How Bad Is it About to Get for Steve Blow?

Yesterday Metro columnist Steve Blow made a molestation joke on one of the Dallas Morning News‘ blogs. Jay Gormley on CBS Channel 11 last night turned the heat up on the situation when he interviewed the victim of the abuse that had occasioned the news story Blow was riffing on. I’ve got three things to say about that: 1) the paper needs to announce today that Blow is being put on a two-week unpaid suspension. Zac thinks it ought to be a seven-year unpaid suspension. Listen, Steve Blow ought to be fired. But not for making a molestation joke. He should be fired for being a bad Metro columnist.

Which brings me to 2): I’ve got empathy for Blow when it comes to the pickle he’s gotten himself into. I am in no way defending the joke he made. But anyone who works at a media outlet who has been asked to blog and tweet and tumble and facebook knows how Blow got himself in trouble and has trod similar territory. There’s a bottomless bucket that we’re all asked to fill each day with posts and opinion and entertaining nuggets. We’re all publishing more words than ever, which necessarily means we’re giving them less thought. Hey, much of the time it’s a blast. It can be fun to work without a safety net and get instant feedback on what you write. But the pitfall is what Blow fell into yesterday.

And 3) whatever disciplinary action the paper takes, it’s going to cast a pall over all of the paper’s blogs. What newspaper reporter wants to risk his job for a joke?

Comments

  • Bethany Anderson

    I predict nothing will happen. For one, too many people think what he said was OK. Including the guys on the Ticket right now, who are saying that it’s OK because the priest didn’t actually rape anyone.

  • Rawlins Gilliland

    Tim, your overview posted here, with all its insight, is a pin-point class act. Cheers to you.

  • mm

    It’s certainly not OK, but Andrea Grimes jumping to “rape joke” WAS a little over the top.

    I thought Bethany’s response was spot-on.

  • Brian Sweany

    Ah, the Ticket as the judge of appropriate discourse and responsible journalism. I feel better already.

  • Steve

    “We’re all publishing more words than ever, which necessarily means we’re giving them less thought.” Terrible excuse. You are responsible for what you say, particularly if you are a columnist for a major news organization.

    “Riffing” doesn’t result in the phrase “Refreshing Pervy Priest”. Maybe riffing could a lame feelgood metro column or two, but not “good old-fashioned heterosexual perviness.”

  • Neal

    Ditto Bethany. After all, if the paper still runs Dennis the Menace, it would have run this cartoon on June 18, 2010.

  • Kevin Spencer

    Tim,

    Agreed…a joke in atrocious taste, for sure, but, bad PR or a chance of bad PR shouldn’t equal censorship or even a toe-tap on the First Amendment, much less a trample or a firing. Disagreeing with Blow should be welcomed by the DMN; disliking him as a Metro columnist is an opinion that should be considered by the DMN with subscriptions dropping. His firing, if it is warranted, should be made on the latter basis, but the timing would be unfortunate!

  • A.D.

    Pet peeve regarding the invocation of the First Amendment (which is always inevitable in these discussions) – private entities cannot violate, toe-tap, or dance upon the First Amendment. If the DMN fires Steve Blow, puts him on suspension, censors his columns or anything else, the First Amendment is not implicated. Let’s just nip that argument in the bud. I do, however, agree with everything else Kevin said.

  • wordy:Liz Landry

    @Kevin The First Amendment says that we shall not have FEDERAL laws infringing on personal speech. It does not mean that a company can’t 1) take action against the employee who uses hurtful, inflammatory speech against their interests or that the company 2) won’t lose customers because we exercise our free will to move our business elsewhere if they don’t. This is NOT a 1st Amendment issue. I’ve been censored my whole life: at home by my parents, at work by my boss/company and by my moral compass.
    @Bethany it truly saddens me that anyone would think assault is ever ok. even if they couch it in a “joke.” Kudos to all of you in the Blogosphere who have spoken out and called a spade a spade.

  • amanda

    This isn’t a 1st Amendment issue. The DMN isn’t the government. They let Blow put the comment up, they decided to take it down. I emailed Blow, and here was his response:

    “No, it wasn’t a problem with the servers. The pooh-bahs here decided to take it down. I would have preferred to just leave it and take my lumps.

    My explanation is pretty simple: Sarcasm is risky business. I thought it would be obvious to everyone that I was lampooning the sad state of affairs among pervert priests by calling this one “refreshing.” But I guess I missed the mark. Many readers obviously took me literally.

