Western Standard

The Shotgun Blog

« Olivia Chow's riding to push for funding for Hamas | Main | Hezboliberal.com is now www.westernstandard.ca/liberal »

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Media insensitivity

“What could possibly go wrong?”

That’s tux-clad Conan O’Brien’s smug retort to a flight attendant as she passes him a flute of champagne and asks if he’s nervous about hosting the Emmys for the second time.

The answer: plenty.

NBC spent Monday barraged by intense criticism over their airing of that skit—which follows with O’Brien’s plane crashing into the sea—on the same day that a real plane crash in Kentucky that killed 49 people. The network issued an apology yesterday.

Talk show hosts and websites are fuming. (I think Larry Elder, who I normally enjoy, spent a good hour last night railing against the “insensitivity” of the network.) But isn’t this a bit much? Who, exactly, was the network supposedly being insensitive to? Presumably the families and loved ones of the Comair crash victims weren’t watching the Emmys that night. Yes, I’m sure that many Americans were saddened to hear about 49 people dying in a plane crash that day. But dozens more people die everyday in the U.S. in far less public ways: car accidents, cancer, murder and even smaller plane crashes (like this one, this one, this one, this one, etc.). So, should a fatal shooting in Denver on a Wednesday require that NBC pull that night’s Law and Order episode? And if so, how long before it’s no longer considered “insensitive” to broadcast the show? And who decides? (Read on, below)


NBC has a business to look after, so it’s apology was probably advisable from a PR perspective. But it was entirely unnecessary. It’s clear that the network had prepared its skit long before the show aired on Sunday night. The crash was a parody on the show “Lost”—which featured a plane crash scene in the opening episode—and had nothing to do with the Kentucky accident. (Question: Had Lost actually aired that night instead of a parody, would anyone have complained?) The plane was never actually shown crashing. And the scene was just a part of a long string of television send-ups that also included 24, House MD, The Office, South Park (the controversial Tom Cruise in the closet episode, no less) and Dateline. On a side note, the plane scene, which involved O’Brien crawling into an overhead bin for safety, was actually sorta funny. (You can watch the whole intro here).

So, why do I care? I suppose I’m worried about this proliferating attitude that media organizations must be “sensitive” to peoples’ feelings. I await to be persuaded otherwise, but to me, this seems like a piece of the same sort of thinking that dominated during the cartoon controversy. If it’s improper to air an unrelated satire of a TV show featuring an airplane accident because some people are feeling down about the deaths of 49 people they’ve never met, then it’s certainly improper to show satirical drawings that fundamentally offend the faith of Muslim viewers. The more “sensitive” that media outlets become, the more they’ll start to resemble all those other hypersensitive institutions we’ve created: police afraid of offending the black community, governments authorities afraid to offend Muslims, universities petrified of offending anyone, anywhere, ever.A political cartoonist for a Gannett-owned U.S. paper recently admitted to the Western Standard that his bosses insist that there is a quota in place to ensure sufficient photos of racial minorities appear the front page of every newspaper. The actual news value comes second.

I don't think this is a direction we want our media to go. But maybe I’m just being overly sensitive.

Posted by Kevin Libin on August 29, 2006 | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Media insensitivity:


I agree, Kevin. Part of the problem, I think, is that there's good money to be made these days by feigning offense.

Posted by: Vitruvius | 2006-08-29 1:44:20 PM

I agree Vitruvius. It use to be people could go far with a smile and a bit of charm. That's been thrown aside and replaced with a grimace of horror and an air of indignation.

Posted by: Speller | 2006-08-29 1:57:13 PM

I find it ironic that people on here rally against all those PC people who "embrace terrorism" yet when it comes to things like this suddenly everybody has to be PC?

Why is that? People die every day, planes fall out of the sky somewhere in this world every day and there is constant tragedy in the world, by that logic we should not even DARE to smile, hence we may offend someone.

Posted by: Snowrunner | 2006-08-29 2:29:27 PM

Snowrunner: read the post and the comments. No one "here" is "suddenly" arguing for political correctness. We're arguing against it.

Posted by: Kevin Libin | 2006-08-29 2:33:32 PM

Point taken. Guess I have blinders at times too, figure I would fit in better. [EG]

Posted by: Snowrunner | 2006-08-29 2:42:02 PM

Stop giving any of your opinions about attitudes some American medias and personnalities you "anti-Americans" and "Terrorists-sympathizer"...
My deep respect to the 49 people who died in the Kentucky crash. May they find peace.

Posted by: Marc | 2006-08-29 2:59:13 PM


It's an interesting question. My initial reaction to the "controversy" was that it was really overbown. But then again, one thing the media likes talking about is the media, so no surprise there. But on the question of how much sensitivity it is reasonable to expect, I dunno. I remember after the WTC attack there was a lot of talk about whether irony was dead and satire impossible. I thought people had collectively lost their minds.

Then along came The Onion with their special issue about 911 that was hilarious without being disrespectful. I was so glad that SOMEBODY understood that when humour aims at not offending anyone, it usually fails to be funny.

I still think there is a place for sensitivity. We certainly should not think that anything goes. But knowing just where that balance point is is tricky. I, too, worry about the over-sensitizantion (or, as I prefer to call it, the Oprah-fication) of our culture generally. And complaints about the Emmy opening seem to me as well to be on the wrong side of that line.

Posted by: Mark Logan | 2006-08-29 3:18:35 PM


"Part of the problem, I think, is that there's good money to be made these days by feigning offense."

Yes, indeed. Exhibit A: Those who wanted money because they were exposed to Janet Jackson's breast. The horror!!!!

Posted by: Mark Logan | 2006-08-29 3:22:55 PM


What a bunch of boobs!

My take ... unfortunate timing on NBC's part.

On the other hand, the MSM has roasted the subjects of their stories on lesser co-incidences.

Posted by: Set you free | 2006-08-29 5:34:12 PM

Much to my surprise, the intro was really funny! I don't even know any of the shows--just OF a few of them. Laugh out loud funny!

The Kentucky crash and the airplane sequence are SO unrelated, the objections and recriminations are altogether ludicrous. Yes, the media should be sensitive--but this isn't one of those times.

Ironically, when the MSM SHOULD apologize, which is often in relation to certain groups--e.g., orthodox Christians, pro-lifers, Conservatives, Republicans, Danish cartoonists, the state of Israel, victims of 9/11, loved ones included, etc.--which are considered fair game and are often treated with a deliberate and shocking disrespect, the MSM NEVER apologize.

So, as usual, the MSM screw things up: not in airing the innocuous plane crash, but in apologizing for a COINCIDENCE, which was not in any way disrespectful of anyone.

What hypocritical dolts.

Posted by: lookout | 2006-08-29 5:52:28 PM


Since you mention Orthodox Christians.

Did you know the Greek government is planning to confiscate the monastery at Mount Athos because women have not been allowed to set foot on the grounds ... as has been monasatic tradition for the past 2000 years and approved by the Theotokos herself?

It's going through Greek courts right now ... a clear-cut case of the secular humanist state encroaching into church affairs.

Posted by: Set you free | 2006-08-29 6:00:26 PM

That's off topic, Set You Free.

Posted by: Vitruvius | 2006-08-29 6:02:18 PM



Posted by: Set you free | 2006-08-29 6:03:45 PM

(Set you free: orthodox is different from Orthodox. But I hear you and agree. Thanks! Sorry Vitruvius.
If I could post this in VERY tiny letters, I would!)

Posted by: lookout | 2006-08-29 6:11:27 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.