The Rick Sanchez Meltdown And Journalism Ethics CNN fired news anchor Rick Sanchez one day after he criticized his bosses and called comedian/talk-show host Jon Stewart a bigot in a radio show interview. Host Michel Martin speaks with Richard Prince, Rafael Olmeda, and Howard Rosenberg.

The Rick Sanchez Meltdown And Journalism Ethics

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I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Later in our parenting conversation, we will talk about a spate of recent tragic deaths of young people who kill themselves after traumatic battles with bullies. These young people seem to have been targeted because of their sexuality.

We'll hear about a YouTube campaign to give young people hope. It's called the It Gets Better Project. It was launched by columnist Dan Savage. We'll find out more about it in just a few minutes.

But first, we want to talk about Rick Sanchez. The former CNN anchor was dismissed from the network last week abruptly, apparently after inflammatory remarks he made about "Daily Show" star Jon Stewart, about his bosses and about Jews, the gist of it being that his media bosses discriminated against him because he is Cuban-American, and they are Jewish, like Stewart, who perhaps not incidentally made Sanchez the target of a number of his monologue jokes over the years.

The remarks were made during an interview promoting his new book "Conventional Idiocy" on a satellite radio show, "Stand Up with Pete Dominick."

Now, this might be inside-media baseball, but it got our attention because Sanchez was one of the relatively few minority broadcast journalists with a major platform. He hosted a two-hour midday block on CNN, but was tapped to fill in for Campbell Brown in primetime when she left the network. But the slot just this week was filled by a new show called "Parker Spitzer."

And the firing has set off a buzz about race and ethnicity, as well. So we wanted to call in a panel of journalists and media watchers to help us sort through these issues.

With us are Richard Prince, he writes the online publication Journal-isms, which focuses on diversity issues in the media; Rafael Olmeda, reporter for the Sun Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He's the former president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, but he wants to make it clear that he's speaking for himself and not the organization in this conversation. And former Los Angeles Times television critic Howard Rosenberg, he's a Pulitzer Prize winner who now teaches ethics at USC. And I welcome you all, and I thank you all so much for joining us.

Mr. RICHARD PRINCE (Journal-isms): Great to be here.

Mr. RAFAEL OLMEDA (Reporter, Sun Sentinel): Thank you.

Professor HOWARD ROSENBERG (Annenberg School for Communication, University of Southern California): Thank you.

MARTIN: Now before we get into the thick of it, let's listen to some of the words that seem to have been Rick Sanchez's undoing. Here it is.

Mr. RICK SANCHEZ (Author, "Conventional Idiocy"): People who are not minorities understand that those of us who are, and very few of us will say the things that I've just said, are actually more complex than we think we are, and...

Unidentified Man: Stewart's a minority as much as you are.

Mr. SANCHEZ: He's come on. How is he a yeah, very powerless people.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SANCHEZ: I mean, he's such a minority, I mean, you know.

Unidentified Man: Please, you're telling me that...

Mr. SANCHEZ: I'm telling you that everybody who runs CNN is a lot like Stewart, and a lot of people who run all the other networks are a lot like Stewart. And to imply that somehow they, the people in this country who are Jewish are a oppressed minority? Yeah.

MARTIN: And quite obviously, there was a longer exchange. We'll have a link to it on our site if you want to hear the whole exchange in its entirety.

So the first thing I wanted to ask is, you know, Rafael, why don't you start? How did you read the firing?

Mr. OLMEDA: I read it as an example of swift justice. I was really amazed at how quickly CNN was able to act on this. In my various capacities over the last 10 years, I've spoken out on a number of occasions against what I'd like to generally call dunderheaded comments made by a number of people, including Brian Kilmeade at FOX and Friends, comparing inter-marriage to inter-species relationships; Sean Delonas at the New York Post drawing a cartoon implying the author of stimulus legislation was a crazed money; and of course Don Imus.

And every time I've spoken out on these issues, I've gotten a backlash, and the backlash has been, you are hypersensitive. You are a politically correct police officer. You really need to relax and lighten up and be a little patient and let people do their jobs and let the market speak.

Twenty-four hours don't pass before Rick Sanchez has lost his job, and I'm waiting for all those people who ordered me to exercise patience and understanding and let people say stupid things and get away with it, for lack of a better word, or, you know, apologize for it and be done with it. I'm waiting for all those people to stand up and say, whoa, Rick Sanchez said something stupid, but he doesn't deserve to lose his job over it.

MARTIN: You didn't mention Lou Dobbs, who is also another controversial anchor at CNN who made comments that the Southern Poverty Law Center at one point considered hate speech on undocumented immigrants, and he only left the network after of course, he would argue that he was sort of covering a political issue.

So I take your point. So Howard Rosenberg, what about you? What's your read on this?

Prof. ROSENBERG: To me, the great irony is that Rick Sanchez could be fired for perhaps making sense for the first time in his career. You know, I found nothing inflammatory about his comments.

As a Jew, I can tell you that we are not an oppressed minority today, and he's absolutely right about that.

