Basketball player Kobe Bryant, 41, was among nine to die in a California helicopter crash amid foggy conditions. The copter burst into flames in the Calabasas hills, near Los Angeles, on January 26.
In addition to reporting the death of one of basketball’s most beloved and premier players, controversies have sprung up surrounding the reporting itself.
Probably the best known is that of MSNBC anchor Alison Morris, who was reporting on Bryant’s death on the day of its occurrence when she uttered a word that sounded like “nigger”.
She said, “Seems like he was just the kind of athlete, the kind of star that was perfectly cast on the Los Angeles N****rs … Lakers.”
Listen to Morris and see if you can determine what she meant to say. https://www.worldstarhiphop.com/videos/video.php?v=wshhF6JCrLY8MowoO5aC
Morris used Twitter to explain that she had begun to say the [New York] Knicks then corrected mid-word to the [Los Angeles] Lakers:
“Earlier today, while reporting on the tragic news of Kobe Bryant’s passing, I unfortunately stuttered on air, combining the names of the Knicks and the Lakers to say ‘Nakers.’ Please know I did not & would NEVER use a racist term. I apologize for the confusion this caused.”
There is a movement afoot, of course, to fire Morris, including a petition on Change.org.
“On January 26, 2020 the world lost basketball legend & icon, Kobe Bryant. Alison Morris of MSNBC News think its ok to use a racial slur at this period of time!” the petition says. As of press time, 112,860 have signed.
The petition continued: “What she said was not Accident but on PURPOSE because she paused before she said ‘Los Angeles Ni*****’ We need to join together to get her fired because Enough is Enough & we will not tolerate this Racist BS anymore.”
Was it a Freudian slip? Or an unfortunate confusion of two teams’ names? Bryant played for the Lakers. Morris works in New York where the Knicks play. Morris is reportedly not a fan of basketball.
In response to Morris’ tweet, MSNBC anchor Yasmin Vossoughian tweeted “Completely agree. You don’t know till you are in the heat of breaking news. Mistakes happen, we are human. I too know and work with @AlisonMorrisNOW and she is a kind, hard working professional.”
Ali Velshi, the co-host of MSNBC’s Velshi & Ruhle, also defended Morris. “I know & work daily with @AlisonMorrisNOW. Like all my friends & colleagues, she doesn’t have racial epithets in her vocabulary. In the heat of breaking, emotional news, we fast talkers stumble & combine words, or reach for the wrong word & correct mid-stream. @NBCNewsNow@MSNBC.”
Comedian Wanda Sykes tweeted “When I first heard it, I told my friend, ‘I bet she was about to say Knicks, then tried to cover and said Nakers, but failed miserably. That ‘Knic-‘ was out there. I believe her. #Nakers.” Audiences have different interpretations of what Morris said. Hopefully, she did not use degrading language to describe a legendary basketball team.”
It remains to be seen whether Morris will be fired or suspended. In a world where the benefit of the doubt is given to honest people, Morris would not be punished.
The corporate structure of MSNBC, however, will likely decide based on economics. The station may wait to see if the controversy dies down, if it impacts ratings, or whether Morris becomes a distraction on air.
Few intelligent persons believe Morris meant to say it intentionally, consciously, and not know it would immediately destroy her career.
What is left to determine, if it can be determined, is whether innate racism bubbled up from her subconscious, or if she is simply telling the truth and melded “Knicks” and “Lakers” to utter a sound in the English language that is utterly taboo and requires, if deliberately uttered, immediate punishment.
If I were advising Morris, I might suggest she pen her view of racism and how it might, one day – if centuries in the future – be eradicated, and what that world would look like without necessarily miscegenation, so that the end of racism is internal not external.
She might also gather testimony of friends and supporters, particularly minorities, who would support her claim that she is not a closet racist.
Has anyone come forward with a shred of evidence of Morris’ past racism? In a left-leaning newsroom, racism, if it exists, would have to be well hidden. It seems unfair that a woman’s career should be upended by one innocent slip of the tongue.
Unless evidence of previous racism is uncovered, I vote that her life be spared.
LeBron James Instead of Kobe Bryant – They Don’t Look Alike!
In addition to the Morris controversy, the BBC earned some criticism. In reporting Bryant’s death, the BBC used footage of LeBron James on its program BBC News on Ten.
“Who cut this????? BBC news using footage of Lebron James instead of Kobe Bryant in their obit!!!!! IT EVEN SAYS JAMES ON HIS SHIRT” said one critic on social media.
Anchor Reeta Chakrabarti also apologized, as did Paul Royall, editor of BBC News at Six and Ten.
Paul Royall@paulroyallIn tonight’s coverage of the death of Kobe Bryant on #BBCNewsTen we mistakenly used pictures of LeBron James in one section of the report. We apologise for this human error which fell below our usual standards on the programme.
As criticism mounted, Sonmez tweeted, “If your response to a news article is to resort to harassment and intimidation of journalists, you might want to consider that your behavior says more about you than the person you’re targeting.”
A defiant Sonmez took screenshots of her email inbox, which she shared on Twitter, displaying the full names of her threatening critics.
Tracy Grant, managing editor of the Post, told Business Insider that Sonmez was suspended and in a statement said, “The tweets displayed poor judgment that undermined the work of her colleagues.”
Again, corporate considerations supersede ethics, although it remains unclear if Sonmez was suspended because of her mention of the rape allegation or because she published the email addresses of those who threatened her.
I admire Sonmez’s defiance and personally hope she does not apologize. This falls under freedom of speech and standing your ground.
Yet I would add that Bryant was never convicted and in the eyes of the law and our standards of liberty he died innocent of any criminal wrongdoing.
Should it have been mentioned at the moment of his passing, as people were just learning of his death?
Hold The Presses?
The tabloid news website, TMZ, broke the story of Bryant’s death.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva criticized TMZ for reporting the story before the victim’s families had been notified.
During a press conference, Villanueva declined to confirm the names of the nine passengers until the coroner identified them.
This is an excellent question: Should TMZ have waited until the sheriff informed them that the families had been notified?
If they had done so, chances are they would not have scooped the world on this huge story. They are in the highly competitive business of breaking news.
What would you have done?