    I learned that sarcasm can’t be subtle.

    Steve”

    The News took it down, because it was a horrible post, a tasteless attempt at humor, and inappropriate. As far as Tim’s 3 points? 1) The DMN won’t do anything else…they deleted the post, in their mind it never happened. 2) Blow’s pickle is that he’s not a good writer, he’s always had this folksy throwback schtick, and it just doesn’t work anymore. I think the post was an attempt to seem “relevant.” EPIC FAIL. 3) The pall is already on us. Frontburner is toned down (*tear*) and while that spurs more discussion, it isn’t as much fun.

  • Brad

    “How Bad Is it About to Get for Steve Blow? or How Can We Make This Story Go On Forever and Get More Hits On Our Blog?”

    I’m as good at getting offended as the next guy, but the extended coverage here feeds right into the line about publishing more words than ever.

    It was a stupid choice of words, but I don’t think it was his genuine intent to offend, just poor taste in humor. I’ve replayed the exact words in my mind coming from a comedian and I think it would pass muster on cable TV. Was his the correct forum or tone (that which is so hard to convey in print)? No. He apologized, but clearly not to Bethany’s standard. I’m ok with everyone’s complaint, but to have the D Magazine editors submit their suggestions for the sentencing phase of this trial is a bit much for me (and I really like you guys most of the time).

    At this point the news becomes the news becomes the news, etc. It gives me tired head.

  • Tom

    The Metro columnists blog isn’t among the most read on dallasnews.com, and something like this isn’t going to change that. Steve treats his posts there like they’re conversations around the water cooler. Some are for public consumption, some are not.
    When it comes to blogging, quality is better than quantity. It might also help to run the posts by an editor or colleague before pushing the “post” button.
    Call it a “water cooler test” if you will.

  • Bethany- I actually was sitting in the studio when I was talking and heard every word. No one said “that it’s OK because the priest didn’t actually rape anyone.”

    I said that compressing the story to “Steve Blow Finds Rape Refreshing as a Fresca” is disingenuous.

    Steve’s headline was horrible, his non-apology was worse, but let’s not pretend he is an emerging rape humorist. He is a guy who confuses the word SURPRISING with REFRESHING.

    Tim’s right (rare). We’re asked to shoot from the hip, without cessation, and many times we miss the target. It happens. Nothing survives the microscope if we don’t want it to.

    In conclusion. Rape is not funny. Molestation is not funny. But I didn’t think Steve was saying they were.

  • Allen

    This is absurd. He didn’t say it was refreshing. He said our world has gotten so profoundly screwed up that it’s “almost refreshing” to hear of something merely patently horrible. The linguistic equivalent to saying “those peppers are so hot, it would be almost refreshing to drink Tabasco sauce.” Illustrating the extreme nature of the former by opposing it with an equally extreme latter. A literary device–not even a joke. Anyone who thinks this is evidence Steve Blow thinks molestation is okay needs to graduate from junior high, then rethink it.

  • Justin

    “Kudos to all of you in the Blogosphere who have spoken out and called a spade a spade.”

    Don’t let Steve Blow read that, he’d probably take a stab at an ill advised race joke.

  • Laray

    I applaud both Anderson and Grimes for focusing attention on this episode. I think it could have been mitigated had Blow offered a reflective apology. Instead, he chose a defensive posture that only set the original comments in concrete.

    As Rogers points out, we are forced to move as fast as the rate of our technological advances. There are other factors worthy of consideration. In this instance, strong female voices (of a generation who do not let these type of issues slide), who have as much access to media as Blow, offered a critical analysis on something that might have gone unnoticed in an all-male media market. Things were bound to get interesting–and they have.

    Also, blogs, unlike print, are a rapid conversation with and among readers. Everything a writer posts on a blog comes with a potential challenge. If a writer ignores the conversation in favor of avoiding an argument s/he may feel is beneath their pay grade, I would suggest not blogging. The old hierarchies of “those who speak” and “those who listen” no longer exist.

  • What? Giving your published words thought is what you get paid for when you work for a serious publication. Want to make tasteless jokes? Join us at in-this-economy.com (but we don’t get paid).

  • E.B.

    Steve Blow has been writing his sub-standard milktoast columns for many years too long, even before this insensitive attempt at “relevance.” A real newspaper wouldn’t have given him the time of day, much less a job.

