By Richard Neer
WFAN, New York
Talk Show Host
NEW YORK — They say any publicity is good publicity, but I’m sure my WFAN, New York colleague Mike Francesa can do without the tabloid coverage he’s received recently. The latest issue is his use of the term “Oriental” while discussing a recent court ruling. Mike was unaware that the term is now deemed offensive in some quarters… and has been replaced by Asian.
Political correctness does serve a purpose and the concept was founded with good intentions. However, it has run amok. It is one thing to be aware that certain words are deemed offensive and to use them anyway, in defiance of accepted norms. That was not the case here. There was no intent to offend. We can’t be expected to be one hundred per cent up-to-date on every nuance of the language, however diligent we may be. It is frustrating when you’ve used a word your entire life without a second thought and with no bad intentions, only to be told it is hurtful and no longer appropriate. Sometimes, it feels that you must dance among raindrops to avoid stepping on anyone’s toes.
We saw that recently when the hitherto common phrases “chink in the armor” and “guerilla warfare” were misinterpreted to be deliberately incendiary and the speakers were punished. What we do as talker show hosts is usually extemporaneous and it is a heavy burden to parse each word for fear of a “gotcha” moment. There is enough deliberate hate speech out there for us to be concerned about than to castigate an innocent slip.
Are we at a point where every group must be polled and asked if certain words are offensive? And what constitutes enough negative response to encourage its retirement? Five per cent? Ten? Fifty? One?
Freedom of speech from government censorship is not the issue. Corporations routinely punish their employees for exercising this basic right. It is their prerogative to do so, but should be used only in extreme cases when there is clear intent. Apologies for an unintentional offense is enough. But punishment?
This is a case where the court of public opinion should rule. Those in the media should be careful about calling out others. Next time, the PC police might target you.
Legendary New York City broadcaster Richard Neer is a veteran sports talk show host on WFAN and a murder mystery author. His latest novel in the Riley King detective series is titled “The Last Resort.” He can be reached through his website, www.RichardNeer.com.