy who does local liveshots."  I proved to her I did more than that.

This is why I relate to what Leonard Pitts Jr wrote.  Those TV news producers, each from a different show, saw me being funny in assigned local liveshots and assumed that was all I did.  Think about it.  Why don't we see black and Latino talent on network TV reviewing movies, discussing Oscar nominations and doing regular reports on the Broadway scene?  There are many minority reporters who can cover film and stage.  I saw them at movie screenings for the press and at Broadway shows in New York City.  Is the reason they're not tapped for TV exposure because we're not "supposed" to know about fine arts?  This Jeremy Lin story has, once again, made me wonder how journalists and executives in TV news see us minorities.  Pitts touches on how we minorities shackle ourselves with stereotypes -- like taking on thug identity or saying that to speak properly is "acting white."  He brings up valid points.  Look for his article online.  It's worth reading.  All in all, Jeremy Lin is forcing folks in the media to shake the chains off their brains.  That's a great thing.

As for the NBC network news producer who used that racially offensive term, I did not print his name because he died last year.  He left NBC weeks after that story.  He wasn't fired.  He got an offer from another network news program.  Then he went to become a network news consultant.  He was greatly revered in his profession and praised when he died.  There was no mention of how he offended black NBC employees in 1993.  In a way, his obits reminded me of the line from John Ford's 1962 western, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

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