GolfWeak Editor Whacked

Oh, those clever folks at Golfweek. They’re doing a serious moonwalk after perpetrating what may be the biggest gaffe in the history of sports journalism. As I’m sure you know by now, those clever folks at the tiny (and mostly invisible) golf publication thought they’d weigh in on the controversy stirred over a flippant remark made by Golf Channel commentator Kelly Tilghman a couple of weeks ago during a tournament telecast. At the end of a discussion regarding how young players have no shot at winning as long as Tiger Woods is on the Tour, she said they should “lynch him in a back alley.”

Tilghman was suspended for two weeks following a firestorm – on both sides – regarding her faux pas.

Things were pretty much dying down when the clever folks at Golfweek got a bright idea. Led by Dave Seanor, vice president and editor of the weekly magazine, the men and women who cover birdies and bogeys and guys in bad pants every week suddenly decided to become Edward R. Murrow and take a journalistic look at why the remark stirred such a frenzy- and they shanked it.

But get this: After touting the cover on its website since Monday, the cover itself is now gone, replaced by a montage of covers dominated by (and this is where they really get clever) an issue featuring Tiger Woods. Nonetheless, another section of the site still says “ Cover story: Kelly Tilghman saga.”

Early this morning when I first logged onto the site to see if Golfweek would address its insipid decision, the cover had been replaced by another cover, one touting a cover story called “Bitter Pill to Swallow.” But if you clicked on it you got the Tlighman story. Now the montage of covers leads you to a page that allows you to subscribe.

Moments after I wrote this post it was announced that Seanor was dumped. He was replaced as editor immediately by Jeff Babineau, a nine-year veteran at the publication. An executive at Turnstile Publishing, Golfweek’s parent, also issued an apology. “We apologize for creating this graphic cover that received extreme negative reaction from consumers, subscribers and advertisers across the country,” said Turnstile president William P. Kupper Jr.. “We were trying to convey the controversial issues with a strong and provocative graphic image. It is now obvious that the overall reaction to our cover deeply offended many people. For that, we are deeply apologetic.”

The decision to illustrate their story by putting a noose on the cover now supplants the darkening of O.J. Simpson by Time magazine as the most racially insensitive magazine cover ever. Congrats, Dave! See ya.

Some folks wonder where I’ve been since word of the cover first began to surface. Like many, I thought it was a joke – a spoof by some characters trying to get attention. When I learned it wasn’t, I was actually torn between slamming them (way too easy) or refusing to buy into the blatant attempt to call attention to themselves in a very competitive field. So I laid low and watched (with a bit of glee, I admit) as the tinderbox raged.

Everyone except Rev. Al Sharpton has lambasted the Golfweek editors. PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem called use of the image “outrageous and irresponsible.” He added: “It was a naked attempt to inflame and keep alive an incident that was heading to an appropriate conclusion.”

Not surprisingly, Seanor says he was surprised by the reaction. “We knew that image would grab attention, but I didn’t anticipate the enormity of it,” he told the Associated Press on Thursday. “There’s been a huge, negative reaction,” he said. “I’ve gotten so many e-mails. It’s a little overwhelming.”

Seanor thought for a moment when asked if he had second thoughts about choosing such an y image for the cover. “I wish we could have come up with something that made the same statement but didn’t create as much negative reaction,” he finally said. “But as this has unfolded, I’m glad there’s dialogue. Let’s talk about this, and the lack of diversity in golf.”

And maybe the lack of diversity at Golfweek?

When I told a friend on the cover this morning while we rode the train into Manhattan, he looked at me acquisitively and said: “For a moment there I thought you said they put a noose on the cover.”

Then he remarked: “What Tlighman said was one thing, it was on the spur of the moment and was a ignorant attempt at humor. But these guys actually did this on purpose. They sat around a table and decided to do this.”

I’ve thought a lot about how that meeting went. I’ve wondered who the people were that sat around that table and discussed the cover. I wondered what they looked like, where they were from, what experiences they had in life.

I wondered why no one there – not a single person at that table – knew this was just stupid.

For more than two decades, I’ve been a member of the National Association of Black Journalists, an organization of more than 2,000 African Americans in media who are committed to improving the coverage of issues important to people of color and improving diversity throughout the media, particularly at the management levels where vital decisions are made.

Next stop: Golfweek.

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6 thoughts on “GolfWeak Editor Whacked

  1. First, a couple corrections:

    * It’s T – I – L in Tilghman, not T – L – I

    * While Golfweek’s circulation of 160,000-plus isn’t on par with Sports Illustrated, it is far from “tiny,” and it has prominent “visibility” in the golf industry; among tour players, top amateurs and avid recreational players; and is popular among fans of the sport. It has been around for 30-plus years.

    Next, full disclosure:

    * I was once managing editor of the magazine (1992-98), then became editor of Golfweek.com, and in 2001 fell victim to a staff reduction when Callaway Golf pulled its 2001 ad schedule in the aftermath of a column written by Dave Seanor criticizing Callaway endorser Arnold Palmer. The column carried a lamentable headline referring to Palmer as “Benedict Arnold.”

    Finally, some “insider” information:

    * The scuttlebutt is that the decision to use the noose on the cover was made by Seanor alone, over the objections of nearly everyone on the editorial staff. Several people that I talked to, inside the company, said they were adamantly opposed to the cover, and are sickened by the resulting controversy.

    * Why no one stepped up to challenge Seanor and stop publication is a mystery, but it might have something to do with the fact that the president of the company lives in Connecticut, the publisher lives in Dallas, and Seanor was making the fateful call in Orlando.

    * I worked a long time for Dave Seanor, we raised more than a few pints together and played many memorable rounds of golf on far-flung courses. He is a friend. And I’d like to think that if I was still working for him last week he’d still have his job — because I would have fought him, literally come to blows if necessary, to stop him from making one of the worst decisions in the history of our industry.

    There was no option but to fire him.

  2. Hey Roy,

    Excellent post. I certainly thought Tilghman’s comments were inappropriate and ill-conceived, but not intentionally malicious. She was appropriately disciplined, IMO. On the other hand, the Golfweek cover image was a premeditated act meant to inflame. It’s hard to fathom that Seanor could not conceive the public’s reaction. He said the cover choice was either a photo of Tilghman or a noose. Kelly is not SI supermodel good looking, but a blond female is a tried and true formula for any magazine cover. Even a doctored Tilghman photo would have been better.

    My original post…
    http://moneyplayers.typepad.com/blog/2008/01/stupid-comment.html

  3. CDR Wyndell Patterson says:

    Progress. Slow but sure.

  4. Andrew says:

    LOL, Yes Roy you are such the knight in shining black armor coming to save all of the poor, misrepresented “people of color” (I must be transparent) from the villanous white media. I would love to join your organization Roy. Would that be possible? Would I fit the criteria?

  5. Daryl says:

    Excellent post Roy! Stay with it!

  6. Lisette says:

    So.. I guess if the black golf publication decided to to put the top white player in a klan hood on the cover to make a a point that would be ok with the white golf readers.
    Really people! Really! People are supposed to believe that there were no checks and balances at this publication. For all the people of color who play golf.. just wake up and stop buying their magazines and products. Start your own companies that sell all things golf and lets see what happens.

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