By Arturo R. García
The only surprise was how long it took CNN to suspend contributor Roland S. Martin after the uproar he instigated during the Super Bowl this past Sunday. What’s not surprising is who hasn’t gotten the same punishment for similar offenses.
Which is not to excuse Martin for any of the poorly thought-out joke he threw out on Twitter during the game about this (NSFWish) underwear ad.
Martin would later defend the joke against charges of homophobia by saying he and CNN colleague Piers Morgan joke with each other about soccer, which might have been easier for him to do had it not been preceded by this tweet:
The backlash began almost immediately, and Martin did himself no favors later by telling author Kola Boof “reading is fundamental,” or responding to the Gay and Lesbian Alliance against Defamation by calling them “out of touch and clueless.”
This must also be noted: some of those who accused Martin of homophobia did so while calling him “an ape” or tossing the vilest of slurs at him:
Hopefully, such a meeting will also help Martin recognize that, even if he was joking, these were horrible jokes. Saying “Americans are into football, not soccer” is about as insightful as 1980s sports-talk radio. It’s one thing to argue that soccer will never be as big as the NFL or Major League Baseball; it’s another when your first defense is saying you sort-of meant soccer fans should be “smacked.”
And talking about “real bruhs” when you’re also making jokes about people to “smack the ish out” of somebody over a pair of underwear and “about men being “defective” if they don’t like sports and hashtagging cracks about a guy in a pink suit “teamwhipthatass” paints a picture of a disturbing brand of humor. Especially when the guy making the jokes has compared homosexuality to alcoholism. “Just joking” doesn’t represent a just cause – Martin can ask Tracy Morgan about that.
In short, it’s not too much to hope that Martin makes some updates to “Roland’s Rules” soon. But it’s also not too much to ask that CNN show some consistency in enforcing its own.
A call to CNN Wednesday seeking content was not returned. Until then, it’s unclear why the network would suspend him and issue a somber press release mentioning “values and culture” while dismissing fellow contributor Dana Loesch’s telling a radio audience she would “drop trou” and urinate on enemy combatants less than a month ago. When Loesch’s remarks became public, all the network saw fit to tell Mediaite was, “CNN contributors are commentators who express a wide range of viewpoints — on and off of CNN — that often provoke strong agreement or disagreement. Their viewpoints are their own.”
Or maybe the difference is clear; Think Progress’ Alyssa Rosenberg rightly points out that Martin’s remarks were caught by an organized group with a history of tracking and responding to such instances. But the result of such selective policing is ultimately detrimental to CNN:
Taken together, the way CNN handled Martin’s and Loesch’s comments makes it look like CNN has no consistent internal values, and no internal standard for how to respond when it commenters express sentiments that are an anathema to those values. I’m glad to know, per CNN’s statement, that “Language that demeans is inconsistent with the values and culture of our organization, and is not tolerated.” But why should it take several days of consideration for CNN to arrive at that conclusion? If the network’s truly committed to the proposition that violence against gay people is no joking matter, that’s something it should know in advance, and CNN should have a personnel policy in place to determine what the appropriate penalty is when someone violates their standards.
Without an explanation of such a policy, it also becomes harder to reconcile CNN’s relatively quick action against Martin with not only Loesch’s comments, but the wide berth given to Lou Dobbs’ “birther” notions and anti-immigrant rhetoric before he finally resigned in 2009. Even then, network president Jonathan Klein practically sent him off with a serenade, saying a man who referred to critics as “limp-minded, lily-livered lefty lemmings” was carrying “the banner of advocacy journalism.”
Martin has publicly apologized and stated his willingness to talk to members of the community he offended. Hopefully that dialogue will lead to something truly constructive. In the meantime, maybe it’s now time for CNN to better explain why it hasn’t been as vigilant when it comes to some of his co-workers.