Tony Kornheiser, Hannah Storm and free speech as an endangered species
Hannah Storm’s Wikipedia entry has been updated already:
In February 2010, fellow ESPN colleague Tony Kornheiser harshly criticized her outfit that day on his radio show, and was suspended from ESPN for 2 weeks. He has since apologized to her via a 15 minute phone conversation.
What did Kornheiser say that warranted a two-week suspension and a 15-minute apology? Did he say she stood by and did nothing while videotaping kids bullying an autistic child? Did he call her a racist? Did he suggest she repeatedly and casually incorporated the other r-word into her conversations (hint: it rhymes with me-tard)? Did he call her (gasp!) fat?!?
Nope, none of the above. Kornheiser’s offense: He criticized her outfit.
What Kornheiser said, on his weekday local radio show on ESPN’s Washington, D.C. affiliate Friday, was that Storm was on-air in a “horrifying outfit” with “red go-go boots” and a skirt “way too short for somebody her age.” He added the kicker: “She’s what I would call a Holden Caulfield fantasy at this point.”
Kornheiser has apologized on-air and as well as to Storm personally. On the show Tuesday, he noted his suspension and said he wouldn’t talk about it in any interviews.
So, some context. Kornheiser, on that show, occasionally critiques on-air TV fashions —Kathie Lee Gifford, on NBC’s Today show, has been found wanting — which is perfectly fair game given costuming is a big part of TV. He also makes great use of what he finds irritating — Storm’s stylings just seemed like fodder.
ESPN executive vice president John Skipper said “Hurtful and personal comments such as these are not acceptable and have significant consequences.” What he actually meant is that “hurtful and personal comments” about colleagues are not acceptable.
Asked if the key was that Kornheiser was talking about a fellow staffer rather than specifically what he what said, spokesman Mike Soltys said: “Yes. Respect for colleagues is paramount!”
And here is where we slap the WTF?!? label on this little incident. Have we learned nothing from Jay and Conan? Perhaps this is some reverse psychology plot by a super-smart TV executive to get some attention for ESPN, a last-ditch effort to get a ratings spike as February sweeps come to a close. More likely, it’s just another boneheaded bungle. How does ESPN react? A wannabe white knight TV exec rushes in to protect and defend the damsel in distress, and the implication is that Hannah Storm went crying to management.
That is offensive — much more offensive than Kornheiser calling her outfit horrifying. Where is Hannah Storm in all this? Trash talk is part of sports. Where’s the feisty comeback, the call-him-on-the-carpet confrontation, the self-deprecating sense of humor? More than anything, I’d like to hear from Hannah Storm, get her reaction and have her stand up to Kornheiser herself rather than standing behind the men of ESPN.
Here’s how this should have gone down:
- Tony Kornheiser does what he always does. Nothing new, nothing different, and certainly nothing extraordinarily offensive. He criticizes Hannah Storm’s outfit and her judgment in wearing such an outfit. File that under “freedom of speech.”
- Let’s imagine Hannah Storm blows a gasket or, at the very least, is annoyed. She has several options:
1. She calls into (or shows up on) Kornheiser’s show, Pardon the Interruption, to criticize his tie.
2. She invites Kornheiser onto her show, SportsCenter, to criticize his tie (and talk about trash-talking in sports).
3. She comments on Twitter, Facebook or in a blog post.
4. If ESPN execs release their idiotic statments, she notes the double-standard idiocy: It’s okay to make fun of other people but not of one another? She also notes the ridiculousness of a two-week suspension and her ability to speak for herself.
5. They appear together on The Daily Show, with Dr. Phil and Jon Stewart as mediator.
6. They appear together as surprise judges on Project Runway.
7. They immediately shoot a series of promos for ESPN that are posted to youtube and predestined to go viral.
8. Hannah Storm makes a video ripping apart Tony Kornheiser’s Penguin Dance.
Remember, Tony Kornheiser likes to have fun. And Hannah Storm likes to dress up.
Were Kornheiser’s comments nice? No. Does he have a right to his opinion? Yes. The reaction by ESPN implies there was a complaint. Did Hannah Storm have an issue with Kornheiser’s comments? I’d really like to know (Hannah, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org).
Meanwhile, I just told my T/S colleague Michael Roston that his grey shirt doesn’t go with his brown sweater, and suggested he try Garanimals. Gee, I hope I don’t get suspended.