I was surprised when the producer from Chris Matthews’ MSNBC show Hardball said they wanted me to talk about the controversy surrounding sportswriter Bob Ryan. Maybe I shouldn’t have been, what with Michael Jordan as front page news in the Washington Post, and the increased politicization of sports generally–remember Manhattanville College basketball player Toni Smith’s now-famous antiwar protest? And, more recently, there was the delicious controversy over the banning of a showing of “Bull Durham” by the Baseball Hall of Fame because of Tim Robbins‘ antiwar statements. Plus, the NBA playoffs are currently in full-swing, as I know from my basketball-obsessed family. (My twelve year old daughter begins every morning by reading the sports pages.)
It seems Ryan, a venerable Boston Globe sports columnist, set off a firestorm when he said on a local sports TV show that he’d like to “smack” Joumana Kidd, wife of New Jersey Nets star point guard Jason Kidd, whose team, is currently locked in a bitter playoff battle with the Boston Celtics. The comment was particularly insensitive because two years ago Kidd was arrested for striking his wife in a widely-publicized domestic violence incident. After criticism mounted, the Globe quickly suspended Ryan for one month without pay. “Bob Ryan’s comments were “offensive and unacceptable,” said Martin Baron, the editor of the Globe.
Speaking as a woman, I do find Ryan’s comment offensive, cruel and insensitive to the issue of domestic abuse. But, as an editor, I am troubled by suspending a columnist for mean and offensive language. It seems to me that columnists have a certain license, and nothing Ryan said made it impossible for him to continue his work. And while his comments–made on talk radio, not in his column–made the Boston Globe look bad that’s not a reason, to me, to suspend him.
As I pointed out on Hardball, there’s also the irony of talking about offensive and unacceptable language on a cable TV talk show. (The segment I was on that night ended with Michael Graham, a radio talk show host, telling the audience what he wanted to do to Hillary Clinton after hearing her speak on patriotism: “I wanted to bludgeon her with a tire iron. That’s what I wanted to do.” )
If the Boston Globe‘s standards were applied to today’s cable news shows and talk radio programs, I think we’d see a helluva lot of suspensions. Take rightwing radio host Michael Savage who also has a weekly MSNBC show. He recently labeled NBC correspondent Ashley Banfield a slut, a porn star and an accessory to the murder of Jewish children because of her reports on the radical Arab point of view. (Doesn’t Tom Brokaw care that he is on the same network with this man?)
What action did NBC News take to reprimand Savage? Nada. Instead, when Banfield subsequently criticized NBC News for its sanitized and skewed war coverage, as well as for hiring Savage, the network attacked HER by issuing a statement saying it was “deeply disappointed and troubled” by her remarks. Meanwhile, Savage continues to pollute our airwaves, Michael Graham suffers no reprisals for his ugly misogyny and Bob Ryan lives on his savings for the next month