Jeremy Lin and the no good, terrible, very bad headline


Remember your first reaction.

Remember waking up on Saturday morning and reading, whether it was on Twitter or Facebook or one of the blogs, that ESPN's overnight headline about the Knicks first loss with Jeremy Lin.

If you were like me, you were disgusted. Mortified. Shocked. Stunned. More than one person I follow on Twitter thought that, at first, it was an Onion headline, it was so blatantly bad and offensive.

Remember that reaction.

Keep that reaction in mind as we deal with the fallout, with the headline writer being fired and with a Sportscenter anchor being suspended for 30 days for using the phrase.

What complicates this, of course, is that "chink the armor" is a rather common phrase. It's a saying we've all used before. That's why like most people, I'm sympathetic to the sportscenter anchor. In a live TV interview, he said the phrase. It was a poor choice of words, but in the context of live TV, understandable. (Every broadcaster I know has had an 'Oh man, did I just say ...' moment).

But the headline ...

The headline ran underneath a picture of Jeremy Lin. The writer said he meant no malice and that it was the final headline he wrote of his shift. We have no choice but to take him at his word, and I do believe him.

(As a side note, my wife feels very strongly against the current culture that reaction to any mistake is to fire the person or force them to resign. I tend to agree with her. This was a horrible, horrible, horrible headline. Worth firing? I'm not sure. But I do feel that intent doesn't always matter.)

Still ... it was a picture of Jeremy Lin with the words "Chink in the Armor" underneath it.

Michael Wilbon made a great point on PTI the other day (my friend Todd said Dan Patrick made the same one on his radio show) that multiple sets of eyes should have seen the headline, and if they didn't, that's an institutional failure.

That's the larger point going forward. At a newspaper, this headline would probably have never made it to print, simply because multiple eyes tend to see every page. Somewhere, someone would have seen it and said "Are you kidding? You CAN'T run that."

Sadly, that's changing. Copy editors are becoming expendable in the cost-cutting media world. The speed of communications is so fast that reporters and editors are rushed. You know those cell phone commercials where the people derisively say "That's SOOOO 12 seconds ago?" That's the culture now. Speed matters. That's a real pressure that sports reporters face these days (which is why I hate the 'be right not first' bromide, because it ignores that very real pressure.)

I've spent the past six weeks reading a lot of classical political sociology for one of my classes, and one of the common threads through Marx, Weber, Durkheim and Polyani is that of checks and balances, of the mechanisms that are or should be in place to keep power fairly balanced in society. That's the purpose editors serve. They are the check and balance. They look at a page, a headline, a story and say "Are you sure we have this?" "Can you get another source to confirm."

Or, "Are you kidding? You can't run that."

It's easy to shrug this story off. The headline was only up for a half hour, and in the middle of the night. ESPN overreacted. We're too polticially correct of a society now. It's just a common phrase. Jeremy Lin forgave them.

Still, in all this ... remember your reaction Saturday morning.

Remember that, and realize that one editor could have made all the difference.