Memphis TV station FOX13 is yet another example of the sorry state of crisis PR. Joey Sulipeck, the station’s chief meteorologist, came under fire Sunday night after tweeting a racial slur about Golden State Warriors basketball star Draymond Green. The television station declared on Monday the tweet “does not reflect the values of FOX13” and vowed to take “appropriate action pending a full investigation.”
Gotta love how U.S. businesses are always quick to invoke their vaunted “values” while waiting to see whether a crisis blows over.
Allow me please to explain the disingenuousness of FOX13’s statement. It’s not clear, at least to me, whether Sulipeck knew that referring to Green’s “knuckle-dragging open mouth” was a racial slur. I’d never heard the expression, but according to the New York Post, which I consider a trustworthy source on these sorts of matters, the expression “can have a number of meanings, including racist tropes used to compare Black people to apes.”
There doesn’t seem to be much to investigate here. If Sulipeck knowingly used a racist trope, he should be fired. If it’s one of those expressions that have been around for decades and someone could legitimately argue they were unaware of the origins of its meaning, some forgiveness is in order. Given that FOX13 is in the local television news business, I’d expect the station’s “values” include an understanding and tolerance for honest mistakes.
As of this posting, more than 48 hours have passed since FOX13 announced the station’s promised “investigation.” My perception is that FOX13 is waiting to see whether the matter blows over. The Twittersphere suffers from collective ADHD, and no doubt there’s been a myriad of other issues for tweeters to express their outrage about in the interim. With any luck, Sulipeck’s apology will suffice, and given that he belongs to Mensa, the Tennessee native presumably has the smarts to stay off Twitter. According to media reports, he deactivated his account.
What’s troubling is the U.S. public knows that when companies profess violations of their “values” it’s just meaningless PR spin. The cynicism is toxic because it allows companies to use highfalutin rhetoric to deflect considerable wrongdoing and hypocrisy. I’ve written previously about how companies’ “Code of Ethics” and other mission statements are almost invariably an inverse of their actual practices. American Express and Centene are two examples I’ve cited; Twitter is another.
At the end of the day, most U.S. corporations are driven by profits and the increasingly obscene enrichment of their top executives. Two of the most obscenely paid executives in 2021 were Robert Iger and Bob Chapek, respectively the former and current CEO of Disney. Iger last year took home $46 million and Chapek hauled in $33 million. Underscoring how warped American values have become, the American Hospital Association and bi-partisan Congresspersons have called for an investigation into the fees nurse staffing agencies are charging to fill shortages caused by the mismanagement of hospital CEOs earning millions running supposed “nonprofit” institutions.
Chapek recently misrepresented Florida’s “Parental Rights in Education Act” as the “Don’t Say Gay Bill” and said it was an affront to Disney’s values. The legislation is intended to prevent “classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity” in kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Florida wasn’t the only instance Disney stuck Mickey Mouse’s nose in state political affairs. In 2019, Iger said that it would be “very difficult” for Disney to continue filming in Georgia if the Peach State passed its very restrictive abortion bill. The bill passed but was struck down by the courts.
Given Disney’s professed concern for gay and abortion rights, it’s reasonable to expect that Chapek is beside himself that the NBA has signed an agreement with the United Arab Emirates to hold preseason games scheduled for early October between the Milwaukee Bucks and Atlanta Hawks in Abu Dhabi. As Breitbart astutely noted, homosexuality in the UAE is punishable by death. Abortion also is a criminal offense.
Disney owns ESPN, which broadcasts NBA games. ESPN currently pays the NBA more than $1 billion a year to broadcast some of its games; the NBA reportedly will seek considerably more when the current contract expires in three years. ESPN has a lot of clout given the NBA has been forced to considerably raise its ticket prices because of falling attendance.
It’s beyond me how Disney could remain silent about the NBA’s agreement to play games in the UAE given its intervention in Florida’s and Georgia’s politics, unless of course profits supersede the company’s values. If that’s the case, Disney should be forced to admit it and be made an example for any other company that professes a commitment to “stakeholder capitalism” and ESG, or socially responsible investing, and fails to live up to their supposed values.
Chapek has become tongue-tied these past few weeks. It is my hope that Florida governor Ron DeSantis will step up and provide Chapek with some public encouragement to do the right thing.
The NBA is another shameful example of institutional hypocrisy. As noted by Breitbart, the NBA in 2016 relocated its All-Star Game from Charlotte because of a North Carolina law requiring that restrooms in government buildings could only be used by people whose birth gender corresponded to the signs on the door. The NBA said its decision was based on “long-standing core values of our league.”
The NBA also has a lucrative arrangement with the Chinese government, which has restrictive laws governing homosexuality. The Communist government under leader Xi Jinping has embarked on a years-long campaign to combat what the government deems a “masculinity crisis” in entertainment and media promoting “sissies” and “indecent culture.”
Disney has no issue filming in China and routinely submits its films to China’s censors.