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Cheap laughs, easy bigotry

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In case you're wondering how much the news media have suffered as they've stripped away layers of fact checking and backreading, consider this headline, sent out by ESPN for readers using mobile outlets last night.    After the New York Knicks lost their first game with Chinese-American phenomenon Jeremy Lin as point guard, the highly regarded national sports network posted this headline: "Chink in the Armor."Yes, really.The headline came down 35 minutes later, ESPN reported. And ESPN issued the requisite apology. Now it should quickly complete its investigation, fire the editor or producer who wrote the headline, fire any senior producer who let it through, bring in a diversity trainer to work with its staff, and institute some kind of system of backreading of headlines so this kind of thing doesn't happen again.Enough already.As a blogger, I live in fear of mistakes, and I make them. Sometimes I misspell words or leave them out. I worry about tone, content, a factual error. It's very hard to write and edit your own work without other eyes. But perfection is one thing. Public bigotry is another.  That this headline stayed up for 35 minutes at a major news organization is mind-boggling, even in the middle of the night.This is E-S-P-N, for Pete's sake.  It's not rogue CNN commentator Roland Martin with his gay-bashing tweet during the Super Bowl.  He was, in any case, suspended. It's not Fox News sports writer Jason Whitlock with his equally stupid and offensive tweet about Lin's private parts.  (He should have been suspended).No. Again, this is ESPN. Whoever posted here did so on the network's mobile news site. His or her action immediately represented the entire news organization. It was the statement of the news organization. And if ESPN lets this kind of cheap, bigoted headline go with a tepid apology, it's just may have rebranded itself as a cheap, bigoted news outlet.  There's no easy way around that.We live in the year 2012.  Just this past week, the Pew Research Center released a fascinating new study that found 15 percent of all marriages in 2010 were between two people of different racial or ethnic backgrounds.  That's a remarkable and encouraging finding in a country that in many places considered such marriages a crime just a half century ago.But progress never comes easily. It's always accompanied by backlash, bitterness or just plain ignorance.  (This isn't reserved for racial difference either. This is also the week a major donor to Rick Santorum's presidential campaign "joked" that the best birth control for women just might be holding an aspirin between their knees.  He apologized, too.)We all know that bigotry and insensitivity are alive and thriving in various corners of the digital world -- and that what pumped sports jocks send out on Twitter stays on Twitter, for anyone to see.  Bigotry and insensitivity, however, do not typically take such a crass and brazen bow on a professional news organization news post.When it does, one has to wonder why we need professionals. A lot of amateurs could do better. They already do.


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Jerry Lanson teaches journalism at Emerson College in Boston. He's been a newspaper reporter, columnist, writing coach and editor. His latest book, "Writing for Others, Writing for Ourselves," was published in January by Rowman & Littlefield.

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