It’s been 16 months since Curt Schilling finally went far enough over the line that ESPN fired him, but clearly some people never learn.
This week saw the end of employment for talk radio host Dino Costa in Portland, Ore., and columnist Tom Powers of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Both men not only are out of jobs, but are off Twitter now, having deleted their accounts.
Costa’s case is the interesting one here, as Powers was already retired, just writing occasionally, and, after his Twitter rant on Tuesday night against Hillary Clinton specifically and Democrats in general, wrote, “Told PP I wasn’t going to write anymore. Don’t want paper to take heat for me. OK?”
Powers’ recent work had included such gems as referring to the young brain trust of the Minnesota Twins “sitting around appletinis one evening – or chai tea lattes or whatever front office whiz kids sip these days.” Clever, timely, hip stuff there, the kind of writing that screams, “oh, this guy was there for a long time, he’s got some friends on the masthead, and they’re throwing him a bone.” Which only partially applies to this column, so let’s just move on.
Costa is a different scenario because of the circumstances of his dismissal. Back in June, Costa had ranted on his show about Black Lives Matter, saying that if protesters blocked highways, police should simply let traffic through and let them be run over and killed. It’s a sentiment that’s been pervasive in conservative media for some time, but after last weekend’s killing of protester Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, the rant by Costa found a spotlight in Eugene Weekly.
Eugene is important because it’s the home of the University of Oregon, whose games are broadcast on KXTG, the station that had been home to Costa’s show. KXTG also airs Portland Timbers soccer, and when both the Timbers and the university made clear their disgust at being even tangentially associated with this mess, that was it for Costa.
It took time for it to happen, but what cost Costa his job was putting himself in violation of a pretty standard rule of business: don’t piss off the clients. Sometimes that means the listeners, viewers, or readers. Usually that means the advertisers. In this case, it meant the teams whose games air on the station. To break this rule and stay employed, you need to either have proven value and an ability to make things right with an apology, or a buddy in top brass willing to suffer a bit in capitalism for the sake of cronyism.
Some observers may see a double standard here, that left-leaning sports voices can speak openly about their distaste for Donald Trump and anything else on the right, while comments the other way result in termination. And, in fact, last year, Breitbart was out there calling for ESPN to fire Jemele Hill over tweets after the Orlando nightclub shooting. As writer Daniel J. Flynn put it there, “Translation? Say anything you want as long as you agree with your left-wing crackpot Disney overlords.”
Without agreeing that Disney is a “left-wing crackpot” organization, yes, this is the case. If your political speech mirrors the views of your employer, you’ll probably be just fine, just as a Breitbart columnist presumably would be shown the door for saying that Trump is a disaster and we’d all have been better off with Clinton.
This is not that complicated. Costa said on the air that people should be murdered in a very specific way, and two months later, after such a murder occurred, there was enough anger about it that his employers decided he wasn’t worth the trouble. Powers openly said that he was calling it quits to spare his old newspaper such backlash on his account.
There is a line between stating and defending an unpopular opinion – the job of a radio host or columnist – and stating and defending an indefensible one. The latter category would include such things as calling for street murder and writing “I think Hillary Clinton is worse than Richard Speck and John Wayne Gacy.”
So the lesson here is not to stick to sports – it never is. The lesson is to stick to acting like a person who understands the humanity of others.