CNN suspends Roland Martin after controversial tweets, raising more questions than answers
CNN announced today it has suspended commentator Roland Martin, days after he posted two messages on Twitter that some felt displayed anti-gay sentiments.
After news broke, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation noted CNN took "a strong stand against anti-LGBT violence and language that demeans any community," saying officials there still hoped to meet with Martin and CNN to discuss the issue.
For me, the entire controversy unfolded like a series of missed opportunities and power plays, resulting in a suspension which raises more questions than it answers.
Here's the two tweets in question, both issued on Super Bowl Sunday:
“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”
“Who the hell was that New England Patriot they just showed in a head to toe pink suit? Oh, he needs a visit from #teamwhipdatass”
GLAAD complained that Martin was joking about violence against men who could be seen as gay. To back their case, GLAAD cited past columns by Martin, including a piece he wrote about black churches accepting gay people in which he seemed to compare being gay to other sins such as stealing or being an alcoholic.
Martin issued two statements on the tweets; one that said he was simply making "cracks about soccer," and another, more sober one in which he said "To those who construed my comment as being anti-gay or homophobic or advancing violence, I'm truly sorry."
The pundit has insisted he was joking; he had also suggested on Twitter that Sunday siccing #teamwhipdatass on people who ask to turn up the TV volume during Super Bowl commercials.
But earlier today, CNN suspended Martin, releasing a statement: "“Roland Martin’s tweets were regrettable and offensive. Language that demeans is inconsistent with the values and culture of our organization, and is not tolerated. We have been giving careful consideration to this matter, and Roland will not be appearing on our air for the time being.”
All of this feels like an opportunity missed.
Martin, who is a friend, should have been more open-minded about GLAAD's criticisms sooner and offered to meet with them when this first broke. I have no doubt he was not advocating violence against gay people in his tweets -- but I also know as a person of color how easy it is for others to miss words which may echo classic issues.
CNN should have a better policy on how it handles such issues. As Think Progress points out, conservative commentator Dana Loesch sparked a load of criticism by saying on CNN she would have joined in with U.S. Marines captured in a video urinating on dead Afghans. Despite condemnation of the action by U.S. government and military officials and complaints about her statement, Loesch was not suspended.
But when anchor Rick Sanchez made angry comments during a 2010 radio interview which some said were anti-Semitic (he denied that interpretation), he was fired. And so was Octavia Nasr, a CNN employee who was let go after tweeting of her sorrow over the death of a leader from terrorist group Hezbollah.
It is hard to discern a pattern or set of policies in all these precedents. What determines when someone gets fired or reprimanded? Is it just the difference between who complains about the mistake?
GLAAD shouldn't have called for Martin's firing from the outset. As a critic, I've always felt that sanction should be reserved for people who have a longstanding history of advocating prejudice or stereotypes. Pat Buchanan, who has written books on how America's ethnic diversity is diminishing its greatness, fits that model. Martin doesn't.
I remember when I was just starting in the business, I was hanging with a friend and cracked a joke about him being effeminate, ribbing him in a way that he found funny. But later, I thought about a few gay friends I had in the newsroom, and realized that, even though I meant no harm in the joke, it might not be taken that way by everyone and it was time to find a new avenue for humor.
In the end, communicating clearly is what professional communicators should value most.
Watching all of this mushroom into such a significant issue, I remain amazed at how badly some professional communicators have missed that mark in this case.