A reader pointed me to this online column by Washington Post sportswriter Leonard Shapiro. Title: “Taylor’s Death Is Tragic but Not Surprising.”
As a Redskins fan, I was particularly stunned by this week’s shooting death of Pro-Bowler Sean Taylor. Then stunned again to see Mr. Shapiro write:
“[C]ould anyone honestly say they never saw this coming? You’d have to be blind not to consider Taylor’s checkered past.”
Ummm... saw this coming??
Sean Taylor wasn’t shot in a crack house.
Sean Taylor wasn’t shot on a street corner in Overtown.
He wasn’t shot in a nightclub, surrounded by his “posse.”
Sean Taylor was shot in his suburban Miami home while defending that home – and the lives of his fiancée and infant daughter – against armed intruders.
Taylor was 24 years old.
The Miami Herald reports today that three young men – two in their teens – have been detained in the case. Evidently they targeted Sean Taylor’s house to burglarize because of Taylor’s wealth.
And yet, early Tuesday afternoon, within hours of the man’s death – and with no indication that Taylor had done anything to bring about this misfortune – Len Shapiro felt compelled to write:
“At the moment, it is far too soon to draw any conclusions as to how or why this tragedy occurred... why another athlete, Michael Vick, Pacman Jones, Tank Johnson, and now Sean Taylor becomes headline news for all the wrong reasons.”
The fuck...? What does Michael Vick have to do with this?
And what does Sean Taylor’s “reputation as a moody, enigmatic athlete” have to do with his being targeted for a burglary?
“Clearly,” Shapiro wrote, “he seemed to embrace the thug image on and off the field...”
The fuck...? I say again, Shapiro wrote this while the man’s corpse was still warm.
Readers at washingtonpost.com have been outraged. Here are some of their comments:
“[I]t is incredibly insensitive and downright malicious to defame a decent human being only hours after his death. I am horrified. What was the writer thinking when writing this? What was the editor thinking when reading this?”
“Lenny. You are an idiot plain and simple.”
“I’ve read this thing three times now just to make sure I wasn’t be overly emotional. It’s easily the lowest this paper has sunk since Janet Cooke. Shapiro’s name belongs in the same sentence as hers and other disgraced journalists.”
I fully expect the Washington Post’s ombudsman to address this embarrassment come Sunday.
UPDATE (12/01/07): Well, I was right. The Washington Post’s ombudsman, Deborah Howell, has weighed in on Len Shapiro.
Her column will appear in tomorrow’s newspaper, but it’s on the Web right now... after “huge howls from hundreds of Redskins fans upset by the initial Post online commentary,” she writes. “Hearing criticism of Taylor as he was fighting for his life and immediately after he died struck readers as insensitive.”
No shit, Shirley?
Ms. Howell talked to Shapiro, who told her: “In retrospect, I would have worded it a bit differently, softened it a little bit. I’m not a callous or uncaring person. Maybe I didn’t say it very elegantly. I feel very badly if people interpreted [the column as an attack].”
She also talked to Mike Wilbon, who had shit-talked Sean Taylor in an online chat the day before he died... and was bashed for it by some readers. Wilbon stuck up for Shapiro, telling Howell that Shapiro got attacked more than him because Shapiro is white.
Black readers, according to Wilbon, “don't want a white person to lead that discussion in Washington.”
Oh bull shit. Shapiro got attacked because he fucked up.
And Deborah Howell, when she arrives at her bottom line, lets everybody off easy:
“The issue was timing. As unfeeling as it sounds, it is just not in the nature of the news business for critical comment to be withheld until the body is in the ground. But in this case, it would not have hurt good journalism to have backed off on harsh commentary until the next day. That would have let the news sink in for readers.”
Mmm-kay. A lesson learned, I guess. It wouldn’t have “hurt good journalism” to wait a day before lumping Sean Taylor in with Michael Vick and Pacman Jones. Got it.