But this is a guy who should have been fired a long time ago because he's incompetent. And in effect, you know, what he has done, what he has been doing is really reflecting the mandate of his recently fired boss Jon Klein, who said publicly when he got the job as head of CNN Domestic that he wanted anchors and reporters to speak how they feel, to let viewers know what they were feeling about stories, to show their emotions.

And in effect, Sanchez is an extension of that. And what he said in his interview was an extension of that. And in terms of the speed, you know, it's really sort of interesting that he has actually been victimized by a process in which he took part, and that is the intense speed of media today, really moving faster than the speed of thought.

I mean, here the guy says something that maybe is mildly controversial. It's immediately blown out of proportion. It zoomed around the world. It makes all the late-night monologues. Everybody's talking about it. It soon becomes common wisdom, and the common wisdom is that Rick Sanchez insulted Jews, which is what was not my reading on it at all.

MARTIN: Well, forgive me, Howard Rosenberg, and I don't want to make you the Jewish spokesperson here, but you don't find it anti-Semitic to say that the media is controlled by Jews?

Prof. ROSENBERG: Well, he never said let's make sure that we quote him correctly. He never said controlled, okay. He used other words. And I have to tell you, historically and even today, Jews have a voice in the media far out of proportion to our numbers.

That's not something to be ashamed of. I'm proud of it. It says a lot about us. For somebody to point that out is not problematic to me at all, nor is it problematic that he would call Jon Stewart a bigot. Jon Stewart is a public figure. If Jon Stewart can call Rick Sanchez an idiot, which he is as a matter of fact, Rick Sanchez has every right to call Jon Stewart a bigot.

MARTIN: Okay, a lot to work with there. What about you, Richard Prince?

Mr. PRINCE: Well, I'm just so pleased to be in the company of such reasoned people. I mean, this is amazing. And I say that because judging from the media coverage, you would get an entirely different impression of what took place.

Just some headlines: He went on an anti-Semitic rant. He had a public meltdown. He lashed out at Jews. I mean, this is not what happened, but this is what the media was portraying, what the blogosphere was spreading and apparently what CNN acted upon.

And many of the people who commented apparently never listened to the tape of what took place. There's a podcast online. And they are forming their opinions and going on the blogosphere without knowing what they're talking about, basically.

MARTIN: Well, how would you characterize it, Richard?

Mr. PRINCE: He was having a conversation. He was having a conversation. And when the conversation ended, the host said, well, you've certainly impressed me, and here, I have a newfound respect for this guy. I don't necessarily agree. I think people will certainly sympathize with Rick's point of view.

Now, if he had lashed out or had an anti-Semitic rant, I doubt that that would have been the reaction.

MARTIN: Now, Howard Rosenberg, just talk to me about this. You said earlier that you think that Sanchez should've been fired for being incompetent. What do you mean by that?

Prof. ROSENBERG: No, no. I've been listening, I've been observing him since he was MSNBC. He's much more of an actor than a journalist. He's a vamper. He showboats. He gets his facts wrong. He speaks off the top of his head, frequently incorrectly. And to me, that spells out incompetence.

And I suspect that he would not have been fired if he had big ratings. I mean, that's just what the business is. If he was a big star at CNN, he would not have been fired. I mean, Lou Dobbs survived for years and years saying things much worse than Sanchez ever said, doing a much worse job as a newscaster than Sanchez did. But why was he not fired? Because he excuse me he had a big following.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're talking about the recent firing of Rick Sanchez from CNN with a panel of journalists and media watchers. Richard Prince, who writes the Journal-isms column, it's an online publication that covers diversity issues in the media; Rafael Olmeda of the Sun Sentinel; and Howard Rosenberg, the Pulitzer Prize-winning former TV critic for The Los Angeles Times.

So, Rafael, what do you I have to say my only skepticism about this is I do wonder whether he was already fired. I mean, part of my question is because we have not heard from Rick Sanchez, and many have tried, including us, maybe he already was fired and we just heard about it that day, and maybe that's why he was as pointed in his remarks as he was.

So what - and, you know, Richard, what about that point? I mean, you think that there's sort of - there was a media overreaction to them. And why do you think that is?

Mr. PRINCE: Because that's the way the media are. I think also...

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Well, in that context, what is an overreaction, and what's it's normal - a normal day? I mean...

Mr. PRINCE: Well, let me say this: A lot of us have talked about - you know, we need to have a conversation on race. Why don't we have national - why don't we talk about these things more? Well, this is why people don't talk about them more, because when you do, they get - the comments get blown out of proportion and conversation is shut down, and people get fired. And this is not, of course, the first time this has happened. And it is true that some people have more clout in the media than others, and if you attack some people, you can get away with it. And if you attack others, you don't.

MARTIN: And Rafael, what do you think about that? I wonder, what do you think the larger message here is, or is it just that the news cycle is 15 minutes now, as opposed to 24 hours, and therefore this is sort of today's story or, indeed, yesterday's story. So, Rafael, what do you think the lesson here is?

Mr. OLMEDA: Well, I think the lesson is that you have to consider your words carefully. And, you know, when you pick a target as Rick Sanchez did with Jon Stewart, understand that people are going to talk about it. People are going to weigh in on it, and they're not necessarily going to have all the facts. You know, we've all stuck our foot in our mouths from time to time. I certainly have. And, you know, it's not an easy thing to get through.

