“That’s them in the corner. That’s them in the spotlight, losing their religion.”
Front man Michael Stipe may’ve been crooning about himself in the REM classic, but he could’ve just as well been lamenting the fate of three heretofore bastions of American society, each of whom threw away an integral piece of their foundational values over the past month.
The three organizations—NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” the NFL’s New England Patriots and The New York Times—have all recently suffered public relations setbacks that belie a deeper loss of traditional standing.
Saturday Night Live’s loss of courage
For four decades, “Saturday Night Live” has occupied a sacred place in the Peacock Network’s plumage.
SNL feared nothing and no one, no matter how wealthy or powerful. Over the years, the show has skewered presidents and princes, CEOs, celebrities and anyone else whose preening, pretentiousness or pomposity deserved to be taken down.
But this month, when faced with a PR dilemma that tested its tradition of courage, SNL folded like a cheap, politically-correct suit.
Almost immediately after SNL announced that three rising young comics had been hired for coveted spots in its 45th season, the Twitter backlash began.
One of the three new SNL hires, Shane Gillis, was accused of using racist and homophobic slurs on his podcast. Sure enough, Gillis, a 32-year-old Pennsylvania-based stand up who’d knocked around the nation’s comedy clubs for a decade, had, indeed, made fun of Chinese and gay people on an obscure podcast that almost nobody listened to. His comedy act, on the other hand, was virtually free of any such slurs.
In an earlier, more compassionate/more courageous day, SNL executive producer Lorne Michaels, who’s made a career of pushing the limits of comedic boundaries and consistently rejecting political correctness, might’ve given the young man a pass with a stern warning to avoid such slip ups in the future. But not today.
Michaels immediately caved to the PC crowd, fired Gillis on the spot and effectively ended a hard-working young man’s hopes of attaining stardom.
New England Patriots’ loss of morality
The New England Patriots are the best team in the National Football League and also the most unethical. They are led by Bill Belichick, arguably the best coach in NFL history and inarguably, the most loathsome.
Blessed with the ability of the league’s best quarterback, Tom Brady, the Patriots have essentially cheated their way to NFL superiority. The team has been enmeshed in countless scandals, from illegally videotaping competitors’ signals to regularly falsifying injury reports to purposely deflating footballs.
Perhaps most egregious, Belichick and his team have made a living on hiring—and lavishly rewarding—some of the league’s best but most traitorous players, after they’ve worn out their welcomes elsewhere.
True to form, this month the Pats signed the league’s leading but most infantile receiver, Antonio Brown, after he’d embarrassed not only his prior team, the Oakland Raiders, but also the entire league.
The Raiders had agreed to sign the troubled star to a $50 million contract, after he refused to play for his former team, the Pittsburgh Steelers. Brown’s response to the Raiders’ largesse was to scuttle the deal from the beginning of training camp, by refusing to give up his unapproved helmet, burning his feet in a cryotherapy machine and threatening to bust a move on the team’s general manager. So, the Raiders, correctly, got rid of the serial troublemaker before the season even started.
Whereupon, of course, the Patriots rewarded Brown with a $15 million contract on the same day he was cut loose by the Raiders. In Belichickian terms, to paraphrase William Henry Vanderbilt, “The right thing be damned.” Two weeks and a couple of sexual assault charges later, Brown proved too much even for the ethically-challenged Patriots to handle.
Last week, Antonio Brown was released by the New England Patriots, whom nonetheless reinforced itself as the most immoral organization in professional sports.
New York Times’ loss of fairness
By this time, there can be no question that The New York Times—rightly or wrongly but certainly not “objectively”—openly despises all things Donald Trump. The proof is there to see every day in the paper, not only in the hysterical rantings of Trump-hating op ed writers but in the daily news pages as well.
While Times executive editor Dean Bacquet steadfastly denies the paper’s anti-Trump news bias, two weeks ago a Sunday column in the “Review” section left little doubt that the Great Gray Lady’s traditional sense of “fairness” has been forsaken.
The story was written by two veteran Times’ reporters, excerpting their forthcoming book on the sexual harassment allegations surrounding Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s most recent appointee to the Supreme Court. Specifically, the reporters revealed a “new, never-before reported” allegation by a former Yale classmate that Kavanaugh had exposed himself to her at a drunken dorm party.
Predictably, anti-Kavanaugh politicians, advocates and media seized on the revelation and demanded that Kavanaugh, like Trump, be impeached.
Which might well have happened had it not also been revealed—after a week’s worth of anti-Kavanaugh venom—that the two reporters had failed to include in their column that the Kavanaugh classmate declined to be interviewed for their book and that her friends say she does not recall the incident.
This past Sunday, the Times ran a one paragraph “Editors’ Note,” sheepishly acknowledging that the missing information should’ve been included in the original column. So much for fairness at The New York Times.
Fraser P. Seitel has been a communications consultant, author and teacher for 40 years. He may be reached directly at [email protected]. He’s the author of the Pearson text “The Practice of Public Relations,” now in its 13th edition, and co-author of “Rethinking Reputation" and "Idea Wise.”