    Regardless of what you think or don’t think about this incident, it’s way past time for this loser to go.

  • SkyMasterson

    Well said, Allen. That is the way I took Blow’s comment as well.

  • Stump’s Agent

    Agree with Gordon and Allen.

  • JB

    Mr. Blow is a PROFESSIONAL journalist as opposed to some ordinary dolt like me. If a doctor said, “I’m seeing more patients than ever, which necessarily means I’m giving them less thought,” or an attorney said “I’m seeing more clients than ever, which necessarily means I’m giving them less thought,”I think it would reflect on the level of their professionalism.

  • VM

    Ask Tim, Steve, or anyone at D or the DMN who are now blogging/tweeting/facebooking in addition to their “real” job. More work, less money. Remember the paycuts? When a lawyer sees more clients than ever, he makes more money than ever.

  • Bill Marvel

    Tim,
    Second and third paragraphs dead on the mark. First, not so much.

  • amanda

    Let’s place the blame for this incident where it belongs: Susan B. Anthony. Without her, Bethany, Andrea, Liz, and I wouldn’t have the right to vote.

    It was noted by a journalist type…almost all women are offended by Blow’s post and “apology” while less than half of the men are.

    I’m sure Steve Blow is a lovely man. But, he’s a terrible columnist and blogger. His schtick played out about 10 years ago.

  • Wes Mantooth

    Sarcasm rarely translates correctly in print. Often it doesn’t even translate correctly in speech.

    I suspect that Blow was being sarcastic, but sarcasm is tricky, and his use was sort of a double-head fake. Haven’t we all had an email conversation where we were sarcastic and it blew up in our faces?

    Blow’s choice of words was a bad decision, but it’s not the end of the world. Let’s move on.

  • wordy:Liz Landry

    @Amanda I am glad you got to the heart of this matter. Nicely summed up. lol
    And, testing that male/female divide theory earlier today, I started to tell my dad about this whole situation; he wouldn’t even let me finish before he expressed his displeasure. I think, perhaps, my experience have colored his views as well. So, the divide could also be affected by those that have experienced and/or know someone who has versus those that have been fortunate to not. Since 1 in 4 women have, we have more of a chance of exposure. As far as my need to grow up (@Allen), maybe you missed the post but he did say it was refreshing, and went on to imply that married priests don’t molest. It was a bad post, whatever literary device he was trying to use. And, he should have been called on it. So, no apologies from me at all.

  • To all: Solid comments on a topic that could have generated nothing but noise. I appreciate everyone’s thoughts here. Much thanks.

    (P.S. I can’t speak for everyone in the D empire who has administrative access to the blog, but I haven’t deleted any comments here.)

  • Steve and I were never fast friends during the long time we were colleagues at the DMN. But obviously he shouldn’t be fired. Were that the case, Tim, Zac and just about every other loose tongue associated with the FrontBurner blog would have been sacked by the guy who will always be the last man standing — Wick Allison.

    What stands out to me — at least in Gormley’s CBS11 story — is the usual refusal to comment by anyone at the DMN. Blow didn’t return phone messages or an email, Gormley said at story’s end. And a “manager” he didn’t name also reneged on a supposed promise to “get back” to Gormley.

    This is s-o-o-o-o-o typical — not only with Belo-owned media outlets but with pretty much all media organizations. Whenever they’re the issue, the moat is built around the castle. Yet they expect anyone targeted by their reporting to either comment or look bad on the air or in print.

    Anyway, Steve made a dumb choice of words, and now others at the DMN will pay with increased monitoring of their blog comments — for a while at least. But no, he shouldn’t be suspended or fired. Maybe they can just prohibit Steve from writing “Holy smoke” for the next year. Now that would hurt.

  • Bill Marvel

    This is why Ed Bark stood so tall at the News and why he is so sorely missed.

  • Maddy

    Not a damn thing will happen to this guy. He’s the darling of DMN. SO frustrating.

  • Ron Williamson

    I have always felt that Steve is an insightful & interesting writer. This is a classic case of making a mountain out of a mole hill, exagerating what he actually said & misconstruing his satire. I have been a DMN subscriber for over 30 years & regularly read his column. I guess I generally agree with his insight. Go Steve.I also listen to The Ticket so enjoyed reading Gordo Keith’s comments.

  • m.g. negrete

    steve should be ran out of this country and maybe sent to iran.how long do you think his way of thinking will last.