In his case, he made several mistakes. One - I think what he said about Stewart, while fair game, was indefensible. I mean, I can't - I don't see anything bigoted in Jon Stewart. I don't see a logical reason for him to - for Rick Sanchez to dismiss Jews as an oppressed minority. Even considering what Howard was saying earlier, Jews have been an oppressed minority everywhere they've lived throughout history, with the exception of ancient and modern Israel. Their entire history suggests an understanding of what it's like to be judged and marginalized because of who they are. To suggest, as Rick Sanchez did, that they don't understand what it's like for us because they're Jewish and in positions of power, I think, ignores history.

MARTIN: You know...

Mr. OLMEDA: I think it's a very hard thing for somebody whose job depends on a public display of integrity to say something like that in such a casual manner. I think that's what blew up in his face. On top of which, he targeted his bosses and he said things about his bosses, and you just don't do that. And I -it's disappointing to me that he went there. You know, I can't defend what he said. The only thing I can question is why his dismissal took less than 24 hours. And obviously, he was good enough to be on the air the day before. The day after - I really want to know what the standards are. Where's the line drawn?

MARTIN: Well, I do want to also mention that the National Association of Hispanic Journalists has also declined to comment on this. We've asked if the organization, as a group, has a comment on it. And Richard Prince has also asked, and as an organization, they've declined to comment. Which - and I do wonder what that says.

Mr. OLMEDA: Well, my history with the organization - I can answer it as if the question had been posed to me three years ago. And my answer would have been we tend not to weigh in on personnel matters. If an organization fires an employee, we try to stay out of that as much as possible. There - are there reasons that people would expect NAHJ to say something? Sure. But, you know, when it comes to a boss firing an employee, it takes a lot for us to jump in on that.

MARTIN: Howard Rosenberg, are there any ethical questions raised by this that are worth considering going forward?

Mr. ROSENBERG: Well, personally, I think probably the next thing we'll see is Sanchez holding a press conference with Gloria Allred, that (unintelligible) selling a lot of books. You know, I know - I - to me, I think of it as the ethics of speed. I mean, all of this involves speed, OK? Moving too fast. And that what our - all of us in the media are doing now, because of the technology. It would behoove all of us to slow down a little bit and to think about what we say that's very - and very important.

And the problem is, of course, that we in the media are amnesiacs. We don't remember our mistakes. We're talking about this now. We're agreeing that it was problematic. And a week from now, something similar could happen, and we'll make the same mistakes.

MARTIN: But what was the mistake, and who made it?

Mr. ROSENBERG: Well, the mistake was blowing this out of proportion, in my opinion. I don't think it was that inflammatory. (unintelligible)

MARTIN: OK. So I'll take your gentle chastisement of me for raising this today. But let me just - but Jon Stewart did respond in his own fashion that - to this, and he did talk about it on his program last night. I'll just play a short clip for those who missed it. And he, of course - this was a part of a longer monologue. But here it is.

(Soundbite of TV show, "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart")

Mr. JON STEWART (Host, "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart"): I do occasionally have my issues with Rick Sanchez and his program, but he really nailed what is was like growing up in Central Jersey in the early '70s...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: ...the fortunate son of a single mother in the education field.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: Oh, I believe that's me right there.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: I believe that's from 1972. I believe that's me peddling to the cotillion.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Stewart, of course, making the point that Sanchez was doing the very thing he's accused his CNN bosses of doing, which is stereotyping him as being someone (unintelligible). Richard Prince, I want to give you the final word here, because I do want to point out just briefly, in the time we have left, the point that Rick Sanchez - the larger point that Rick Sanchez made is that he was confined, sort of, to the second tier, in part because of his ethnicity. And, you know, you always have to ask in a situation like that: Is it racism, or is it him? You know, maybe he just wasn't that great and should have been in the second tier.

But I do want to ask how this fits into the - sort of the larger context of media stories that you cover all the time and media - you know, minorities in the media. Does he have a point? Do you think that it is still - that people of color - maybe Latinos in particular, I don't know - are confined to the second tier.

Mr. PRINCE: Yes. It is true. And, for example, Howard Kurtz's "Reliable Sources" show had a discussion about this on Sunday. There were no Latinos present among the journalists. There are no Latinos - there are no Latino anchors on CNN right now, unless you count the multicultural Soledad O'Brien. So yes, he has a point there. But it also may be true that there might be personal issues that are in the background here.

MARTIN: To be continued - or not. We'll see. I take Rosenberg's point that -maybe not. Richard Prince is author of the column "Journal-isms." He was kind enough to join us here in our Washington, D.C. studio. Rafael Olmeda is a reporter for the Sun Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, a former president of the national association of Hispanic Journalists. Of course, he's only speaking for himself. He joined us from his office in Fort Lauderdale. And former L.A. Times TV critic Howard Rosenberg, who now teaches news ethics at USC's Annenberg School. He joined us from his home office in Los Angeles.

I thank you all so much.

Mr. OLMEDA: Thank you.

Mr. ROSENBERG: Thank you very much.

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