I found myself thinking, this past Sunday, about the time a few years ago when Charlotte Observer editor Rick Thames stopped by my radio show. The thought came as I was watching the Carolina Panthers on TV and commenting on Twitter.
Some of the Observer’s sports guys were also tweeting about the game. They referred to the team the Panthers were playing only as “Washington.” I tweeted:
“Major big plays given up by Panthers keeping R _ _ _ _ _ _ S in it (don’t want followers from the Observer to be offended).”
Then, hoping to hear from one of the Observer sports writers like Joe Person or Scott Fowler who follow me on Twitter, I zapped: “Decent thing is to change the name. But it is official, legal name. Do Observer sports guys covering not feel goofy ‘avoiding’ Redskins?”
The answer came swiftly and succinctly from Mike Persinger.
I felt compelled to explain for Twitter followers that Persinger was Observer management, not one of the writers:
“This firm, simple “No” is from the Sports Editor of the Observer, just to be clear. If told by management to avoid the legal, commonly used name of a sports team or entity in the news, I’d call ’em out and use it anyway.”
To which Persinger replied, “What fans do is their business, and we haven’t told you what to do. What we do is our business.”
“The Observer is putting cause over straight fact,” I said. “It calls into question reporting of any controversial facts.”
“We would use the name in reporting on the controversy,” Persinger responded. “It isn’t needed for clarity in a football story.”
Really? There was just such a story in the Observer last Wednesday.
“Carolina Panthers won’t avoid using Washington’s NFL team name,” the headline proclaimed. The report stated the Panthers would use the nickname “despite protests and calls for the franchise to be renamed” but the Observer would not use the word. The piece included background on the swirl over Washington’s nickname as well as the Observer’s decision not to use it.
The story was clearly about the controversy and not merely football yet the nickname did not appear. I tweeted a link and asked, “Where is Redskins?”
A random follower chimed in, “I think the Observer is offensive. It’s best we start referring to it as that rag from Charlotte.”
I don’t think the Observer is offensive or a rag. I wouldn’t grace these pages if I did. I replied, “I do not agree with either point but they’re wrong on this one. And letting a liberal point of view affect their reporting.”
That’s what made me remember the conversation with Rick Thames.
“Do you believe that the Observer has a particular slant, politically, or ideology-wise?” I had asked.
“There is no organized slant on the news,” Thames said. “Our goal is to go out and report on the news as politically neutrally as possible.”
Did they succeed?
Editor’s note: All Observer reporters and columnists who write about the Panthers support the newspaper’s policy on the Washington football team.
Keith Larson can be heard Monday-Friday 9am-Noon on WBT AM/FM Radio and followed @ClubLama