Every year when there's a Jewish holiday, TV stations tend to do a little piece wishing "our Jewish friends" a happy Purim or whatever. This year, WGN in Chicago sort of screwed up. ("Sort of" in this case shall be defined as royally.)
An editor for Chicago Lawyer magazine quickly noted the major gaffe and sent out a really blunt, very pointed Tweet to the station.
To those not as familiar with such images, that's an altered Star of David badge on a concentration camp uniform during the Holocaust.
This is known as a Yipes moment.
WGN is the major independent station in Chicago, and used to carry all the Cubs games for over 40 years, on both TV and radio. (They still carry a few games on TV, but none on radio.) They even carried the White Sox games. And still carry the Bulls and Blackhawks. So, as you can imagine, I watched it a LOT. Most people probably known them as one of the first "superstations" in the early days of cable, and they still broadcast nationally on cable as WGN America. Their reputation has always been very middle-of-the-road, very wholesome, very Midwestern moderate to a bit conservative. (More conservative in its earlier days, a bit less so today.) In fact, WGN radio still has an hour-long Noon Farm Report every weekday -- the station has a very strong single and broadcasts throughout the Farm Belt.
The station sent an apology to Mr. Karlinsky, and directed readers to their WGN News Twitter account. And also offered several on-air apologies, and had a page of apology up here on their website.
It's a reasonably good apology, and it's clear they're mortified. But I still have to shake my head a bit at their effort to correct things. Well-meaning but not pulling it off as smoothly as I suspect they wished.
For one thing, an article about this on Talking Points Memo references that the station posted an apology on its website and wrote that the graphic used on the air was from their file of stock graphics and that they "failed to recognize that the image was an offensive Nazi symbol. We are extremely embarrassed and we deeply apologize to our viewers and to the Jewish community for this mistake. Ignorance is not an excuse." Very good, but oddly when you click on the link and go to the WGN webpage with the apology, that wording is changed. No mention of a Nazi symbol. What they say is --
“Last night we ran a story to recognize Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. Regrettably, we failed to recognize that the artwork we chose to accompany the story contained an offensive symbol. This was an unfortunate mistake. Ignorance is not an excuse. We are extremely embarrassed and we deeply apologize to our viewers and to the Jewish community for this mistake.
"We are investigating how this situation occurred, reviewing our in-house policies and making changes in order to avoid such mistakes from happening in the future. Thank you for your understanding. We promise to do better.”
To be clear, that's a solid apology, as I said, and fine. I'm just not sure why the reference to what the mistake actually was is gone. Maybe they heard back that it made things more hurtful. Though it might just have been that they felt it was too embarrassing to the station to mention.
Further, though, they embedded a video of the on-air TV apology -- which was good, and again you tell tell that the anchors are really mortified -- by ending it,“So, let’s take a closer look…” and then run a story about Yom Kippur. At first, my reaction was that this wasn’t a case of “So, let’s take a look…” at all, as if it was their way to make good and be nice, but instead simply a piece they’d planned to do regardless and they just wanted to sound like they were doing something special for their Jewish friends. However, as I watched, I‘m not sure – it sort of seems like they might-well have rushed to find some Jewish temple, any Jewish temple really quickly, to get it on the air in time. I say that because for a story honoring the most solemn and High Holy day for Jews, a day so sacred that famously 50 years ago this year Sandy Koufax of the Los Angeles Dodgers wouldn't pitch in his regular start during the 1965 World Series because if tell on Yom Kippur, a day of deep reflection, no work, and fasting, WGN came up with a temple SO laid-back that the guy blowing the shofar is in a t-shirt. And further, on this day of fasting, most of the report shows temple members are sitting around a sloppy communal table eating! Clearly they were breaking the fast, but "eating" is really not the way most Jews think of describing Yom Kippur. This says to me that WGN probably did rush to get a story done, and the morning service was likely over by the point they arrived. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the shofar-blowing was over, too, and they asked him to do it for the camera -- which might possibly explain why he was in t-shirt. Or not.
The TV apology also, like on the webpage, doesn't explain what the "offensive image" was. That's really not necessary, and perhaps it was felt it would have detracted from the solemnity of the day, though in some ways I wonder if it might have been more appropriate to do a story about that rather than just a traditional piece about The Meaning of Yom Kippur. In a messy room with juice bottles lying around, and religious leaders dressed in their casuals. That way you address the offense so that it hopefully won't be repeated elsewhere. And ultimately, that offensive image is why you'r apologizing in the first place.
Again, I do get the sense that their heart was in the right place. They just could have used a tad more guidance on repeatedly getting it right. Here's the on-air apology and report.
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Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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