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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.