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Friday, January 18, 2008
Golf Week and the Noose: Context Matters

Dre Cummings discusses the new wrinkle in the Kelly Tilghman/Lynching controversy--the Golf Week magazine cover featuring a photograph of a noose and the headline "Caught in a Noose." Dre asks whether this "represent[s] a collosal lapse in judgment on the part of Golfweek editor Dave Seanor or is this a merely a nefarious attempt to grab attention . . ."

Let me propose a third choice: This was a legitimate and effective visual representation (after all, one picture is worth 1000 words) of the essence of a genuine public controversy that Golf Week was obligated (given its editorial focus) to cover. That noose is at the heart of the concept of lynching. Indeed, I would speculate that Kelly Tilghman forgot how central the noose is to the concept when she used the word as carelessly as she did. If we are going to have a public debate about what Tilghman did wrong in using that word (which we have had and must have, in arguing for her punishment), then the noose is and should be a part of that discussion--both verbally and visually.

As for PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchman's outrage, I think his agenda is revealed by a different part of the quotation in The Times, where he decries Golf Week "keep[ing] alive an incident that was heading to an appropriate conclusion." In other words, the PGA is outraged because it wants this to go away and does not want to talk about it anymore. But Golf Week (or any other magazine) has an obligation to talk about matters of public concern. And certainly, given the involvement of Al Sharpton and many others, this was a matter of public concern.

I title this post "Context Matters" because it does. A swinging noose, in one context, may reflect a true threat and should be punished. A photo of a noose in the context of a journalistic, political, or academic discussion of lynching (and thus the noose) is very different. Otherwise, I cannot include a photo of a burning cross in a historical account of the Klan or of the Supreme Court's decision in the first cross-burning case or a photo of a swastika or the entrance to Auschwitz in a story about Holocaust denial.

Update: Friday, 1:30 p.m. C.S.T.:

As Rick notes in the Comments, the magazine fired its editor today. Story here.


I disagree. Golfweek made two wrongs here.

First, Golfweek is doing the same thing that Tilghman did (but it's perhaps worse because it's premeditated on Golfweek's part). Golfweek is using a racially discriminatory phrase and photo in a completely new and different "context" -- by saying that Tilghman and Golfweek are caught in a noose and can't wriggle free. That is not, in any way, shape or form, news reporting about what Tilghman said in reference to Tiger Woods.

Second, not only is the statement and photo unacceptable, but the motive for doing so is simply to sell a magazine. Howard, don't you acknowledge at least somewhat that this crosses the line of ethical news reporting? By the way, the editor was fired today.

Blogger Rick Karcher -- 1/18/2008 12:44 PM  

Rick and I are going to end this by agreeing to disagree on this, so I will just respond with a couple things.

First, if (as I suggested in the post), a noose is central to a lynching of which Tilghman spoke, then it is, at some metaphorical level, true to say she got caught in that same noose. Not saying she was lynched--let's say that she got caught up in a lynching.

Second, what happened to Tilghman *is* a part of this story and any reporting on it, including arguments (whether one buys them or not) that she has been treated unfairly.

Third, nearly all speakers--newspapers, magazines, book authors--act with a profit motive. So I will not ascribe anything to the fact that they were trying to sell magazines.

Blogger Howard Wasserman -- 1/18/2008 2:16 PM  

Re: your third point, it's not a profits issue, it's an ethics issue.

Blogger Rick Karcher -- 1/19/2008 10:14 AM  

Great ideas about to the Context matters,I think Context matters is that How questions relate to one another is used by the analysts to understand who might have been asked the question and the skip patterns.

Anonymous Anwalt -- 7/16/2009 6:37 AM  

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