Sarah Spitz, a producer for the NPR affiliate KCRW based out of Santa Monica, recently learned a lesson about how private e-mail is isn’t. Spitz evidently made comments about how she fantasizes walking away from Rush Limbaugh if he was dying without helping him. Wow.
The thing is, I can certainly understand Spitz’s views of Limbaugh as an overbearing, ignorant buffoon. I offer as an example the following from Limbaugh’s 2009 interview with CNBC’s Mark Haines following Limbaugh’s comments calling Obama a political hack and stating unequivocally that he hopes President Obama fails:
Haines: I’m sorry a week after the inauguration you said you hope he fails. Are you now admitting that it was a stupid and mean-spirited thing to say?
Rush: No, it was an accurate thing to say, it was an honest thing to say and it came…
Haines: Well then how is that bipartisan?
Rush: Well, if you’ll let me explain.
Haines: Well so far you haven’t.
Rush: You’ve been contentious for no reason. It came after a thorough explanation and my belief that liberalism is what Obama represents destroys the free market, destroys capitalism and this stimulus plan is all about re-FDRing America, the New Deal and as a conservative I want liberalism to fail. I want the country to succeed. And that’s what I meant and that’s what I over and over again., You’ve got to stop reading these left wing media sites…
So, yeah, I can understand Spitz’s vehement distaste for the king of all dittoheads (or pinheads, if you want to go all O’Reilly). That said, though, picturing yourself walking away from a dying human being, no matter who he or she might be, is kind of sick.
The thing is, she is as a news producer in the public eye to a degree. If you make inflammatory statements like that and you’re a plumber or a doctor or a gas station attendant, it’s not very likely that it would be picked up on a national level. If you work in the field of journalism, if you …
… understand how the media works and how every word you say can come back to bite you, saying this kind of thing is supremely stupid.
Spitz evidently figured this out after the fact, since she issued a hasty apology.
I made poorly considered remarks about Rush Limbaugh to what I believed was a private email discussion group from my personal email account. As a publicist, I realize more than anyone that is no excuse for irresponsible behavior. I apologize to anyone I may have offended and I regret these comments greatly; they do not reflect the values by which I conduct my life.
Although Spitz isn’t technically an NPR employee, her actions have given the liberal-leaning media outlet something of a black eye. NPR News is reemphasizing their policy on “social media guidelines”.
NPR News has established social media guidelines, which are available on NPR’s website.
Employees are asked to “recognize that everything you write or receive on a social media site is public.” They are advised to “conduct yourself in social media forums with an eye to how your behavior or comments might appear if we were called upon to defend them as a news organization.”
As I see it, there are three problems here.
First, I’m kind of disturbed at the fact that there are people out there who are willing to admit something like this on a public forum, albeit one they feel is more private than it evidently is. I’m not going to lie, there are some people that I feel this way about. However, I would never put it into writing in a place where anyone could see it. Honesty is great and everything, but such disregard for human life is kind of … I don’t know, disturbing.
Secondly, is it fair for Sarah Spitz, as a news producer, to be held to a different standard than someone in a different field? I live this firsthand as a teacher, where I would be extremely uncomfortable buying a twelve pack or something in the town where I teach. Obviously you make a choice in your profession in terms of the degree of privacy you have, but is this double standard fair?
Finally, I continue to be a bit uneasy about the ease with which the internet makes sometimes impulsive actions both public and permanent. From heat of the moment Facebook posts to a situation like Sarah Spitz’s, there are things that people say that they end up being very sorry for after the fact. There is no real delete button, either, when you consider screen shots and online records. It really requires you to think before you type, but this is something that pre-teens, adolescents, young adults, and even adults who should know better continue to struggle with … and I’m not sure how fair this is when all is said and done.