Fast to trash
In the wake of the Donald Sterling flap, I have concerns. But they aren't for Sterling, his team, or the NBA. They're with the media, which has again shown itself to be reckless, undisciplined and downright bloodthirsty.
The Sterling flap broke on the morning of Saturday, April 26. The tape of the Clippers owner and his girlfriend was right there on TMZ, ready to be heard by a salivating world, hungry for a new rich guy punching bag. Within hours, journalists, columnists, pundits and talking heads were falling all over themselves to be the first to condemn Sterling for his racist utterances to his young trophy babe. The sentiment was understandable. But I couldn't help but think, as I was watching this media firing squad line up to blast away, that it was all a little … premature.
There were points that simply begged for consideration. First, were we sure that the man on the tape was indeed Donald Sterling? Before you race to your laptop to make your pronouncements and denouncements, shouldn't you be sure that he actually said this stuff that he supposedly said? Many in the media seemed to care not one iota about any such restraint or about getting even basic confirmation. What was really important was to get atop this new dogpile.
Then, there's the girlfriend, V Stiviano. For starters, she's half-black, half-Mexican. Is this the kind of hottie that would attract a racist? Really? Then there's the lawsuit. Ms. Stiviano is the defendant in a suit filed by Sterling's longtime wife, who says hubby was seduced into giving Stiviano four cars, a luxury condo, and tons of cash during their four-year affair. Shelly Sterling wants Stiviano to repay these gifts, to the tune of over $2 million. Is it possible that Stiviano set Sterling up, to get him to make embarrassing comments while taping their conversations, thereby strengthening her position in the lawsuit? Or hurting his? And why exactly was the L.A. chapter of the freaking NAACP all set to give this supposed racist a lifetime achievement award on May 15? I mean—say what?
On Saturday, these were all valid questions. Responsible journalists would at least ponder and research those questions before racing to declare their disgust and outrage at Sterling's utterly repugnant and totally horrible horribleness. But research and restraint don't appear to have much place in the new, modern world of Instagram journalism. More important is to be one of the first to be outraged and disgusted. Too bad, thoughtful fact checkers. You're too slow. TMZ and Deadspin just kicked your ass. Again.
This is, after all, a man's reputation you're throwing down the toilet. If you're gonna trash him for being a racist dog, you better be damned sure you know what you're talking about. Now, here on Monday morning, I feel OK in agreeing that Mr. Sterling does indeed seem to have some genuinely unacceptable racial issues. All during the weekend, though, I had the distinct feeling that I was one of the few who wasn't rushing to judgment.