The Selective Moral Outrage Of The Media: Stop Being The Word Police And Focus On Real News

Photo courtesy of LifeScript

Photo courtesy of LifeScript

Sunday on ABC News This Week, George Stephanopoulos called the last week of June "one of the newsiest weeks of the year". He’s right; in Syria, a Catholic priest and one of his parishioners were beheaded by the rebels America wants to arm and support. American military personnel were put on alert due to the rising tensions and protests occurring again in Egypt. Texas legislators battled into the wee hours filibustering an abortion bill. DOMA was struck down by the Supreme Court. Despite all of these developments, the story that seemed to captivate the widest swath of the nation, from TMZ to the New York Times, from People to prime time cable news shows, was the story of foodie queen Paula Deen’s racism and use of the “N Word”.

One similar story this week was hardly reported at all; CNN anchor Anderson Cooper questioned why Alec Baldwin   got a pass for spewing gay slurs and threatening violence in a Twitter rant against a Daily Mail reporter. So, why was Alec’s story brushed aside while Deen’s was widely covered? Simply put, Deen represents an amalgamation of several archetypes Americans love to hate: the powerful, successful woman; the Southerner with the twang and the folksy vocabulary; the older, overweight woman who has the nerve to enjoy butter and carbs instead of feeling the need to go Paleo or gluten-free to fit a certain image or lifestyle. This made her an ideal target and news anchors were practically giddy as they revealed the latest sponsors to drop Deen, including the Food Network, Target and Kmart,   among others. They breathlessly repeated the accusations made by one of Deen’s former restaurant managers, Lisa Jackson, who is suing Deen and her brother for workplace discrimination. According to reports, Deen admitted in a deposition that she had used the “N Word” and that she was itching to host a slave-themed wedding a few years ago.

Photo courtesy of Zennie62

Photo courtesy of Zennie62

Of course, that is the perspective of the person trying to get over a million dollars from Deen; it would make sense that Jackson would paint things in the worst possible light. The media were all too eager to trumpet her allegations (often blurring the lines between what she is accused of doing and what her brother allegedly said/did) looking at both sides of the story.   Reading the deposition transcripts, another picture emerges. As for her use of the “N Word”, the actual scenario is as follows (taken from MSNBC):

Lawyer: Have you ever used the N-word yourself?

Deen: Yes

Lawyer: In what context?

Deen: ...when a black man burst into the bank that I was working at and put a gun to my head.

Lawyer: And what did you say?

Deen: Well, I don’t remember, but the gun was dancing all around my temple … I didn’t – I didn’t feel real favorable towards him.

As for allegations she wanted to have a “slave-themed wedding”, the reality is as follows, again taken from MSNBC:

Deen: “I remember telling them about a restaurant that my husband and I had recently visited...it was so impressive. The whole entire wait staff was middle-aged black men, and they had on beautiful white jackets with a black bow tie....And I remember saying I would love to have servers like that, I said, but I would be afraid somebody would misinterpret.”

“That restaurant represented a certain era in America,” Deen said. The servers in that era “were slaves,” she conceded. “But I did not mean anything derogatory by saying that I loved their look.” She denied having used the N-word to describe the restaurant’s wait-staff “because that’s not what these men were. They were professional black men doing a fabulous job.”

So, despite the knee-jerk labeling of Deen as a racist, the reality is she used a racial slur after being robbed at gunpoint   decades ago. Even if she had used the N-word as a young woman, does that make her racist? As a woman who grew up in the South during the civil rights movement, isn’t it possible that Deen’s mindset has changed over the years? President Obama claims he evolved in the past few years from opposing same-sex marriage to embracing it, and voters gave him a pass. Is he the only one who can evolve?   As for the “slave” comment, that never happened. Deen merely admired the styling of waiters at a restaurant and wanted to emulate the look at a wedding reception. Of course it wasn’t reported that way, because there is nothing flashy or newsworthy about panicking during a robbery or appreciating a particular uniform style at a restaurant.

Sure, Deen’s down-home Food Network show and “butter is better” line of thinking isn’t for everyone, but it doesn’t make her a monster either. Most of the media and their target audience weren’t particularly interested in digging down to get at the truth; they enjoyed watching a fat, rich, older white woman have a Tammy Fay Baker-style meltdown during her televised apology. The story as it was reported solidified the idea that Southerners are generally ignorant, backwards racists, and it was eaten up nationwide.

Photo courtesy of Zero Serenity

Photo courtesy of Zero Serenity

The biggest problem with this story is the obvious selective outrage displayed in the reporting and the reaction of many who heard about it second hand from the media. It is all too easy to point the finger and cry racism when the target is a white Southerner. Target’s decision to drop Deen was met with media approval, yet Target carries a wide selection of rap music including CDs by artists like Lil Wayne and Kanye West who not only use the “N Word” in their songs, but also make references to drug use, rape and murder. Pot, meet kettle.

Speaking of selective outrage, why haven’t sponsors dropped Alec Baldwin for his ongoing poor behavior? Apparently Alec can call a gay reporter a “queen” and threaten to “f him up”, saying he’d put his foot up the reporter’s ass except he would probably “dig it too much”, and nobody cares. After all, Alec is super funny. He was great on 30 Rock and is such a fantastic SNL host. Nobody’s got time to label Alec a homophobe, because they’d miss out on the funny. And when Gwyneth Paltrow tweeted about her “Niggas in Paris” she got a pass because come on, she’s friends with Jay Z and was playing off his song title, so she totes can’t be racist. But Paula Deen, with that accent, she’s definitely got to be a little bit racist, right?

Photo courtesy of WEBN-TV

Photo courtesy of WEBN-TV

Apparently if you win Emmys, you can say whatever you want.

Ultimately, the market–not the media–really determines an individual’s success or failure. In Deen’s case, although several sponsors dropped her, Reverend Al Sharpton and Reverend Jesse Jackson came to her defense, and fans of all races   leapt on Amazon to shoot sales of her latest cookbook through the roof. Despite the heat some rappers catch for their lyrics, their albums sell, so they see no reason to change. The media needs to stop trying to be the (selective) Word Police. Go back to reporting the news. The real news. Per the BBC, what’s happening in Egypt right now is the largest political protest in human history. That’s certainly more newsworthy than what words a woman may have said over 25 years ago. Let’s let go of trying to catch celebrities with their feet in their mouths and focus on the news that really impacts our lives.