In journalism, a reporter’s credibility is everything. When that is gone, not much is left.
Sadly, Observer sports reporter Jourdan Rodrigue has lost her credibility as it relates to working in a town where people of color account for more than half the population, and more than 35 percent are black.
She should resign or be fired.
That was not a sentence I wrote with ease. For eight years I poured everything I had into the Charlotte Observer – first as business editor and later as deputy managing editor. Those years generated some of the most cherished memories of my career, and to this day I have nothing but affection for my Observer family.
That said, I cannot overlook what Rodrigue did, and neither should Observer editors.
Let me get you caught up.
Rodrigue, 25, was in the Carolina Panthers’ locker room, along with other reporters, when she asked quarterback Cam Newton a thoughtful question:
“I know you take a lot of pride in seeing your receivers play well. Devin Funchess has seemed to really embrace the physicality of his routes and getting those extra yards. Does that give you a little bit of enjoyment to see him truck-sticking people?”
Newton, known to be mercurial, almost immediately began to smile, and he offered this:
“It’s funny to hear a female talk about routes like that. It’s funny.”
No, Cam, it was not funny, and neither was your sexist response.
Newton went on to answer the reporter’s question appropriately.
But too late.
Rodrigue later tweeted that she had confronted Newton and that his response in private was “worse.”
Not wanting its brand tarnished by a brewing controversy, the Dannon yogurt company quickly dropped Newton as a paid spokesman, and Gatorade issued a statement calling Newton’s remarks “objectionable and disrespectful to all women…” (Late Thursday, Newton apologized.)
But it didn’t end there.
Also on Thursday, someone prowling the Internet came across some tweets that Rodrigue posted in 2012 and 2013 – racist tweets, in fact.
In one, she seemed to take delight in the fact that someone had told “Racist jokes the whole drive home.” In another, she tweeted about her dad being “super racist as we pass through Navajo land.” And in a third, about NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt, she used the term “n***a.”
Rodrigue has since taken down those offensive tweets, but not before someone posted screen shots.
Rodrigue tweeted an apology, which the Observer acknowledged.
The Observer article also noted that the offensive tweets were posted while Rodrigue was still a student in college.
I am not without compassion for Rodrigue. I believe every human should be afforded grace sufficient to cover our youthful stupidities. But this case is different.
First, Rodrigue didn’t post just one racist tweet in a moment of fleeting inconsideration. She posted three – and over a period of two years. This indicates a pattern of thinking.
Second, it doesn’t help that, in her encounter with Newton, Rodrigue seemed quick to embrace her victim status, going so far as to post about their private exchange. (In my years as a reporter, I had many encounters with racists and others who said things inappropriate that were aimed at me. I never once made it part of the bigger narrative.)
But those concerns pale in light of the credibility issue.
We live in an era of extreme racial polarization – too much of it emanating from the White House. Here in Charlotte, business and civic leaders are investing millions of dollars into various initiatives as we struggle to undo the harm caused by centuries of segregation and racial oppression.
So at a time in our history when open racism is resurgent, the Observer, our city’s undisputed news leader, can ill afford to be seen as tolerant of bigotry. Sadly, though, Rodrigue’s tweets have put the paper in an awkward position.
Since Newton and Rodrigue each apologized, some might say “move on.” But those who take that view would be missing a key point.
Reporters plays a role in our democracy that quarterbacks never will. So much so, in fact, that ours is the lone profession afforded constitutional protections by the framers of our nation.
Readers depend on reporters each day to cast aside our human biases to deliver facts that are devoid of personal views. Rodrigue has compromised the perception that she can do that. And there is no beat in any newsroom where race stands irrelevant.
What Newton said was equally egregious; I make no bones there. But at the end of the day, for all the money he makes, his job is to simply throw a football.
Whether she likes it not, every sentence Rodrigue writes going forward will be viewed through the prism of those three tweets. Every criticism of a black athlete will be, for some, proof of racial animus. And by extension, the Observer’s own credibility will be called into question by those stung by her tweets.
A newspaper committed to building bridges and bringing people together cannot afford that liability. Our city cannot afford this distraction.
Rodrigue must go.