Roland Martin has been suspended from CNN aftertweeting that, “If a dude at your Super Bowl party is hyped about David Beckham’s H&M underwear ad, smack the ish out of him! #superbowl.” He then insisted that, rather than making a joke about violence against men who are attracted to men, he really just hates soccer: “@DrMChatelain @notjustsexuality well that shows how ignorant you are. I rip on soccer all of the time. Learn to pay attention!”
It’s the second time in a month that CNN commentators have come under fire for controversial comments: Dana Loesch recently cheered reports of members of the United States Marine Corps urinating on the bodies of dead Afghans and suggested that had she been present, she would have joined in. But while Martin apologized and will experience an indefinite suspension, CNN and Loesch refused to apologize for her remarks, and she’s remained on the air.
The clear difference between the two cases? A sense that CNN’s audience was offended. GLAAD, which keeps a careful eye on defamation against gays and lesbians in the media,moved quickly to call for Martin’s dismissal and to track the network’s response to the incident. CNN got the message that its own constituents were upset, and that it would suffer consequences — or at least a lot of annoyance — if it failed to act.
Loesch’s comments on the other hand, offended human rights advocates and decent people everywhere. But that’s not the same as running afoul of an organization with a well-established plan to respond to these kinds of events and a well-worn path to media outlets who would cover and amplify their response. While Loesch’s comments were reprehensible, there was also no organized group who was likely or able to hold CNN accountable for her words, and for continuing to let her appear on-air without penalty.
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. Similarly, whether Loesch’s comments violate CNN’s internal values shouldn’t be something that’s determined by the level of outrage outside the network’s headquarters.