RiShawn Biddle on the record

Dateline: Wed 07 Nov 2007

Here is a statement emailed today by RiShawn Biddle, who was fired by the Indinapolis Star for his Oct. 31 Expresso/blog entry. Biddle wrote about the City-County Council antics and the role played by council prez Monroe Gary, using a minstrel show theme as his literary device:

"THE PIECE: The comparison I made between Monroe Gray and Zip Coon was not appropriate, nor was the use of the word itself. I regret using it. But it was not used out of malice or racial hatred. The purpose of using the word was satirical and to illustrate my overall point. It is the kind of language that many of us as black people use in describing and comparing the kind of negative, corrupting behaviors done by our fellow brothers and sisters.

"As a responsible editorialist and a participant in community discussion, I must be forthright in addressing these problems, which I

have addressed myriad times before. While I will be more judicious in my language from now on, I will remain forthright in discussing those issues, which I have done over the past three years for The Star, which included award-winning editorials that exposed the problems in state school data, shed light on the state's dropout crisis and helped shape opinion on such issues as the decline in the city's quality of life.

"WORK STATUS: All I know at this point is that according to The Star, I'm no longer working for them."

As readers of this blog know, the newspaper Guild at the Indianapolis Star is asking tough questions about Biddle's termination. A Star insider notes that management "completely ignored the due process outlined in the union contract... They have to inform the Guild in writing whenever they terminate someone, and they didn't even bother to do that."

Exec editor Dennis Ryerson was in such a rush to crucify Biddle that apologizing in print for the mistake the same day was not enough; he personally attended, diamond earring and all, a next-day public flogging of Biddle, held by the Dems and others who were offended. Ryerson was accompanied by an equally somber-faced editorial editor Tim Swarens. Who wore no diamond in his ear.

The next question: Will Swarens -- who recently was given his old job back after being exiled to a community service role -- be the fall guy for this parade of mistakes? Most of us agree that RiShawn needed to be canned for using the word he did, although some argue that a suspension would have been sufficient. However, Biddle did not act in a vacuum. Many readers and even some media folk are puzzled that Biddle was allowed to write whatever without anyone checking his copy. Plus, he was encouraged, I believe, to be provocative. Given that context, using a word that is insensitive and offensive might have made Gonzo journalism sense; Wikipedia explains that zip coon was a stock character in blackface minstrel shows.."Chief among these were the slave, who often maintained the earlier name Jim Crow, and the dandy, known frequently as Zip Coon. The two formed a dichotomy of blackness, both equally ludicrous." OK....

The lack of oversight may cost Swarens. We'll see. Although God knows, there certainly is no evidence that Swarens, a conservative, evangelical Christian, is actually writing the editorials that have appeared as late supporting the Dems in their hour of defeat. Or maybe he's channeling publisher Barbara Henry.

In the newsroom, Ryerson is responsible for this fiasco. But the real boss man is the publisher; she calls the shots and fires the gun. And don't even get me started on my dream about her last night....

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